There are few sayings that come to mind when comparing free and paid split-fee networks...
"You get what you pay for."
"Free is a good price."
It is obvious that both free and paid split-fee recruiting sites, groups, and networks have their benefits. One is not inherently better or the correct way to go. So much depends on what you expect from a split partnership. The more splits are a part of your business plan and strategy, the more you need to consider paid networks.
The free sites, groups, connections offer lots of choice and much specialization. Some are local to a city, country, industry or occupation. With specialization comes opportunity to save time and make the right connections quickly. If you place government administrators in Washington, DC there is not much reason for you to belong to a group that covers the world and all industries.
The members of free networks are by nature likely to be less committed to
the group and will likely float in and out of the networking mode based on the assignment they are working and the time they have to dedicate to splitting. The fact that they have joined a free network means they have an interest in the topic...it does not mean they are committed to splitting.
Advantages: Free, broad offering of options, many specialty areas and geographies covered, great way to see if splitting is for you.
The obvious draw back is the cost. It should be noted that the cost is only a factor of significance until you start doing splits that you would have otherwise never shared revenue for. Costs are typically in the form of dues and in some cases "brokerage", a percentage of the split paid to the network. When revenue exceeds the cost of membership other qualities of paid networks take precedence.
Paid networks are organized in many ways, some around specialty areas or geographies and others are more "generalist" their structure and focus. The member of paid networks are typically committed to doing splits. That means they will fill things in-house but it is rare. More frequently they are looking for others to provide candidates too or are looking to bring in talent to the positions they control. Paid networks have rules and typically support when the rules are not followed or you get cheated out of a fee. These networks promote member to member partnerships and offer technology tools that allow for the sharing of candidates and positions. In time of need you can have confidence that deals will get done and you will have someone working side by side in sharing the workload with you. Paid networks are for those that are always in need of candidates for hard to fill positions, work one side of the deal (the candidate or the client side) more comfortably and effectively, and are committed to the premise that "half a fee is better than 100% of nothing."
Advantages: Committed partners, rules of engagement, financial coverage in the event of a deal gone bad, technology tools, member discounts for services, meetings, training, experience and proven revenue results.
Both free and paid split networks offer opportunities to gain revenue that otherwise may pass you by. It might make sense to test your ability and commitment to splitting with a free site before joining a paid network. If you enjoy structure and are comfortable with some limited rules and some cash going out in order to gain a return, then paid networks can work for you. Top producers in paid networks may do in excess of 50 splits per year. So if your are planning split revenue into your business plan, you might want to join a committed and paid network.
By the way there are exceptions to every "rule". Some free network participants can run circles around their paid network counterparts. As with most thing in life, some generalizations have been made but in the end averages do come true.
A final thought...if your life depended on it, would you rather have your parachute packed by someone that has made a career choice to get trained, dedicate themselves to the practice of packing chutes, and packed thousands of practice chutes and even more real parachutes or would you like someone that has read lots of articles, is interested in skydiving and dabbled in the area of packing chutes to pack your parachute? If your business depends on getting deals done on time and effectively for clients and splits is one of the way you intend to deliver on this strategy, you really have to consider paid networks as a strategic component of your overall business plan.
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