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Business Development Skills: why you need them and how to develop them

Business development is all about bringing in new work and growing the business. We may have a Business Development (BD) Team, but BD is everyone's responsibility.

Partners and more senior fee earners will have a base of contacts and generally lead the way in terms of attending external events or holding internal seminars, but as a trainee you need to start somewhere.

What does business development mean for a trainee at Ashfords?

Trainees and paralegals will often be asked to assist with events. This might mean welcoming attendees at a seminar or attending both internal and external networking events. If you're up for more of a challenge however, you might just end up taking charge of some of the biggest event's on the firm's calendar.

For me, this meant running the Bristol Quiz Night and the Bristol Black Tie Comedy Night in 2017, together with a team of trainees and paralegals. These events raise money for charity whilst facilitating excellent networking opportunities with clients and contacts.

Getting involved with events, no matter on what scale, is important for both personal development, and for contributing to the firm generally.

What are business development skills?

Communication, organisation, team work and leaderships skills all feed in to BD, but ultimately it is more about being proactive than anything else.

In the long run, you will be aiming to win new clients and new work from existing clients. There is no rule as to where that work comes from - it will be up to you to go and seek it out, whether that is by meeting people at events, being active on LinkedIn or writing articles and developing a reputation for being a specialist in your field.

The tasks you are asked to do as a trainee help you get into good habits for the future. Today I'm writing this article, last week I helped at an event and later in the week I'll be putting some time into planning a client event.

As a trainee there is no expectation that you will bring work in to the firm, but you are responsible for representing the firm at events and supporting more senior fee earners where they need assistance with events.

Planning a major event  may seem like a big ask, but remember - as a trainee you have been employed because Ashfords think you are resourceful enough to face new challenges and overcome any difficulties.

Top tips

  1. Be keen - volunteer to help at events.
  2. Be proactive - keep an eye out for events going on and take the initiative.
  3. Practice - the more you get stuck in, the more comfortable you will be with networking, even if it doesn't come to you naturally.

What's in it for me?

In terms of organising and assisting with events, it can sometimes seem like a lot of work for no immediate reward. When the going gets tough remember that as well as trying to be helpful, you're doing yourself a favour in the long term. It isn't the 'thank you for your help' now that is important, it's being known as someone who contributes to the firm which will help your career in the long run.

As far as attending events and networking are concerned, you are getting good practice. You may not feel like you are 'developing your BD skills' when making small talk with a stranger over a glass of wine at an event, but this is important exposure. Networking comes naturally to some people and others are less comfortable with it. As a trainee, you are learning how to talk about Ashfords and your role… and if you're lucky, there will be a good selection of canapés on offer too!