by Dana Detrick-Clark
As creatives, we’re always looking for ways to offer our clients more options, more quality, and more value. These are often the ways we try to differentiate ourselves in a market full of gifted and capable competition.
But the pitfalls of offering too much can sometimes cause our plans of “upping our game” to backfire. Trying to offer too many additional options to our services can add learning curves to our already full workloads, and knock our main work out of focus. Overinvesting in gadgets and staff can kill our cash flow and put us behind the pack, instead of ahead. And inexperience in pricing these new offerings to create the value we long to provide can turn our feast into famine — fast!
But there is a simple and social way to do all of this and more for our clients, without spending a dime:
A strategic partnership (also referred to more formally as a strategic alliance) occurs when two businesses combine the skills they each possess, by means of agreements or contracts, to benefit the other and potentially gain clients together. What separates a strategic partnership from a traditional business partnership is that there is no transfer or sharing of business ownership – each entity remains structurally separate, but gets the benefit of having service offerings they don’t need to develop in-house.
It differs from outsourcing, hiring, or buying product from other businesses in that there is a mutual exchange of service that benefits a different end client, as well as shared prospecting for those experiences.
For example, if you’re a voice talent, you may be hired by a flash developer to voice a web video they’re creating. This makes him or her a client, not a strategic partner.
But if you were to form a strategic partnership with that flash developer, you would each be able to seek projects that included the other, knowing you could call upon that relationship to fulfill the greater service your client needed. You would be their “go-to” for flash projects requiring voice, and they would be your “go-to” for clients requiring the flash development you will be voicing for them.
Neither company would need to formally change, but together, you would be offering one end user something greater.
Some examples of other businesses voice talent may want to strategically partner with:
A music composer, producer or library. Often, your clients are going to want soundbeds or more fully-produced spots. By offering this, you’ll set your business up to earn more and grow faster. But if you’re not a musician, or have no experience mixing music with voice, what you offer may be sub-par, and actually turn your clients off. Royalty-free CDs and sites might be cheap, but you’re going to sit there all day trying to sort through endless samples until you find something that works, and even then, you have no guarantee your client will approve it (sending you back to spend more money on more tracks) or even if they’ve already used it! With so many common pieces popping up on the web and in multiple libraries, you just never know.
But if you have a music composer, producer, or personal library owner as a strategic partner, they’re going to know every license that’s been issued for a track, making sure you’ll never present a client with music they’ve already used. They will be able to cut the track to fit your project and mix the music with your voice over if needed. And, most beneficially, they can find tracks for you on THEIR time, while you’re recording voice over for other clients, and making more money for yourself.
An audio editor and/or studio. It’s so common nowadays to assume all voice talent maintain a home studio, but that’s just not the case. Especially when you’re starting out, if you don’t have the money upfront to invest in the gear and education, a strategic partnership with another editor or studio can benefit you both. You will have the resources at your disposal to make the recordings you need, while the studio and/or editor will have talent they can expand their business with. Win-win!
A video production company. Many voice talents have client rosters full of video production companies. Especially today, when web video is continuing to gain in commercial popularity, it’s rare to find one that hasn’t worked on this kind of project. Many of these producers are solopreneurs who need voice talent on a steady basis to bring their clients’ projects to life. How much more money would you both be able to make if you combined your skills into a package you both could shop?
Another voice talent. This one is a no-brainer. Clients love hiring voice teams! It insures consistency of quality and compatibility on multi-talent projects. Whether it’s a male/female team, an English/Spanish team, or any other combination of characters, clients love having these options under one “roof” (whether or not the talents are under one roof, physically. In most cases, they’d never know if you weren’t). A solid strategic partnership here could create frequent and fun projects for both talent.
Ready to give a strategic partnership a try? Here are some things to think about:
Who will handle the money? Will the client hire and pay through one of you, or will you market yourselves together, but be paid separately by the client?
What is your markup? You’ll want to make sure you both understand each other’s rate structure. If you’re being paid separately but your pricing is incompatible, you’re going to have problems with clients. If one of you is handling the quoting and payments, you’ll need to make sure your partner is getting their proper fee, as well as yourself!
How long will the relationship last? Will it be for one project? For ten? For a year? Set timeline boundaries you each can live with, in case there is a change of heart in the relationship. No one wants to be tied to someone they can’t work with.
Is it exclusive? Will you be able to have other strategic partnerships in the same industry? Will you be able to procure projects without them? Don’t step on toes or hurt feelings when this is an easy one to decide.
What are your legal and physical obligations? Who owns what intellectual property? Who will pay legal fees to settle disputes? If you’re sharing a physical work space, what are the responsibilities of each party? Settle these things before expenses arise.
What’s your exit strategy? What if a project goes wrong? What if one of you decides to close up shop or move to another industry? Or, most likely, what if you’ve just run your course with each other and want to amicably move on? Decide from the onset what the best methods will be, and shake hands on them!
Strategic partnerships can be amazing opportunities to go beyond being freelancers competing against each other, to really establishing your businesses by entering into mutually beneficial creative relationships. With solid structures, expectations, and goals, both parties can deliver more options, quality, and value to create even more satisfied clients.
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