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?