No matter what line of entrepreneurial work you are in, selling can be one of the hardest nuts to crack. This can be especially true for new entrepreneurs.
The ace interactive designer from the ad agency who’s making a go of it on their own might not have ever participated in the sales process. The innovative architect who’s done great work for the firm might not be all that great at selling a vision to a homeowner who’s about to put five figures into remodeling their kitchen.
But new entrepreneurs such as you need that first stream of paying customers or else you will not be an entrepreneur for very long.
So what’s a new solopreneur to do? You could pound the pavement looking for leads. You could respond to RFPs if you can find some. You could go to awkward networking events. Or you could focus on finding a channel.
What is the channel? The channel is a partnership between you and another business. It’s a deal that a solopreneur can put together with bigger companies in their universe that have customers that otherwise would be tough for our valiant solopreneur to land. The channel is one way of building a portfolio of work. It’s a way to build your business while initially ignoring direct sales (e.g. non-channel business).
Let's say you're a designer starting your own consultancy. It’s just you. But you have a really solid connection with a local ad agency. You reach out to that agency and say, "Here’s what I’m doing, I’ve got a skillset you all need and it can help you generate more business with not only customer X, but all your customers." This makes sense to the agency and it will likely cost them less than hiring their own designer. From there, they draw up some paperwork and figure out logistics. You now have your first channel.
Is it always that easy? Unlikely. But the other ways for you to land customer X are really, really hard. That’s not to say you couldn’t slay that dragon, but it might take a long time for them to even pay attention to you. But with a channel in place, you can work on customer X, which helps you not only build a portfolio for your business, but also run all the other aspects of your business: marketing, finance, operations, technology, etc.
Respect the channel. A subcontractor agreement will cover the nuts and bolts of the channel relationship: rates, reporting, deliverables and non-solicitation clauses. But beyond that, you need to understand your role. If you go with the agency to meet with customer X, you are part of the agency. You aren't the solopreneur. You wear the agency hat. You don’t talk to customer X about side work you could do for them. You also need to be cognizant and transparent with the firm about how you promote the work you're doing for customer X.
For example: how do you talk about and market the work you do for customer X in order to earn new direct business? Could you pen a case study about the channel work and feature it on your website? Ultimately, it’s to your benefit to maximize the added value you get out of the channel partnership, do right by the agency and do right by the customer.
Respecting the channel also means working the way the partner works. Entrepreneurs usually aren’t inclined to fall in the company line, but if you’re in a channel deal, you have to. If the partner has time tracking requirements, you oblige and meet them. If the partner requires the use of certain software, you learn it. You’re essentially an extension of the company.
The channel can make a new solopreneur stronger. It can help a new business gain immediate traction and scale quickly. And if you think about it, the channel affords new entrepreneurs the ability to build the rest of their business without having to spend excessive energy on sales. You can focus on building out a team, acquiring new and better resources, moving from your converted guest bedroom to a real office, creating efficient internal processes and structuring and defining services offered -- everything else that makes a new business kick ass.