In this week’s episode of The Hot Seat, Sara + Cristina talk about the ins and outs of running a partnership: the benefits, where we’ve struggled, and the major lessons we’ve learned. (Yes, we realize the irony behind running a community of One Woman Shops but being a partnership, ourselves!)
We’re writers and consultants, designers and photographers, front-end developers and store owners. And despite our differences, if you’re anything like me, emails with some variation of “Hey! I have an idea we could tag-team” pop up in your inbox frequently.
Entering into even the most casual of partnerships begs us to pause and protect the business we’ve worked so hard to create. Sure, “partnership” conjures official, legal agreements, but in actuality, a partnership can be anything from an Instagram loop giveaway, styled shoot, affiliate link, co-hosted webinar or e-course, conference, breakfast panel, or even a guest blog.
But for something as small as these examples, do you need a contract? After all, you’ve got a budget to balance, receipts to file, proposals to draft, and deadlines to meet. Who has the time to comb through an email thread and delineate terms and conditions?
No contract? Here’s what could happen
Time and again as I wade the freelance waters, I turn to Christina Scalera, a lawyer for creatives. According to Christina, yes, you need a contract even for small partnerships: “Ninety percent of [creatives] can avoid lawyers — the expense, heartache, and more — by communicating upfront and honestly in a contract,” she says. “Lack of a contract can lead to problems down the road if you’re not careful.”
Without a contract in place, we could:
Finish up a styled shoot to find no photos of our 12 hours of calligraphy work were even submitted to the publication
Partner to form an Instagram community, only to find a sneaky cohort is slow to hand over the login
Trade headshot photos for copywriting with a writer who just can’t seem to ever get to your bio
But first: Is the collaboration worth your time?
Before I send you into a downward spiral of researching what goes into contracts (editor’s note:start here!), pull out a pen and paper to figure out whether this collaboration is truly worth your precious time. If your hourly rate isn’t already on a sticky-note on your screen, follow these steps to find a rough calculation:
Take what you need your salary to be (after taxes), and divide it by 0.7. That dumps back in an estimated 30% in taxes.
Add your monthly business expenses, times 12.
Divide that number 52.
Finally, divide that by the number of hours you’re willing to work each week.
Back to the sticky-note: It helps me so much to think back to my PR agency billable days every time a joint venture, guest blog, affiliate, or partnership opportunity flurries across my inbox. Picture yourself on the project — for me, that means seeing the project fit into my ink-splattered world of calligraphy and copywriting projects. For you, that may mean thinking through the creative brief, wondering how many hours you’ll log in Photoshop and Illustrator, and how many rounds of edits might be needed. Consider exactly what this partnership project require from you, then ask yourself this:
Are both the partnership ROI and the time I’ll invest in the partnership worth my hourly rate?
In many times, yes! As Christina mentions, guest posting is a great example: Essentially you’re doubling your reach. Market research tells us that it takes anywhere from 3 to 12 touches to nab that customer, meaning leveraging your voice by getting in front of others’ communities can be a rock-solid business investment.
Reassuring you a bit more, don’t fret over “legal-ese” verbiage: Technically, if both parties understand the language, it can go in the contract. It’s your catch-all. At the end of the day, much like my desk holds my calligraphy pen, nib, inkwell, gouache tube, and sketchpad, a contract holds together all the little fragments of email threads and promises between collaborators, tying them neatly together.
Truly, while you could manage promises de facto through your email thread, I’m a fan of a drawing up a quick proposal within my Honeybook account and emailing it over. It takes under an hour — totally within my budget considering my hourly rate and what lack of a contract could cost me.
What to include in your contract
Like any good millennial, I’m in a constant state of information overload, and need an actionable takeaway for an article to stick. So, here’s your simplified partnership checklist! As you send over that proposal partnership template, review these questions:
Am I clear on the profit split, if any?
Did I write out dates of deliverable deadlines — and project termination? (And reminder, this doesn’t mean relationship termination!)
Have I addressed the exit strategy, and listed the means that could allow the contract to be terminated and how the assets would be divvied up if so?
Who will own assets — both during the project and moving into the future post-partnership — from email lists and social media accounts, to final copy and leftover swag bags?
Did we jot out a list of tasks, and who will be responsible for what?
There you have it! Simpler than it sounds, right? Let’s save the freelance world of lady boss friendships-gone-angsty, one kindly worded contract at a time.
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Collaborating with a fellow solopreneur is a great way to expand your business and explore new platforms or markets — without all of the pressure of trying to figure it out on your own. But partnering up with just anyone can make for a collaboration that brings more stress than success.
While you could bump into your collaboration soulmate while walking down the street, there are two places in particular I recommend looking for potential partnerships.
1. Online communities: Membership communities like One Woman Shop are a great place to connect with like-minded business owners who are open to collaborating on a business or marketing idea. This is especially powerful when the group brings together solopreneurs from various fields and areas of passion or expertise. (Editor’s note: Just look at what OWS members Jill and Julienne recently brought to life!)
If you’re not yet a member of a community like OWS, free Facebook Groups are another great place to connect with potential partners. Chances are there’s someone whose posts have caught your eye, and if you’ve felt the spark, they may be the person to ask.
2. Group courses or programs: When you’re in a group course and interacting with the rest of the students either in a private community or on group coaching calls, keep your eyes open for potential collaborators. While you and your cohorts are developing a specific skillset alongside one another in the program, you’re also sharing your individual strengths and passions, and there could be a perfect match in there for an idea you’ve had brewing.
Of course, those aren’t the only places; they just happen to be my top recommendations. Here are a few other places to meet business partners:
Social media: Stellar Instagram shots or witty Twitter banter could lead you to a good match
Real-life networking: Making small talk and exchanging business cards at a conference or event can lead to partnerships
Your business community: A subscriber to your email list may impress you with their responses and engagement
Your social circle: Friends or family could be a great fit — just be aware that mixing business and friendship can create high stress situations
Once you’ve set your sights on a potential partner, it’s time to do a bit of research and reflection to determine if you’ll be a good fit, and if the signs are pointing to a profitable collaboration. Here are the three must-haves for a strong match:
1. Balanced skill sets: If you and your potential partner are both bringing the same skill sets to the table, your partnership is going to be rocky. While your combined expertise may trump any and all competitors, you’re going to be left with some serious skill gaps that will create extra work and stress for both of you. Your best bet is a partnership where your skills will complement one another’s. Even then, you’ll inevitably have gaps, in which case outsourcing will be key.
2. Similar styles: Branding is important, and goes beyond the color palette you use and the funky fonts on your site. It extends into your language, communication and tone — and is designed to attract more of the clients you love working with. A collaboration will struggle when there’s a big difference between the tone of your business and your partner’s. If your presenting style is upbeat and bubbly, and you partner with someone who communicates with a brash, in-your-face tone, your audience is going to be 1) confused and 2) turned off by one or the other of you. This leads to poor sales results and frustration for both of you.
3. Aligned expectations: There is a vast variety of projects that you can collaborate on. Blog post exchanges, webinars, courses, even full-on joint ventures or new companies. So being on the same page when it comes to what the vision is for the project (World domination? A fun side gig?) as well as how each of you will be investing when it comes to time, finances and energy is important. The saying is true: You can go farther when you go together…but with the caveat that you need to have agreed on the destination ahead of time.
Picking that perfect partner
In the rush of excitement of launching a new partnership or collaboration, it can be tempting to skim over the research and reflection on whether or not you’ll be compatible. True — some of the must-haves can be managed or massaged with clever contracts and strong communication later on, but spending some time assessing the strengths and challenges your collaboration will face ahead of time can save a lot of heartache and frustration down the road.
Have other tips for finding the perfect partner? Share with us in the comments below.
Lately, the topic of collaborations and partnerships has been hot on our minds here at OWS. It’s been coming up on our coaching calls, in the members-only Facebook Group, and it’s officially our topic of the month on the OWS blog. We thought it might be appropriate to kick it off by pulling back the curtain on OWS HQ to share our tips on being an awesome business partner or collaborator.
Fun fact: Though our name is One Woman Shop, we are technically a two-woman shop! (Want more about our background as a team? Hop over here for story time.) Even if you aren’t looking to establish a formal legal partnership, we bet you’ll want to collaborate on a project, e-course, ebook, or webinar during the course of your solo biz.
Our partnership isn’t perfect, but I (Cristina) know I speak for both of us when I say we’re pretty darn proud of the relationship we’ve built. (Especially since we’ve never met in person.) Together, our ideas are better, our execution is better, and our fun is more funner. Seriously, we laugh a lot on those video calls.
Here’s what I have learned from working closely with a business partner (that would be Sara) over the past few years — lessons she would share when asked, as well. A giant caveat: Alas, I do not always act 100% in accordance with this advice, though maybe I will one day 😉
Work together but divide and conquer, too
There have been about 1,567 times when I couldn’t seem to break through a mental block without having a giant brain dump session with Sara. Sometimes all you need is to get on a call with someone to move forward. On the flip side, we have a tendency to over-rely on each other. What if the wording of that two-sentence email isn’t just so? Defining dominant areas of work for each person can be incredibly helpful. For example, Sara is the go-to for our editorial calendar and all guest posts. While she takes the lead on all related elements, she’ll sometimes loop me in for additional perspective or insight.
Learn when to take a stand — and when not to
I have strong opinions. Working with a partner has taught me the importance of choosing when to take a stand and when to let things go. Let’s say hypothetically that you get a finite number of “trump cards” each day or week. I like to ask myself the following: “Is this thing right now the thing you want to take a stand on?” You might ask yourself “On a scale of 1-10, how important is this to me?” If it’s a 2 (you care a tiny bit), communicate that. If it’s a 10 (you wouldn’t feel comfortable or even ethical if you didn’t fight for this thing), communicate that. Spoiler alert: You can’t always be a 10. Another spoiler alert? If your partner doesn’t respect when you are a 10, it might not be a great fit.
Embrace positive reinforcement
Who doesn’t want to hear real, genuine compliments about themselves and their work? It helps if you have a business partner or collaborator who you truly admire (heyyy, Sara!). If you don’t, it might not be the best match. Don’t get crazy but do give real positive feedback as often as possible without it starting to feel pandering or insincere. On the flip side, don’t hesitate to ask for feedback. One day on a call, I felt discouraged because I felt like I had worked hard but didn’t get enough acknowledgment; like we had moved past my progress too quickly and on to the next thing. Instead of pouting, I directly asked Sara for acknowledgment of my work — she gave it (in a genuine way) and we moved on with no hard feelings.
Say what you mean — and accept the other person at face value
I try to make a conscious effort to not say phrases or words that I don’t mean. For example, if I say “I don’t care,” it’s because I genuinely am not invested in any outcome. I sometimes say to Sara “I don’t have an opinion, but I can if you want me to.” She knows that this is my way of saying “If you care a lot, go for it. I support your decision. If you want or need me to be in on the decision, I can do that, too.”
On the flip side of saying what you mean is accepting that the other person is doing the same — taking them at face value. As you strengthen your partnership or collaboration, you may need to check in on this. For example, you might say to a collaborator: “I just wanted to confirm that when you say you don’t care, it really does mean you don’t care. Is that true?”
Share your feelings — and don’t
Both Sara and I have initiated conversations about our hurt feelings, frustrations, and annoyances. On more than one occasion, we’ve talked through our feelings, listened to each other, and improved our relationship because of it. On the other hand, it’s also important to recognize that you don’t always need to bring up every little issue. I’m not advocating burying your feelings but if you’ve made a conscious decision that you can truly get over the issue and that it won’t be a continued point of soreness or conflict, I’m giving you permission to let it go. (Cue Frozen. Obviously.) Overtalking your feelings can be a slippery slope, so be aware of it and cultivate the ability to really, actually get over things. (This will serve you outside of business too, I promise.)
Default to each person’s expertise
You’re likely partnering with someone because their expertise complements yours. There may be a fair amount of overlap (I’m obviously picturing a Venn diagram), but I imagine you’ll both bring unique skill sets, ideas, and experience. Learn each person’s strengths and know when to default to that person. In our case, this doesn’t mean that I can’t have an opinion about punctuation and grammar just because Sara is a copywriter, but I may take less of a stand because of it (see “learn when to take a stand — and when not to”).
Know when to table stuff and walk away
In The Solopreneur Sanity Handbook, we talk at length about the value of proactive breaks to prevent burnout. In a partnership or collaboration, breaks are doubly important. Not only are you preventing your own meltdown, but you’re likely preventing tension with the other person. Begin to recognize the signs that you and your partner need to step away. In our case, we’re both able to notice when our voices and body language change just slightly (yup, this comes across on video) — enough to indicate that a proactive rest is critical.
Often, you can take a break and come back refreshed with a different perspective. This happened to me recently after a quick 5-minute meditation — I decided the thing I was pushing wasn’t worth arguing over, so I articulated to Sara that I was laying it to rest.
Sometimes you’ll take a break and realize you can’t jump back into the same thing right now without tension. Acknowledge that, then move in a different direction.
My biggest takeaways from our partnership
Even the best partnerships come with challenges, but hey, we’re solopreneurs — loving challenges is in our blood! I don’t think it’s any exaggeration to say that successfully navigating a partnership can make you a better person in all areas of your life. It makes you more self-aware, more willing to compromise, and propels you forward as a business owner.
A great partnership or collaboration can be like having a business coach, an accountabilibuddy, a friend, and a co-conspirator all in one. Who knew that two random chicks from different parts of the country with pretty different lives would come together via the internet to serve you, our One Woman Shops, and have a fun, rewarding, and dare I say, awesome partnership?
How can you capitalize on a collaboration within your business and how can you apply these tips to a relationship in your solopreneur life?