The idea of forming short term relationships and partnerships with people who have complementary skills is not a new one. Like-minded people have long come together to work towards a common goal, sharing information, resources and ideas. The collective model works both inside and outside organizations.
So why write about the collective approach now? I've observed it’s a business model that has come into its own in very profound and lasting ways in the past few weeks. And I’ve been thinking about why.
One: Consultants need to reinvent themselves - fast
We’ve all read some version of the calming advice to not worry about learning a new skill or becoming a better, different person in this time of self isolation and staying at home. For those still working, there isn’t a spare minute to try. As jobs are eliminated and companies contract, some of us are working harder than we ever have before.
But for those of us who earn a living by helping others, the path to work is murkier. The client initiatives that were of high importance two months ago have been replaced by different priorities. And while sometimes those priorities align with what we sell, more often than not, we’re reinventing our offerings on the fly.
That's much harder for the traditional agency consultancy to do, bound as it is by infrastructure, overhead and predetermined areas of expertise. The lessons of the last financial crisis seem to have been forgotten, or solved by acquisition. But acquisition still has its own constraints: conflict of interest, profit demands, return on investment. It lacks a nimble and fluid approach that can most benefit companies now.
In simple terms, a collective is a cooperative enterprise. In the past few weeks alone, I have been working on collaborations with people from Dubai, Lisbon and Prague, to Chicago, Las Vegas and Toronto. From wellness and health to offering expertise to the hospitality industry and content creation for both educational institutions and consumers, these conversations tap into an incredible pool of thought leadership. All this while I pivot my own expertise in more meaningful ways.
Will all of these collaborations fly? We'll see. What will endure are creative ideas generated, business opportunities uncovered and explored, better ways of doing business realised, efficiencies gained, deeper relationships formed, expertise defined. Enter a new era. The power of the collective.
More significantly, all of that will result in being able to offer even greater value to businesses as they re-imagine their future, because we’ve already been thinking about ways to reinvent ours.
Two: Expertise is infinite
Like many of you, my network is broad and industry agnostic. At my fingertips are smart and experienced global leaders, from accountants and lawyers, to retail experts, data geeks, e-commerce pros and serial entrepreneurs. I don’t have to know it all – my collective does. It’s the value of the collective that benefits my clients, across industries and across issues.
But it's not only my network that I can tap into. Through my connections I also have access to an unlimited number of resources. And while the LinkedIn community has long had a spirit of cooperation, today, more than ever, people are open and eager to connect with others and become better together.
It makes my network infinite and it is powered by personal relationships. The trust that comes with working with experts who are known and recommended is both critical – and effective.
Sure, an agency can also tap into its "collective": their affiliated service providers who have unique areas of expertise. But by being bound to different business structures, revenue models and geographies, speed of execution is hampered. And ultimately, the profitability of an account can eclipse truly innovative solutions.
Three: Everyone wins
The collective becomes more attractive as companies look for expertise that is nimble and efficient: no juniors, no overhead, no complex analysis models or complicated schematics. We’re not going to take over office space and be eating the cafeteria for the next six months. What we will do is rapidly identify gaps and opportunities to drive businesses forward, with solutions that are practical, results-oriented and specific. All of this done by proven, knowledgeable specialists who innately understand the complexities and challenges that businesses face.
Geography matters too. A collective works intuitively across time zones, spaces and places, already having mastered the intricacies of individual contribution coming together in a collective whole.
What also makes this business model powerful is that meaningful subject matter expertise can be harnessed quickly, can be expanded or contracted, can use time and money and resources effectively, can solve problems swiftly. It flies in the face of the timesheet-consumed, profit-driven and bloated agency model, where the employee that is most awarded is the one that bills the most.
Will the agency model go away? Time will tell. But this is more about breaking the box than thinking outside of it. Those that will be successful already understand this and are building new ways to help businesses succeed.
In a collective, you don’t over service your clients; you exponentially add value through the wisdom of others.