Working on a bootstrapped project is hard. Keeping it alive and thriving while working on a full time job takes a lot of discipline and positive self-talk. We have to learn to rest without giving up, knowing that when we get back to it we’ll be fresh and bursting with new ideas. The biggest reason some of us are able to grow these projects is our deep belief in our passion project’s purpose. Knowing that it’s a worthwhile cause and that we’re uniquely skilled to execute it goes a long way in the quiet confidence that we’ll get the job done.
However, our commitment can only take us so far. Sooner or later we hit roadblocks like low funds or skill gaps to drive new builds or channels.
While setting up, trying to grow, then re-launching and now growing Waldo’s Friends, I’ve gone through a fair bit of trial and error in how to find the right collaborators or as I love to call mine – the right support system for my bootstrapped love.
Here are some strategies that worked for me and that I hope you can use to grow your own passion project:
Identify exactly what you need
This goes beyond knowing that you need just a graphic designer, developer or writer. You need to know exactly which kind of skilled professional you need. For example I found that I needed:
- An illustrator who is experienced in visualising emotions and movements
- Developers who could help me execute a decoupled architecture using technologies like Next.js and WPGraphQL alongside an easy-setup and low maintenance CMS like WP
- Graphic designers who are skilled at combining different user journeys into one entity
- Content creators who are skilled at researching information-based for lifestyle guides
Knowing these specific skills helped me considerably narrow down my search and use my networks to find exactly the right people for the job/s.
Find people who get your passion
And not just in your own networks. Early on, I realised that when I posted about Waldo’s Friends in my personal networks, I got a lukewarm response at best. However, as I began participating in groups focused on animal welfare and started talking to colleagues, ex-colleagues and acquaintances about WF, I realised the response was pretty great.
A lot is written about Weak Ties and my favourite book on the subject – Taking the Work out of Networking by Karen Wickre talks about how introverts can harness the power of weak ties by mindfully connecting with like minded people throughout our professional careers.
I’ve found incredible collaborators who were introduced to me in chats like “you should talk to xyz, she’s nuts about animal rescue and she’s a really awesome designer!”
Be clear in your briefs
Writing a good brief is extremely valuable as a bootstrapped / side hustle business owner. Investing in writing one clear brief will help you reach out to many people in short periods of time without having to constantly set up context and status. I’ve done this repeatedly for content, illustrations, website design, website architecture and just about every time I expect anyone to take time out of their already busy days to help me with anything.
Here’s an example of an illustration brief that helped me go from an email and a 5 minute phone call while doing laundry to:
- the website’s hero illustration draft in one week,
- and from the hero illustration draft to a full set of landing page illustrations in three weeks without a single meeting.
Think of these briefs as exactly what you would like to receive in order to do your best work. Needless to say – if someone’s offering you free work, you owe it to them to be even more diligent about sending them the best brief of your life.
Expect your collaborators to read the briefs closely
I can’t stress this enough. I’ve almost always regretted it whenever I’ve tried to cut corners and hired someone who didn’t read a brief closely. I love agencies, freelancers and contractors who read the brief closely and come back with key clarifications before even charging you a buck.
For ex, avoid website development agencies who skim through your brief, only to send you a skeleton proposal with vague wording and deliverables. This may work for large enterprise sales where no one cares if they’re billed for poor attention to detail and last minute cost creep. But this does not work if you care about quality work within a concrete set of expectations – whether these are controlled costs or timelines.
When I found rtCamp and saw how minutely and respectfully they read and re-read my brief and came back with brilliant questions about deliverables, I was blown away by their attention to detail to every tiny aspect of the engagement.
The best outcome of finding people who read your brief closely is that their work is usually stellar – because they pay attention to details and are on the same page as you. Over time, this saves a lot of headache and unnecessary alignment meetings.
Find people who enjoy async remote work
- I’ve been working remotely since 2018. I’ll write a longer post about this another time, but when the world switched to remote work in 2020 I noticed two things:
- Covid-induced remote work isn’t normal remote work. We may have laughed and meme’d our way out of 2020’s remote work days but in 2021, we’re all feeling the burnout. So finding a person who’s new to remote work could be a hit or miss situation.
- People who are seasoned remote workers are today’s async work evangelists. It is our job to help people new to this situation by sharing what worked well for us pre-Covid.
When I was consulting between 2018-2020, I actively turned down offers from startups who expected routine update meetings and in-office sessions. I preferred low contract rates in some cases where I found the companies had a healthy approach to async remote work. I offer this same level of trust and expectation to WF collaborators and I’ve found some great people with this strategy.
As a bootstrapped business owner who doesn’t have a lot of cash to offer – what you can offer in these weird remote work times is peace of mind.
I haven’t had a single in-person work meeting with the close to 20 people I collaborated with over the last three years for WF. I’ve met a couple of them socially and when we did catch up for drinks or coffee, we never once talked shop.
Be prepared to invest in a few core paid engagements
While we’d all love to have people share our passion and help us out for free, sometimes – especially when we expect a lot of effort from someone within a timeline – we need to bite the bullet and allocate a budget to it. This doesn’t have to be sky high, but if you know what you want, know exactly what type of professional/s you need, and have a clear idea about when you want things – you’ll get a lot out of a reasonable sum of money.
As any rookie business owner, I’ve made the mistake of expecting to ‘pick someone’s brains’ over ‘coffee’, exchanging skills/work, or leaning on friends for something I sold as ‘quick help’. This never worked out. Today, I respect other people’s time and understand that if I need their best work, I need to offer them a reasonable amount of money and tools – especially if they’re friends.
It’s also critical that we respect the contract/agreement timelines. When it’s over it’s over; which is why we need to be extremely clued in when accepting deliverables. That’s the time for reviewing, questioning and following up. Handling the end of an engagement well, I’ve found, goes a long way in someone wanting to work with you again.
And there you have it – my six big strategies for finding the right collaborators for your small business, passion project, bootstrapped project, or side hustle. Above all, remember that these are meant as starting points to figure out what works for you.