Keep these five professionals on your list of alliances

No consultant or consulting firm survives without strategic partners. You need these five professional alliances to build your business.

IT consulting success depends on establishing strategic alliances that can help grow your business and professional development. You might be able to pound out powerful Web applications for a client in a matter of hours, but lack the skills to add all the needed features. You may feel comfortable making recommendations for a new proprietary database, but not building it or writing the documentation.

In these cases, alliances with other skilled consultants and experts would allow you to work together to fulfill the client's needs. Here are the five types of professionals you need on your office speed dial.

Graphic designer
A professional graphic designer can take your functional software and make it look like something that came out of a Fortune 500 company’s development studio. He or she can create a well-designed Web site, perfect your logo, and improve your image immeasurably. When you have a graphic designer you know you can trust, you can offer clients complete solutions.

Software/hardware engineer
If your background is in software, get a go-to guy for hardware and vice versa. If you’ve worked in IT at all, you can probably handle some tasks you’re not trained for, like troubleshooting a program or figuring out why no one can use the networked printer, but you should also have a professional who can back you up and take care of the problems that are beyond your expertise.

If your background is in hardware, hooking up with a software engineer means that if you’re called in to set up a new network, you can take advantage of the opportunity and pitch a custom development project. If you’re the developer, having an on-call hardware engineer gives you the chance to keep clients happy by salvaging old equipment—or making accurate recommendations on which components to replace. Either way, this alliance is a great opportunity to expand your professional network and increase your chances for landing work.

Communications specialist
If you could do both technical work for a client’s documentation and consumer marketing, you’d have the perfect skill set. Many companies/clients that outsource development are delighted when a consultant can also produce the documentation, user manuals, white papers, or data sheets they’ll need to accompany the new product. So having a writer who does quality work in those areas can increase the project fees.

MBA/business expert
You need someone who can help test an idea for viability. Why invest 800 hours and a few thousand dollars in developing payroll software for small businesses and then find out you’re essentially competing with QuickBooks?

An informal relationship with a business-minded individual can be one of your most valuable resources. And if a client needs expert advice, you’ll feel comfortable recommending someone you know and trust.

Sales associate
If you’re really good at technical consulting, but bad at self-promotion, sooner or later you’re going to run out of clients and projects.

If you have a hard time selling and sealing a project deal, or if you respond to requests to develop custom software by rattling off a list of off-the-shelf products that would do 85 percent of what the client needs, you’re not going to succeed for long. By hooking up with a sales guy who will work on commission, you can hand off these responsibilities.

Cementing the alliances
Once you’ve established your alliances, make them work for you. Take time to get to know the people who will essentially be serving as your support staff before you need them so that you can establish a working relationship. It may also be good to get the team together so they can all meet. When you know your team well, you’ll feel much more confident when you propose a project.

Keep in mind that each alliance presents strong networking potential. Consider strengthening the collaborative work bonds between you and your partners. For example, suggest co-branded promotions with your writer and designer—they’ll recommend you to their clients, and you’ll recommend them to all your clients. Or collaborate on a Web site and offer a discount on an initial project.

Joining forces and establishing a solid strategic alliance team can increase your income, professional advancement, and overall business success.

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