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BD Lessons from Rescuing a Dog

We’ve now returned from our winter break and I have some news – my family has grown by four paws: the adorable Belgian Malinois mix, Nikko.

Who can resist this face?

Rescuing an older dog with almost no recorded history has its challenges – all I know about Nikko is that his previous owner died tragically and he was found at 52 pounds in a field in Roswell, New Mexico (yes, that Roswell – his paperwork even has a spaceship on it). I’m not a new dog owner – I’ve had dogs growing up, and have been a basset hound owner for 14 years. I definitely don’t recommend getting a Mal if you’re new to dogs, and I’m lucky to have worked with a truly GREAT rescue throughout this entire process.

So what does this handsome rescue dog have to do with business development? Well, a lot really. Real life always has a way of reminding me about my day job. Applicable lessons include:

Patience

This is the number one thing you need as a rescue dog owner (or any dog owner, really). Whether you have a new puppy or an adult dog coming into your home, they are going to test the boundaries of what the rules are in your house, and it’s up to you to let them know what those rules are, without yelling or getting anxious. That latter one is especially hard but particularly important. Sometimes, you have to leave the room or walk away if you’re battling a dog with a strong personality, and boy, do I have dogs with strong, stubborn personalities!

And hey, does that ever translate to business development. Wouldn’t it be delightful if you could try something once and it resulted in a huge piece of business? Sure, that happens sometimes, but that is the unicorn of business development. Most often, you have to keep at it, continue grinding, and remember why you’re doing what you’re doing before you can get the results that you want. Patience isn’t often something we’re born with (some people are), but it’s often something that is developed because we’re been thrown into situations where we have to cultivate it. I know that’s been true for me. So if you feel that you aren’t getting the results that you want for your business development efforts, is it because you’re doing the wrong things, or could it be because you’re just expecting results too quickly?

Lack of Context

This can be a hard one – as I mentioned, the only thing I know about Nikko is that his previous owner died tragically. I can guess some things based on his reactions to things as time goes on. He has some training (sit, he’ll offer me his paw, he gives hugs), but sometimes I’ll go to raise a hand to pet him, and he ducks his head. I’ll pet him unexpectedly from behind while he’s resting and he jumps. If I correct him with a verbal no, his whole face falls. He has massive separation anxiety. I can then only guess at what he’s been through, and then we’re adapting what we do at home as a result – lots of compassion, empathy, and reinforcement that this is his forever home, and he’s safe and loved here.

Often, when you’re connecting with a potential client (and sometimes, even trying to get more work from your existing clients), you have no idea what they’ve been through with other providers unless they tell you or you ask them directly. There may be reactions to what you say and do that seem strange to you – why do you need to handhold over every piece of communication? Why do they need SO much information from you? Why do they want to hear from SO many other references? Things that you may roll your eyes about make a lot of sense if only you had the context. Whereas we’re willing to have the patience (see above) when it comes to a dog we’ve rescued, we may have less patience when it comes to a potential client needing a little more space or grace about that relationship-building phase. But there may be some professional trauma there – not the same as with a rescue dog, of course, but you don’t know what the last provider has done to break their trust that has led them to seek out new counsel. It may not be a big deal, or it may be something more serious and you’re bearing the brunt of that breach.

With dogs, we can’t ask them questions about their history to get that context. But with potential clients, we can. They won’t always give you a full history of what happened, but you can get a sense of what they need and want in their outside counsel relationships, which will enable you to show up in the way that will make them feel comfortable, heard, and properly supported. Every relationship is different and while it’s work to make this happen, it’s also worth it.

Bringing in Experts

Sometimes, you need to bring in the experts. I was able to walk through with the rescue what Nikko would need when it came to introducing him to my dog at home, what the first few weeks would likely look like, and other adaptations to expect. And this process is still ongoing. He’s a special dog with special needs and we’ll most likely be working with a local trainer to help get him fully trained – because Mals need a job and are highly active dogs (unlike basset hounds). So guess who gets to train for my half marathon with me?

This is true for business development too – whether you put together a group of colleagues in the office for accountability or bring in a BD professional or seek out online courses, we’re all lifelong learners who should be confident in identifying the people who know more about this than we do, and working with them to teach us. This is how we grow and learn new things. Perhaps we already know a lot about business development, but spending time with others in the office who are trying different tactics gives us an idea that we’ve never tried before. It doesn’t hurt to branch out. Maybe a firm trainer holds you to a more regular schedule than you usually stick to and you’re more rigorous in your BD efforts. Maybe the online sessions keep you feeling more invigorated than usual. Experts are there for a reason, and even with years of knowledge, we can all use them from time to time.

Time

This may sound the same as patience, but it truly is the passage of time. Nikko has been here for three and a half weeks, and he’s already a different dog from the one that sat in the back of my car for four hours. He still has many moments where he’s convinced that I’m giving him away to someone else, but he’s starting to get more confident that he really lives here and he doesn’t have to be so desperate that I’m going to get rid of him. He is a happy boy most of the time. He’s even starting to sleep deeply sometimes. I’m looking forward to seeing where he is at three months, which is supposed to be the marker for a rescue to feel truly settled.

Business development is similar – sometimes it just takes time. I have worked with some firms who are ready to jump on board with a network within a matter of weeks – they have already done their due diligence and the time is right for their firm, so it’s just a question of making sure the fit is right and doing the diligence on our side. And yet other firms may take years to feel comfortable, for a variety of reasons – they may be busy or have had a previous bad experience, or may have something going on behind the scenes from a governance perspective. We continue to connect and answer questions and move forward incrementally and eventually, the deal is done. As they say, time takes time. So I would add to “time” that the other necessary ingredient is perseverance.

And like a rescue dog, business development is worth it. The only thing that I would suggest that is different is that in the case of rescue dogs (and any dog), often the most difficult dogs are the most rewarding and the best dogs. I don’t think that’s the same for clients! And perhaps, don’t snuggle your clients on the couch at night while watching your favorite British procedural – but, to each their own.