Business Owners Toolbox Blog Discussions and articles to help the small business owner solve the challenges they face as they grow their business.

December 31, 2009

Can Consultants Collaborate on Marketing and Projects?

From a discussion on Bay Area Consultants Network (LinkedIn) started by Herb Kessner: “How can our members with similar business models collaborate for success and revenue in 2010?”


I’m involved in such an effort with other consultants.

I would like to see efforts like this work, but I’ve found it difficult to produce the desired benefits. The idea is simple: We  have complementary offerings, thus:
1. We should be able to provide related services to a single client, when either of us alone could provide only part of what the client needs
2. We can take advantage of each other’s marketing networks. I refer qualified prospects to you, and you refer them to me.

But what happens is often different. I may be attracted to such a joint effort because my well is running dry, I’m trying to shortcut the tough necessity of marketing, and I’m hoping you will rescue me. Alas, you are hoping the same of me! So we’re two people (or more) whose pipelines are trickling.

Thus to work together effectively, the first question we must address is how we will tackle the annoying marketing question.

If our pipelines are flowing smoothly, and we’ve got as much work as we can handle, what’s our motivation for joining forces? Why go to the trouble of working out joint operating agreements with you when it just takes away from my billable hours? If I need somebody with your expertise on a project, why don’t I just hire you? Or sub part of it out to you?

This is a legitimate viewpoint, and a lot of consultants think this way. And this is why we remain solopreneurs. (Or, if we’re a very prolific rainmaker, we begin hiring others as subs or employees to handle projects we generate.)

But there is a case for a joint operating agreement among two or more consultants. The prime rationale, in my experience, is synergy and collaboration. We’ve got to energize each other, and make each other more creative and productive.

Several pre-requisites:

1. We must work with the same type of clients. Not just similar, but the same. I’m seeing this in a current effort: I work with slightly larger small businesses than does my collaborator, and it’s an issue.

2. We must offer truly complementary services to the same niche of customers. Not just non-competing services. Not just services the same client would purchase (e.g., my growth management services and your financial services). We must offer an integrated package that meets the felt needs of our target customers.

3. We must be able to develop brand new customers–and probably new channels to reach them. We can’t rely on our existing lists and means of outreach.

4. We must all be 100% committed to making this work–esp. the marketing, which is often the hardest part. Can it work as a sideline? A big question. How do we continue to handle our current business while developing this new joint venture?

Questions of success. When we do get joint clients:
— Who handles the admin stuff? Contracts. Billing. Banking. Insurance.
— Who owns the intellectual property? Not the “for hire” stuff that belongs to the clients, but the creative stuff that belongs to us. If I get inspired by your idea (and I will!), and develop a whole new thing from it, how do we divvy it up?
— What happens if you want to work, work, work, and I want to spend more time in Hawaii? Or if our joint venture has a big rush client, but I have to serve my own clients as well?

What do you think? I invite others to weigh in on this issue as well.

Mike Van Horn

Powered by WordPress