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Nuts + Bolts #6: Changing Habits: The Secret to Successful Time Management

Some practical steps to make time for business development when you've been avoiding it or aren't sure how to fit it into your day-to-day practice.

By Donna Maltzan
October 24, 2013

No time to grow your business? Learn to set aside time, clearly identify goals, and change bad habits, and you'll transform your business development efforts from a waste of time into a productive enterprise.


Most budding architects are initially attracted to the design side, rather than the business side, of their profession. As a result, many architects never develop the skills necessary to build their businesses. But just as design and project management are part of your daily routine, you should set aside time for business development as well.


How do you make time for business development when you’ve been avoiding it or aren’t sure how to fit it into your day-to-day practice? The trick is to fundamentally and permanently change your habits. This sounds daunting, but you can achieve it if you follow these practical steps.


Identify a clear, action-defined goal. It’s important not to confuse an actual goal with a “desired state.” “Being healthy” is not a goal; it’s a state that you want to reach. How do you get there? In order to articulate an action-oriented goal, ask yourself, “What are the vital behaviors or best practices associated with my desired state? What specific actions will lead to achieving it?” For example, to “be healthy” you might need to eat differently, exercise more, or take more vacations. The desired state would then be achieved by action-specific goals, such as, “I will go to the gym at least three times a week and spend at least 30 minutes on the elliptical machine each time.”


Too frequently, A/E/C professionals choose goals that are actually desired states. For example, an architect might want to increase revenues for a certain market sector by 10%, or improve her relationship with a certain firm. To create an effective goal, she needs to outline the steps she will undertake, not just the outcome she wants to achieve.


Focus on breaking your business development objectives down into specific actions. For example, where will you network? Who will you connect with and what will you expect to achieve from these new connections? How frequently will you attend which events/committee meetings? How will you get introduced to specific individuals? How many new contacts will you pursue and within what timeframe? What steps will you take after meeting each prospective client? How will you keep in touch until you get work from the relationship?


Make sure your goal is realistic for your professional life and schedule. Too often, ambitious professionals are overzealous when setting a business development goal. Choosing an impossible goal merely sets you up for failure and causes wasted time, energy, and headaches. For example, if you are expected to be 70% billable, you can’t “plan” to spend 50% of your time on business development activities. Make sure that your plan is feasible given your schedule constraints. But beware – architects all too frequently allow design and project management to absorb every bit of available work time. If you’re serious about developing business, you will have to devote some of your time to the process.


Recognize the obstacles. Take some time to prepare yourself by pinpointing the obstacles you might encounter. Doing this will make it easier to stay on track so you won’t get discouraged by minor setbacks. One typical impediment to taking business development actions is a lack of knowledge or confidence. If that’s the case, you may want to consider training or coaching. Another widespread issue is being overworked. You may find that there simply aren’t enough hours in the day for you to complete client work and firm management activities and also adequately invest in business development. In that case, you need to address this issue head-on by delegating more work, changing some of your internal systems, or hiring new staff, if possible.


Create a plan. Different solutions work for different people. Some people can do business development work from home, while others “hide out” in a conference room or back room to make sure they aren’t disturbed as they work. Some even put fake client appointments on their calendars, because these appointments are considered sacred in their firm’s culture. Don’t worry if it takes some trial and error to create a plan that “outsmarts” the obstacles you’ve identified. No one is immediately successful at this sort of thing. It takes practice – even if you create a realistic plan. Don’t give up.


Explore your motivators. Your intrinsic motivators, also known as WIIFMs (what’s in it for me?) are the most important elements of your strategy. What will you gain by working toward your goal? For example, you might get extra revenue, a big or exciting project, or the ability to take on talented new staff. Articulating these motivators – whatever they may be – will help you keep your final destination in mind as you work toward it.


Hold yourself accountable. There are a few time-tested tactics that will make it easier for you to accomplish your goal. One option is to discuss your plan with your partner or boss. Ask for her support of the plan you’ve created. Talk about the obstacles you see, ask what obstacles she sees, and agree on tactics for overcoming them. You may also want to form a peer-coaching group with one or several colleagues. Meet periodically – aim for every six weeks – to brainstorm your business development tactics and get feedback on your ideas for overcoming obstacles. Use the peer group meetings as a time to celebrate the success you each have, and hold one another accountable for following your business development plan.


As Stephen Covey, the renowned author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, once said: “Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.” Reaching your business development goals may not be urgent, but if you want to grow your practice, it’s essential to learn to devote real time to business development.



Donna L. Maltzan is a business development trainer, facilitator, consultant and coach. She specializes in working with architecture, engineering, and construction firms. She may be contacted at (203) 283-4801 or at; her website is:


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