Marketing and business development strategies are the most time consuming and critical parts of being independent. At one point or another, every executive will be challenged with keeping a consistent portfolio of clients. Some of the more common business and marketing resources are networking, referrals, online marketplaces, and intermediaries. In this article, we focus on intermediaries and online marketplaces.
An intermediary is nothing new. These are most common in the executive recruitment space and consulting firms. They are typically boutique size or larger companies who act as a broker between the client and the executives. Executive recruiting has been around for decades, and most businesses and executives are well aware of them. However, in the interim executive world, there are fewer intermediaries in the market and not as much awareness in comparison to the full-time/recruiting counterparts.
With the somewhat newness within the space at this point, there isn’t a set standard yet for the independent marketplace. As everyone looks to improve and understand what each side of the equation needs, here’s a few things to consider:
How is your information, particularly your resume, being handled? Are you contacted before your resume/background being shown or discussed with any clients? Are they speaking with you first and finding out more information before sending it to the client? Are you one of ten candidates the company is looking at or one of two? Though there is no way to know across the board, each firm likely has a standard or average they work with and can give you an idea. Either way, most responses to these questions are neither good nor bad, it will depend on your preferences.
Contact – Depending on whether you are paying for the service or not, the amount of contact and updates you receive will vary widely. Get some clarity from the intermediary of what you can expect and make sure that meets your expectations and there is enough value in it for you.
Partnership – This is a combination of an upfront investment or “buy-in” and a revenue share. You gain the benefit of their brand, systems, marketing and internal referral network. You are exclusive to this brand. Regardless of where your leads originate, the revenue share will apply.
Membership – What you would expect it to be. You pay a monthly/annual membership fee to be listed on their site. Some provide additional services for increased level of membership or additional fees. You get the benefit of their marketing efforts and most everything else in the process is up to you. It is seen solely as a lead source. You do not need to be exclusive to any one site or service.
Revenue Share – There are no direct upfront costs to you other than your time investment going through the initial process of signing up and any other process that may exist. Any job you get through the company is done on a revenue share basis. For example, if the share is 70/30 and the client is billed $1000, you receive $600 of the $1000. You gain the benefit of their marketing, sales, contracts, negotiations and accounting to name a few. Most of your focus is in the initial discussions with the client, understanding what they need, translating that into a SOW and doing the work itself. You generally do not need to be exclusive to any one site or service.
Process – Understand what their process is and set realistic expectations. These can vary greatly from company to company.
Type of Work – Intermediaries will commonly focus on types of work and types of clients. For example, is it mostly hourly, project based, boards or part-time/interim executive assignments. Is their client basis primarily SMB, Fortune 500, non-profits or private equity/investment community? Take this into account when you are considering a number of fees or time you are willing to invest. As always, keep in mind you may never receive any business from anyone intermediary (not uncommon), and it all comes from referrals. Keep your expectations realistic.
Client Vetting – How much information do you they know about the client and can share with you? Are most of their assignments straight forward or do they need to spend time with the client understanding their end goal in order to help them better formulate the executive expertise they require. They should also be watching for red flags with the client and be willing to walk away from the client at any point.
One thing to remember is that intermediaries can be one source of leads but like your other sources, may be plentiful or may bare nothing. I would highly recommend not relying solely on these and certainly not exclusively on any one. You decide how much support you need in the process and how much you are willing/not willing to invest up front vs. the back end.
Online marketplaces are on the rise and have been rapidly increasing in the past five years or so. They are very similar to intermediaries but are more technology driven and more directly connect the company with the executive.
You can use the same list to evaluate them as noted above with intermediaries with some distinct differences. For example:
You will likely get less contact from the company, but more contact from potential companies/clients since that is the end goal. This will result in more direct competition with other executives so sharpen your differentiation and sales skills.
The client vetting is more reliant on you. Since the interactions are more technology driven and not relationship driven, the intermediary typically doesn’t know much more than you do from their profile.
These offer lead generation and a client process that is directly accessible to you.
Client vetting and viability of the opportunity is now up to you.
The sales process – understanding what the client needs, showing you have the right background and getting the client’s ‘signature’ is now up to you.
Since your time is not unlimited and you will want to start narrowing your efforts at some point, put in place some basic due diligence on each source the same as you would with most other things you do. As you start to experience some lead generation from the various resources, you may notice patterns.
You may find that specific sources don’t have the type of work you are looking for – smaller project based work vs. interim/longer term assignments.
Your strengths may end up playing better to some than others.
Your time from introduction to starting the task may be shorter vs. longer.
Your upfront time investment may vary between the sources. For example, it may take longer to gain the trust and get to know a client you met through social media efforts vs. one who was personally referred to you.
Good news is there is a full range of options far beyond what there was ten years ago. Keep your hands in all of the baskets, try each one out until you learn enough to decide where it makes the most sense for you to focus your efforts.
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