The freelance workforce is growing rapidly. Terms like gig economy have entered everyday usage, and digital nomad is now a career path that many aspire to.
As a freelancer, you’re always looking for new ways to grow your business.
Maybe you’re already following a ton of job boards, posting on social media, and keeping your website up to date.
But have you thought about using other freelancers as a growth strategy?
Forming strategic alliances with people in related fields is one of the best ways for a freelancer to grow their business.
Graphic designers and web designers have been a continual source of new business for my public relations and marketing communications business; they frequently bring me in to write brochure copy, website copy, or similar marketing materials for their clients. And if I come across a client who needs design help, I refer them to one of my trusted colleagues.
Forming an alliance with someone in your own field is another way informal partnerships can help you grow your business. Such alliances have enabled me to take on projects that are larger than I can handle on my own. Bringing in another person with experience that’s similar to or complements my own has also allowed me to go after larger clients that might hesitate to put a project into the hands of a solo freelancer.
Related: 5 Reasons Why Your Freelance Business Isn’t Growing
Making alliances work
My personal experience with alliances has been 95% positive. In fact, I have several alliances that have lasted decades. But I’ve seen many colleagues and clients enter into alliances only to be deeply disappointed with the results.
A copywriter friend entered an alliance relationship with someone she had known for years. But since they weren’t clear about each other’s expectations, the result was a disaster… especially for my friend who lost existing freelance clients in the process.
So how can you reap the benefits of alliances and decrease the potential for things going wrong?
Here are some tips on how to get it right from the beginning.
Learn how the other person conducts business and treats clients
The tendency when talk turns to forming an alliance is to focus on how well your service offerings match up with those of the other person. But if you don’t ensure from the start that you have the same attitude toward how to conduct business and how to treat clients and customers, you’re in for a world of trouble.
One of the first topics you need to discuss with a possible ally is your objectives for your businesses. Listen carefully to how the other person talks about their clients.
Do they seem to value their clients and enjoy working with them, or do they say negative things about them? Do they seem to put the interests of their clients first? Are they committed to delivering the best work possible or do you get the sense that they try to nickel and dime their clients? Are they conscientious about deadlines or do they tend to treat them lightly?
If the business habits and attitudes of a potential alliance partner don’t match yours, walk away quickly. If you don’t, you’re going to face an endless series of arguments and may even end up harming your business reputation if people begin to associate you with the bad service provided by your ally.
Find out about the clients of your potential partner
One of the things I enjoy most about freelancing is the freedom to choose my own clients. Depending on how close an alliance you form, you may be giving away some of this freedom. If you’re going to be working with the existing clients of a new ally (and not just going after new clients together), you want to make sure you’ll be comfortable with these clients.
Over the years, I have delved into referrals I received from an alliance partner only to find out they were in no way the type of person I’d want to work with. In one memorable instance, an ally referred me to someone who wanted help in writing a business book; a quick internet search revealed that this would-be client was a convicted felon who had served time for chicanery in his former business – in other words, not someone anyone should be taking business advice from. My ally knew this but didn’t think it was a big deal! If your potential ally has any dubious characters on their client list, you’ll want to know about this in advance.
Try baby steps first
Dipping your toe in the water with a small joint project instead of going headlong into announcing to the world that you’re entering a major alliance is often the best way to go. This gives both of you a chance to see how the other works with clients and to judge whether their skill level matches what they claim to have. If you find problems, you can either figure out a way to address those or bow out of the alliance. This will save you the embarrassment of having announced an alliance only to have to acknowledge shortly thereafter that it didn’t work out.
Put key points in writing
This should not need to be said, but, alas, from my observations of others, it is advice that is frequently ignored, to everyone’s later regret. Going through the exercise of putting in writing the key points of an alliance is very helpful. While you may not be forming a legal partnership, you still will benefit from putting down the key points, especially those related to money and responsibilities. And, of course, if you are forming a legal partnership, then make sure you have all your paperwork ducks in order on that front before moving forward.