There you are, cruising around the bay on your one-sailed Sunfish, Hobie-cat or multi-sheeted catamaran, fishing for consulting projects. A fellow sailor hails from his small craft, “Would you like to join forces? I’m sure we could catch more together.” What do you think? Will adding more sailboats to your armada result in a better haul?
Take a moment to look at the reality and rules of partnering.
(First, apologies to all mariners who frequent my blog; lack of nautical knowledge couldn’t deter me from torturing this metaphor.)
Reality: Prospects who want berths on ocean liners won’t choose your skiff, no matter how many sails you add.
Many solo consultants and boutiques consider partnering to make themselves more attractive to buyers who lean toward big-name consulting firms. “Companies don’t want a solo firm like mine,” they reason. “Adding a confederate or two will make me a viable option for more projects.”
But this course is flawed. Most prospects who will seriously consider a 15-person firm, will also hire a solo shop or boutique. In contrast, decision-makers who dismiss single-shingle consultancies out of hand express equal disinterest in boutiques and loose networks of small players.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking a partner or two will convince a prospect to jump ship from his Crystal Cruises mega-steamer. You’re a different type of vessel, period. Take on the clients who appreciate your sleek lines.
That isn’t to say partnering will always leave you high and dry. My consulting practice is buoyed by partnerships. Which is why I always navigate the depths of collaboration with the following three rules in mind:
Rule #1: Only Add Sails That Capture More Wind
Unless a partner can reach prospects that you can’t touch already, they’re not adding value. At least in terms of business development. Overlapping networks do nothing other than steal wind from each other’s sails and cause confusion over who gets credit for propelling the ship.
Rule #2: Your Partner Must Instinctively Duck When You Jibe
Let’s be frank: not everyone works well with others. Some well-intentioned souls are so frustrating, they make you want to scuttle your own ship. Others who like the cut of your jib make reasonable mates; but reasonable isn’t good enough for partnering. Give them a wide berth too.
Only a precious few work with you like an America’s Cup crew. Those are the only consultants you should consider as partners.
Rule #3: Join Forces When a Catch is in Sight
The greatest white lie of consulting is, “When I see an opportunity that looks right for you, I’ll definitely send it your way.” Consultants are well-meaning, but promises to help each other are worth their weight in vapor.
Far too many consultants are building loose coalitions with the naïve hope that colleagues will produce hot, leviathan-sized leads.
Save your partnering energy for those times when a concrete opportunity is well-defined and you can steer toward it immediately.
While I’m a big fan of partnerships, I know that multiple boats tethered together don’t travel faster. Most often, they just get tangled up until they cast off the linkages and drift apart.
Consultants are constantly taking each other out for “get-to-know-you lunches.” Give 90% of those invitations a polite heave-ho, and devote the time to prospects instead.
Use the reality and rules above as your anchor, and you’ll weather the stormy seas of independent consulting better than you’d think.
What other rules have worked for you in partnerships with colleagues?
Text and images are © 2019 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.