Ben Bodien on Partnering Up

By Ben Bodien

If you’re thinking about setting out on your own as a freelancer but you have concerns about your abilities to survive by yourself, you may want to consider joining forces with someone else to form a partnership. Doing so can offer a number of benefits over the lonely nature of freelancing, but there are a number of important things to consider before striking out on the business seas with someone.

We’ll assume here that the partnership is two people, but of course you can have larger partnerships. Just be wary of putting too many cooks in your kitchen, because you won’t get many chances at getting that particular broth right.

Why bother?

There are a whole bunch of reasons why creating a partnership can be a better strategy than going it alone.

Two heads are better than one

You’ll have someone else to bounce ideas around with, which will help weed out the ridiculous ideas, and nourish the good ones. Every time you come up against a design or coding challenge, you’ll have your partner to lean on and mull it over with. You know how when you explain the problem you’re having, suddenly you realise what the solution is before the person you’re explaining it to has even had a chance to open their mouth? It’s great when that happens, and it will be part of jobs as partners to be those mute sounding boards for each other. Two heads are better than one in pretty much every challenging situation you’re going to face.

Double the resources

With two people, you’re better resourced for bigger chunks of work that come your way. Providing you have overlapping skill sets (and more on that in a while), that’s two people who can be working on something, greatly increasing your productivity.

Looking bigger and meaner

While you won’t have the weight of an established agency, having two people on the team will inspire a little more confidence in potential clients. After all, you can’t be a complete lunatic because you’ve convinced someone else to work with you, and the random chance of two lunatics pairing in the same place is much lower.

Teach me teach you

Working alone means that you’re solely responsible for honing your abilities. While it’s important to spend time reading and practising your techniques by yourself, it’s much faster to learn directly from someone else who’s already experienced in the area. Learning and feeding off each other’s knowledge is one of the key strengths of every small close-knit team.

Broader skill set

Unless you’re actual clones of each other, there’ll be something that one of you does better than the other. Picture the Venn diagram of your talents combined – that super set is your offering to the market, and it will enable you to go after broader end-to-end projects, rather than smaller projects, or just segments of the larger ones.

Howdy Partner

While working alone as a freelancer certainly has the potential to send you a bit crazy at times, that’s nothing compared to what working with one person who you grow to despise will do to you. It’s absolutely critical that you choose to partner with someone that you can work with day in day out through the hard times and the good.

In fact, it’s more important that you find someone you can have a great working relationship with than it is to find someone who is a master in their field, but a complete doucheface to work with. You can always develop your respective skills to become masters, but you can’t change your personalities anything like as easily.

It’s a good idea to partner with someone that you’ve worked with quite extensively in the past so that you know they’re fun to work with and that you’ll have great professional chemistry. If you’re currently at a large company and you’re thinking of breaking off and freelancing, maybe there’s someone else there in your team who you know you work well with and would be a great business partner. Perhaps you’re already freelancing and you’ve shared projects with another freelancer on a few occasions and it all went really well. Just don’t pluck someone at random off a freelancer project auction site or approach people purely on the basis of their CVs or portfolios – work with them in some capacity first.

There’s also the question of skill sets. If you and your partner are both expert UI designers, you’ll be able to take on bigger pure UI design projects, you’ll probably have to turn away projects that aren’t based on pure UI design work. If one of you is a UI designer and the other a wizard developer, you can go after the larger projects that involve both disciplines and which are generally better paying.

The implications of a partnership

The dynamic

Being in a partnership is not the same as being in a group of freelancers who happen to work together, even if you’re not working in the same room as your business partner. Some freelancers choose the solo path because they thrive in that solitude, and if you really need to be completely alone to be productive then a partnership might not work for you. That said, a small partnership is typically still more relaxed and flexible than an agency or studio with a couple of handfuls of people working together, so it’s a good balance.

Cash is king

Another very important point to consider is the financial impact of having two people to pay. All the work you do will need to generate enough money to cover two salaries which can make it tough, especially when you’re starting out. This makes it harder to get the ball rolling for a partnership than a freelancer, because you’ll need bigger cash buffers and slightly better paying projects right from the outset. Make sure you take all of this into account when you make your cashflow projections, which of course you’ll do with religious devotion, won’t you. Won’t you?

Branding

You’ll also need to work a bit harder on your brand. As a freelancer, you can get away with using your name as your brand and identity. That can work for partnerships as well (combining your names), but you might be better off going a bit further and conjure up a new name for your venture.

Summarising

Partnerships can be a more attractive option than going out on your own as a freelancer, but you need to be wary of a few unique challenges that can arise when you try and work with someone else on a small business scale. If you have any questions about specific aspects of partnering, feel free to post them in the comments below, or get in touch with me directly. Good luck, however you choose to work!

Ben Bodien

Ben Bodien on Partnering Up

Ben Bodien is Co-Founder of Neutron Creations, a web development studio based in London, where he specialises in front-end development, creative direction and product design.

Neutron Creations build web sites and applications with fanatical attention to detail, and offer a range of development services. They use a modern agile workflow and industry best practices to "craft modern solutions to our clients’ problems that are as elegant as they are enjoyable to use."