How many times have you lost clients because you could not offer that one extra service they were looking for? Do you know your strengths and weaknesses? If you are an active freelancer you probably have a pretty good idea.
But with the economy circling the drain most of us can’t afford to expand our small businesses to include more personnel or equipment to offer a wider range of services. So what are we to do?
Create A Network
Create a network of businesses willing to work in cooperation for the better good of all. Many businesses are looking for one stop shopping and creating an effective network is a surefire way of keeping all your eggs in one basket while maintaining a budget you can live with.
But who do you pick choose and where do you find them? And once you find them, what financial arrangement is agreeable to all the parties involved? Or maybe you decide to make a reciprocating agreement in which everyone agrees to simply work together to provide a wider range of services to their client base. Let’s take a closer look.
Who Do You Choose To Include In Your Network?
First of all, identify what expanded services you want to offer to your clients. If you are a graphic designer, your client base may have an interest in website design or photography or even marketing. Take a good look at what your clients are asking for. This will give you insight into what you might consider offering.
Once you figure out what services to offer, there are a lot of options when it comes to choosing a complimentary business partner.
I moved to a new area and didn’t know very many people when I decided to create my network. I felt it would give me an edge in an area that did not have many expanded graphic services. I started talking to area businesses, asking who they had used in the past for design or website services.
Was there a local vendor for marketing promo items? Who did they call if they had a technical problem with their computer? Several names cropped up and I called them, explaining what I wanted to do and why. I chose to go with a reciprocating agreement between independent businesses.
When I had a client that needed website design or banners and uniforms, I would set up an appointment with my expert and stepped back. When the other businesses had graphic design opportunities, they would call me. No money exchanged hands, but a strong community bond was formed and everyone on the business side as well as the community side is benefiting from our arrangement.
Determine The Rules Of The Game Before You Start
This covers some pretty important topics including what services you want to offer, and what financial agreements are to be made between the networking companies. You don’t want to set up an agreement between two companies that offer the same services.
This kind of self defeats the purpose of a network. I chose to offer print media services such as business cards, logos, and brochures, but wanted to offer website design and marketing items. I specifically wanted to offer a compliment to my own expertise without having to worry about stepping on anyone’s toes. The businesses I chose to interview and finally settle on felt this would go a long way toward building a strong relationship between us.
Choose What Financial Agreement You Want To Work With
Many companies offer a monetary referral for any client brought into the fold, while others are more comfortable with a reciprocating arrangement. Which ever one you choose, make sure everyone agrees to the same arrangement with the same terms.
Find Out Pricing On Individual Services.
They are probably going to fluctuate depending on what service is being offered. The shop rates for website designers are dramatically different than my graphic design shop rates. So I had to do a little research to find out what other area businesses were charging for their services.
I wanted to make sure we were all on the same page when charging clients for our work and not price gouging anyone. When I made the decision to ask two local businesses to join me in a network, I knew their prices were established in a similar manner to mine.
Trust Is A Key Issue In The Formation Of A Solid Network
It took awhile to find small businesses just like me wanting to offer more to their clients at rates that didn’t break the bank. Make sure the independent businesses are run by people you are comfortable with and can trust.
This means more than soliciting someone by mail or email, or even a short phone call. I met with the gentlemen in my network several times before we all felt comfortable about our arrangement. I wanted them to know me and what I stood for. And on the other foot, I wanted to know who they were and what they stood for.
Were their values and business ethics similar to mine, or would they sell the shirt off their granny’s back for a dollar? You don’t want to find these things out after you form an alliance. Hooking up without doing your homework can prove disastrous. You stand to lose more than just monetary gratification. Losing respect in a small community like mine is paramount to being caught with your hand in the cookie jar.
And don’t let anyone kid you, people have long memories. You screw up when you’re twenty and someone will remember it when you’re sixty. There will always be one.
Take The Time To Find Companies Offering Quality Workmanship
They may not always be the very cheapest, but this is strongly outweighed by the positive impact they will have on your business. Sometimes cheapest is NOT best. Sometimes you get what you pay for. If you are working as a network you always want to surround yourself with the best possible people doing the best possible job for the client.
Because I took the time to take a good hard look at the services I wanted to offer and decided a network was a valid way of doing it, I have increased my workload about 25% or more depending on the week and the other two businesses in my network have indicated they have seen similar increases with their workloads.
It didn’t cost me any money, just a little time and effort. I have also made some extremely good business contacts in my community and they have decided they like my one stop shopping idea. They keep telling their friends and I just keep answering the phone. :)
Have you ever considered doing something similar with your business? And if you tried it, how was it? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!
About the author: Lois Knight has been a freelance writer and graphic designer for the last two years. She designs predominantly for small start up companies and non profits in need of design services that could not afford them otherwise.
She has a background as an entrepreneur for over twenty years and has dedicated herself to educating people interested in graphics as a career. She also wrote an ebook titled: I’m Tired of Being Broke A Freelancer’s Guide to Working at Home