Finding great outside help to assist you with your startup is a lot like buying a suit. You can easily spend $2,000 and look like a million bucks. But you can also spend $200 and still look pretty darned good. Finding outside services at a great rate is no different. You don't have to pay Italian designer prices to get a great look. With that as a preamble, here are four specific ways to get great outside talent at a startup-friendly price.
Sell the Vision
Everyone wants to be part of something bigger than themselves. Chris O'Connor, co-founder at video production company Liquid 9, has done work for the likes of Wendy's and Gatorade. But occasionally, the company will do work with entrepreneurs if, as Chris puts it, it "believes in the higher order purpose." The moral? Get people excited about the idea. And by idea, I don't mean why IPV89.68903 is the Internet protocol for the future. I mean, how can your idea help ladder to a bigger, more universal idea that might help the world?
Sell the Incentives
Let's face it, for many outside staff members, vision is great, but it won't put food on the table. Cash is still king. One suggestion? Lowball the initial fee but provide a great upside on the back end. If the outside firm or consultant's work translates in results above and beyond the objective, sweeten the pot. I have done this with virtually every marketing service out there: Doubled the fee for the PR consultant if they exceeded product placement objectives, tripled payment for the production team if a startup's Kickstarter exceeded its goal, offered equity to an outside finance team if a CPG startup secured funding.
In all the years I have been striking these deals, no one has ever turned me down. Why? For two reasons. First, most people understand and appreciate that you are a startup. If they believe in your vision (see point #1) they will likely participate. Second, most people believe in themselves. Accordingly, there is more upside if a job is well done. If someone doesn't agree, consider it a warning sign that they lack the skills, confidence, or cash flow to get the job done.
Sell the most valuable payment (it costs nothing)
Money talks, but those living in Startupville will never be able to compete with the likes of larger companies that have much deeper pockets. So how do we level the playing field? By offering the most valuable payment there is: recognition.
The need to be appreciated is one that is rooted deeply in our psyche. In Maslow's hierarchy of needs, one of the most important psychological needs is the need for recognition. Research and advisory consultant Josh Bersin puts it this way: One of "the most valuable psychological needs we have as humans beings [is the need] to be appreciated...these needs are met through peer-to-peer thanks and recognition."
As an entrepreneur living in the digital age, you have endless opportunity to promote the good deeds of those who are doing good work at a reduced rate. Start by promoting (and tagging them) on Facebook. Include them in your newsletter, and don't forget to send a virtual introduction to anyone you think could benefit from their service.
Above all, take advantage of the digital holy grail of recognition--LinkedIn. If someone goes out of his way to help you, you should immediately endorse that person on LinkedIn, write a referral, and give him a personal plug.
Hallmark still matters
Finally, sending a personal "thank you" still matters. It may seem old fashioned, but a thank-you note goes a long, long way toward solidifying a relationship. There is actually an art and science to a good "thank you." According to the Maritz group, a good thank you should have the following:
1) State the specific behavior or performance
2) Describe the effect (the impact and importance of the behavior)
3) Say "thank you" in earnest.
At the end of the day, startups have far more currency at their disposal then they realize. By aligning your vision and incentives with good old-fashioned (and did I mention, "free"?) recognition, you can get insanely talented folks to help you, at a cost you can actually afford.