Six steps for successful collaboration

Sometimes freelancing is a team sport. Here's how to make collaboration way easier.
Six steps for successful collaboration
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Whether you're a brand-new freelancer or an experienced vet, eventually you’ll have the opportunity to collaborate with others on a project.

As a freelancer, I've experienced firsthand how maximizing my time and utilizing all the tools at my disposal can help me streamline processes and, ultimately, perform better for my clients. But I didn't always understand the importance of collaboration. When I was just starting out in my career, I was hesitant to reach out to other freelancers because for me, collaboration meant that other people would be stepping on my toes.

But sometimes you need to collaborate in order to get something done. Especially with larger and more complex projects.

In today’s post, I’ll discuss four of the easiest ways freelancers can collaborate with clients remotely and give a few tips about making collaboration work.

Let’s get started...

The benefits of collaboration for freelancers, according to experts

Why collaborate?

While some people are freelancers because they prefer the freedom of working for themselves, data and anecdotal evidence suggest freelancers should consider collaborating on projects. There are many benefits of collaborating with others for freelancers and their clients. Research shows collaborators do more innovative work, feel more satisfied, and work faster. 

For example, research shows:

  • Collaborations can drive 10% productivity improvements. 
  • It was found that of collaboration software users, 85% are more likely to identify as being happy 
  • When workers collaborate, 73% do better work, 60% are more innovative, 56% feel more satisfied, and 15% work faster. 

But collaboration isn't a recipe for instantly successful projects. It's a delicate dance of back-and-forth and requires a slightly different skillset than flying solo. The only thing worse than not collaborating is pouring your energy and efforts into a collaborative venture only to see it flop.

The good news?

Research from scholars at University of Amsterdam and The Ohio State University found that teams that work collaboratively often access greater resources, recognition and rewards when facing competition for finite resources.

And a study published in 2012, called “The Neuroscience of Sharing” by Jessie Poquerusse found that collaboration can increase achievement and productivity.

Even with all of these benefits, how do you know it’s time to collaborate? Sometimes, as a freelancer, you'll need to work with other people to get the job done. Some situations where you may want to consider collaboration include:

  • You’re working on a big project that requires the talents of multiple freelancers
  • The project requires specialized skills you don’t have. 
  • You just prefer not to work alone. For example, coworking spaces are businesses that provide space for freelancers to work with others in a collaborative environment. Or perhaps you’ve planned a working retreat with other freelancers.
  • You have unexpected availability in your schedule or find yourself in need of work. 

4 types of collaboration you should know about

When AND.CO asked freelancers what was missing from the nature of their employment, 61% said a stronger community and more chances to collaborate” was what was missing from freelancing.

I’d argue freelancing offers plenty of opportunities to collaborate if you know what to look for. The real solution isn't to jump at any collaboration, but to understand the different types of collaboration so you know what separates career-building partnerships from soul-sapping alliances. The four types of collaboration freelancers most often engage in are:

  1. Working with clients -- Working with clients is the most basic form of collaboration. If you are a freelancer, you need to be open for projects and be willing to work on a project with others. This means that you’re going to work with different clients and belong to different projects.  
  2. Working with contractors -- Most freelance businesses will work with contractors at some point. You may need subcontractors to handle design, code, marketing, SEO services, or some other task you don’t specialize in.
  3. Working with partners -- There are two types of partnerships: a formal business agreement that outlines all of the responsibilities, as well as an informal relationship where partners intend to work together on a specific project. Both or either can be beneficial for your freelance services business. Working with a partner can be a good thing for your business, but it's always wise to get everything in writing. Make sure you understand what your responsibilities are -- and what the other person is responsible for -- before you enter into any agreement with them.
  4. Finding/referring work -- More and more, freelancers are collaborating with each other to share project leads and refer work. According to research from the Freelancers Union, this is a common practice for the freelance community. 81% of freelancers refer work to each other, 52% of freelancers do paid work for other freelancers or team up on projects, and 37% of freelancers barter services with each other.

Collaboration is simply the act of working together to achieve a goal. Freelancers who collaborate with clients, colleagues, and partners can achieve more than they could alone.

Six Steps for Successful Collaborations

So, as a freelancer how do you collaborate with your colleagues?

I reached out to fellow freelancer Michael Ellis of Soaring Eagle B2B Consulting Services. He’s a Copy Consultant and Copywriter for B2B brands and he had some interesting thoughts about collaborating as a freelancer.

If you’re wondering how freelancers can effectively collaborate, here are some more tips and techniques to help you be efficient when collaborating with others.

  1. Get everyone on the same page -- When freelancing, we are used to working alone and that can be an issue when it comes to collaborating with other freelancers or clients. Set expectations up front, including prices and deadlines.
    Pro Tip: Michael Ellis says "When you collaborate with other people, everybody needs to be on the same page in order to make effective progress. Everybody has to know their role. It's like a basketball team. The forward has to know their part...point guard...center... Everybody has to know their position and be willing to grow in that position. Everybody has to do their part because if one person doesn't do their part, it throws everything out of balance."
  2. Learn about and use collaboration tools -- One of the most effective ways to form a partnership with another freelancer is through collaboration tools, or apps or tools that allow you to work together in-sync and make project sharing easy. For example, you can use project management tools to break big projects down into small tasks. From new software for online whiteboards to software that can increase team communication, the tools needed to collaborate efficiently are available and affordable. The trick is knowing how (and when) to use them.
    Pro Tip: Michael uses Slack, Trello, Asana, CRM, and event calendars to stay on top of everything.  
  3. Communication is a crucial part of any collaboration -- Communication is key in a collaboration. Whether you’re working with an agency to develop a project or just a freelancer. If each party doesn’t understand the goals and details, then the outcome will be disappointing. You have to make sure that you communicate effectively with your team members. Be open about everything and use an agenda to hold effective team meetings.
    Pro Tip: Michael Ellis lets his team members know "I'm here to learn and to help. We're all in the same boat, pushing in the same direction.
  4. Prioritize process and accountability -- Before you bring anything to life together, lay down some groundwork—a process—to keep you moving in the right direction. Be hard on the process so you can be easy on the people. The solution for this is making sure that everyone knows what they need to do to achieve the goal, and how frequently they need to check in with one another to update each other on progress.
    Pro Tip: Michael Ellis says "Be clear on the goals, the length, and the scope of the project. Establish trust and allow for valuable input. Be honest and encourage all members to participate. Get rid of all walls and optimize your meetings. 
  5. Respect time zones, geographical, and cultural boundaries -- Working in a remote team can be exceptionally challenging. Collaboration is great but you need to respect the time zones, geographical and cultural boundaries of your team members if you want to be successful with your collaboration efforts. Stay aware of holidays your teammates may observe that you do not.
    Pro Tip: Ellis advises freelancers to try and inspire their collaborative partners. “Create a dialogue, show empathy, and encourage the individual. Everyone needs to be encouraged or inspired.” 
  6. Extract lessons from every project -- The best way to end the project is by conducting post-project reviews. Post-project review can address issues encountered by all parties, what went well during the project, and whether the job was completed to the customer’s satisfaction. Soliciting honest client feedback should be part of this process.
    Pro Tip: Michael Ellis says "I’ve always been an eager learner. When you collaborate with other people there's so much out there to learn. And the more you learn, the more value you can bring to the table.”

Want successful collaboration on your freelance projects? Hectic can help!

Sometimes you need to bring together a team of freelancers to push a big project to completion. With Hectic you can invite others to work with you, all in one convenient space. 

Got a big project that requires the work of multiple freelancers? Assign deliverables to collaborators and keep everyone organized.

Need to stay organized while you work together? Easily communicate and collaborate on a project within Hectic for easy reference anytime.

Ready to get paid for all of your hard work? Combine all the billable hours for your project and roll it into one big invoice. Plus you can:

  • Grant different levels of access -- Choose to add freelancers as collaborators to work only on specific projects, or as full-access team members to run your entire business with you.
  • Build your team -- Invite up to five full-access team members to help manage clients, send invoices, and manage project collaborators. They can do everything you can do in Hectic (except delete your account). 
  • Bring on project collaborators -- Got a big project that requires some outside help or innovation? Invite unlimited project collaborators onto your projects. Project collaborators can access only project-specific details and deliverables that you want them to see.
  • Easy time tracking and invoicing -- Keep track of the hours worked on each project for all of your project team members and partners. These hours can then be added to your client invoice, making invoicing simple and easy.

Stop, collaborate, and listen

Somewhere along the line, “being independent” became synonymous with “being alone.” But it doesn’t have to be that way. *click to tweet* Because freelancing can also mean collaborating – with clients, with other freelancers, and with partners.

There is a time when freelancing is a solo effort, but often collaboration is required. This is particularly true when working on larger, important projects or if you're new to working independently. Working collaboratively with others can be a rewarding and beneficial experience, but also one of the most challenging aspects of freelancing.

There are endless issues that can crop up from misunderstandings to differences in working style to (unfortunately) all-out disasters.

Successful collaborations -- just like any successful relationship -- boil down to one thing: learning how to work with other people to come up with an end product that is greater than the sum of its parts.

The good news is, you don’t have to learn the hard way.

Armed with the benefits of collaboration, tips on how to collaborate successfully, and real-world tips from experienced freelancers, you’re ready to collaborate and help bring projects to life!

And with the power of Hectic at your fingertips, you’ll be able to get more done with ease.

Hectic even makes it easy to share files with your team or a shared link for quick feedback.

Simply put, it's the tool I wish had existed when I launched my first freelance career 13 years ago. Fortunately for you, that tool does exist, and I'd like to invite you to try it. 

Learn more about collaborating with Hectic, a single digital workspace with all the tools needed to start, manage and grow a freelancing business. Click here to learn how to get started. 

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Anthony Sills
Anthony Sills is the Founder & Content Strategist at Professional Pen. He helps SasS and tech companies create marketing content that measurably attracts more customers using proven strategies, tactics, and frameworks.
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