For the past few months, I’ve been working as part of a Teamlancing™ collaboration with a fantastic group of teamlancers from around the globe. I’m generally careful about the details I share of my professional life, and usually tend to reveal project details and specifics only upon completion. That said, a vast majority of us are simultaneously going through what feels like identical career shifts. And since we’re all in this together right now, it felt like the right time to be making this a larger conversation about the way we work now.
And so, I wrote about some of what I learned along the way in an eight-part series called Adventures in Teamlancing. It’s been great fun chronicling my own experiences shifting from freelancing to teamlancing. It’s been even more fun hearing from so many people about their own teamlancing experiences.
Teamlancers learning from teamlancers
For the next few months, I’ll be writing an ongoing series called Meet the Teamlancers. In this new column, I’ll introduce you to some folks who are working in all aspects of the teamlancing experience and at all career levels.
In upcoming articles, I’ll be profiling interesting folks across all industries including brand ambassadors and influencers who create some of the sizzle around a brand but don’t quite work with a team on a regular basis. I’ll also introduce you to heads of networking groups who bring people together even as we’re all apart. Best off, these teamlancers will share some of their tips on how to make working within a distanced team a comfortable experience.
Teamlancing is not as complicated as you think
In case you’re worried there’s a steep learning curve switching from freelancing to teamlancing, you might be pleasantly surprised.
“There was no learning curve for me since I was already working as a gig worker all my life,” said Kolleen Shallcross, founder of Shallcross Marketing & Design who has been freelancing for 42 years and teamlancing for two of those years.
“I run an agency and also work under the cover of three other agencies, with another on the way. For years I’ve white-labeled for various agencies and have hired teamlancers for my own. The past year I saw a big growth in teamlancing opportunities and have aligned myself with some of my favorite founders of agencies.” As part of that process, “ It’s a matter of getting to know the agency I’ll be representing and making sure that I understand their branding and model.”
But freelancing for that long brought with it some unpleasant lessons for Shallcross.
“The last three traditional jobs I applied for about 5-8 years ago all practically hired me on the spot over the phone,” she explained. Things changed after an in-person interview though. “After an in-person interview, I would get the inevitable email that they went in another direction,” which for Shallcross translates to “younger.”
“I’m better than I’ve ever been with an empty nest, and a love of learning,” she says, “yet older women are not welcome in the workforce.”
For Shallcross, making the switch from freelancer to teamlancer meant that, instead of competing for individual projects, her talents were instead presented as more of a team effort. In this way, age was never the deciding factor, quite the opposite. When you pool talent and experience, the entire teamlancing structure benefits.
Teamlancing at any age
Wondering if you’re too old to start teamlancing? You’re not.
- Older professionals who might have faced age discrimination in a more traditional work setting might find an easier fit with teamlancing. If you no longer have to sell your own skills, you can instead highlight what you do best – especially as a member of a teamlancing collaborative.
- Becoming part of a teamlancing setup also makes for a great second (or third!) career. I recently wrote about delaying retirement on Millie, a financial resource for women. One of the most interesting takeaways for me at least was learning about phased or partial retirement. In the article, I wrote about how Americans in their 50s and 60s are increasingly looking for part-time work. More interesting yet was the fact that they chose to follow their passions this time around. Even for those who missed out on the career of their dreams, teamlancing at any stage allows you to try out a completely different career with the support of others to help you do your best work.
Teamlancers helping teamlancers
While Shallcross teamlances for numerous clients, there are some that excite her more than others. She mentioned a new endeavor called LaunchSite, a membership site to help small businesses work on marketing.
Shallcross said that she “came on board right away as a teamlancer.” She also has a similar business plan in the works for website development.
“We are going to pool our resources and support each other to become tops in our perspective business plans,” Shallcross said. “Since I also work for an amazing SEO content writer and I’ve also hired her to work for me, we’d like to spread this idea of supporting each other’s businesses.”
And the plan is to keep growing from there. “Once we’ve worked it out and my plan is underway, we can reach out to some of the others in our field (like the content writer) and support them.”
And having a team of talented colleagues means that newer professional networks can continue to support each other. “I’m picturing a slew of women-owned businesses that do for each other what the “old boys’ network” has been doing for men for centuries.”
Learning to structure — and juggle — your projects.
Since Shallcross has several companies she teamlances for, she’s constantly moving between projects and teams.
“In my business, my process is to connect with the client to really understand their voice, flavor, passion for business, and needs.”
On the flip side, she said, “Connecting to too many people will definitely dilute my process and therefore my reputation for great results.”
Shallcross believes that, for teamlancers to succeed across numerous teams, they “have to look at their process and communicate that to their prospective employer/colleague.” That means that, in addition to your existing skills, people management skills and even administration habits might come into play.
“Some people really do well with a lot of small tasks that are clearly defined in scope and would work better handling a specific portion of all the accounts,” Shallcross said. “Some people, like myself, work well looking at the bigger picture so I do better dealing with fewer accounts, but handling a larger portion of that account.”
I have to admit that, until hearing the way Shallcross described it, I never quite realized that many teamlancing arrangements seem to organically fall into those patterns.
I recently started another teamlancing gig and realized that, while the wireframe is theoretically the same as my original teamlancing position, the workflow is completely different. I found that revelatory on many levels. At each of my gigs, I also tap into a different part of my skill base and interact with different members of each team. I also realize that, while it sounds somewhat confusing from the outside, once you figure out the formula that works it becomes second nature. An easy-to-understand analogy might be comparing the way you are at home vs. the way you are at work or school. You’re the same person, but in each of these structures, you’re perceived differently and represent yourself differently as well.
5 benefits of teamlancing
- Not having to find new clients
- Project scope is already established
- Working with people you like or admire
- A great opportunity to see how others run their projects and learn from them
- Amazing teamwork capacity
The nuances of teamlancing
Early on in the pandemic, Harvard Business Review posted an interesting article explaining how the coronavirus was redefining jobs. The premise was absolutely fascinating and extremely prescient considering that the story ran in April 2020. The authors of the article proposed three ways to “shift work, talent, and skills to where and when they are needed most.”
More than that, they suggested that work become almost portable, so people could complete tasks where they were. They also explained that companies including Unilever and Cisco, set up “internal project marketplaces that break down work into tasks and projects.” Guess what happened next?
In what sounds a lot like most of the teamlancing structures we’ve been exploring, the tasks and projects were then “matched with people with the most relevant skills and availability from anywhere in the organization.” Explaining it in this way made it seem both groundbreaking and extremely run of the mill.
Which explains why some people can’t seem to grasp the notion of teamlancing. “There will be confusion on the difference between a teamlancer and a freelancer,” Shallcross said.
Shallcross was recently asked to create a proposal for someone she knew and stayed in touch with via social media.
“She hasn’t worked in over a decade, but an old client called her up and she was drawn back into consulting.” Shallcross attempted to explain the idea of teamlancing to her old friend, but her friend kept saying “I know. It’s always been that way in the gig community.”
Shallcross explained that her friend couldn’t understand that “In the gig community you can be a referral or a no-name productionist, whereas as a teamlancer you get to be part of a team and work under the business of the person who acquired the account.”
Inter-team collaboration and connection.
Working with micro-teams means that you can meet, work, and interact with people you may never have encountered otherwise.
“One of the agencies I work with is scaling up big and we are going to do projects together,” Shallcross said.
One of the most exciting aspects is that the two can combine resources and share across teams and projects. “[She] can offer her resources on my projects and I can offer my resources on her projects,” says Shallcross.
More than that, she strongly believes “teamlancing collaborations with the right people can mean massive growth for everyone.”
That said, when you take on a teamlancing gig, you should probably study your contract carefully to see if there are any non-compete clauses that potentially keep you from working with teammates in alternate capacities.
As for Shallcross, she’s absolutely thrilled with her current incarnation as a serial teamlancer.
“I’m so excited to be working with some of my favorite people from the marketing/SEO /WebDev scene that I’ve admired for years. The team-ups have been powerful and we’re all here together blowing clients away with amazing work.”
3 things to consider before pooling teamlancing resources
- Is it kosher? Before inviting your colleague to join you on your next assignment as well, check to see if that violates your original contract.
- How transparent do you want to be? Will your current colleagues find out about your other shared gig or will you keep it to yourselves? Deciding in advance will help you avoid a lot of professional heartache.
- Who pays whom and how often? It’s tricky. Iron out those details in advance.