15 Minute Freelancer

52. From solo freelancer to successful partnership (with Adam Pearson)

April 01, 2022 Louise Shanahan Episode 52
15 Minute Freelancer
52. From solo freelancer to successful partnership (with Adam Pearson)
Show Notes Transcript

Have you ever considered partnering up with another freelancer to expand your business? Teaming up could be a great way to attract bigger projects, expand your services and grow your business without doubling your hours. But how does it work? How do you find the right business partner? What happens if you disagree?!

In this episode, I chat to Adam Pearson, one half of the research powerhouse that is PS Research, which he runs with his business partner, Emma Slater. He shares his experiences of going from being a solo business owner to forming a successful partnership:

  • Why Adam made the jump from company of one to forming a partnership
  • How to find the right person to partner with
  • Unexpected upsides of working with a partner
  • How to figure out working styles, money stuff and holidays
  • How to market your partnership to new and existing clients.

Since Adam is just back from paternity leave, we also discuss how he planned for a chunk of time off – and how other freelancers can do the same.

Mentioned in this episode:

PS Research: https://pearsoninsight.co.uk/
Emma Slater: https://twitter.com/emmapsresearch
Gareth Hancock: https://www.thatcontentshed.com/
Frankie Tortora: https://francescatortora.com/
Dave Smyth: https://websmyth.co/
Martin Brooks (Gold Stag Accounting): https://www.goldstagaccounts.co.uk/
Being Freelance Podcast: https://www.beingfreelance.com/

Say hi to Adam:

Website: www.psresearch.co.uk
LinkedIn: https://uk.linkedin.com/in/pearsoninsight
Twitter: @adampsresearch

Say hi to Louise:

Louise Shanahan is a freelance health and medical copywriter and a big fan of finding your freelance niche. She's on a mission to help others build a freelance business that feels easy and works for them – in weekly snack-sized bites.

LinkedIn: Louise Shanahan
Twitter: @LouiseShanahan_
Website: thecopyprescription.com

If you find this episode helpful and you'd like to show your appreciation, consider leaving a tip over at ko-fi.com/15minutefreelancer. All donations help cover the cost of running the podcast and are very much appreciated!


Welcome to 15 Minute Freelancer, your snack-sized guide to being your own boss and building a business and life you love. I'm your host Louise Shanahan. My LinkedIn bio says I'm a freelance health copywriter. But for the next 15 minutes, I'll be tickling your ears with practical strategies, behind-the-scenes stories, and nuggets of wisdom so you can create a freelance business that works for you. Whether you're just starting out or you've been self-employed for a while, I'll be right here with you to help you navigate the ups and downs of freelancing life. So grab a coffee relax and join me for 15 minutes of freelancing fun. Don't forget to hit subscribe.

Louise: Hello, you're listening to the 15 Minute Freelancer podcast. I'm your host, Louise Shanahan, and today I'm joined by Adam Pearson, who is one half of the research powerhouse that is PS Research, which he runs with his business partner, Emma Slater. Hi, Adam. 

Adam: Hiya.

L: Adam, you're only just recently back to work, aren't you? After being on paternity leave, following the arrival of your gorgeous little daughter, Lily. So first of all, huge congratulations on becoming a dad and Lily's arrival. 

A: Thank you very much. 

L: That's obviously one huge change in your life. But before Lily's arrival, you'd not long gone through another big change, hadn’t you, with the shift from being a solo business owner to your partnership with Emma. That is what I would really like to talk about today. The concept of going from two freelancers to one partnership, which I really like, that's the tagline on your website. You've gone from working with other freelancers and interns from time to time on different projects, to entering into this business partnership with Emma? Can you tell us a bit about how that evolved?

A: I suppose there’s two angles. There’s how I got to know Emma, and then how we got to doing this. When I first went freelance about four years ago I wanted to find out if there was anyone else where I live doing similar things. And Emma was almost like the closest person I could find from a bit of a LinkedIn stalk. We had that initial chat to get to know each other, but she does a different kind of research to me. I do all the data side, she does all the talking to people side. I started using her on a freelance basis as the projects needed them, bringing her in that way, and I really enjoyed working with her. Then I think things changed a lot for me in 2020, early 2021, I was just getting too much work to be able to cope with it on my own. I thought the answer was, you know, bringing in staff effectively. So I started with an intern who was really good, but what I found the problem was, it wasn't solving that bottleneck of the work always coming through me and the support they need. Then I was looking at other options, like apprenticeship routes at the time as well, but again, it wasn't really going to solve that issue of it all coming through me and the time I have to put into that. Then at the same time Emma came to me because she was facing a different challenge. She was a sole trader, I was a limited company, and she was almost hitting that VAT threshold and asked me, you know, who do I use as an accountant and things like that. Then the conversation just started from there with I'm in this position, you're in this position. Actually, we're working increasingly together on projects, but on this kind of basis, what if we made it a bit more formal and made a bit of a combined offer, and then just worked it through from there.

L: I imagine that switching from that to actually being in partnership with someone, it's quite a big change, isn't it? How did you figure out how you were going to work together? How did you know that you'd be able to? I mean, obviously you had done projects together, but not on that kind of partnership basis where you're making the decisions together?

A: Yeah, it was a lot of conversations to begin with. I think you start with the principle of asking could this work? We had a lot of big conversations about where would we want it to get to? Would it work as an offer to clients? Would it work for us? What would be the benefits of that? And working through some of those scenarios that you know you're going to come up against, what if all the work I tend to work on dries up and things like that. The other thing we did was, I was always really clear that if we're going to do it, it's a 50/50 thing. I've always worked on the basis of what’s the worst that could happen. Like when I went freelance, it was like, well, if it doesn't work, you just go and look for another job. It's the same here if you don't give it a go, and I think that's why it probably has worked because we threw ourselves into it and did it together. I basically cleared my account, took all the money out and then started from zero but as a 50/50 partnership, with Emma as a director. I think that's just how we've developed it. I think as well it’s about finding the right person, I’ve always found Emma really easy to work with. I think we're quite similar in the way that we approach things. We’re quite honest, and I think I think you need that honesty, but also the way we work as well. Like we don't have a massive amount of structure in the nicest possible way. In that, I know when the work comes in that we're both prepared to do those weekends or long hours if we have to, but we also like taking the time off at the same time. I could see it not working, if I was working with someone who liked to work, you know, Monday to Wednesday, eight till three, you know, it was those kinds of specifics. Yeah, I think really important to find the right person.

L: It sounds like you already had that sense that you had complementary skills, so you'd make a good partnership in that sense. And a similar working style and similar kind of flexible approach. I’m wondering about things like the business development side and the admin side, did you kind of agree that you'd have responsibility for different tasks? Or do you just divvy it up, depending on your respective workloads?

A: I think, again, it was finding someone with a similar style. I'm not big into business planning, and strategies, and five-year plans, and you know, really strict marketing plans and things like that. We just kind of take it as we go, you know roughly where you want to get to. I think Emma has a similar approach, and then it's just playing on the strengths and the things that you like to do, so it just kind of happens. We're not working in a big corporation with hundreds of staff, it’s just me and Emma, so it's just communication and keeping on top of things. I think it just generally works. I think the main thing was trying to arrive at how do we market ourselves without losing that freelancing aspect? Because I think that's why everyone has worked with us in the past, that personal touch of working with Adam, working with Emma. We felt there was a bit of a gap in the market, so to speak, because there were independent researchers that had that, but they're a bit of either a jack of all trades, or they specialised in one area. Or if they grouped, they really went for that approach of making them sound as big as possible. Whereas we've tried to pitch it somewhere where they get that combination of skills, but they're still working with individuals, they're working with Adam and Emma and got that personal touch. I think that was the biggest challenge, trying to get that marketing right. That was a big piece of work to begin with, almost getting the getting the freelance band back together to rebrand. Because we were starting this and doing it together, we didn't want it just to be under my brand, it needed to feel new. Gareth Hancock helped us with the copy, Frankie Tortora updated our branding, we had Dave Smyth fixing the website, we had Martin Brooks sorting all the accounting side. 

L: Oh yeah, an all-star cast. 

A: Yeah, absolutely. So I still feel like it's based on freelance roots.

L: It definitely sounds like it's been kind of smooth sailing so far. Have there been any challenges? Have you had any kind of disagreements where you maybe want to take things in different directions?

A: No, I guess it's still early days. I think it's just the small bits, as you go on. I don't think there were any disagreements, I think in some ways, it's been better to have that sounding board, you know how it is where you take on a nightmare project, and you tell yourself at the time, I'm never doing that again. Then three months later, they come and you've suddenly had amnesia and think let's take this on. It's nice to have someone there that reminds you, can you remember how much of a nightmare that was? I think it's those kinds of conversations when a piece of work comes in and one’s maybe getting tempted by it, just having that conversation and working it through. So we've not had those major challenges. Again, I think it's about finding the right person, I can imagine it being very different if, you know, you go into partnership with someone who's wired up quite differently. If I was with someone who really wanted these really clear plans, and were checking in on, you know, are we meeting our targets and things like that, I could see there being a lot more disagreements, whereas I think we’re both a bit more relaxed in that sense.

L: Have there been any unexpected upsides to being a partnership as opposed to the subcontracting model that you had before? Because to me, it sounds like one of the biggest advantages would be you get to work on maybe bigger projects that you wouldn't have the capacity to do as one person before. But obviously, if you were subcontracting other freelancers you may have been able to do that. So are there any other advantages to being a partnership?

A: Loads that I wasn’t expecting. I think, for me, personally, the confidence side, because you're working with someone who’s actually giving you that feedback to say that it's quite good, which you don't always get from clients. And I think that shared confidence as well to be able to charge what we're worth, whereas you almost internalise a lot of those conversations otherwise and talk yourself out of it. I think we can be a bit more brave by doing that together. I think your point, there is right, I feel like we're almost more than the sum of our parts now as well. We can't quite work it out, we've probably taken on more now than we did collectively as individuals, if that makes sense. I think it is because we can share that workload a bit more and you can almost always take on a project to a degree and someone else will chip in and help. I think the other thing is just that connection with someone, it still feels like I'm freelancing, but I'm doing it together. 50% of our projects, they might be shared projects where we both working on them. But actually, there's a decent chunk of the projects that still come in, where it only requires Emma’s skills or my skills. So you still get that nice balance, I think freelancers, we all like going off and doing our work on our own sometimes, and we still get that. I think that probably helps the relationship as well, because you're not constantly working with each other like 40 hours a week, we check in, but then go off and do our bits of work.

L: Yeah, so it's the best of both worlds. Do you have any tips for any other freelancers who like the sound of this model, but maybe aren't quite sure where to start? Maybe they don't have somebody in mind, and they want to find someone, or maybe they do have someone in mind, and they're not sure how to propose this to them, do you have any suggestions for how they could maybe go about that?

A: I'm always really reluctant to give tips on, this is how you should do it, because everyone's different. But I think for me, it's that bit around finding the right person, and that can take time. I think if it's something that you think you might be quite interested in, it's just always having that in the back of your mind as you're building those connections, is that someone I can work with? And then start to work with them on a temporary basis, like that kind of associate basis, or whatever it might be. This all came about because I went on LinkedIn four years ago and found someone who was freelancing near me and decided to message her and see if she fancied meeting up for coffee, with no other expectations other than meeting someone who does some things that are similar to me. I think on the Being Freelance Podcast at one point, it was that thing around just keep meeting people, I think that's the point of it.

L: And perhaps starting out working together on a project-by-project basis could be a good way to sort of test the water and see how you like working together?

A: Yeah, definitely. And I always think you'll know the right time, as well. Sometimes it takes a bit of patience, and sometimes it takes those challenges to come up to force it. As I say, me and Emma were facing different challenges at the time, and it was it was just the answer that made sense and solved both of those, I guess.

L: And do you work together? Are you in an office together? Or are you working remotely and you just kind of connect online? How do you actually set that up on a day-to-day basis?

A: We both like working from home. We end up using Teams, just because we do a lot of public sector work, but it could be Slack or anything like that. So having that online connection where we're logged in all day, every day. We try and meet up as much as possible, it's been challenging through the pandemic and then having a baby. At one point, we were trying to meet up once a month or something like that, whether it was around setting the business up, or when we're working on bigger projects and it just made sense to meet up and go through a meaty piece of work.

L: Just to go back to what we mentioned at the beginning of our conversation, you talked about planning for your paternity leave. I'm so curious about how you actually went about doing that, because I think this is something that a lot of freelancers can struggle with. I certainly do, thinking about how do you take a big chunk of time off like that, so I wondered if we can just squeeze in one more question. Do you have any suggestions for how people could maybe think about that process? Whether it's paternity or maternity leave, or if it's just taking a chunk of time off for other reasons, how on earth do you do that?

A: I'm probably still not sure. I went into it with great intentions, she was due at the beginning of January, so probably about six months away I basically scheduled all my projects to either finish at the end of December or start the beginning of February. So I'd cleared January out, which would have been great, but then she turned up at the beginning of December. Then I just had to contact every client and try and shuffle it around. One thing I have found is that clients are humans and completely understand it. I didn't have anyone saying, oh no, what do you think you’re doing. It was all completely understandable, it was you know, a lot of our deadlines actually they're quite self-imposed and quite happy to move them. I think it's how much you want to do it as well. I think sometimes we think clients are going to be really reluctant to have all those big spaces. But actually, if you just speak to them and just say I’m going to have to take a couple of weeks off. Ultimately, it's your time, so just plan it and say you're not working. You know, you could get knocked over by a bus, there’s going to be times when can't work. So just do what you've got to do.

L: Yeah, and I suppose in both of these examples, this is a good argument for making sure that you've got that financial buffer in place so that you can ease the financial disruption from taking big chunks of time off, whether it's planned or not.

A:  Yeah, that's not anything I mentioned in the context of what me and Emma have been doing. But that's been our big focus probably in this first year, those early conversations a lot of them were about the financial side. It mainly revolved around how would we build up that reserve as quickly as possible. So that we basically got enough money that we could not take any work in for a year, and still be able to pay ourselves. Because then I think freelancing becomes a whole lot easier when you've got that money. Because you've got a lot more freedom to turn down the work that's not right. You've got that flexibility of when stuff comes in, those kinds of unexpected things, you don't have to worry about it. I think it takes a lot of the stress and pressure off the two of you when you're doing something like that as well. That's something I've always done since I started freelancing, is having that reserve in there as quickly as possible, even if it means a really tight year, you know, not really taking a lot out, it just makes a huge difference in the long run. If you're in the position where you can build it up, obviously, it's been a really challenging few years for everyone.

L: Yeah, I totally agree with that. It just gives you that kind of sense of security and flexibility and more choice when you're working with different clients. I mean, we can talk about this all day, but I'm conscious that we're getting close to the end of our time, so I just want to say thank you so much for your time, Adam. If people want to find out more about your work, and the work that you and Emma are doing, sign up for your newsletter or anything like that, where should they go?

A: Just head to psresearch.co.uk and then there's a tab about the newsletter. I've got a newsletter that I try to send out once a month, not very good at that at the moment. I am on Twitter and LinkedIn as well, but to be honest since going into partnership with Emma, I’m probably on there a lot less because I'm getting, I guess connection in a different way, and just baby life and things. Yes, psresearch.co.uk is probably the best starting point.

L: Okay, great. I'll put those in the show notes so people can find you if they've got any more questions about any of this. Thanks so much, Adam, and thank you to everybody for listening. If you know someone who might find this useful, please do share it with them. Otherwise, I will see you next time. Happy freelancing. 


You've been listening to 15 Minute Freelancer with me Louise Shanahan, freelance health copywriter and content marketer at thecopyprescription.com. If you enjoyed this, please hit subscribe, leave a review or share it with a freelance friend. And if you've got a freelancing question you want to be answered on the podcast, find me and say hi on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram. Thanks, and until next time, happy freelancing.