The Born Freelancer on the Art of Collaboration

This series of posts by the Born Freelancer shares personal experiences and thoughts on issues relevant to freelancers. Have something to add to the conversation? Your input is welcome in the comments.

It certainly seems like a good idea to some freelancers. You get along so well, you seem so simpatico, you are such good friends – why not work together? Over the years I’ve been a part of many such professional relationships and would like to share my thoughts with you about this often intriguing but frequently elusive professional development.


Why you should consider it

* The nature of the work. Some forms of creativity seem better suited for teamwork. Successful comedy writing, for example, is often the result of a partnership. It’s much harder for most writers to bounce funny ideas off a wall at 3 am when facing a 9 am deadline the next day than it is another writer. Investigative journalism, as another example, has often benefited from teamwork. I’m not so sure if the famous Watergate story would have been broken nearly as well nor as dramatically had Bernstein not collaborated with Woodward so effectively.

* The nature of your personality. Some creative types are by definition loners, control freaks and/or asocial. Others naturally thrive on collaboration, cooperation and are able to sublimate their own egos to the greater good of the collaborative cause. When you partner, the net result is a kind of third personality – the partnership itself – and you must always be prepared to serve it. Can your ego constantly withstand that kind of a challenge?

* The nature of the fit. Collaborators need to be in sync enough with each other to share a similar vision of the project and yet ideally will bring to the table complementary but not necessarily duplicate skill sets. One of you might might be better at dealing with the people you need to interview, for example, and the other better at editing the results once they are on the page. One of you might be better at Big Picture thinking and the other at sorting through minute details. There are no hard and fast rules about this kind of thing but it is often the way.


Why you should NOT consider it

* We’re such good friends. And if you want to stay that way you should be very wary of actually working together – which places a whole set of stresses and strains on a relationship which may turn out to be more than most purely social friendships can endure. And if you’re a couple, tread even more carefully. The “John & Yoko” way of life may seem ideal for some couples – living and working together 24/7 – and good luck to you if you can do it! But when things get tense/difficult/impossible between you in your business (and they can from time to time) will your personal relationship suffer? They often do.

* We’ll make so much more money. Probably not right away given you are now sharing your fee between two of you and employers generally will not pay more just because you are in a partnership. (There are some exceptions to this and they are usually union sanctioned situations.) Essentially you will need to generate twice as much revenue in order to make the same money as you would have made as a single. However, it should ideally be possible to exceed that without too much struggle if you are truly working well together.

* I have no idea what I’m doing. Don’t expect any partner worth their salt to join you if you are not already proven as a successful single on some level in this business. There are too many “wannabes” floating around and they have a way of finding and latching on to innocent partnership virgins. For them, that’s fine. They can enjoy their dreams and never ending plans and perhaps never really worry about making a living at them. But you don’t want to partner with one of them. As a working professional, you must bring to the table a package of benefits that enhances your partner’s work experience and the potential output of your collaboration. You should expect no less of any partner in return.


What to look for – compatibility, compatibility, compatibility

* A sense of humour – very important! This is an essential survival skill. Without a common sense of humour you will be unlikely to carry on through the numerous obstacles you are bound to encounter. It usually also implies you will always be able to communicate with your partner – even if (and especially when) you are in complete disagreement with each other – something that, should you fail, will ultimately lead to your partnership’s demise.

* Work standards – no point partnering with a night owl if you like to get up early if you plan to work side by side. Or will you choose to work on a project together – but separately?

* Similar goals – professional, financial, etc. Where do you both want to be in five years? What sort of money do you hope to make? What kind of work do you ideally plan to generate?


How do I find a partner?

This is the biggest obstacle a working freelancer will probably ever face in this whole partnership arena. Being a freelancer usually means competing with your fellow freelancers, working on your own without much outside input and often maintaining asocial hours and lifestyles. In spite of all this, you can still find opportunities to network with fellow freelancers and sound them out. There’s no big secret.

* Go out and have a coffee if you casually meet a fellow freelancer you have a gut feeling about.

* Trust your instincts. You may be pleasantly surprised. I think most freelancers, given the standard isolation and competition we face, are usually quite open to the idea of some form of a partnership, on some basis, at least for a trial period.

* Partnerships take on many forms and appearances. Some may be project-by-project, totally non-exclusive. Some may be totally exclusive, locked in for a period of time. Again, there are no hard and fast rules. It’s what works for you and what you wish to make work and become a part of. Your ideal creative partner may seem obvious to you – or might be the least likely individual you will ever meet. Until you try it you will never know for sure.


To incorporate or not to incorporate, that is the question

If you have decided on an exclusive partnership for all your work output and have tested the collaborative waters and found it to your liking, there are numerous tax advantages to becoming incorporated assuming your consistent mutual earnings are getting eaten up by personal taxes. However, I’d suggest working together for at least two full years before considering legal incorporation. Once you are incorporated you will find it much harder to simply walk away from a nonfunctioning partnership.


The takeaway

I have come to believe most successful creative partnerships have only so much juice in them before they expire. Some partnerships may thrive a lifetime but I find them a rare breed indeed. It is much more likely over your professional working life that you will have a number of such collaborations – some successful, some less so; some pleasant, some not so much – scattered amidst your solo working time. I always look forward to the possibility of yet another partnership – they can be great fun, very stimulating and a way of expanding/increasing your revenue streams – but I would caution against ever depending upon one for your livelihood. Therein can lie the seeds of professional codependency and dissatisfaction. (There are always exceptions, of course.) Better I think to always be open to the possibilities – and to never be afraid to try one – if it enhances and improves your professional life. This can only be brought about by a mutuality of talent, personality and vision between you.

The abilities required to successfully collaborate with the right partner on the right project is a skill set every working freelancer should strive to develop to maximize their career’s untapped possibilities. I will have more to say on this subject another day but for now, I wish you good luck and much success on all your future collaborative endeavours!

Posted on November 23, 2012 at 9:33 am by editor · · Tagged with: , ,

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