It’s inevitable that as a freelancer you’ll meet other freelancers and start making friends. Someone will ask you what you do for a living and then tell you about their other friend who does something similar. One friendly email exchange later and you’ve promised to share leads and work when you can. This is great. A casual collection of freelancing friends creates an instant network. When one of you gets too much work, you pass it on to someone else. The referral, and approval, of a fellow freelancer goes a long way.

My favorite freelancer friend

I met my favorite freelancer friend through a mutual friend. I would have liked this person regardless of her profession, but when we both realized we were writers, something clicked. We began to meet for an occasional coffee. We’d talk about what we were working on, and the industry as a whole, before shifting to what books we were reading or our kids. It was like having a co-worker, and I loved it. Occasionally, we’d share jobs back and forth, until my favorite freelancer friend decided to take some time off freelancing. Then, I became her go-to referral when she had to tell clients she wasn’t taking on new business. It was a compliment that she saw me like that. This gesture then led to two amazing new clients, who then send me referrals of their own. Having a freelance friend is the best.

Not all freelance friendships are the same

The rest of my freelancer friends fit into a different category than my favorite. They’re the people whose skills intertwine with mine, but we don’t necessarily do the same thing. We spend more time working together than passing jobs between each other. This is yet another perk of having freelance friends. I enjoy collaborating with people I already know, but it’s not always a perfect situation. Working with a friend can add extra layers to the relationship. Overall, I think it’s a good thing, but you have to be cautious.

Why it’s good

There’s an immediate comfort level when collaborating with a friend on a work project. You can’t find it anywhere else. You already know each others’ strengths and weaknesses, so working together works from the start. I do this really well with a freelance friend who is a graphic designer. She often gets projects that require more writing than she wants to do herself, so she loops me in for support. Together, we can write/design just about anything. What’s great is that we’re not trying to prove ourselves to each other. We already know we both do solid work. We trust each other’s opinions so editing work isn’t awkward either. There’s also no formality to our process. I can make design requests as I write copy in my own shorthand, and that works for us. It has even gotten to a point where certain clients contact us together instead of waiting for one of us to go to the other.

Why it’s not

I have yet to experience any serious negatives in working with friends. My big worry is bringing in a friend who then doesn’t meet their deadlines. This can inadvertently make me look bad, especially if we’re collaborating on a project. Nobody wants to nag their friend about work, but sometimes you have to, and that can put pressure on a friendship. You don’t want to hurt a friend’s feelings, but at the same time can’t go easy on someone who’s not getting things done when they should. It can create a tough spot.

It can also be challenging taking orders from a friend. If you’re collaborating with someone who ends up being a little more senior on the project, even though you see yourselves as equals, you’re going to have to take instruction. This isn’t so much of a problem if you’re used to working with friends who have more experience than you, but we often gravitate toward people of equal experience. In that case, you should try and separate business from personal. If a friend gives you some harsh feedback, absorb it as it relates to work. Don’t take out any hurt feelings on your friend when you’re out of the “office."

Not every freelance friend makes a good collaborator

As your freelance network grows, you’ll meet people you really like, but don’t necessarily want to work with. This again can put extra feelings into the mix when those people ask why you don’t refer them for something specific or say, “no,” when they ask you to collaborate. It’s okay. You don’t have to work with everyone. If the idea of collaborating with a specific person makes you uneasy, narrow down the issue. Here are somegood questions to think about before collaborating with a friend:

  • Do we have complimentary skills?
  • Do I trust and respect his/her/their work ethic?
  • Do I trust and respect his/her/their decision-making abilities?
  • Can we have frank conversations without hurt feelings?
  • Can we separate business from friendship when necessary?

If you answer no, or probably not, to any of these, you have your reason as to why you should collaborate elsewhere.

My opinion on collaborating with friends

To sum it all up, I’m all for working with friends. I highly enjoy all my freelance friendships and value the fact that even through I work in my own bubble, I don’t have to be alone. Being able to talk shop with others is helpful in so many ways. I get support, validation, and most importantly, feedback in a safe space. If you don’t have any freelance friends, go out and find some. Keep them in your back pocket. And, when collaboration opportunities arise, get working together.

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