Collaboration is when two or more small, mobile, intelligent units get together on a project, but still maintain their own identities. More and more corporate American businesses are working this way. Speakers, too, can reap big benefits from temporary or on-going collaborations.
In both the business and speaking worlds, there are three good reasons to collaborate:
- For profit (obviously!)
- For education (learning something new!)
- For fun (the best reason!)
As an example, one of the most successful speaking collaborations is Platform Professionals. Its members, Jeanne Robertson, Robert Henry, Al Walker, and Doc Blakely, are all humorists, and they market themselves to each other’s clients. If an organization has had a big success using one of them, they indicated that the same level of talent is available to make huge hits of the client’s next three humor-appropriate events. This marketing technique has proved outrageously successful.
Another collaboration is Roundtable Speakers, to which I belong. It consists of twenty speakers including many past presidents of the National Speakers Association (NSA). We get together once or twice a year to discuss the business, create common brochures, and to share leads and camaraderie.
We have even written two books together, Speaking Secrets of the Masters and Insights Into Excellence plus an audio cassette album. This means each of us has more products to sell, but we also give them as gifts to meeting planners.
We’ve all gotten jobs from people who say, “Don Hutson (or Danny Cox) gave me this book. I loved your chapter in it.” Although each of us has different talents and speaks on different topics, we are all equal professionally.
WHERE TO START
If you’d like to explore the combined energy of a collaboration, start by finding similar and complimentary colleagues. Choose others who share your level of talent, experience, ethics, and general fee range. Then market yourselves as a collaboration, emphasizing both the sameness of your group and your distinctive differences. Platform Professionals are all humorists with similar fees, but unique in their individual styles.
The benefits of collaboration can include learning from each other, sharing leads and publicity costs, increasing bookings by recommending another collaborator when one is already booked, and maintaining your own reputation by being able to provide a backup speaker if you are suddenly unavailable. Naturally, collaborators pinch-hit for each other if they have health-related emergencies or planes grounded in storms. And for the fun part of the equation, collaboration lets you enjoy the fellowship and support of your peers.
SIMILAR OR OPPOSITE?
I’ve always stressed the need for similarities in collaborations, but recently I learned the value of having an “opposite.” One of my most successful collaborations has been The Odd Couple® Marketing and Strategy Seminars for speakers with Alan Weiss, author of Money Talks: Make a Million in Speaking.
Alan and I had known each other through NSA and were aware and appreciative of each other’s talents and differences, but we would not have considered ourselves friends. Our backgrounds are completely different. Alan is a PhDI have no degrees, though I’m constantly learning, meeting exciting people, and taking classes. Alan makes a million dollars a year. I don’t — yet. I’m British and a people booster. Alan is a New Yorker who prides himself on his outspoken contrariness. (When his friends gave him a roast recently, they proposed an “Alan Doll: Pull the string and it immediately disagrees with you.”)
One day, Alan was giving a consulting seminar in San Francisco where I live, and I sent him an e-mail, “Sorry I won’t be able to attend. I am speaking today for the Denver NSA chapter.” He e-mailed back, “We should do a seminar together.” Several quick back-and-forth e-mails later, we had agreed to spend a day planning a joint seminar!
One thing I’ve learned is that reversible decisions can be made quickly. It’s the irreversible ones that you take your time about. The only thing Alan and I risked losing was a few days time and the cost of brochures. It just seemed like a good idea at the time, and, happily, it has turned out so well that we have incorporated.
To plan our Odd Couple® Seminar, Alan and I started by listing the issues of most interest to speakers, for example, how and what to charge clients, how to get through the ‘gatekeeper’ to get hired, what you really need to invest money in, how to get to the economic buyer. (The person who signs the check!) Then we went down the list to find which answers we disagreed about, which we agreed on. These became our topics.
“People love watching people fight,” says my brilliant copywriter collaborator, David Garfinkel, who is a genius at what he calls “Hollywood Marketing.” I agree with one important addition: that people enjoy watching conflict when they know the participants have a genuine respect and affection for each other. It’s a classic element of comedy, what made Laurel and Hardy and the Honeymooners so appealing. This is the quality Alan and I aimed for. Alan and I agree on basic values, but we totally disagree on the details. Alan, being innately contrary, disputes much traditional NSA wisdom, while I have found these same concepts useful and valuable. This gives us lots to debate about… all to help the audience discover the best way they can build their business.
Our collaboration has stimulated both of us and expanded our repertoire, making us more valuable to our clients because of what we have learned from each other. And we teach our audiences that there can be more than one right way to do things. Even more important, we provide an honest and realistic picture of how to make it in the speaking business. We show speakers how to take advantage of their own strengths and cut years off their learning curves.
GO FOR IT?
So, as you plan your career strategies for the next decade, keep in mind the possibility of collaborating with some of your bright, like-minded colleagues. Like any good marriage, collaboration offers the potential for decreasing the burdens and increasing the benefits. You’ll learn, you’ll earn, and you’ll have a great time doing it.