We all have participated in a collaborative project at least once in our career. Collaborating has many benefits, from facilitating the construction of a portfolio, product exposition, important alliances, to networking. But, let’s be honest and accept that in many cases the result is positive, but in others, not so much. We use collaboration as a work tool throughout our professional development, but in reality, do we know what a collaboration entails?
A collaboration is a project done among a group of people exchanging talents and/or resources, and indeed, that is the basis of what it means to collaborate. The fact that you’re working as a team it what makes it a collaboration. In the industries of art, entertainment, media, fashion, and other related platforms, the word “collaboration” means exchanging services of equal value for a common project. But this type of collaboration has a distinctive feature: there is no monetary charge for the work contributing to this project in common. That is, in a collaboration there is a certain type of barter.
As a photographer I usually accept this type of projects when I need to add specific work to my portfolio, or at other times when it’s needed for a specific reason. But, I have to tell you that I have been losing a bit of faith in this practice, since it is not always taken into account that there’s an ethic in the practice of collaboration.
This is why I want to discuss the 5 most common mistakes we make when deciding to collaborate, and how we can fix them.
1. Assuming that everyone wants to collaborate.
When I received a message similar to this: “I need to do an urban style photo shoot and I would like to collaborate with you, I have more than 50 thousand followers on Instagram. Let me know when you have the time! Thank you! “, I click “decline “as fast as I can … Not only because it is assumed that I’m always open for collaborations, but also because “urban style” can not be further from the type of photography I work. Therefore, I won’t benefit from it. One of the things that people overlook is that, in reality, not everyone needs to collaborate. Collaboration is a practice that is worked when there is a need and a specific reason. The professional thing to do in this case is to always make the necessary research to see if the person or company is currently working the service that you need, and if both of you need and to ask if they are currently accepting collaborations.
2. Thinking that collaborating equals “FREE”
I dare say that this is the biggest “sin” committed when collaborating. The fact that we are not paying with physical money for the services and products contributed does not mean that they have no monetary value. Everything that is being exchanged has a value. The talent of a model, the products of a brand, the knowledge of an accountant, the photos of a photographer, the illustration of an artist, the creativity of a director, in short, the time invested of everyone involved, has value monetary. This means that the parties must exchange services or products with a similar monetary value, and always keeping in mind that nobody is there working for free. Always try to make the value of the exchange fair. For example, using my case, if you need photos and you want to obtain them by way of collaboration, try to “pay” for the photos by exchanging them for your products or services.
3. Not respecting the rules of the collaboration.
Yes, there are rules in a collaboration that must be followed and always respected. Some of them exist by default and others are agreed in advance. The most important ones are:
• Always give credit to the creators on all platforms where the service / product is presented.
• In cases where they are physical products or artistic-visual work, the work should not be altered, in any way, without prior permission.
• Do not use the products of a collaboration for future monetary gain. For example, do not use the art you got through a past collaboration to sell it later on t-shirts.
• In the case of material created, whether artistic, written or visual, do not assume that you automatically have copyrights. The rights will always belong to the creator. Always remember to consult and ask for the proper permission if you have plans of use.
4. Not taking into account the ideas of others.
When it is accepted to make this type of exchanges, the opinion of all must always be taken into account. You must ensure that the products or services exchanged are relevant to everyone involved. The parties must be in agreement with the work or project that is going to be carried out, so that no time or resources are spent so that in the end, the collaboration will not be taken advantage of.
5. Taking a “NO” personally.
Professionalism should always go first. Being professional when working or collaborating is of the utmost importance, as it gives us a positive reputation in the industry in which we work, facilitating the opening of new opportunities. If the answer of the person you contacted in order to collaborate is NO, do not take it personally. The person is not refusing because he has a problem with you, they have their reasons, and they will surely explain them to you in the message. The professional thing to do is to answer politely, leaving open the possibility of working in the future.
In conclusion, we must begin to give the importance that this practice gives opportunities, not only to the practice as such, but also to the work and time of the people involved. We encourage respect for the work and art of our entrepreneurial community and let the collaboration regain its good reputation.
Elaine is a commercial photographer based in Los Angeles,CA, holding a BBA in Business Administration from the University of Puerto Rico and an MFA in Art for Commerce Photography from The Academy of Art University in San Francisco.