When we talk business development, we are talking about the expansion of growth opportunities for your business. Now, you can work hard, beat feet on the street, get out there into the world and try to develop every potential connection in the market, or you can work smarter and plan your business development strategy around what we like to call the big dogs.

What is a big dog?

A big dog is someone whose business consists of servicing or selling to a group of fragmented targets that you also want to reach. If you can strike up a working business relationship with one of the big dogs, you also manage to reach that entire group of targets – rather than putting in all of the footwork that would otherwise be necessary to contact each individual business. Hey - efficiency is the name of the game, here.

Let's say you're a startup with an idea that's going to revolutionize the way that commenting works for blogs. You could roll around to every blog – each of them with a tiny budget and a frazzling work schedule – and try to get them to implement it. Or you could go for the big dog – say, BlogSpot, Tumblr or WordPress – and try to convince them to implement your idea. If you manage to close that deal, you'll get distribution to every single person using their platform without a gaggle of mind-numbing, attention-deadening meetings.

Of course, this partnership with a large platform will be more complicated than any individual deal you might strike up with bloggers, but you can generally count on making just as much money with a large organization as you would going door-to-door. The real savings here are in time – and your sanity.

There's a useful parallel here in war (there's always plenty to learn about business from Sun Tzu.) In armed combat, you want to project force and take territory, and then concentrate force to hold it. Think of "labor to wrap a deal" as "taking territory" and "maintaining the business relationship" as "holding territory."

Now, think of the way America handles its military – our Navy is lightning-fast, and if it absolutely, positively has to be destroyed overnight, you send in the Air Force and the Marines. But to hold territory, America has its Army – and the Army has a totally different set of skills, expertise and missions.

It takes two different skillsets to take territory and hold it – and both require a very substantial amount of resources and a great exertion of effort. When General MacArthur was running the Pacific theater of World War II, he didn't send the Marines into each Japanese population center, one by one. He focused on taking and destroying the large, strategic military targets. Similarly, General Eisenhower didn't split up the Army to try and take and hold all of France. He found the weakest point and marched a million guns straight down Hitler's gullet. He knew – and you should know - that spreading your efforts too thin will destroy your effectiveness! If you just aim for the capital city, which administers to all the other targets…

All right, we're torturing the war metaphor, here. You get the point.

Of course, doing business with a larger entity comes with its own set of problems (grinding, sclerotic bureaucracy, miles of red tape, power imbalances) but if you can find a "big dog," it's almost always in your best interest to try and sell them your idea first.

Now, it's not always possible to knock out a deal with a big dog. Sometimes you can't reach a decision maker (big dogs tend to be big organizations) and sometimes the decision maker won't want to go through the excruciating time and effort it takes to build consensus to make a major change. Remember that in order to ensure their own continued profitability, they've got to look out for the best interests of everyone under their umbrella. And even if all of their companies (or in our case, bloggers) were to somehow magically be in unanimous agreement about adopting your idea, the big dog still has to do a massive amount of data collection, coordination and implementation to make it all happen. Sometimes, any one of these factors (or a combination of them) can sink a deal that would otherwise be killer.

As a startup, you've got to expect that big dogs will say "no" more often than they say "yes." They don't know (and thus don't trust) your brand, and without a working relationship with someone in a decision-making position in the company, it can be pretty difficult to get a big dog to open up a growth opportunity for your company.

Hey, if you can't topple the capital city right away, you've got to start going after towns and villages individually. If the big dogs don't want to play, go back to the "bottom up" approach where you start building relationships with individuals. Yes, they have no money, they all have different demands for features and functionality, and it's going to take you a million years to get them all. But it's the alternative to giving up – and if you manage to capture enough of the businesses under a certain big dog's umbrella, you might just attract some positive attention and a second look. After all, no one is more important to the big dog than the businesses operating under its auspices, and if you become a priority for even just a few of them, you might find that you have become a priority for the big dog, too.

Of course, it is always best to go after the top-down approach. But if you can't make it happen in the beginning, launch a grassroots campaign in the hopes that you can someday bring that top-down partnership out of your dreams and into reality.