Think It’s Not a Big Deal? Why Even the Simplest Partnerships Need a Contract

Why Even the Simplest Partnerships Need a Contract

What I've Learned from Our One Woman Shop Partnership

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Add your monthly business expenses, times 12.
  3. Divide that number 52.
  4. 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.

Need inspiration?

Enter your email below to download a review checklist for your next partnership!

We <3 you, but please know that you can subscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit

What I’ve Learned from Our One Woman Shop Partnership

What I've Learned from Our One Woman Shop Partnership

What I've Learned from Our One Woman Shop Partnership

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?

How the One Woman Shop Partnership All Began

how the one woman shop partnership began

This is a story, all about how…

Now that we’ve firmly implanted Will Smith (AKA The Fresh Prince) into your head, we thought we’d actually share a story: the story of how we -- Sara Frandina and Cristina Roman, also known as the Co-Head Honchos of One Woman Shop -- met (since behind-the-scenes posts are our thing these days).

This past April, One Woman Shop became an official LLC partnership between us. This was the icing on the cake -- you see, it was an unofficial partnership for just about the past year, and was run solely by Cristina prior to that.

So how did two solopreneurs in different parts of the country end up teaming up to co-run a community for other solopreneurs?

It all started with an opt-in. As a career coach, Cristina created a downloadable worksheet that helped professionals determine their career priorities. Sara, a frustrated 9-5er on the verge of making her leap into full-time solopreneurship, entered her email and snagged the freebie.

After receiving an email from Cristina about career coaching services, Sara booked a session and we jumped on a coaching call. After learning about Sara’s interest in freelancing (and giving her pro-tips regarding invoicing, legal contracts, and more), Cristina suggested that she check out her new site, One Woman Shop. Included in the email was a survey about how much Sara might be interested in paying for a membership to said site.

Sara immediately saw the value of a community + resource hub like One Woman Shop and responded enthusiastically (to say the least), offering to help out in any way she could. Her first guest post landed on the site in April of 2014, and in May, Cristina and Sara hopped on a brainstorming call to follow up on the survey. Just a week later, Sara began writing and editing for One Woman Shop and...

Fast forward a bit and a fun, productive partnership emerged!

Why are we telling you this? For us, the story of how we met online -- and what came of it -- perfectly encapsulates the concepts we present in our brand new Building Your Online Community e-course.

We don’t want to give too much away, but we’ll talk in detail about some of the things you’ve seen here:

  • creating an opt-in
  • promoting that opt-in to those who might benefit from it
  • taking new relationships deeper through phone and video calls
  • collaborating effectively with your new online friends

...and those are just the highlights.

We are solopreneurs. We know the value of community. We’ve built one we’re incredibly proud of -- and we want to give you the building blocks to do the same.

Building Your Online Community

Have questions about building your online community, or the course in general? Join us for our #BYOCommunity Twitter Power Hour on Monday, 6/15 at 9pm EST where we’ll answer your questions live! To submit questions beforehand, email us!