Consultants: How To Create Powerful Strategic Alliances To Get New Clients

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If you’re one of the growing number of consultants in the world, then prospecting, following up, and writing proposals probably takes up a good portion of your average week.

But… what if all that was unnecessary?

Typically, people think of the consulting business as “feast or famine.” One month you’re overbooked, the next you’re desperate for a single lead.

The truth is, one way of the best ways to combat rollercoaster cash flow is to build strategic alliances with other (non-competitive) agencies. Let them bring projects to you and pre-sell potential clients on your ability to deliver.

Sounds good, right? That’s because it is.

Done right, strategic alliances offer some big benefits: warmer leads, higher consulting rates, fewer proposals… less work.

In this post, we’ll show you how to create long-lasting alliances (that make sense for you), so you can have a steady stream of clients referred to your services.

Ready?

Let’s dive in.

Step #1: Choose Your Potential Referral Sources (Carefully)

In a previous post, we outlined several ways to help your small agency land larger clients.

One of the tactics was to cross promote yourself. Partnering with a colleague who complements your skills (but doesn’t necessarily compete) gives you the ability to put deals together and give the appearance of being a larger operation.

There are around 400,000 people in the U.S. that classify themselves as consultants.

Sadly, many of them are not creating long-lasting alliances.

To get started, take a little time and do your research. Before reaching out, make sure there’s a good fit.

Here are a few things to consider:

  • Previous Work: Ideally, you may have done work with this person. You should at least have a look at their testimonials, portfolio, and experience on LinkedIn to make sure you’re on the same level.
  • Complementary Skillset: If you’re a UX/UI expert, seek out web developers, programmers, SEO consultants, and marketing agencies that work in tech. Find your niche, and think about other consultants that go after your same niche.
  • Look for Lack: You may be able to find big agencies that are sorely missing your skills. For example, if you find a web development company that knows nothing about marketing, then your pay-per-click advertising services suddenly fill a gap for that agency’s clients.

You’ll want to spend an hour searching for potential agencies that could refer you work. Write down a list of 20 prospects.

Next comes the fun part…

Step #2: Set Up An Informational Interview

Now that you’ve put together a list of prospects, it’s time to seek a meeting.

Honesty Time: It might be awkward. Even if you have cold called comfortably for hours on end (especially when you first started), it may seem a little nerve racking to reach out about forming an “alliance.” That’s why we recommend softening your approach with an informational interview.

If you’re close with your potential target, it could be as easy as grabbing coffee.

However, if you have never worked with a potential ally, you may need to start a little slower.

Here are a few ways to approach candidates for meetings:

  • Go Where Potential Allies Already Hang Out: Local Chamber of Commerce groups and small business associations are your low-hanging fruit. Why? Because your fellow consultants attend these events looking for business. Remember: meeting one potential ally can be worth more to your consulting business over the long haul than landing one new client. If you’re a web designer, you should be thrilled to meet a local freelance copywriter (and vice versa).
  • Craft A Friendly Cold Email: If you find yourself wanting to partner with someone who’s barely (or not even) an acquaintance, send an ice breaker email and start an email conversation. If they’re in your area, simply tell them how you came across their work, and offer to buy them lunch or coffee to learn more.
  • Get An Introduction: Alliances that constantly bring you leads will take time to set up. One of the easiest ways to shortcut this process is to meet a friend of a friend. Who do you know who could introduce you to other agencies or consultants in your space?

Step #3: Propose A Deal That’s Worthwhile (for Both of You)

Here’s the deal:

Depending on how long you’ve been in the consulting game, you may have noticed there are two types of people:

  1. The ones who are only out for themselves
  2. The ones who always bring their A-game and add value to others

We’ll assume you’re the latter.

To set up a game-changing alliance, you’ll want to brainstorm ways YOU can help an agency.

Here are a few ideas to help:

  • List Access: Hopefully, you (and the ally in question) have built an audience. Giving your new friend a mention in your autoresponder may get you a reciprocal mention… and an endorsement to a flood of potential new clients. Look for content that your potential ally has published, that your contacts would appreciate.
  • Collaborate On Live Events: Hosting live events can be a tremendous tool for consultants. In a classic win-win scenario, you can invite your ally to come speak at your event. There will be more value for the audience, and with a broader range of topics, you may even draw a larger crowd. Not to mention, you’ll both have the potential for targeted leads. Check MeetUp.com for existing meetups in your area that you could approach and offer to help set up an event.
  • Website Traffic: If you blog, you could write guest posts for one another on your topics of expertise. Linking to an agency on your “Recommended Consultants” page would be another great way to make a great impression.

Step #4: Follow Through On Your Promise

If you’ve ever seen the reality TV show Survivor, the alliances are solely based on trust.

There are no legal documents written on a coconut, and no notary public in the middle of the jungle. There are just two people shaking hands.

The same goes for your alliances.

Don’t let your alliance agreement fall to the back burner. Check up on your ally regularly (again, this is easier if you already have a relationship).

It may not be easy at first, but continuing to send any consultant new leads is the fastest way to accelerate your own influx of passive leads.

And that brings us to our final point…

Step #5: Go From One Shaky Bond to Several Strategic Alliances

Forming a proper alliance doesn’t happen overnight.

If you’re in it for the long haul, you’ll find that “surviving” the consulting game will become easier and easier. That’s because the process is repeatable. Over time, your referral sources can compound, and before long, you’ll have a half dozen agency relationships that will help you thrive.

Before you know it, you’ll be spending less time on cold prospecting, and more time qualifying and retaining the inbound leads you receive on a weekly basis. This will increase your income and give you the breathing room you need to design a better lifestyle.

We hope you’re ready to schedule time in your calendar today and get a few informational coffee interviews scheduled over the next few weeks.

And remember this:

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” – John Donne, poet

Go set your consulting business up for success.

Question: What’s the best way you’ve found to create strategic alliances?

  • Great article, very informative with practical advice. Thanks for sharing.

    • Zach Grove

      Glad you enjoyed it, Tony!