Mersi Halilovic / Business Development Manager  / 
Person to Know

story / Interview / November 19, 2022

Erol, my son, turned two in February. I feel like it was only yesterday that I was calling the hospital and arguing with the midwives trying to convince them that I was in fact in labour and not having gastro. I gave birth to Erol and then three weeks later we went into the first lockdown.

I vividly remember this moment when he was three months old, and I said to my husband ‘Sh-t we’ve done this.’ We’ve somehow managed to adjust to new family life and care for a newborn without help or support. Both my parents are no longer with us and my husband’s parents live in Europe.

Becoming a mum for the first time and being isolated from my support network has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do and I’ve experienced war. Women don’t often talk about how hard motherhood can be, we are afraid to be judged. In our work, we talk about how important it is to be vulnerable but as mothers, we are afraid to be honest about our struggles.

Well, I think it’s a bit of a cliché. I’ve heard many women say, ‘I’ve ended up in construction by pure chance or accident.’ Well, construction found me. My background is Commerce and Arts, with majors in Marketing and Sociology and minors in Anthropology and German. My first job happened to be for a small business that was selling decorative building products. From there I jumped to an engineering company and then to builders and I haven’t looked back. Almost twenty years later, I am proud to say I work in construction.

As a Business Development Manager, in a nutshell, my role is to identify, create and nurture new client relationships and project opportunities to drive growth. Between you and I and your readers, it is a lot of hanging out with great people, drinking and eating, but someone’s got do it!

That’s one of the frustrating things with the construction industry. Business development is often confused with sales. This is not that much of a surprise because many people who are in sales have the title of Business Development Manager. Some companies define business development as a sales role and others as a client engagement and client experience role, with a few more definitions in between. For me, business development is not sales. There is some overlap and similarities.
Business development is about making a business better and helping it grow. It’s a combination of strategic short and long-term activities that are closely aligned to marketing, customer relationship management and the customer experience.

Given that we have a healthy pipeline of projects at the moment, my focus is on securing a pipeline of projects in the next 12 months. This can be complicated as it’s impossible to control timing of projects. It’s challenging to avoid a situation where say two years are spent tracking a project only to have to decline it due to lack of resource availability.

Networking and business development are often transactional. We all need a project, but don’t be obvious about it. Don’t read a name badge as you start chatting to someone and then immediately walk away or let your face show that you’ve lost interest and you start looking away mid-conversation because the person you met is not ‘of high value’ or a potential lead.
Don’t focus on what you can get, focus on what you can give. Actually, don’t focus on giving either, prioritise making honest, authentic connections then worry about everything else.

My advice is don’t do what I did. At the start of my career, I didn’t understand the value of networking. I wanted to go out, I wanted to see my friends. Why would I want to work after work!? Then I found myself in a business development role that required me to network and attend events. I remember walking into a major industry event, and there were like 400 people chatting, and I didn’t know a single soul. There I was in this room, overwhelmed, (over)thinking, ‘What do I do now?’ Everyone seemed to have a great time and were deep in conversation, catching up with colleagues and friends. I can’t remember if I tried to talk to anyone that time, I think I just made my way to the table. Now, when I go to networking events, I always keep an eye out for any people I see awkwardly standing by themselves and sipping on their wine. I know that sickening feeling, I still remember it.

By doing this I’ve come out of my shell a lot. I was naïve in many ways. I met wonderful people through networking, many became my support network and friends. It’s funny how sometimes you can feel comfortable to be completely open and honest to a room of strangers and they make a big impact on your confidence. The people I’ve met through networking have become my mentors and they probably don’t even realise it. I really hope that I’ve made a similar impact on someone else.

On the one hand construction is heralded as the post pandemic recovery saviour. On the other hand, many believe that things are going to start slowing down and to decrease scale and size. We are dealing with difficult market conditions, supply chain pressures and cost escalations. The biggest challenge is finding a way to maintain business stability and adapt to these new conditions and pressures. There is still a lot of anxiety, and a lot of projects are on hold.

I met my husband online – on MySpace- he at the time was living in Europe. So, the whole Zoom thing should be natural to me! But meetings and networking online were just so hard. I was anxious around technical glitches and having my grimacing face up close as I’m trying and failing to fix a technical issue; the awkward silences and so on. I need in-person connection and to feel the chemistry in the room. And quite often on a chemical level – you just know someone is your person.

My experience hasn’t been that different to other women when it comes to gender discrimination. For me personally, my greatest challenge was being from an ethnic background, an immigrant displaced by civil war, with a funky name and an accent. As an ethnic woman, I faced dual discrimination because of my cultural background.

I overcame my challenges by making a lot of mistakes. I was very blind to my own self-sabotaging. But, putting myself out there and meeting amazing people through networking truly helped to bring me out of my shell. It was only then that I began to see my value and understand my worth. I surrounded myself with women who were open about their own struggles and willing to share their stories. I found this very inspiring. I built my own supportive tribe. This supportive tribe had my back at a crucial moment in my career and gave me the encouragement and strength to fight for a promotion and a substantial salary increase. I was afraid that it I asked for ‘too much’ I would be shown the door, but they reminded me of my worth and that I needed to stand up for myself. I honestly could not and would have not done it without them.

I am collaborating with two amazing women to create a networking and knowledge-sharing platform for business development professionals who work in property and construction. Through this platform we want to connect, inspire and empower business development professionals. Our aim is to create an opportunity for BD professionals to come together in a relaxed and intimate setting to inspire each other and leverage each other’s professional networks. We recently hosted our inaugural event, an intimate gathering and we have received great feedback, which makes us truly happy and proud.

I’ve changed so much since having a child, sometimes I don’t recognise myself. I was told that motherhood would change me and it was something I resisted even as I found myself doing things in pregnancy I would have never done previously. I used to joke and say ‘I’m not having a lobotomy, I am still me’- oh man, when I reflect on this it is almost as cringey as some of the text sI sent to my husband when we were dating…I really thought change was a choice.

I like to do a lot of DIY, by that I mean, I research ideas and come up with designs and my husband gives life to my ideas. I practice Reiki as well. I started that when I was pregnant. I just wanted to work on my body and de-stress.

Be true to yourself and know your worth is something I will tell to my child, or children if I have more. Own your story, be proud of it. It took me a long time to realise that I was in a way paralysing myself through comparison. Looking back, I feel guilty, as I deserved so much more than that. My story is one of hardship, war and survival and yet I always compared my progress and success to others, whose life was the complete opposite to mine and felt that I hadn’t achieved as much as they had. So, judge yourself against what you know you’re capable of. Believe that you are worthy and capable without needing validation from others. You are your own person with your own story and journey.


It was an absolute pleasure interviewing Mersi, who was honest and open about her challenges. Mersi has worked hard, but come to terms with the fact that we can only ever do our best and that is always good enough – something many of us often forget. Mersi announced last week that she is moving onto some new things in construction and ending her BD chapter. Having said that it has been a pleasure bringing you her thoughts on BD and we certainly can’t wait to see what she brings to the table next. Wishing Mersi all the best for the close out of the year. D & J xx

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