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Teaming up

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BY SHAWN PERICH
Freelancing is a lonely occupation. It’s just you and the keyboard or camera, collecting material, creating a product and then selling it wherever and however you can. When confronted with an occupational challenge that might require outside assistance from someone with special skills, such as the task of building a website, the typical freelancer will shrug and say, “I can do it myself.”
A can-do attitude is an admirable and necessary trait for a freelancer. But just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should do it. After all, freelancers are most often hired to do work requiring their skills as communicators. You’d think they would appreciate the special skills of others.
I am a writer, not a graphic designer. When I decided to self-publish a book a few years ago, I contracted with a freelance designer to produce it. A light bulb clicked and Amber Pratt and I realized combining our skills made it possible to pursue larger, more lucrative projects. So we began doing so. Though she is a designer, she also knows how to sell advertising. It was her idea that we ought to start an outdoor publication. On no more than a handshake, we did.
Many business partnerships begin under similar, serendipitous circumstances. We operated for a couple of years with our outdoor publication, Northern Wilds, as a product of the combined effort of our individual freelancing businesses. But our mutual publishing enterprise took on a life of its own when local real estate companies approached us about producing a weekly real estate publication. At that point, we had to hire our first employee.
Suddenly, our informal partnership was responsible for a payroll. Now we needed a formal business agreement. By this time, we’d been working together long enough to know we could get along in a business environment. We also had an idea that we were creating a business we could continue to grow. However, we were also successful freelancers with numerous irons in the fire. If we were going to make our business successful, both of us had to devote 100 percent of our efforts to it. That meant all of our endeavors, including freelance work, had to come under one banner.
Creating a partnership wasn’t easy. We talked to spouses and to each other. We asked a lot of questions that began with “What if?” We sought advice from our accountant and our attorney. We looked at all the legal options for a partnership, which included a general partnership, a limited liability company and a corporation. For our situation, the best choice was to become an S corporation. Our attorney drew up the articles of incorporation and our informal partnership became Northern Wilds Media, Inc.
Since then, our business has grown as we’ve added products and employees. While most freelance communicators probably don’t want the headaches and distractions associated with having employees, it is still worth looking at ways to team up with someone to extend your reach and make more money. Many writers, for instance, are mediocre photographers. Teaming up with a professional photographer to provide first-rate text and photo packages has proven a winning combination for more than a few outdoor communicators. Some photographers work with a salesperson who sells the work and finds new markets, although this is more of an employee relationship. Still others have developed successful husband-and-wife freelancing teams.
Working in mixed media — a reality for most of us whether we like it — offers many opportunities to match our skills with a creative partner. The one truth of this brave new publishing world is that all forms of media need quality content. Very often, folks with the technical skills that new media requires lack either the time or creative talent to produce content. By the same token, many communicators have limited technical ability. Partner up with the right techie and you can build a potent creative team.
Another weak point for many communicators is salesmanship. You may have a great idea for a website or publication, but unless you can sell it to advertisers, it ain’t gonna fly. The only problem is most communicators either have little sales experience or don’t enjoy the sales  process. Why not team up with someone who has sales skills? Together you can create and sell a communications product.
Teaming up with a partner won’t work for everyone, but it may open doors to new, lucrative opportunities.  For me, a partnership took me from the daily grind and financial uncertainty of freelance writing for multiple  publications. Equally important, I was challenged by new endeavors and forced to step up my game as a communications professional. Creating and building Northern Wilds Media has required hard work and sacrifice  from both partners,but it’s also been a lot of fun. Without a doubt, it’s been the most rewarding endeavor of my communications career. And I could not have done it alone.♦
Shawn Perich, of Hovland, Minn., has been a member since 1985. In addition to his duties as editor and publisher of Northern Wilds Media, he is a columnist for Minnesota Outdoor News and a book author. Contact him at editor@northernwilds.com.
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