Collaboration: The Key to Tackling Opportunities

Imagine a potential assignment comes along that simply seems too much for you to handle. The deadline is too short, the requirements too broad or it’s just more than one writer can tackle on his own.

Should you:

A. Call the editor or potential client back to say, “Thanks but no thanks. I can’t take this gig on at this time,” and potentially lose out on future business?

B. Ask for a deadline extension and potentially lose the gig because there’s no wiggle room?

C. Take it on, just to hope you don’t hear that ominous “whooshing” sound of a deadline flying by? Or:

D. Agree to consider it, and then open your Rolodex to contact writer and editor allies who can partner with you on the project?

The best answer, obviously, would be D. It’s just not the one that usually comes to mind with freelancers more accustomed to flying solo on all their projects.

In the past we’ve discussed partnering with your editors as a wise move for the solo writer. But what about partnering with fellow writers?

Here are quick tips you can use when entering into a virtual partnership:

  • Whatever your assigning editor expects of you, you should expect of your partner.
  • Set reasonable, but firm deadlines for your subcontractor (partner).
  • Figure out how and when you will pay your partner.
  • Make it clear that the project is work for hire, and that no long-term, binding relationship exists.
  • Create an indemnity clause, in writing, that protects you and your publisher if your partner’s information is incorrect, defamatory or damaging to a third party.
  • Networking, outsourcing, collaboration and strategic alliances have become commonplace among businesses as a way to broaden the company or vendor’s skills and ability to deliver on large projects.

    A writer I know recently took on a large assignment that required deep research and reporting before any writing could begin. She immediately called a reliable, fellow journalist in the field who knew the industry her assignment covered and offered him a share of the assignment. After some discussions about the project’s scope and deadline, both were off to tackle their respective parts of the assignment. She received much-needed help on a large project, and he found some additional work during a slow period.

    This doesn’t have to be just you and another writer. Ideally, you can have similar relationships with several other writers or editors.

    Create new partnerships
    In modern parlance, these relationships are commonly called “virtual partnerships.” Like a seed, the collaboration lies dormant until the right conditions come about to make it grow.

    In some cases, it’s a short-term gig that has a finite beginning and end. In others, it might be more extensive, like an entire book, or a series of written materials that will keep the writer and subcontractors together in a longer-term arrangement.

    You probably already have the names and numbers of some fellow writers around town or even the country whom you have referred overflow work to in the past.

    Why not strike up a new type of relationship with them&#151one that broadens the scope of each of your skills, and makes you more valuable to a wider array of clients?

    Selecting your subcontractor or partner for a new assignment isn’t as simple as opening your contact manager and picking the first name that pops up. It’s no different than when major corporations partner on projects&#151you will be wed to this vendor for the duration of the project (even longer, if you work well together).

    Therefore, it’s important to select partners whose outlook and skills complement your own. When they hit the streets with the project, they will be a reflection of you and the magazine you’re writing for. They should be professional, with good reputations and respectable demeanors. Ultimately, they should be people you know, like and believe you can work well with.

    Lay the ground rules
    Partnering and subcontracting parts of a larger assignment requires a change in thinking and business practice for the average freelance writer. Not unlike the relationship with your editors, you both will have to discuss and negotiate several aspects of the project at hand, including:

  • The project’s scope. Will you want raw or polished notes, or article segments that can be simply plugged into your story after a simple transition? How many sources will you be expecting? Whatever expectations have been placed upon you by your assigning editor in turn will become those of your subcontractor.
  • The deadline. The work you are assigning should arrive in plenty of time for you to review it, send it back for any revisions or additional reporting, and then be returned to you to write or rewrite as needed.
  • The fee. If you’re looking for raw notes, an hourly or flat rate is likely the best way to go. This requires an expectation on both parts of the scope of the reporting and what it will entail. If you’re seeking finished copy, a flat-word rate likely would work best, as it is the model already most common among many writers. As for expenses, decide what will be considered reasonable&#151like long-distance telephone calls, resources purchased, mileage or extended travel and lodging.
  • Payment of the fee. Will you pay an advance on the project, front any expenses, pay in installments or will the collaborator get his fee and expenses once you get yours? If you’re not paid until publication&#151and, in turn, will not pay your subcontractor until you’re paid, he will need to know this.
  • Work for hire. Of course, most agreements between assigning editors and their freelancers come with a contract that stipulates whether the project is a “work for hire,” and that the agreement does not represent a long-term, binding relationship between the two. As the editor, you will need to agree with your collaborator&#151in writing&#151that you will not be responsible for any of the vendor’s taxes or other liabilities incurred as a result of this project.
  • Indemnify yourself. Depending on the nature of the writing, it’s also important to consider an indemnity clause for the contract, which would hold you and the publisher harmless and not liable in case the subcontractor submitted content that was incorrect, defamatory or otherwise damaging to a third party. It might be wise to consult with your client and your own legal counsel on this topic.
  • Protect the assignment. Some writers may see a much larger story for themselves stemming from the brief piece you have assigned for them. Consider a binding “noncompete” agreement that will prohibit the subcontractor from pursuing this topic or sources, and potentially competing with the team or client’s work.

    Realize early on that each project will have its own dynamics. As noted above, a virtual partnership can be a short- or long-term gig; you and your subcontractor each must realize the scope of the project, and discuss what will serve as “closure” for each assignment. Let the writer know he must be available to answer queries or conduct some additional reporting if you or your editor have additional questions.

    Eventually, if the gig works out well, you’ll be able to widen the pie of work, with each subcontractor with whom you partner hopefully bringing more projects to the table.

    Jeffery D. Zbar is a freelance writer specializing in small/home office and teleworking issues, and is the author of Your Profitable Home Business Made E-Z (Made E-Z Products, 2000). He can be reached via e-mail at

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