To collaborate means to "work jointly on an activity, especially to produce or create something." In terms of business, basically two or more people cooperatively work on a specific project or goal, to produce outcomes that benefit all parties involved. For a collaboration to actually be successful, it requires that the parties: 1) know each other (or get to know each other), 2) respect each other, 3) have shared goals, 4) have equitable skills across the board, so that the collaboration does not become a stereotypical version of the dreaded collegiate group project where the division of skills and labor are unbalanced.
I work as an independent creator. Thus, most of the time, my work is not collaborative in the traditional sense. There are times when I do collaborative work with other people (i.e. promoting a hashtag and creating tweets/writing/framework development around the concept/scholarship that the hashtag addresses; working on research, writing or art with people) and other times when I am hired by people (i.e. photography, writing, tweeting, developing creative/edu content etc). These 2 activity types are not necessarily the same. Even so, most of the time, what I do, I do alone.
If it is an invoice, I sent it. If it is an essay or publication, I wrote it. If it is a photograph, I created it. If it is administrative/maintenance work as an indie artist, I did it. If it is engaging people online, live tweets (i.e. of films or TV shows), analytical tweets (i.e. personal, political or sociopolitical, similar to what I discussed on Gradient Lair), or customer service in relation to my products, I did the work. It is what people consume and make assumptions about and what people will never see but I am still doing behind the scenes everyday, for myself and for others.
In I Am Tired Of Being Expected To Work For Free, I mentioned the plethora of types of annoying and insulting free labor requests that journalists, academics, "activists" and the like send me. But one thing that I did not get into in that essay is about people who make cold calls, or make some form of unsolicited contact with me, to request to collaborate with me.
5 types of people who request to "collaborate" with me:
1) Spammer: This is someone who simply contacts anyone with a blog, website, Twitter account and/or email address. Their request for collaboration is about their own SEO desires. They have no clue what I do outside of them looking for keywords like "writing" and "photography" and finding me. They usually have literally nothing of value to offer me; nothing I want. They are often experienced people, but experienced as spammers.
2) Performer: This is someone who wants to be "seen" online "doing business." They have no clue what we would actually collaborate on because they have no clue what I actually do, nor can they do what I do. They bring very few skills to the table, they have no real body of work that exemplifies proficiency over time and they often want to exploit the fact that I am hypervisible on Twitter. What they are looking for is a promoter, or someone to share their content (that is rarely connected to an actual business/income etc.) with a larger audience that they cannot develop themselves, because to them, attention itself is sufficient "currency" for "doing business." They are the kind of people who "network" as a way to socialize and not for actual business purposes. They are usually younger than me and do not understand the full picture of independent work, but like the idea of being a "business owner." A lot of performance; very little experience. The performer will reach out to people that have literally nothing to do with what they do/want to do as well, mainly because of their lack of information on and experience with business makes them think collaboration with anyone is necessary or even possible.
3) Opportunist: This is someone who relies on shared politics (i.e. a feminist or "activist," I identify as a Womanist and do not identify as an activist) or shared race (i.e. another Black person) as the reason why I should collaborate with them. In other words, a misapplication of "allyship"/"unity"/"solidarity" is deemed sufficient reason for collaboration. Or, fictive kinship alone, which means "social ties that are not traditionally familial, but rooted in shared culture and overlap in history and experiences" is used as sufficient reason for collaboration. Nevermind if we do not know each other, respect each other, have shared goals nor equitable skills across the board. This appeal to emotion without an actual emotional connection is used in an exploitative way, without regard to how the labor will be divided up. In most cases, it is someone less visible than I am online who wants to exploit this visibility for their own use (while they ignore how harmful hypervisibility actually is for Black women like me online). These kind of people usually unsee (as in, they purposely will not read/engage my actual work and are only there to consume my viral content on trending topics) or do not support my actual work (though they claim that they do; this is a very common thing), but ultimately see me as only a method to get themselves attention. Additionally, some of these kind of people pretend procuring actual exploited labor is the same as "activist organizing." These blurred lines are meant to "moralize" money to justify mistreating me.
4) Parasite: This is someone who has literally no business even asking for collaboration. They simply want someone to do the work for them and most of their requests are requests for free labor, in disguise. For example, they will request to collaborate on photography when in fact they want a free photography tutor; I do not "collaborate" with beginners; I teach them. They will ask to collaborate on an essay, when in fact they want me to write and publish one, but slap their name on it somewhere. I know the latter sounds too egregious to be true, but it happens. Some people have no body of written work anywhere, yet want to "collaborate" on writing with me, where ultimately I am supposed to do all the work.
5) Authentic collaborator: This is someone who actually knows what I do (versus thinking that my work is getting "likes" on selfies and viral retweets), has equal or superior skills to me, presents something that is mutually beneficial, and already has their own strong body of work without the collaboration. The authentic collaborators are rare and in the last several years I honestly can count how many I have worked with.
Ultimately, very few people understand collaborative work enough to engage in it, and many who understand it are not willing to engage fairly or even present the original idea respectfully. They do not respect anything that I do enough to even understand what that actual is, and they rarely bring equitable skills to the table to make their requested collaborations even worth my time. Many times this is in fact like the stereotypical version of the dreaded collegiate group project where the division of skills and labor is unbalanced. Nobody wants that. I mean, I have seen so many jokes and tears about terrible group projects in college. I have been in terrible group projects as well. Collaboration as an adult in business should not be like this. Independent creators—especially ones who are completely unaffiliated and/or members marginalized groups—need to be cognizant of how the request to collaborate can function just like a request for free labor can. And as I said many times before, I am not available for free labor. When people view me as a means to an end for themselves and not as a true potential partner, they do not truly seek collaboration at all.
Related Posts: Abusing/Exploiting Independent Creators Is Not "Fighting Capitalism", Why People On Twitter Avoid Your Essays, Mixtapes and Other Art, Respect and Accept Art In The Format The Artist Makes It In, Dealing With Disrespect For My Time and Creative Process As An Artist