A good collaboration can be career-boosting opportunity to get your name out there, meet new people, and stretch yourself creatively. On the other hand, a bad collab can leave you in the dust wondering why you wasted your precious time. As a freelancer, your time is your most valuable asset, so it's important to sniff out a bad collab when it comes your way. Hopefully this post will help you learn from my mistakes!
Here are some things that signal this collab may be a disaster:
If someone approaches you and says "we should collab sometime!" but has no ideas to get started, you might want to walk away. Having no potential project ideas shows that this person hasn't put in the effort to think of ways that your work would fit with theirs or why this would be beneficial to both parties. If they haven't put in the minimal effort to write a thoughtful email, there's little chance that they will put in the effort when it's time to work together. Trying to work with someone who doesn't care is the most frustrating thing I've ever encountered. I recommend that you politely decline this "opportunity" and save yourself a few hours of yelling at your inbox.
Never work for free. Never work for exposure. As I've said before in my post about surviving in the art world, your work and your time is worth something *repeats to self in mirror.* Anyone who asks you to work for exposure doesn't value your time and doesn't respect your work enough to pay you fairly. Working for people who don't respect you is a nightmare, especially with custom collaboration work. You could spend hours and weeks going back and forth making draft after draft, with no compensation other than a shoutout. Last time I checked, I can't pay rent with exposure, so it's not worth it. There are tons of ways to gain exposure without giving yourself away for free. Get creative and get yourself out there in a way that's fair and sustainable for you, because you deserve it!
Many times you will be approached with a collaboration that is not in line with your experience. This kind of collab can be very one-sided and only beneficial to the other party. When you're approached with a project that has nothing to do with who you are and the work you do, it's challenging gain anything from it. For example, I was approached by a fashion company to promote their product on my blog. Sure, I could I write a blog post about it and get paid for it, but it would be so off-target from my usual posts that it would seem a bit fake. A sponsored post that has nothing to do with my artwork would potentially water down this blog that I've worked so hard to keep an honest place (and no amount of money could make that worthwhile).
What a Good Collab Sounds Like
I'm always happy to see companies reaching out to artists and creatives to make something that celebrates both parties. For example, I've been so excited to see my friend Natasha of Violet Tinder partner with big brands like Dunkin Donuts and Method. It shows that her photography is well respected and she's expanding her business to greater heights! It also shows that these companies are smart enough to go beyond the typical ad campaign and collab with content creators and artists who are killing it on social media.
A collaboration between two artists with different styles can also be a great way to stretch yourself creatively and broaden your horizons. For example, I recently collaborated with the feminist illustrator Ambivalently Yours, who I've been a fan of for years. I sent her an informative, thoughtful email outlining some ideas, and we both agreed to co-create three pieces of artwork that we mailed to each other to finish. I'm so happy with how these came out, and I even got to interview her and learn more about her process! We chose to split any profits from print sales 50-50, and she was a delight to work with. Not only was she thoughtful and attentive, but she was open to new ideas.
A good collab can start with an email. Whether I'm the one approaching someone to collaborate with or they are approaching me, all of my successful collabs thus far have started with an email containing information that answers the following questions:
Who are you and what kind of work do you do?
Why do you want to work with me?
Why would the two of us be a good fit?
What are some potential projects that we would be working on together?
What are the goals of the project?
And of course, it should clearly mention compensation. Compensation is up to you to negotiate, whether that's a payment up front, a percentage of co-created products sold, or an hourly rate - but again, never work for free. You're worth it.
Have you had any collabs go sour? Or collabs that were a thing of beauty? Let me know in the comments!