Lead Generator # 18 – Collaborate…

“No Man is an Island…” beings a poem by John Donne. Written almost 400 years ago, it is still true today. True in life, and true in your own consulting practice.

In this post, we’ll look at leveraging your business by collaborating with others. We’ll examine several facets of collaboration — marketing (lead generation), production (joint projects), or a combination of both. We’ve done all three over the years with success.

-Marketing - Use joint efforts to promote your businesses. These can be simple, like cross referrals on web sites or guest blog posts. They can be more sophisticated, like forming a group to provide cross marketing. An example of the latter is the Forensic Group, a local engineering group in Arizona who help each other as expert witnesses.

-ProductionCall in colleagues for help. Maybe you get the huge job, but can’t handle all of it or don’t have all the necessary expertise. A common example is the remodeling contractor. While the contractor may do much of the work, he/she calls in preferred plumbers, electricians, or concrete finishers to take care of special tasks.

-Combo marketing & productionThink temporary¬† partnerships. That means the relationships don’t need to last forever, but they do need to benefit all parties involved. These are often complimentary businesses, but can even include friendly competitors.

Here are several examples of successful collaborations for us:

  • Teamed with TUV Product Service (a local test lab) on a mini-trade show. Started in 1986, the annual Minnesota EMC Event is now 26 years old. It was our fist collaboration, and gave both firms great visibility in our local MN market.
  • Teamed with Tektronix (a large test equipment manufacturer) on public training seminars. Started in 1993, this successful partnership is now 20 years old. This gave both firms national visibility in our specialty.
  • Teamed with EDN (a major engineering magazine) on a 100 page design guide. Not only did we write all the content, but we helped solicit the advertisers. As a result, it was highly successful for the publisher. And with over 130,000 copies, it gave us worldwide visibility and credibility. The guide eventually became a book, which we now sell on our website and hand out in our classes.
  • Teamed with a consulting colleague on a specialty web portal. This turned out to be a poor fit for our consulting businesses, but it was good fit for a magazine publisher who subsequently purchased it. For the publisher, it was a make or buy decision, and we had already done the heavy lifting.
  • Most recently teamed with the Applied Technology Institute on a specialty class. ATI specializes in technical training programs for the military/aerospace market. We tailored an existing in-house class for their market, plus they promote our existing public classes. Definitely a win-win for both firms.

Don’t want to mislead you — all of the above involved substantial efforts. Yet they have all paid off rather nicely. As with most marketing efforts, be prepared to a lot of work.

Here are some additional do’s and don’ts on collaboration:

  • DO seek a win-win-win - You must benefit, your partner(s) must benefit, and your clients/customers must benefit. The benefits need not be purely financial. Increased visibility alone may justify collaboration, particularly when you are starting out.
  • DO get something in writing – We prefer a memo of understanding. You don’t need a formal contract (which may mean lawyers), but you do need to document the relationship and expectations This is particularly true if money is involved — who does what, costs, and profit splits.
  • DON’T call up and ask for overflow¬† business – This is begging, not collaboration. We occasionally get these calls, and frankly find them rather annoying. Bring something to the party first.

Finally, collaboration allows small firms to leverage their strengths and multiply the results. Just make sure there are benefits for everybody!

PS - Fellow Arizona blogger Pam Slim (Escape From Cubicle Nation) offers a nice on-line class on collaboration. Check it out here.

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