You may have heard horror stories about a collaboration gone wrong. It happens. And tales abound about business partners who wind up at each other’s throats.

But there’s a lot to be said for the Project Partnership – teaming up not to launch a law firm or start a business, but to work together on one specific time-limited project.

A web designer and a photographer might put their heads together to come up with the best content for a client. A copywriter and a graphic designer could be a good duo. Or an accountant and a bookkeeper might serve the same clients, each in their own way.

Yes, there are potential pitfalls. When Kelly Epperson told our business coach that she and I were going to put on an event together, the coach was appalled.

Her big question was, “Why?” And she wasn’t impressed with Kelly’s answer: “We think it’ll be fun.”

It was fun, of course; it also turned out to be very successful. And the people who were there learned a ton. That’s why we’re rolling it out again in March.

Why did On the Page and On the Stage work so well? Complementary talents—Kelly writes, I speak and we each coach clients in our area of expertise. And complementary attributes—as our friend Jill Morgenthaler aptly put it, Kelly’s Sugar and I’m Spice.

And one more thing—we established some ground rules as equal partners in this adventure. We hashed things out together; neither one of us had a big need to be Number One. And (this will make attorneys cringe) it was a handshake deal; we didn’t have a written agreement.

There are other ways to do it, certainly. My mentors Larry Winget and Suzanne Evans set up their project partnership as a 51%-49% deal; they believe someone has to have the final say. That 2% prevents an impasse. And neither of them would have gone into a project like their SPEAK program without a contract.

Yes, the experts recommend that you sign a contract when you partner with another independent professional. And, I’ve had a several project partners without doing that; it’s worked out well for me.

So how does a Project Partnership come about?

Lisa Kaplin and I team up for workshops to support women who are ready to speak up and stand out. We came together because she wrote an article about women not giving voice to their true feelings. I replied, yes – and there’s a literal voice issue here too. Voila! Free Your Voice was birthed.

Last year, I did a session on Customer Conversations for car guys at AutoValue’s TechExpo. Another speaker sat in on my session. And wrote to me a few days later asking if I’d consider a joint presentation.

I would, as it turned out. Mark Hambaum has years of experience in the auto business; I have years of experience in communication and this year we’re bringing the best of both worlds to the Service Consultants. (We made our debut this past weekend in Milwaukee.)

Again, it’s a 50/50 partnership. We share the responsibility, we share the fee, and it’s a pretty even split in terms of who talks first, last, and more. It’s working for us.

So, my suggestions for you:

  • Open Communication. A good Project Partnership means you talk to each other, you don’t hold back, and you settle any concerns that come up, as soon as they come up.
  • If you need to be on top, make sure you’re collaborating with someone who doesn’t mind being on the bottom. Otherwise, set egos aside and agree that you’re not the boss of him or her.
  • It really helps if you like the person you’re working with. It would be tough to pour your energy into a co-authored book, a website, an event, or whatever with someone you don’t enjoy being around.

A few tips from other experts:

  • Start small. In Inc., Paul Jarvis recommends testing the waters with someone before you plunge into a bigger project to make sure you have a good fit.
  • Make sure you’re on the same page before there’s money involved; that means frank discussion of goals and expectations, along with setting up a plan to handle disagreements.
  • Wix, the website-builder, advises freelancers to identify their weak spots and partner with someone who’s strong in that area. For instance, if marketing isn’t your thing, you’ll want to work with someone who’s better at that.

Bottom line? Project Partnerships can enrich your work and help you meet more of your clients’ needs. And yes, I still say they can be fun!

Okay, I want to know what you say. Post a comment below about your own experience with a project partnership. Or tell us why you’d never in a million years do that …