Several years ago, I was one of four Freelancers who collaborated on the development and presentation of a half-day marketing and sales themed professional development conference whose target audience was in-house sales and marketing professionals who had the authority to hire Freelancers to manage special projects at their respective organizations. Each of us would cover an aspect of sales or marketing (I agreed to present a networking workshop, another would present B2B sales training, etc.).
The conference was the brain child of an experienced and successful marketing services competitor. She invited us to participate, assured us that she had relationships with more than a few corporate clients and acquaintances, at least a few of whom we could count on to attend, and she ran the show. Rather a lot of time was spent on planning meetings. A few hundred dollars was spent on production expenses: printing the promotional fliers, the room rental fee (we received a good discount at a fancy law firm’s conference room) and continental breakfast for the attendees. We charged maybe $69 to attend.
We managed to draw an audience of about 30, a number that we considered respectable, but the corporate prospects failed to materialize, apparently because my marketing competitor hugely over-stated her client relationships. The audience consisted entirely of people just like us—Freelancers who were trying to make themselves more attractive to those who control billable hours and who were hoping, no doubt, to meet a corporate marketer or two.
The whole thing was a complete waste of time and money because, as we three along for the ride came to realize, corporate types do not feel the need to attend such programs. They are not looking to upgrade their skills at a conference hosted by a bunch of Freelancers. They don’t even turn out for conferences hosted by their local chambers of commerce, despite the fact that most of their companies are members. In fact, it has become increasingly difficult to meet them at all, except perhaps in certain social situations or in board service.
Collaborating with carefully selected colleagues can open up doors to success that would ordinarily be closed and can result in good clients added to your roster and more billable hours added to your Income Statement. However, there are questions that you would be wise to ask your prospective collaborators and also yourself, to increase the chances that the collaboration will be a win-win for all involved, including the client.
Can the collaboration achieve worthwhile goals?
Precisely, what valuable tangible and intangible assets will the collaboration produce for you? The project mentioned above was highly speculative and as a result, risky. Partnering with a colleague or two as a strategy to win the bid on a lucrative or prestigious assignment is less risky than creating yet another professional development conference. Collaborating to chase rainbows is not what you want. Collaborate to more effectively compete for a valuable resource, such as a project that exists and has funding.
What resources will the collaborator provide?
Collaborations are formed to bring together entities that have complementary skill sets. A few months ago, I collaborated with an author to provide for her book content editing, serve as photo editor and perform self-publishing services that she preferred to outsource. In exchange, I gained experience, added book editing to my CV and obtained (minimal) payment. Collaborations should be win-win propositions and the project(s) on which you and your collaborator(s) partner should reflect Aristotle’s recommendation, that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
The trust factor
Collaborators must be able to trust one another for without trust, there can be no successful partnership. This is hugely important, because your reputation and client relationships, current and future, will be on the line. If your collaborator(s) cannot or will not hold up their end, your brand can be damaged and unfortunately, you don’t really know anyone until you’ve either lived with or worked with them. A discussion of the interpretation and practice of work ethic and customer service will give insight into the matter.
For example, if there is a big deadline looming, are collaborators willing to work and respond to emails on weekends, holidays and after 6:00 PM? How will collaborators respond to a high-maintenance client who emails at 9:00 PM on Sunday nights when there is no apparent emergency?
What will be the ROI?
The properly conceived and managed collaboration will allow the participants to offer additional services, exceed the client’s expectations, build good client and partnership relationships and enhance the possibility of referrals. A good client will be added to the roster of each participant and billable hours that would not otherwise have been available will appear on Income Statements. The client will receive measurable ROI as a result of the venture.
Thanks for reading,