The most dreaded transition in most engineers’ careers is bearing down on me – soon I will be equally responsible for bringing in work as in executing projects. The two roles seem at odds in many ways. How do you carve out time for business development from an already full schedule of project meetings, calculations and drawing review? Most calculations have a linear procedure that leads to a discrete solution, but no single BD activity is guaranteed to bring in a new client. The best design ideas are typically recognized by the client on the basis of merit, but jobs are often awarded to the lowest bidder.
It’s often lamented that schools only prepare students for the earliest parts of their career. The first principles of statics and mechanics are at least broadly extrapolated to complex engineering problems. In finding new work I feel without a guiding set of principles. My Econ 101 notes are certainly not up to the task.
Perhaps the Google knows what to do? “How to bring in work” yields suggestions on packing your lunch, caring for work pets and having fun in the break room. Let’s put on the salesmanship attitude and be more brash – “how to be a rainmaker.” Bingo.
eHow has some suggestions:
- View each person as a potential client. A former colleague once told me that the best person to know in an organization (particularly yours) is the receptionist. They basically direct the traffic, and can send unassigned leads your way.
- Dress appropriately. I mean it can’t hurt.
- Join clubs and organizations where you network with others who need your service. Hello, ASCE. I’m currently on the look out, however, for organizations that are likely to have more of my clients that competitors. Some colleagues recently suggested that we start our own Meetup group to meet socially with clients who share our passion for renovation work.
- Keep your sales skills up to date. What exactly are ‘sales skills?’ I guess I should read a book about sales and closing the deal.
- Delegate tasks that limit your ability to meet new clients. This has got to be the toughest piece of advice to follow. Engineers will want to focus all their energy on executing a project for the last big client, but someone has to be looking forward to the next deal.
- Be committed personally to your role as rainmaker. Be confident. OK, that’s the hardest task – to remain confident in a role that takes lots of rejection.
I’ve decided that the first thing I need to do is to get my rolodex in order. Just kidding, I haven’t seen one of those archaic things in years. But I am starting to manage a list of contacts in a spreadsheet. I simply keep track of names and email (a company database tracks all the other contact info, like phone numbers and addresses) and last contact. LinkedIn can be another great tool for managing contacts. The beauty within the LinkedIn system is that you can follow people from job to job. It’s great when a client moves to a new company; that’s a new opportunity to get work from another source.
Viewers of The Office (American version. I wasn’t hip enough to download the UK originals, sorry) may recall that the secret to incompetent boss Michael Scott’s success was his database of quirky facts about his clients. I’m not one to pry into personal information, but it does make sense that personalization is important. This year I’ll celebrate my 10th year with Thornton Tomasetti. I’m thinking about carving out time to send a personalized message to important clients over the years. I’d want to mention specific projects and how they influenced my career.
Most of these options sound a little time consuming, and none guarantee an instant payoff. I guess the path to becoming a rainmaker is lengthy and arduous, all the more reason to get started as soon as possible.