What in the world is Fractional BD?
Finding Career Growth and Flexibility in BD / Partnerships
Dear Remora - I have friends in design, PR/communications and even engineering who are solo-preneurs or freelancers that work on a contract basis for multiple companies. I want that kind of flexibility and autonomy. Is that possible in BD / partnerships?
Dear Need-a-Change - yes, more than ever before in history, there are different ways to structure your work life. For a first-hand account of what that can look like in BD / partnerships I turned to Jen Verriere to share the benefits and challenges from starting her own solo, fractional BD & partnerships consulting practice.
Launching my own Fractional BD consulting firm
In 2015, I was struggling to juggle the combination of a full-time business development role, a long commute, and a new baby. After too many evenings barely making it to daycare pick up, I decided to pivot to a different professional path. Going against my typically risk-averse personality, I took the leap into being a self-employed consultant. Hoping to find a viable alternative to dropping out of the workforce, I started my own consulting practice providing business development and strategic partnerships services for tech and media clients. I formed a single-member LLC, set up a home office, bought business insurance, and signed on my first client as a fractional BD lead.
Seven years later, I am proud to be running a successful boutique firm with a diverse set of global clients (we also added another son and a pandemic puppy to our family). My client engagements are interesting and challenging and enable me to continue to develop my skills and advance my career. I earn more despite working less than full-time. I enjoy being my own boss, and doing so allows me to be in control of my workload and spend more time with my family.
I consult for 2-4 clients at a time, structuring most engagements such that I work a set number of hours per week or month for each client. At the conclusion of each engagement, I assess whether to scale my workload up or down for a period of time based on my family’s needs. I always set aside sufficient time in my schedule to manage my sons’ school drop-offs and pickups, classroom volunteering and extracurricular activities, and to serve on the executive board of an educational program. Although I certainly didn’t foresee a global pandemic, my consulting practice was well positioned to weather the storm, especially when I took on the additional role as a kindergarten remote learning manager.
What do you do as a Fractional BD consultant?
As a consultant I typically function in the same capacity as a full-time BD lead but on a fractional basis focused on a specific partnership initiative. At the onset of each engagement, I review my client’s product and service offerings and partnership goals, tailor partnership pitch decks, get set up with a client e-mail address, and hit the ground running. I oversee the entire partnership lifecycle including partnership growth strategy, identifying and pitching opportunities, structuring and negotiating complex deals, and analyzing partnership ROI. I manage external partner relationships and work cross-functionally with client finance, legal, product, and engineering teams on partnership management and implementation.
For me, the most rewarding professional aspect of consulting is the diverse experience across the tech and media industries. My recent engagements spanned licensing connected car data, to SDKs for mobile games, to kids digital content, to virtual and augmented reality, to smart TV viewing data. Each client presents a different value proposition, negotiation leverage, and partnership growth challenge. By consulting for clients across different sectors, I have developed the ability to quickly get up to speed about each client. From a career growth perspective, consulting has expanded my experience and expertise across tech and media much faster than working as an employee could have over the last seven years.
Advice for Those Considering Taking the Leap Into BD Consulting
For anyone considering a career pivot from a full-time role to consulting, the most daunting challenges can be sourcing clients and weathering income volatility. I have been fortunate to have multi-year engagements and to receive 90% of my engagements through referrals. In my experience, startups and smaller companies have more flexibility than large companies to engage part-time consultants. That said, large tech companies often post openings for short-term full-time independent contractor positions. These contract positions can be a good fit for a new consultant looking to build experience. I have worked as a subcontractor for larger consulting firms that upcharge my fees to clients in exchange for sourcing clients and engagements.
Although I enjoy the autonomy of being my own boss, being a solo consultant lends itself to its own pressures. The lack of benefits including employer-sponsored health insurance and paid vacation and sick days is a challenge. As a consultant I feel more responsible to continue to respond to emails and join priority conference calls on behalf of my clients, whether from a hotel room during a Maui vacation or while my kids are home sick watching a movie in the next room. It took time for me to learn to balance multiple client priorities and to become efficient at maximizing value for clients while working at less than full-time capacity. Since consulting engagements are typically shorter than tenure as an employee at a company, I re-start the process of proving capabilities and earning trust more frequently. At times, not formally being part of a team can feel isolating.
Take the Leap!
I highly recommend that BD professionals seeking better work-life balance consider consulting, even if for just one year. Transitioning to consulting is a less common path for BD and partnerships professionals and has challenges and risks, but for me has been both professionally fulfilling and personally rewarding. Working as a fractional consultant has resulted in a win-win scenario for myself and my clients: I have advanced my career while enjoying more time with my family, and my clients benefit from the efficiency and value of a fractional BD lead.
Lastly, How Can Companies Utilize a Fractional BD Consultant?
For companies, a fractional BD consultant can bring valuable specialized expertise with an outside perspective, fill a resource gap or new partnership initiative that does not justify a full-time hire, or free up an existing partnerships team to focus on executing other initiatives.
To effectively engage a consultant, I recommend clearly defining the parameters of the consultant’s role and aligning on goal prioritization and KPIs. Connect the consultant with senior leaders on other teams and equip the consultant with resources to quickly get up to speed about your company. Make sure that legal teams and executives oversee risk allocation and concessions made during the partnership deal negotiation process. For large hierarchical organizations, provide internal leadership support to align the consultant’s responsibilities with other stakeholders. In addition to serving as a cost-effective resource, an effective consultant will also provide valuable outside feedback, insights, and recommendations for partnership and company growth opportunities.
Jen Verriere is the managing consultant of Paper Crane Consulting, a boutique consulting firm specializing in business development and strategic partnerships consulting and advisory services for clients in the technology and digital media industries. Prior to becoming a consultant, Jen worked at companies ranging from tech startups to global media companies. Jen holds B.A. degrees from UCLA, a J.D. from UC Berkeley School of Law, and was a recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship in Japan from the U.S. Department of State. Jen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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