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Partnering with Other Creatives – Creating a Virtual Studio or a Reality Nightmare?

Partnering with Other Creatives – Creating a Virtual Studio or a Reality Nightmare?

I was asked to have drinks by someone I knew from a graphic design group. He seemed normal (excuse me while I shudder, as he turned out to be a stalking maniac) so we met for a couple of drinks, which turned into dinner, against my better judgment, and shortly into the meal, he announced we should “open a studio together!”

He had given it thought as he already had the name, “Two Guys Studio.”

I took a long drink to give me time to answer and, hopefully, time for him to die of a sudden heart attack. “No thanks,” I replied.

Hey looked shocked and continued trying to sell me on the idea. The reasoning behind my quick refusal was not only based on past experience of mine but in the reality of what he brought to the table in a partnership, which would be nothing but trouble.

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partnership

We ALL Partner With Others, Everyday!

I actually get asked to partner with people quite often, as do you. When someone asks you to do creative work for free or at a discounted price, they are asking to partner with you. As with many of these “partnerships,” they want you to do the work and they get the money. Have you asked about a partnership with those who want you to help launch their start-up and will “remember you” or will “consider you (their) creative source in the future?” That refusal to share equitably is the downfall of most partnerships, right up there with stealing and incompetence.

  • What did I see in this “Two Guys” person that launched a thousand red flags?
  • Firstly, why was he asking to partner with someone he really didn’t know?
  • His tales of woe included nothing but unfinished work for freelance clients and not getting paid.
  • He called his one-time clients, “idiots.”
  • While showing me his portfolio, he repeatedly asked if I thought he was a “good designer.”
  • He apparently didn’t have any friends.
  • He had no idea what a contract was.
  • His social mannerisms creeped me out!

Down the road, I heard he was trying to sell the partnership idea to others with, of course, mention that I was going to be involved. So, he was a liar, as well.

In all reality, he thought I would carry him. As the weeks went by, he would call me to ask what I was working on and could he “help.” He actually grew angry that I wouldn’t let him help on a project that had an international distribution due to the licensed characters being used, because he, “needed something big like that in (his) portfolio.”

So, if I had partnered with this person, aside from giving half my earnings to him while chancing he would blow accounts and not add anything but burning misery to my life, I would be very unhappy. I’ve been there before.

My First Business Partnering And Some Heavy Lessons

difficult partnership

My first studio was almost an equivalent of a present day virtual studio but there was no email or jpegs involved. I trafficked original art and boards and went into meetings with printouts of web sites and print pieces because nobody had office computers yet (just gaining popularity around the time 8MB of RAM cost $500). With 12-14 illustrators and designers, who worked from their own homes across the country, I was able to partner with them, taking a percentage of the job as my fee and between phone, fax and FedEx, everything ran smoothly — more or less.

The problems were always people based. When I announced my intentions to start a studio after my departure from the board of directors and several committees for the Graphic Artists Guild, naturally there was a lot of interest from members. Narrowing hundreds of letters asking to be represented by the studio, I settled on 14 people whose work I knew and with whom I had some kind of relationship. In a span of two weeks, I had lost two people and two friends. They were nice enough but horrid when it came to professionalism.

The examples I hear of friends going into business together to open a flower shop, or knitting store, etc. ALWAYS ends badly. Sure, there are exceptions. Must be between some very laid-back people or one partner just doesn’t care.

I did work as a studio manager for two friends who were partners. One handled screwing up the business side and the other hid in her studio, painting. When the business ended after a few short years, which is the average lifetime of a bad partnership, they ceased being friends.

With my partnership, after a rocky couple of months with the “staff” one of my two partners brought up that the third partner wasn’t pulling his weight with the workload. Seemed going to parties was priority number one and building the business was number 16 or so. Lucky me, I got to tell someone with whom I had attended art school and been in his family’s home numerous holidays, that he was out. Friendship over. Bridge burned. This is two of the worst things that can happen in a partnership. The third is; you are broke.

The other partner, who I still have retained a friendship and professional relationship, decided to just bow out. He became one of my top earners in the studio and we still collaborate when we can. I count myself lucky there were no tax liabilities or suits as a result. I don’t remember how strong or even legal our agreements were.

Partnerships Can Be As Strong As The Contract Between You.

partnership contract

I don’t know why people still believe friendship and trust overpowers legalities. As I explain to skittish design clients, it’s not between you and me; it’s about the property and the entities of our respective businesses that need to be protected. Simply, if you drop dead, so does your word and I have to deal with your estate/replacement.

A heartfelt talk between partners on expectations, followed by a strong contract should not make anyone nervous. There are huge investments made and people are responsible for their part of the team. Drop the ball too many times and why would the team need or want you?

I suppose it’s easier for friends who can openly communicate with each other or even know the little quirks, learned over many years that may limit a partner’s ability for certain tasks. As with the staffs I have tortured with my humor, it’s important to play to people’s strengths and make sure their weaknesses are covered. More often than not, the partnership is between a creative and a business-savvy person. Certainly makes sense! One creates the product and the other sells it. If partners can get past the left-brain, right brain habits and oddities, then a well-oiled machine runs.

Why Partner?

partnership advantages

Why, indeed? To increase your income potential! Print designers have something to share with web designers and developers and vice versa. Ideas are sometimes too big for just one person. I did the same with some iApps. Sure, the guy who begged me to partner with him and come up with ideas sat on them for over a year, telling me they were “90% there.” That partnership ended badly. One of the most promising ideas has been released to the Android market and has over 700,000 downloads. That represents a huge loss of income potential to the both of us. It also drives some huge resentment on my part and embarrassment on his.

From this there is a great lesson: business is business and friendship is friendship. Sometimes it can work but as the old saying goes, “strong fences makes good neighbors,” a strong contract keeps friendships.

Despite all of this, I maintain that partnering can be beneficial. If these examples of failures on my part can create a list for your successful partnering, then clip and save this one:

  • Be frank about what the goals are of the partnership and who has what responsibilities. It’s best if there are three people so there are no ties when voting or problems arise.
  • A strong contract is a must. Part of that has to include monetary compensation as a partner bows out, retires, wants to sell his/her share or is kicked out of the partnership.
  • A penalty has to loom over the partners for failure to uphold one’s responsibilities. As with any position of responsibility, if you don’t do your job, you are fired and losing all interest and payments keeps people on the straight and narrow!
  • People are human and will make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes are costly. That’s why limited liability and incorporation are two legal entities you must consider for any partnership. One mistake can bankrupt all partners for life.

    Partners who argue about everything while you plan your partnership know no give and take – so forget partnering with them! If you see red flags or don’t feel comfortable in your gut, then it’s not right.

  • If it works, you can enjoy a workplace that is more like a friendly picnic with people you love and trust.
  • If you feel you can’t partner with someone, then you need to play the boss and pay out to hire the people with whom you would work on equal profit, risk and headaches. In the beginning, you need to decide how much you can take on yourself and no article in the world can decide that for you. If you do partner, stay away from the name, “Two Guys Studio” — it’s cursed!

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Speider

Speider Schneider is a former member of The Usual Gang of Idiots at MAD Magazine, “among other professional embarrassments and failures.” He currently writes for local newspapers, blogs and other web content and has designed products for Disney/Pixar, Warner Bros., Harley-Davidson, ESPN, Mattel, DC and Marvel Comics, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon among other notable companies.

8 Comments

(+add yours)
  1. cre8ivetype

    Hey Speider,
    As always, a great article …. miss the usual hilarious graphics :(

  2. demous

    Sometimes the better choice is a one-man-show-agency ;) My experiences tell that!

  3. In my case I was lucky enough to find the right people to work with :-)

    I think that a one-man-show can’t never be compared to a team where everybody has his own specific skills.

    • Good for you Sebastiano! It is really great that you’ve found your team.

      As for me, as much as I love being my own boss and work from home, I dream of (~making plans and looking forward to) gathering together a small team of like-minded creative people with unique skills – that’s how I’d like to roll. A team big enough to do a great job, yet small enough to feel comfortable, to feel like at home, to call a family, to become close friends, and so on. You know what I’m talking about. :)

      • Yes Sergei, I perfectly understand. I worked as a freelance, but now that I’m part of a team, things go better for me. The concept of a team seen as a family is what I’d like to underline: it’s true, like Speider writes, that friendship and business are two separate things, but there’s nothing better in this market than finding people who are great partners and loyal friends at the same time.

    • A passionate, heterogeneous and creative team is the perfect solution to develop great projects. One-man-show? It could be a good idea for short-term projects.

      Working with other creative minds I’ve learned a lot of things and now I’m aware: a good team can develop a great project, a good freelance has to outsource for realizing a complex work.

      It all depends on the objectives…

  4. Dp

    I love your articles. Let’s be partners, ok?

    -dp

  5. Youssuf Sharifi

    Great advice! Having very little funding always tempts me to partner up:)

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