We’re currently doing an evidence review for a Combined Authority, and one stat (of many) stood out and made us reflect on the changing structure of the business development workforce. Of about 77,100 new jobs in the Combined Authority area created in 2012-16, c47% were accounted for by ‘atypical’ work (i.e. self-employed, freelance, contractor, temporary etc).

At first glance this seemed a significant and surprising share of jobs growth. But reflecting on business development, since 2010, we have seen many public service providers slim down their internal business development resource and shift to a blended model of in-house and external support.

What are the drivers for this change in strategy?

  • Good business development people are expensive, so it’s better to reduce your fixed overheads and shift to more flexible resource.
  • The big ticket pipeline is precarious – multiple delays across multiple departments and an unstable government means a long term investment in business development is difficult to justify (case in point is the recent business development redundancies at two of the largest outsourcers).
  • There is an increased need to bring more specialist skills (bid writing, bid management, commercial model development, solution design) to the table, as procurement processes have matured (or become more complex!).

But what about the business development folks that are now self-employed, freelancers, associates? A good proportion of the brilliant business development people we’ve worked with over the years now fall into this atypical camp. They enjoy the binary nature of the work (less politics, good job done = more work); the flexibility to choose who they work with; the good day rates; and the ability to do varied, interested work with clients that suits their interests.

It is probably also true that they enjoy jumping off the ‘bid carousel’,  so often a trait of large central bid/proposal teams. So it’s a win-win right? It can certainly feel like it, but perhaps we’re looking at the gig economy through the lens of the well paid gigs. What about new people entering the business development profession? Ten to fifteen years ago, organisations were recruiting and training up graduates (that are now industry leaders) and that is frankly very difficult to achieve within the atypical model. It will be interesting to see how the next generation of business development professionals achieve their career progression.