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Inside The Office

How And When To Collaborate With A Colleague

A few years ago, I was one of four Solopreneurs who collaborated to create and present a half-day marketing and sales themed professional development conference. The target audience was in-house sales and marketing professionals who had the authority to hire independent professionals (us!) to manage special projects. Each of us would cover an aspect of sales or marketing. I agreed to present a networking talk, another would present B2B sales training and so on.

The conference was the brainchild of an experienced and successful marketing services Solopreneur. She invited three of us to join her and assured us that she had relationships with several corporate clients, at least a few of whom we could expect to attend.

She ran the show. A lot of time was spent on planning meetings. A few hundred dollars was spent on production expenses: printing promotional fliers, the conference room rental fee and continental breakfast for the attendees. We set admission at $69.

Our audience numbered about 30 and we considered that respectable, but the profile of attendees exactly mirrored us—Solopreneurs who were hoping to meet corporate decision-makers who could authorize and fund outsourced projects. It was apparent that the marketing lady overstated her client relationships, since her corporate prospects failed to appear.

The whole thing was a total waste of time and money because, as we three along for the ride came to realize, corporate execs do not feel compelled to attend such programs. They are not looking to upgrade their skills at conferences hosted by a group of Solopreneurs. They don’t even attend conferences hosted by their local chambers of commerce, never mind that most of their companies are members. It has become increasingly difficult for Solopreneurs and small business owners to meet corporate decision-makers at all, except perhaps in certain social situations or in volunteer 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 billable hours added to your P & L. However, collaboration can also work against you. The key is to know when to collaborate with your colleagues. There are questions that you would be wise to ask your prospective collaborators and also yourself, to increase the chance that the collaboration will be a win-win for all involved, including the client.

Are the collaboration goals worthwhile?

Precisely, what valuable tangible and intangible benefits will the collaboration produce for you? The project mentioned above was highly speculative and as a result, risky. Partnering with a colleague as a strategy to win the bid on a lucrative assignment is less risky than creating a 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 has funding.

What can collaborators bring to the table?

Collaborations are formed to bring together entities that have complementary skill sets. I’ve collaborated on a book with a well-respected author to provide content editing, serve as a photo editor and perform self-publishing services that she decided to outsource.  In exchange, I added book editing to my CV and received a modest payment. Collaborations should be win-win propositions and the project on which you and your collaborators partner up on 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 will be no successful partnership. This is hugely important, because your reputation and client relationships, current and future, will be on the line. If your collaborators cannot or will not hold up their end, your brand may be damaged and unfortunately, you don’t really know anyone until you’ve either lived 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 an important deadline is looming, are collaborators willing to work and respond to emails after 6:00 PM, or on weekends or holidays? How will collaborators respond to a high-maintenance client who emails at 9:00 PM on Sunday nights when there is no apparent emergency? The answers to these questions may help determine when to collaborate, and when it’s perhaps best not to.

What’s the ROI?

The properly conceived and managed collaboration will allow the participants to offer additional services, exceed client 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.

Deciding how and when to collaborate with a colleague can be tricky, but if you ask yourself the proper questions, it may be easier to determine when to collaborate and when it is best to do it yourself.

Thanks for reading,


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