Freelance Career

How To Collaborate With Fellow Freelancers: The Ultimate Guide

. 11 min read . Written by Priyanka Sutaria
How To Collaborate With Fellow Freelancers: The Ultimate Guide

Freelancers are independent contractors, but working for yourself does not mean working alone. You can work with other self-employed people. Read on to discover how to collaborate with fellow freelancers!

So you’ve been self-employed for a while. The transition was slightly bumpy, but you’ve settled into the flow by now.

Yet, every once in a while, your work is just one part of a client’s brief. And you either don’t see your work fulfilled in the way it should be, or your vision is completely altered by the next freelancer in line.

You could be a writer followed by a graphic designer, or a digital marketer preceded by a content creator. Either way, the projects often do not reach their full potential in your professional opinion.

And while you love being self-employed, the collaborative process of working in a team is something you look back on fondly.

Hold up! Why does freelancing mean the end of teamwork? It doesn’t have to! Freelancing is not about creating restrictions; it is about opening up a whole new world of freedom and burgeoning creativity.

And in this world of freedom, you can collaborate. With other freelancers. And successfully, I might add. 

We’ve done the research, spoken to an expert (Protima Tiwary — influencer, freelance content creator and founder of The Mill) and put together this detailed guide about how to collaborate with fellow freelancers. Read on to find out how you can go about it.

Protima Tiwary

Table Of Contents

Why Freelancers Should Collaborate

Freelancing can end up feeling like a silo. A writer cannot think like a designer, and a social media manager cannot do what a content creator does. Collaboration is the perfect answer to this conundrum. 

And bear in mind, it is as much about creative processes coming together, as it is about mutual monetary gain.

Collaboration brings you out of your silos, merges your resources and talents with those of other freelancers, and turns it into a mill.

Speaking of mills: Protima Tiwary is a social media influencer and freelance writer. Passionate about her work, and that of her compatriots (ha!), she has set up The Mill — a community of remote workers that collaborates on different projects together, while maintaining a healthy work-life balance. 

She says, “When I started freelancing in 2013, I had no guidance, which is why I made mistakes.” She’s vulnerable about them too; speaking about how she struggled when it came to her rates, the kind of work she took up, setting boundaries with clients, and even how she worked long, endless hours. 

“I did not study the industry, and it took me a lot of time to understand how much I had missed out on, and that’s when I started getting my career in place.” Setting up The Mill was the obvious next step!

Benefits Of Collaborating With Fellow Freelancers

Protima is clear on the benefits of mill-building: 

  • It helps you build professional relationships and a professional network; both extremely helpful for independent contractors.
  • You lean on a second person, the second person leans on the third, the third person leans on you, and everyone gets work.
  • The quality of any multi-faceted project can be improved when all the minds working towards it are working together and in sync, as opposed to working in an assembly line.
  • Pitching a network of expertise can help you (all!) secure better projects quicker with better clients.

Plus, collaborating with other freelancers also helps her share the wisdom she has accrued over the years.

She’s right about that. The freelance community is one where people tend to refer work to each other, do paid work for other freelancers, and barter services with each other.

So why stop at the threshold. Take the leap of faith, and team up on projects as well!

How To Initiate A Collaboration With Other Freelancers

This depends on your level of comfort. You can choose to create a formal agency of freelancers, a loosely tied-together professional network, or simply have frequent collaborators.

Formal Agencies

A formal agency is an organisation that helps freelancers contract more work by building a roster of clients for them, plugging in the appropriate freelancer (given skills and rates) to a given project, and helping them secure the money for those projects.

Setting up an agency would require time and effort on your (or somebody else’s) behalf to set up the business, look into the income, set rates, and oversee communication and conflict management.

It would also require a very structured approach that imitates the existing corporate or start-up culture of hierarchies.

(Continue reading below.)

Networks

A network is more formal than a frequent collaboration, but less so than an agency. It is less solid (but not entirely liquid!) system, where freelancers form a pool based entirely of skilled workers who collaborate.

It is dependent on who brings in work and how you set up contracts between freelancers. Plus, it may have a variety of people in the same field with a variety of rates, and an individual might reach out to anyone rather than someone specific.

For Protima’s network, this is a very integral part of her mission. “This is where I put in a lot of effort because I receive CVs almost daily. We are not a hiring agency, neither are we looking to hire people as salaried employees.” 

Indeed, she aims to find resources that will team up with her for projects, rather than become a de facto head of a loosely bound agency. 

“This is why I spend time checking relevant work samples and collaborating on small projects before steaming up for the bigger ones. This process can take a month to three months,” she states.

Buddy System

A buddy system is basically a pool of frequent collaborators to dip into based on the project at hand. There is no formal structure and it depends entirely on how you network with your peers.

It also relies on your collaborators reaching out to you when they get work as well. Inasmuch, there would have to be some pre-decided arrangement of sorts, but nothing set in stone.

Pros & Cons Of The Various Systems

A network or a frequent collaborator scheme is easier to set up. Some rules of engagement will have to be established, such as fixed-rate cards for specific services and communication processes. Payment processes will also have to be discussed and streamlined.

women freelancing

With a frequent collaborator, you will obviously have an understanding of one another’s skill set and expertise. In a network, there will have to be a liaison (not a head) who is in charge of involving new freelancers, making communication smooth, and other necessary tasks. This can be a voluntary position or a fee-based one, depending on the group.

As Benjamin Zadik, founder of Babble-on says: “It’s sort of like a ‘freelance co-op’… The people I work with appreciate this enough that when I really need them, they are always there. This is something you see less of in an agency/employee model.”

Salaries & Income

And how would the monetary aspect work when collaborating? Do payments happen as a unit, or should you draw up individual contracts while working as a united front? 

A formal agency would pay you based on the kinds of projects you contract, minus their fee.

Protima says that as of now, everything is individually contracted at The Mill because they collaborate as and when a project comes into the picture.

Frequent collaborators would have to decide this either as they set up their collaboration, or on a project-by-project basis.

How To Find The Right Freelance Collaborator

Collaboration brings with it an inherent requirement of communicating with other freelancers. People skills are definitely required in some capacity, as is the ability to have the occasional tough conversation.

Building the right relationship is hard personally, and possibly harder professionally. 

For example, in a personal relationship, it can be easier to call someone out if they do something wrong. Or it can be less difficult to talk about money.

So here are some tried-and-tested strategies for choosing the right collaborator.

Make Sure You Know Them And Their Work

To work on projects together, even on different aspects of it, you have to be matched when it comes to skill level. A writer with a decade of experience would find it harder to work with a fresh-off-the-boat SEO manager.

If you do not already know the freelancer on a personal and professional basis, it’s a great idea to either do some mock brainstorming sessions, or take up small projects together. 

These will help you do the following: 

  1. Understand whether you can work together
  2. Establish a working relationship that is both comfortable and functional
  3. Learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses

Pick someone willing to build processes, and either works or understands the pace at which you work.

Make Trust And Transparency The Foundation

Any relationship is bound to fail when one or both or all parties are unwilling or unable to trust each other. Particularly professionally, the fallout from this can be troublesome.

Protima says, “I feel freelancers hesitate to pass on work to each other which I feel ends up being harmful to the community.”

This comes from a place of mistrust, where a freelancer fears losing a project. However, this can also lead to the loss of a collaborator. And in the freelance industry, where companies tend to drive competition, trusting your peers and collaborators has to be the antidote to such market behaviour.

How to do this? Ensure that you either already know the person to be trustworthy, or have testimonials from others you trust that they are. Also, check out their previous work, and ensure that you know what they can do.

Additionally, since this is about business, make sure that everything is above board. Transparency takes time to achieve, and if you collaborate, then it is definitely a top priority. So work on making your communication channels effective and unblocked. Check-in and check out as and when you can as individuals, and as a team.

women freelancing

Build Strong Communication Channels

Continuing from the previous point… Just by being in an office space with others, you will end up creating intertwined personal and professional communication channels.

And as freelancers who want to collaborate, this will be a challenge. Without enforced time with one another, you will have to make the effort to speak with one another often. And not just when you are working on a project together.

Make engagement a habit. It will become a foundation to lean on. 

Protima says, “You also need to understand whether your working style is similar and that you are on the same page in terms of the objectives of the collaboration.”

Adding to this, be active in conflict resolution. No matter how strong your communication is, no two people think alike, and this can lead to some difficult conversations.

It is always important to remember the mantra ‘collaboration over competition’ when you have these conversations.

Work With Someone Who Can Accept Structure

Independent work and self-employment are often about breaking away from the structures of full-time work. But that doesn’t mean letting loose and giving up on structure entirely!

In fact, it is important to create your own structures that work for you and grow with you. These can aid smooth functioning and ease your professional life in a way an office cannot. This could mean simply having a WhatsApp group, or investing in a management tool like Teamwork or Slack.

Also ensure you keep a track of all the work and payments that come in, and build both individual and team rate cards.

Here’s some sage advice from James Sullivan, a Canada-based consultant: Be hard on the process so you can be easy on the people.

Share Resources And Responsibilities

If you are not running an agency, you will have to create a system that doesn’t push for singular leadership. Instead, leadership will have to be a resource and responsibility shared by all members of the network.

This will include getting leads for work, following up on them, being the principal point of contact for clients, making decisions regarding your internal network policies, and more.

You should also share industry updates, initiate upskilling exercises, and support one another in a professional sense.

(Continue reading below.)

What You Need To Know Before You Start Collaborating

Before you set about building your collaborative network of freelancers, here are some things to keep in mind.

Contracts

Note. Every. Single. Thing. Down. Written agreements are beyond a shadow of a doubt, the most critical thing to keep in mind. Protima emphasises this, and so would any freelancer you speak to.

And it holds true for collaborations between freelancers as well. Who is doing what task, with what deadlines, requiring which resources, and at what rates — it all goes in the contract, whether the paperwork is digital or old school ink-and-paper.

Remote Working Solutions

Pandemic or no pandemic, talent and working relationships should not rely on physical proximity!

Considering and creating remote working relationships can in fact improve the quality of your collaborations, and help you expand your circle of resources and opportunities.

Circle back to the aforementioned points about processes and communications to guide you in this.

Respect Independence

A freelance collaboration is not a monogamous marriage!

Understand that being an independent contractor means that they can work on projects alone as well. Respect the boundaries of your collaborator, and focus on being cooperative and supportive in their individual projects as well.

Rapid Fire: Questions To Answer Before Collaborating On Your First Project

  1. Who is responsible for which part of the work?
  2. What are the individual and group deadlines?
  3. How will revenue be distributed? Who gets paid how much?
  4. What are the distribution rights for the content?
  5. Who gets the final say if there’s a difference in opinion?
  6. Who is the primary contact to the client?
  7. What happens if someone breaks the contract or leaves before the work is done?

Where To Find Freelancers To Collab With

The world is your oyster! Opportunities to connect with fellow freelancers abound. 

  1. Check out Facebook groups for local, national, and international freelancers.
  2. Go to networking events, whether physical or virtual, and meet up with your peers.
  3. Scour LinkedIn and reach out to people whose work you love. (Do the same on Instagram!)
  4. Join the Kool Kanya Community, and connect with like-minded women freelancers.
  5. Spread the word via family and friends and freelancer friends.

So there you have it. The ultimate guide to collaborating, learning, and growing with freelancers. Have you ever collaborated with other freelancers? What were your takeaways from the experience? Tell us in the comments!

Research: Quora, Matt Olpinski, Freelancer Map

You’re invited! Join the Kool Kanya women-only career Community where you can network, ask questions, share your opinions, collaborate on projects, and discover new opportunities. Join now.