As we’ve all heard, the “new economy” is spurring phenomenal growth, which has provided great new resources and clients for many consultants who run their businesses from home. In fact, almost half of all home businesses now do work nationally, and another 15 percent have international clients, according to Paul and Sarah Edwards, authors of Teaming Up: The Small Business Guide to Collaborating with Others to Boost Your Earnings and Expand Your Horizons (J.P. Tarcher, 1997). But all of this new business can be difficult to manage alone.

Why? There’s more competition than ever before, and client expectations run high. It’s the old rule of supply and demand.

If they’re good at what they do, every consultant faces a time when the workload is so heavy that they’re faced with either turning down work or teaming up with other freelancers who can complement what they do. This article will help you find the right people to build a solid consulting team to assist with your workload.

The rules have changed
Many larger companies across the world have formed “strategic alliances”: Disney and ABC, Viacom and CBS, and Ford and Volvo, for example. The first joint business ventures were created by oil companies in the early 1900s to manage risk. The Financial Times said it’s ”better to share these costs with a partner, even if this also meant sharing the rewards of a successful (oil) strike.” Today, it’s no longer about just sharing risk, but about gaining access to complementary resources, sharing opportunities, and beating rivals in the rush to the marketplace. The same can be said about the changing environment of the independent consultant who is forming strategic alliances to “share the wealth.”

“Often, all alone, we simply don’t have the time, money, or expertise to make the most of all the opportunities that await us,” according to the Edwards. “Networking is a two-way street. Not only do you benefit, but you also are able to provide advice, encouragement, referrals, leads, and introductions to everyone else within your network.”

Two heads are better than one
Sure, the saying above is true, but the biggest question is: which two heads? You probably became an independent consultant so you could do your own thing, so if you then choose to team up with potential competitors, you may feel that you’re “sleeping with the enemy.” And although there are measurable benefits to teaming up, you’ll still often wonder which competitors will steal your clients, which is why it’s so important to choose team members wisely.

The project will determine the structure of your team, but experts agree that your team must keep open lines of communication to be successful. You can look at a team as a marriage between partners who all have a stake in the project’s success. Even though the partnerships may not last as long as a marriage, many of the same rules for success apply: listening, questioning, persuading, respecting, helping, sharing, and participating. Similar to the way you would assess a potential client, you should spend time with potential team members to get to know their strong points and weaknesses, and determine if your working styles are compatible before selecting a team.

Teaming up offers big benefits
There are numerous benefits to forming a team, according to the Edwards’ book, including:

  • Getting more business and increasing your income
  • Serving more clients
  • Avoiding downtime between jobs
  • Ability to bid on larger, more interesting projects
  • Enhancing your credibility and reputation
  • Adding on or expanding into additional sources of income
  • Testing out new business ideas with less risk
  • Responding more quickly and easily to the demands of changes in the economy, your field, and the marketplace
  • Reaching clients and making contacts in other geographic locations
  • Sharing expenses to stretch a tight budget
  • Avoiding professional isolation and getting inside information
  • Getting the support you need without hiring employees

Planning is everything
One of the biggest challenges when building a team is setting a solid foundation. Because a team’s form and structure can continuously change, people often forget to do the groundwork and then wonder why the team falls apart. You must have regular meetings to flesh out what you expect from one another during and between every project. These regular meetings are also a good time to build off each other’s ideas, rethink strategies, offer support and encouragement, build trust, and manage conflict. History has shown us that while actual alliances can be risky, teams can be very successful. Luckily, as independent consultants, we can pick and choose our team members and invest in the quality of their character and not just the price of the bottom line.
Have you had success working with your colleagues to get new business and complete projects? What are the dangers and drawbacks involved? Post a comment below or send us a note.