Everyone was young and full of themselves, except for one.  We were at one of those management training seminars. You know the one, they play an old world War II black and white movie. One that highlighted good and bad management. The instructors watched you all the time, at class, at the required social gatherings and interacting with others. All in the vain of choosing the next best managers. 

One of us was an older guy named Stan. His gray hair and wrinkles denoted long years with the company. He took copious notes during the seminar but never said anything. We all wondered why he was part of the group. We called him the “note taker.” 

We were all set free the last night to have dinner out on the town. The restaurant was loud with business types from all walks of endeavors. We sat at a large table in the bar, enjoying the meal. The sound of business chatter and drink orders swirled about. We all talked about our offices in the far-flung cities we came from and our perceived future. Stan offered nothing about his. 

As the evening wore to an end, I turned to him and ask, “Stan, you took notes on everything, certainly you must have something to say.”

He took another sip of his neat poured bourbon and looked around the table. “Well, I guess I’d say this. You are all very young. You have a great future ahead of you. Your being groomed for management. All the cards seem like there in your hands.”

He paused for a moment and then looked at us again, “Just be careful how you play them at the table of life. Business storms happen often, in markets and companies. The only thing that will get you through the storm is your book of business. Without it, you don’t have any cards to play. So don’t forget to build that book of business whether you seek management or not.” 

Stan got up. “With that, I will bid you adieu.” He left leaving his bill on the table for us to pay. 

We laughed and shook it off, but his comments echoed through my career. Over and over, I saw managers and other business professionals without a book of business easily tossed aside when companies or markets changed.

Building a book of business today is much harder than it was then. You used to be able to develop a long-term relationship with clients. One based on skill, products, referrals, service and the bonds of time. That’s still true for the professional field and if you have your own business.

However, many business people today often serve a vast array of clients. They do business with the company brand not you. Your role is limited. Corporations are very skilled at creating “cogs.” Ones easily replaced.

Surviving and being successful today is all about avoiding being a replaceable clog. That involves redefining what a book of business is and controlling it as much as possible. Today your book of business is your value and influence within a company. One not based on individual clients but instead based on performance. 
You may never get on a traditional relationship basis with individual clients. However, you will probably have a territory within the marketing arena of a large company. How well you do in performing in that area is your book of business. 

I have referenced some excellent “how to” reading on this subject (see Additional Reading Section). Some of the key suggestions to build your new book of business in today’s market are:

Learning as much as possible about your job and company. Always exceeding your goals. Building a productive network inside the company and beyond. Taking all the training you can. Reading trade journals and attending seminars. Sharing insights you learned with management. Not tying your star to one manager (they always change). Making the current manager look good with you performance. Supporting others while building your referral network. Volunteering for extra assignments. Working to have as much control as possible over the area you serve.

All these close the gap between you just being a number and your importance to the company success. If you do well, the company will be reluctant to get rid of you. They don’t want to lose revenue or ramp up another person to take over your territory. Performance speaks legions. Even if they sell out, the new owner will want to keep your territory revenue.

If you have to employ plan B and move on, the referrals, reputation, results and network you developed on your current job will pay dividends. You will have become your own book of business and brand.

This may just seem like doing a good job. In reality though, its all about having cards in your hand to survive the storms of business.

David Young

Additional Reading on Subject:
“Earn a Promotion in a Year” by Margaret Steen
“How to get Promoted in a Call Center” by Ruth Mayhew
“4 Tips to Build Your Book of Business” by Paige
“How to build a Book of Business” by Agency Consultants
“4 Ways to Build Your Client Book” by Angie Mohr
“Five Governing Principles for Growing Your Book of Business” by David Estrada