What is business development?

Business Development is the name for a little meeting or department in most large businesses. It’s also a remarkable opportunity for a freelancer,  small business, or entrepreneur to make money, have fun and create value.

Businesses who profit by doing something that is tangential to their core mission have done a great job at business development.  It sometimes becomes part of their core mission, because the profit is so good, other times good business development builds up the brand or just makes revenue. And often it’s a small business who can be flexible enough to make things happen.


  •  Square inked a deal with Starbucks to be featured in that chain’s stores
  • When Kmart unveiled that it would carry Martha Stewart‘s kitchenware line and would be sold exclusively in Kmart’s 2,100 stores and its Bluelight.com Web site.
  • WestBow Press Launches New Publishing Packages with Berean Christian Stores. The strategic self-publishing division of the world’s largest Christian publisher, Thomas Nelson, Inc., offer publishing packages that provide authors with guaranteed stocking and book signing opportunities in Berean Christian Stores across the country.
  • AOL buys AIM instant messaging software and integrates it into their service.
  • Target Names Starbucks Coffee Retailer for Canada Stores
  • Best Buy offers extended warranties on appliances you buy. They don’t provide the warranty, of course, a business development person did a deal with an insurance/service company to do it and they share the profit.
  • Colonial Properties Trust makes an agreement with Comcast to have basic cable already installed in selected properties

We often don’t see business development from outside the company, and all the potential deals that fail. Many companies spend millions of dollars a year looking for deals and then discovering that they pay off many times over. Often what happens, usually with smaller competitors, is that they are so focused on their core business that they never consider partnerships, licensing, publishing, acquisition and other arrangements that might increase everything. One company I know probably makes more money on business development than they make on motorcycles, Harley Davidson.

The thing that makes business development remarkable is that the best deals have never been done before. There’s no template, no map, no dummies guide, just an everyday grind it out approach to making it work. This is why most organizations are so awful at it. They don’t have the confidence to make decisions or believe they have the ability to make mistakes.

For my last  example let’s look at the Apple Nike partnership on making a device that integrates your iPod with your sneakers. This took years and cost millions of dollars to develop. Most companies would just flee, giving up long before a deal was done and a product was shipped.