3 Secrets for successful collaborative projects (that I learned the hard way)

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One of the best ways to expand your creative business is to form relationships with peers and similar industry experts to tackle bigger projects in a collaborative effort.

However, there are many pitfalls to a team of freelancers taking on a creative project — several of which I learned about the hard way in my five years as a freelance SEO copywriter.

Here are three techniques and practices I picked up along the way that I hope will help you:

Here they are, in reverse chronological order:

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1) Have one team member coordinate all communication

A typical web design team includes a designer, developer and copywriter; possibly along with specialists in SEO, CRO and/or UX.

Your creative project might also include photographers, videographers, illustrators, artisans, manufacturers or even a deliverables team (the people who package and ship your product).

Unless one person coordinates all client and internal communication, chaos is likely to ensue.

This is because clients have a nasty habit of impulsively calling a team member to field a “simple” question. When this happens even a handful of times, before long your team members will no longer be on the same page.

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With one person channeling communication, it’s far more likely all team members and client contacts will be looped in.

Pro tip! The statement of work (SOW) – or contract, or proposal, or whatever you call it – for the project should explicitly state how communication is to be handled.

2) Have a detailed SOW

Speaking of detailed SOWs, it’s vital to have one and review it carefully with the client before doing any work. There are several reasons for this:

First, a detailed SOW prevents scope creep.

Clients tend to assume that more will be delivered than what your team has in mind.

There’s a big difference between a 10-page website and a 50-page website, or between 10 custom images and 50.

Unless limits are specifically stated, ties usually go to the client, and you end up putting more work into the project than what you can charge for.

No good.

Second, a detailed SOW manages client expectations.

Not only for the amount of work, but also for:

  • timelines,
  • project objectives and
  • items that are the client’s responsibility, such as providing logo artwork in the proper format and timely reviews.

If a project is delayed due to the client failing to provide inputs in a timely manner, or if the project doesn’t meet an objective that was not part of the development plan, clearly defining the details in the SOW will help you prevent having a disappointed client.

Third, a detailed SOW helps your team get paid in full and on time.

When payment terms are vague, collection tends to take more time and disputes are more likely to occur.

A well-structured SOW details when payments are to be made.

Consider setting up payments with a deposit upon acceptance, a second installment after a major project milestone such as approval of design, and a final installment five days after the project goes live (to give your team time to troubleshoot post-launch issues).

3) Work out creative and technical workflows before crafting the SOW

Before you even create your SOW, meet with all team members to discuss the details of how creative and technical workflow will be handled.

Inevitably, freelancers will have different habits and ways of approaching work. For instance, I’ve worked with designers who like to see a rough draft of copy around which to build the design, whereas I prefer to see a rough design before writing copy.

Fortunately, these types of issues can be resolved pretty quickly through a bit of discussion.

However, if your team dives into the project without resolving them, you’ll find yourself backtracking to address the issues while you are in the middle of the project, which is likely to slow it down and lead to subpar work and strained relationships.

Furthermore, by addressing workflow issues up front, your SOW will more precisely describe the creative and functional deliverables of the project and the workflow to achieve them.

In short, your SOW will look very similar to what you do.

This builds client confidence, setting the stage for your team to earn more assignments and enthusiastic referrals.

As always, communication is key

A common denominator in all of these suggestions is the importance of communication:

  • written and verbal communication with the client, and
  • internally among production team members.

Of course, implementing excellent communication is easier said than done.

With that in mind, a few questions:

  • What project management platforms or other software have you found helpful in facilitating good communication?
  • What significant communication problems did you encounter on past projects, and how did you solve them?
  • What communication problems are you struggling with now?

Leave us a note in the comments with your answers!

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About Brad Shorr

Brad Shorr is the B2B Marketing Director of Straight North, a web development firm serving middle market companies throughout the U.S. with responsive design websites. You can read his work on web design on the Straight North Insights Blog.

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  1. Totally agree with all the three points.

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