4 Rules for Smart Collaborating June 12, 2014 RICCentre By: Kristen Gramigna Collaborating with freelancers and outside agencies can leverage your existing talents and help enhance the services you offer as a startup, helping you to compete with larger interactive agencies with the resources needed to offer clients a turnkey solution. Yet forming a working collaboration with other talented professionals is an art that requires understanding where to be formal, and flexible, so you eventually function as a trusting and symbiotic team. Here’s how to get the most of collaborations with outside organizations and freelancers. Recognize when third-party help is needed. When you’re faced with a project that involves many moving parts, requirements and deliverables, collaborating with outsiders can allow you to do the type of work you most prefer, while offering clients a polished and complete end product. Before you begin your search for outside help, consider the skills a collaborative partner should have (ideally, they won’t overlap with yours). Is past experience with a certain industry or functionality needed to hit the ground running? What software or tools are required to do the work? Will they meet with clients face to face? What duration of time must the person be actively involved with the project, and how, when, and how often do you need them to communicate? What is the maximum rate you’re able to pay for their work based on its value to the project? Once you’ve outlined your basic needs, start asking others in the industry for referrals, or post your needs on reputable sites that connect freelancers with potential contract employers. Put the details in writing. Before any collaborative work begins, have the collaborator sign required confidentiality agreements, and stipulations around creative licensing and copyright ownership. Additionally, provide a scope of work that outlines the collaborator’s duties, process for revisions and approval, key deadlines, payment, and penalties for failing to deliver work as agreed. Explain that the agreement is to protect the health of your partnership, as well as client relationships. To get, be prepared to give. In healthy collaborations, both parties fare better together than apart, and get what they seek from the relationship. Though your relationship will likely benefit from “ground rules” that formalize the basics of how you’ll interact, be flexible and open-minded. For example, some freelancers may prefer to receive a detailed project brief that encompasses all they need to complete a project; they won’t be in contact again until they deliver final files for their part of the project. Others may prefer brainstorming and continual information exchange. Neither approach is right or wrong, but to be collaborative, everyone on the team should thrive under the conditions agreed upon. Furthermore, be sensitive to things such as time zone differences when you schedule meetings, call, send emails, and set deadlines — in addition to a person’s lifestyle demands, which may include parenting, or holding a full-time job in addition to the collaboration. Be the person with whom you want to work. Professionals have all worked with clients they love — and some they loathed. Though the reasons behind either are often subjective, there are some factors that tend to form a positive working relationship: Clear project objectives and direction, compensation, a positive and respectful attitude, and being mindful of the value of one’s time and effort. Be the client you love by integrating the aspects of your best working relationships into your collaborative partnerships, including speed of payment. Many payment processors provide small business owners (and even “one-man shops”) the ability to inexpensively accept and process secure credit card payments directly through a website, or through a smartphone or tablet device. By leveraging these tools to accept payments for a portion of projects upfront and in smaller increments as the project progresses, you can ensure that you have the cash flow to pay your collaborators as they, too, deliver various pieces and parts of the project. Healthy collaborations aren’t just about playing nice in the proverbial sandbox; they’re about balancing necessary boundaries with flexible policies so all parties involved are equipped to form a productive, complementary, and lasting relationship. By following these basic collaborative norms, you may find that your productivity — and business potential — is maximized. About the Author: Kristen Gramigna is Chief Marketing Officer for BluePay, a leading payment gateway provider for small businesses. She has more than 15 years experience in the bankcard industry in direct sales, sales management and marketing.