A few years ago, I was asked to write a website for a building society and the deadline was such that I couldn’t write it all by myself. The budget was £20,000 so I didn’t want to turn the opportunity away. I suggested bringing in another web writer. We proved to the client we could both write in exactly the same style and tone. We split the work 50/50, both earned £10,000 and hit the deadline. Everyone happy.
15 Questions to Ask Before Collaborating
Posted May 10, 2011 in How-To
In today’s competitive freelancing market, collaboration between freelancers is becoming increasingly common.
Collaboration has some clear benefits for a freelancer:
- It provides you with an expanded skillset and additional ideas, both of which can lead to a superior end result.
- Collaboration can help you take on projects that you would not otherwise have the time (or ability to do) to do otherwise.
- Collaboration introduces your work to a broader range of potential customers.
These potential benefits can make freelance collaboration sound really appealing, and many freelance collaborators do have a good experience. However, it pays to be cautious before jumping into collaborating with another freelancer. In this post, I’ll list some questions that you should consider before you collaborate.
5 Questions About Your Collaborator
The first set of questions are designed to help you learn more about your freelance collaborator. Working with the right collaborator can mean a successful project, but working with the wrong person can be a disaster.
Here are the questions to consider about your collaborator.
- What sort of reputation does your collaborator have? If your collaborator has a bad or shady reputation, it’s possible that reputation could become attached to your own reputation if you agree to work together.
- What type of work values does your collaborator have? This question goes beyond reputation to look at work values. Some freelancers have a more formal working style (status reports, meetings, etc.), while others like to fly by the seat of their pants. Is your working style compatible with the collaborator’s style?
- Do you trust your collaborator? Another huge, but important question. If you are collaborating with someone you don’t trust (or don’t know well enough to trust), you could wind up responsible for handling the whole project by yourself.
- How available is your collaborator? Will he or she be available to brainstorm with and make decisions with in a timely fashion? Remember, some freelancers prefer to work “regular” hours while others may only work in the wee hours of the night. Time zone differences may also cause problems.
- Have either of you ever collaborated on a project before (together, or with someone else)? If this is a first-time collaboration for both of you, be sure to allow some extra time as you work through those unexpected issues that are bound to come up any time you try something new.
Now that you’ve learned more about your collaborator, you should consider the project itself.
5 Questions About Your Project
The second set of questions are about the project itself. Here they are:
- Does this project really benefit from having more than one freelancer working on it? Let’s face it. Some projects don’t need two people working on them and adding an extra person just slows the project down. Is this one of those projects?
- Who will be responsible for which tasks? Be sure to come to an agreement with your collaborator about this before you start to work on the project.
- Is the project due in phases, or all at once? It’s fairly common for a collaborated project to be delivered in phases, but don’t make this assumption. Ask the client and make sure that your fellow collaborator has the same understanding.
- Who will receive actual credit for the work? Do you expect to use this project in your portfolio? Does your collaborator also expect to use the project in their portfolio? (This question is somewhat related to question number one in the section below…)
- Are you comfortable with the project? Sometimes freelancers involved in a collaboration can get carried away and take on a project that they would not otherwise be comfortable with. Make sure that this doesn’t happen to you.
Now that you’ve given careful thought to your freelancing collaborator and the project that you intend to collaborate on, it’s time to take a look at your client.
5 Questions About Your Client
This section is designed to help you to take a closer look at the client for your collaborated project. (It also includes some payment issues that can arise.)
Here are the questions:
- Does the client know that a collaboration is taking place? Sometimes what is called a collaboration is actually one freelancer acting as a subcontractor for another.
- Can you contact the client directly, or must contact go through your fellow freelancer? Again, if the client doesn’t know two freelancers are working on the project you will not be able to contact them directly. (Although, there are situations where the client knows that the project is a collaboration, but chooses to work only with a single member of the team as a contact point.)
- Who will deliver the project to the client? Believe it or not, I’ve seen instances where this was not discussed and both freelancers assumed that the other one would take care of the delivery to the client.
- Will the client pay each of you separately, or will one of you be responsible for paying the other? For convenience’s sake, sometimes a client prefers to pay one person instead of two. (Your team should ask for a percentage of the project payment in advance and the advance payment should be divided between the two of you.)
- Is this a new client for both of you, or an existing client for one of you? If you are working with an existing client for one member of the team, that member may have some doubts about sharing “their client” with another freelancer. Discuss this in advance.
The Key About Collaboration
The real key to a successful collaboration is to make sure that both parties have a clear understanding of the project and of their individual responsibilities.
For a collaborated project, you may find it helpful to create two contracts–one for the client and one for your collaborator. Even if you don’t use a contract with your freelancing collaborator, make sure to get the understanding between you in writing (email will work). It’s just too easy to forget conversations.
Have you ever collaborated on a freelancing project? How did it go?
Share your answers in the comments.
Image by Kate Ter Haar
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May 10th, 2011 at 8:47 am
May 10th, 2011 at 10:06 am
Freelance FactFile–That’s a great story. It’s a perfect example of when collaboration should be used. I’m glad it went well for you. :)
May 10th, 2011 at 10:07 am
Great article. Well worth thoroughly digesting.
One point: “Do you trust your collaborator?” is a question about you. Trust comes from you. You are responsible for your ability and/or willingness to extend trust to others. This is a very useful question but be clear about where the work needs to be done.
May 10th, 2011 at 10:20 am
I just started as a Freelancer…and I found this useful to newbies as we are still trying to get new clients…..we can certainly collaborate if one needed a hand……
May 10th, 2011 at 10:23 am
cwebba1–It’s true. The trust does come from you. You need to be ready to give up part of the control and not everyone is ready for that. But, on the other hand, some people are not trustworthy and, even if you are ready to give up control to someone, you shouldn’t give it up to them. Such people may be fun to be around, friendly, but just not good prospects for collaboration. It’s important to think about this–but yes, that question is at least partially about you.
May 10th, 2011 at 10:24 am
Thanks Lala–Best wishes in your freelancing career.
May 10th, 2011 at 9:20 pm
It’s always necessary to find a collaborator who has similar work ethics. Is this the kind of collaborator who prioritizes process over results, for instance? And it’s also important to be clear about what your expectations are of each other.
May 10th, 2011 at 9:35 pm
I once thought of collaborating with my friends (also freelance writers) so that we can become one happy company of writers who can take on bigger projects than what we were working on everyday. They liked the idea, but once of the things that kept them from raising their hands and saying, “Aye!” was the fact that we were all friends.
They didn’t want business to get in the way with friendship. One said that we might fight over distribution of responsibilities or missing deadlines, while another was worried we wouldn’t treat each other as professionals. I think this is something we should think about if we’re to collaborate with freelancers who we’re very close to.
TLCMay 10th, 2011 at 11:28 pm
Collaborated on a 2-part project with someone I had partnered with for six months. Phase 1 was stressful but ok. At the end of phase 2 he over billed my client to get $200 in pay for 2 people he forgot to write into the proposal. When the client declined to pay the extra, he fired off a threatening, nasty email to me. The client ended up paying just to shut him up. I have new partners lined up and will never collaborate with him again. Just hope I haven’t lost the client.
May 11th, 2011 at 9:26 am
I love that you listed reputation at the top! It is so often that freelancers overlook reputation and ethics when considering a collaboration.
May 11th, 2011 at 11:22 am
Micro-sourcing, I think you’re right. If there are any differences, you should try to learn of them up front.
Stephanie–Sometimes working with friends does damage a friendship. I can say whether it would have happened in your situation, but you know your own friends and can make this decision.
TLC, Yikes! I also hope you didn’t lose the client.
Marybeth. I think a freelancer’s reputation is crucial.
May 15th, 2011 at 7:14 am
Some great tips here – I’ve learned from experience that just trusting a friend is not enough!
Establishing defined roles & responisiblities are surely a must for any partnership or collaboration. Thanks.
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