Energizing Your Business-Development

written by John Niland

To be effective in business development, we need to challenge our Egos. Preoccupation with self-esteem — long regarded as the Holy Grail of personal development — often creates a fair share of problems for professionals.

Let’s take an example. Tomorrow, one of my clients has a meeting with a prospect: an international global company. It’s very tempting to prepare for that meeting by trying to “prove credentials”. However, there are several problems with this. First of all, the prospect is a savvy HR Director: she would quickly detect that intention. Second, “proving oneself” is a distraction from where the real value lies: which is always about how we can be useful. Third, the desire to be “interesting” often generates anxiety and stress, which can subtly diminish one’s presence and credibility in a meeting.

Self-worth is deeper than self-esteem. When business-development is done on a foundation of unconditional self-worth, rather than conditional self-esteem, this shift generates a series of practical changes that boosts a professional’s capacity for impact and also enhances trust.

Having studied this shift during the writing of the book “The Self-Worth Safari”, I observe seven ways in which self-worth is a game changer for in business-development: particularly for independents, but also for anyone working in account-development in larger companies.


It’s usually easier to trust people who are “interested”, rather than those who are constantly striving to be “interesting”. Because self-worth frees you from the incessant obligation to be interesting, you are able to be curious about the other’s challenges, to be interested in their lives. Clients sense your intent very early in a conversation. Of course, you still work on your introduction and (brief) self-presentation. Indeed, these will be all the more impactful when they are value-centered i.e. focused on the challenges of others and how you meet their needs.

When reworked with this distinction in mind, you can quickly see the impact of value-centered introductions and proposals, These usually result in more sales and higher fees: particularly when coupled with a “partner vs. servant” approach to client-management (see #5 below).


Disappointments are a daily fact of life in business-development. Proposals get rejected. Offers get ignored. Prospects don’t show up for meetings. Partners or suppliers build expectations and then don’t deliver. If your self-esteem is linked to results — even how other people behave around you — this makes for a real roller-coaster ride, with many disappointments.

With self-worth, you possess unconditional friendship with yourself — even when things don’t go according to plan, even when you don’t perform as you “should”. This does not mean that you don’t get hurt from time to time. Indeed, it takes a modicum of self-worth to honestly acknowledge hurt, as opposed to denying the pain. Most important of all however, is that with self-worth, you don’t drift into self-reproach e.g. blaming yourself for consorting with flaky people in the first place, or not being compelling enough in your proposal.

When people really apply this distinction, one of the tangible results is that they bounce-back from setbacks in a matter of minutes or hours, rather than days or weeks. Because they are no longer obsessed with their own self-assessments (whether good or bad), they deal with the issue, take on board the learning… and move on.


Business-development is all about being a step ahead of the client. Of course, this can be done with a self-esteem mindset: some professionals are indeed masters of exuding confidence. There is no doubt that self-esteem often brings a desire for high standards and comes with values such as excellence.

Self-worth goes further. When we experience unconditional friendship towards ourselves, we can go out into the world in a new spirit of curiosity and lightness. We leave behind that inner critic, that often drains emotional energy and stops us trying new things. We are no longer a hostage to a host of self-assessments, which in turn unleashes a new lightness, joy and creativity.


Many of the people I work with are well aware that they need to adapt their value-proposition for the future, rather than just relying on sales messages that worked in the past. Most value-proposition work comes straight out of the self-esteem school of thought: i.e.answering questions like “What am I uniquely good at?” or “What makes me special?”.

With self-worth, you can answer those questions, too… but you will almost certainly want to go further. Building on a desire to be useful (rather than just to prove yourself), you focus on the needs of others and you start to craft a high-quality approach. You campaign for choice of the right approach, not just for choice of you as supplier or advisor. You anticipate future barriers and ensure you are a step ahead of the client.


All of this starts to change your mindset as well as your behavior. Looking back, many professionals see how they were sometimes stuck in a “servant” mindset, because they yearned for that constant client validation. With self-worth, you value yourself and your work, so you are now ready for Partnership relationships rather than Servant relationships. This is one of the characteristics that distinguishes an advanced professional from the mass of service-providers. Needless to say, it brings tangible rewards in terms of fees, too.


If you have followed the shifts so far, you are almost certainly not striving to be the cheapest professional in town. Here there is an interesting difference between how self-worth-based professionals justify high-fees, as opposed to how self-esteem-based professionals explain themselves. The latter tend to talk about themselves: their expertise or experience, their brand or their organization. Self-worth-based professionals explain their fees based on the value of their work i.e. the benefits that you will enjoy or the risks that you will avoid.


Business-development is a high-energy game: physically, emotionally and mentally. Even successful professionals can become jaded or burned out. Hence there is an ever-present issue of sustainability.

When I review the thousands of professionals I’ve worked with over two decades, sometimes it’s hard to see what makes for sustainability. For some it’s about planning, for others it’s about investing. For some it’s about self-care, for others it’s about mastering the shifts above.

But one factor comes up time after time: that relates to WHY they do business. Those whose sense of purpose is deeper than their own Ego seem to access a groundwater supply of motivation that survives any drought. By unconditionally valuing themselves, they can be loyal to that purpose even on days when conditional self-esteem might easily dry up.

In the words of Edgar Friedenberg, “What we must decide is how we are valuable, not how valuable we are”.

What approach do you stand for? What happens to those who ignore your approach? What do you believe in, even if some clients reject it?

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