I've found that "collaboration," in many cases, means that someone wants to take money out of my bank account and put it into their own. I never collaborate with anyone who doesn't bring something to the table, be it business, sweat equity, legwork, or new ideas.
Any collaboration has to be greater than the sum of its parts. That is, one and one must equal at least four or five if the relationship—and its requisite work, cooperation, compromise, and investment—is to pay off. There must be a synergy which exponentially increases your combined value to the client. Adding an additional survey or training program does not do that. But adding long-term, longitudinal measures or comparisons against best practices elsewhere probably does.
Here are some criteria for evaluating a proposal to collaborate:
- Does the partner have credible references? Can you find out something about the quality of their work on an objective basis? Do they have a track record of success in your types of clients?
- Do they add repute? Will their name mean anything to your clients and prospects? Will their client list add credibility? Are they bringing added cachet to you, or using your cachet?
- Is their approach complementary? Do their models and processes interlock with yours with minimum adjustment, or will you have to make major changes in your approaches? How user-friendly are they for you?
- Will their inclusion dramatically increase your profit--not solely revenue--from an engagement? Is the work you will invest far more than offset by the earnings you will reap?
- Are they willing to take a risk? Are they amenable to investing in the development of the partnership, or are they asking you to take all the risk? What are they providing in terms of capital, personnel, support, and time?
- How equitable is the proposed revenue sharing? If the revenues will be from business you never otherwise would have attracted, it's worth considering less of a percentage. However, if the business is simply incremental to your existing business, then a larger percentage may be called for.
- Will they provide access to their clients for your work, or do they merely seek access to yours? How open do they appear to be about their client base, work habits, and proprietary materials?
- Do you like them? Chemistry is everything. Are these people you would enjoy working with in a client? Do they immediately impel trust and high standards? Or do they make you somewhat uncomfortable?
Most collaborations never get off the ground. They are the result of "let's do something together" with neither party wanting to put much effort into it other than offer the other's services when the opportunity presents itself. Effective collaboration is based upon a sincere belief that the other party brings a "turbo-charge" to your offerings, with the commensurate willingness to invest resources to tune that engine.