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Collaborating with a partner? Here’s how to make each other’s lives easier

Rebecca Huehls's Layout avatar

Collaborating with a partner has all sorts of benefits. You can share the workload. You can brainstorm ideas and think through challenges with someone who not only knows you, but also your projects and clients. And let’s face it: Starting a rubber band fight with yourself isn’t much fun.

However, a business partnership also adds another layer of complexity to your business. You each have your own work habits, priorities, communication styles, design sensibilities, and more. How do you keep your projects moving forward and provide your clients with consistent information?

A few tried and true project management tactics can help. If you and your partner are just starting out, the following tips can help you start off on the right foot. If you’ve been working together for a while, these tips and tools can help you reflect on how you’re collaborating well and what you could do better.

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Spend time understanding the vision for each project

Each project’s vision begins with the end user. Knowing who your end users are and what they hope to gain or accomplish is the best guide for any website design. Of course, your client has business goals that the website needs to meet, but those are secondary to the user problem or need that the website is trying to solve.

When you, your business partner, and your client are all on the same page about why a user visits a website, you can center your design choices, website features, meetings, discussions, and timelines around the end user. When everyone on the project team focuses on the end user, you’re all less likely to get sidetracked by personal preferences, design trends, or what the competition is doing.

Sketch out your workflow and processes

At the beginning of a project, you and your partner may not know every single step you need to take. You probably need to do a little discovery work and continue to refine your processes and to-do list as you go. Nevertheless, if you and your partner clarify what your starting point is and continue to write down and refine a project’s workflow, you’ll have an excellent tool for staying on the same page throughout the project and communicating the project’s status and needs to your client clearly and consistently.

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The following questions can help you and your partner start discussing what a project’s workflow and processes might look like:

  • What content, materials, or information do we need from the client?
  • What deliverables do we need to create?
  • When does the client need to provide feedback, how will the client provide feedback, and what kind of feedback do we want? If your client isn’t familiar with the technical side of web design, check out these tips for working with people who aren’t technically savvy.
  • Where will we keep all the project documents? You want to avoid the situation where some project details are in an email that only one of you received, or a few project files are stored locally on someone’s laptop that may or may not be backed up. If you and your partner share an office, you might have a project folder on a shared server. If you collaborate remotely, you might use an online storage space like Dropbox or Google Drive.

After you jot down your answers to these questions, you can start organizing your ideas into logical groups and arranging them into a rough sequence.

Tip: After you and your partner create specific processes for a few different projects, you’ll likely discover a basic framework for the way you like to work together and with your clients. With this framework in place, you can start onboarding clients (or recognizing when a client relationship clashes with your collective work style) more quickly.

Set roles and responsibilities

You and your partner probably have ideas about what type of work each of you excels at or likes doing, but you can make sure you’re both on the same page by having a focused conversation about who does what. You also want to make sure each role and task for your projects and business is someone’s responsibility.

When you and your partner know what your roles and responsibilities are, you can collaborate efficiently. You know when a question is yours to handle or needs to be forwarded to your business partner. You know whether you can handle a website feature on your own or whether choices about a feature impact your partner’s work, too.

You and your partner might also want to make sure you’re both involved in certain aspects of your projects. For example, you both might want to review and discuss contracts, project scope, and statements of work before finalizing these agreements with your clients. You might agree that you don’t send a client an initial design proposal until you both understand and agree with all the proposal’s details.

Set up a regular meeting time to discuss business

You may sit across from your partner in the same room three times a week, or IM each other with questions and in-jokes throughout the day. It still helps to have a regular meeting for discussing specific topics.

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For example, you might meet late on Monday mornings only to discuss the status of your projects and outline your priorities for the week. You might save Thursday mornings for discussing your business overall, what clients you have in the pipeline, how your marketing initiatives are going, and how you’re progressing on your business goals for the year.

Setting aside time to discuss important topics has a number of benefits:

  • You and your partner are more likely to both stay on top of the big-picture issues that are important to you. Without a dedicated time, these issues can get lost in the midst of your daily to-do list and client needs.
  • You and your partner have focused conversations. Ideally, you each take the time to prepare for your meeting and decide how you’ll each follow up on your discussion with specific action. Also, instead of interrupting each other throughout the day with ideas as they occur to you, you and partner can save your thoughts and ideas for dedicated meeting time.

Maintain a style guide and a project tracking tool

A style guide doesn’t need to be long, but it ensures you both know where to document any design elements, terminology, or other features that need to be consistent throughout a website. If you and your partner are working on the same project at the same time, make sure you’re both working from a single document and can access the document anytime. For example, you might share a Google Doc or a Word file over a network or online drive.

If you use templates for your design, you can also build these consistent design elements into your templates, but documenting the global design elements is still helpful in case you accidentally override a template setting or need to look up your global design choices quickly.

A project tracking tool is often a spreadsheet, such as an Excel workbook or a Google Sheet, with a list of features or deliverables and columns that enable you to track the following:

  • Who is responsible for each item
  • Where each item is in the process
  • When each item is due to the client, or when client review is due
  • Any notes or issues that you need to remember and resolve

When you and your partner agree on what you need to track and where to track it, you can access information you need right away, even if your partner is busy, sick, or on vacation.

Every partnership requires a little extra effort, but by using these simple tools and strategies, you and your business partner can keep your projects and your business running smoothly. When you’re collaborating and communicating well, you’re both less stressed and can enjoy not only the benefits of your partner’s strengths and ideas, but also the occasional workplace shenanigans.

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