The Pros and Cons of Partnership for Freelancers

By Liz Alton, Contributor, on March 6, 2017

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If you’re a freelancer, the pros and cons of partnership are definitely worth considering. Many independent professionals believe their only option is becoming a solopreneur, but according to the IRS, there were more than 3.6 million partnerships reported in the U.S. during the last reported tax year. While this figure represents businesses across industries, a business partnership model can open doors and new opportunities freelancers typically can’t access on their own.

Working as part of a business partnership or creative collective comes with both benefits and challenges. Here’s a closer look at whether joining forces with another creative is a smart move for you.

Pro: Partnerships Can Expand Your Capabilities and Reach

Working with a partner expands your capabilities. For example, if two writers join forces to start a small collective, one might have expertise in technology while the other understands finance. Not only does this expand the services you can offer, but it enables you to service a wider range of clients. When a copywriter and a graphic designer work together, they can provide an end-to-end service that can win them business neither could win on their own.

Working closely with a partner who has different strengths and experience can also deliver hands-on learning opportunities, which help you grow your own skill set. These types of partnerships tend to make the most sense when one of two dynamics are in play:

  1. Two freelancers with similar skill sets partner to increase the volume of clients they can handle.
  2. Two independent service providers with different but complementary skills, like a writer and designer or a strategist and blogger, combine their efforts to develop a more comprehensive offering.

Pro: You’re Not Going It Alone

Working independently can feel like a lonely road. It’s hard for people who work outside this field to fully empathize with the shock of suddenly losing a client, the frustrations of scope creep or the challenges of maintaining your creative process when your best sounding board is a pet. Working with a partner gives you a built-in support system.

While you should keep your eye on the prize (getting client work — and getting paid), having some camaraderie and someone who shares the journey with you proves valuable. Whether it’s a sanity check when you feel overwhelmed or the creative insights to take your offering to the next level, working with a partner means someone’s looking out for you when the going gets tough.

Con: When Things Go Wrong, They Can Really Go Wrong

As a freelancer, one of your advantages is flexibility. Which clients will you work with? How hard will you work? When you add a partner into the mix, there’s another variable that’s harder to control. When something goes wrong, it can bring your business and life to a grinding halt.

For example, what if your partnership takes on the work needed to sustain two people’s salaries, but the second person has other obligations, like a family or a health crisis, that get in the way of their full contribution? How long can you potentially carry the workload needed to support two salaries?

In other cases, a fundamental disagreement about creative matters or the clients you want to work with can create a dynamic where you spend more time sorting out partnership issues than you are making money. It’s important to ensure a partnership doesn’t become counterproductive to your growth and career.

Navigating the Pros and Cons of Partnership

To make a business partnership successful, here are a few tips worth considering:

  • Vet your partner. Your business partner becomes an integral part of your life and career. Vet a potential partner with the same thoroughness as you would when evaluating a prospective employee. In many ways, a partner has even more control than an employee, because they share decisions with you. Look at their work history, previous workplace relationships and client testimonials. Are people clamoring to work with this person?
  • Do your work styles mesh? Someone can prove incredible at their craft and a terrible fit for your business. For example, if you’re highly organized and work according to rigid project timelines, your overall fit with a flexible free spirit may be low. That doesn’t mean you need to have the same approach as your potential partner, but make sure your values, ideal work style and priorities align.
  • Formal versus informal: Are you establishing a formal company and conducting all your work together, or are you strategically seeking selective opportunities to work together on certain projects? Each of these approaches comes with their own benefits. A formal structure provides guidance and legal protections but is harder to dissolve if things aren’t working. An informal agreement can make it difficult to strike a balance between team projects and personal ones, making it more complicated to resolve disagreements when they arise.
  • Establish clear expectations. Every partnership should have some type of agreement in place. How will you handle projects? What do the financial aspects of the partnership look like? Who will handle client communications, project timelines and other deliverables? Take the time to scope out clear responsibilities without creating something too onerous.

A business partnership can open up new opportunities and growth avenues for busy freelancers. However, be strategic about who you partner with and how you establish those relationships. With the right forethought and planning, a partnership can become a strategic advantage to serving your desired clients.

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