As every industry adjusts to business practices after the pandemic, the freelancing world must figure out their own sense of ‘new normal.’ Experts predict the unemployed or furloughed workforce will start to consider starting individual companies and independent agencies, rather than returning to traditional employment.
While more gig opportunities are a benefit for those who were already self-employed, it also prevents a downfall: competition. Rather than putting your arms up in protest and buckling up for the good fight, it’s better to lean-in to this change and figure out how to use it to your advantage.
One effective tactic that’s positioned to grow exponentially is the concept of a ‘teamlance.’ As you can guess from the name, this is a dynamic where a collection of talented freelancers across diverse expertise gather to handle one project. Though the term has been recently coined, it’s a practice that’s been around for decades. As the saying goes, there is strength in numbers, as well as the opportunity for higher-paying clients, better networking connections, and a more streamlined experience.
9 tips for starting a successful teamlance
If you don’t believe us, take it from these solopreneurs who have been part of a teamlance in the past or present. Here, they offer their best advice to those who are interested in starting their own group:
1. Gather your trusted group.
Digital marketing consultant Melanie Long has worked in a teamlance in a few different capacities. In one scenario, the client gathered various subject-matter gurus to do what they do best and then relied on their recommendations to grow the team. Long was recommended by someone she worked with previously, and she was brought in to assist with social media strategy. In another instance, Long subcontracted work to various experts to meet a client’s needs.
Since she can offer digital marketing know-how but not graphic design, she could be a thought-partner by bringing in someone who could complete the task at hand:
“My client relied on me to identify the best professional for the job, I handled the entire project and then passed the costs through. In this way, I can pick and choose who I know to be the best contractors for that specific client to make up the best possible, customized team.”
To consider creating a teamlance, step one is finding those professionals you would be comfortable working alongside. As Long explains, once you’re familiar with someone’s habits and ethic, it’s easier to replicate bundled services, which are more attractive to prospective clients who won’t need to search multiple SMEs to get a job done. “Make sure you know and trust the freelancer’s reputation you are considering teamlancing with because their work and reputation will also be reflective of your own,” she adds.
2. Appoint a project manager for teamlancing.
Ella Ritchie is the founder of Stellar Communications Houston, a nonfiction book publishing team that serves business leaders, non-profits, and self-published authors.
Their team consists of the following:
- Freelance project managers
- Graphic designers
- Editors, proofreaders and writers
- Photographers and artists
Together, Ritchie explains they manage every aspect of the book development process — from content and covers to marketing and beyond. Ritchie’s role is mostly serving as the grand ring leader.
To pull off a successful ‘teamlance,’ Ritchie says having defined, detailed descriptions of everyone’s responsibilities makes the project process smoother and less complicated:
“I determine the clients’ needs, educate them on their options, select the right lineup of team members and vendors, and then guide them through each step of self-publishing. Ultimately, it’s a collaboration that brings the vision and goals for a book to fruition.”
3. Determine contracts and payment schedules.
Within the same vein, Long says the nitty-gritty details of contracts and payments are essential to navigate as you set up your teamlance. Since everyone’s goal is to grow their client base and income, understanding how the paperwork will be filed and the checks are sent out is essential.
If you cultivate a teamlance group from your contacts, Long says you can consider subcontracting other experts and allowing the client to only work directly through you. This way, there is one invoice, one contract, and, hopefully, less confusion. “However you do it, the process should be discussed and determined upfront so you can present as a united front to the client,” she adds.
4. Agree — and stick to — an organizational model.
Ritchie’s company has created a very structured, compartmentalized process so that the chain of command is centralized to a project manager like herself. This organizational structure is particularly crucial for extended projects and terms but could be necessary for any teamlance opportunity you decide to tackle.
Think about investing in workflow apps like Slack, Asana or Basecamp, so all essential information and deadlines are housed in the same place.
As Ritchie notes:
“I provide each team member with clearly-defined expectations and deliverables to ensure that every detail is fulfilled. A structured process takes a lot of discipline and attention to detail, but the simplicity and peace it provides for everyone involved are what sets us apart.”
5. Try to be flexible (and have some back-ups) with teamlancing.
Ritchie says teamlancing provides the best of both worlds for freelancers: the structure and organization to create larger-scale projects for clients and the flexibility to work your own hours and on your terms. That last bit is essential and powerful since no one becomes self-employed to then be micromanaged. Many members of a teamlance may have additional client contracts on the side that doesn’t involve the others, and that’s OK. As long as they are upfront about their capacity and what they can take on, it shouldn’t make-or-break working together in the future.
This is why it’s important to have some backups, so you never leave a client in a bind when they rely on your recommendation and teamlance collection.
6. Be willing to communicate — a lot.
When you think of a typical agency set-up, sales executives, account managers, designers, copywriters and tech professionals are always pinging one another to brainstorm, check-in and otherwise stay on top of a project. While teamlance set-ups are typically remote, they still require plenty of hands-on communication, according to the founder and president of Digital4Startups, Inc., Reva Minkoff.
She’s led teamlances and been brought in for when a client needed a marketing expert. In her experience, though, the best group dynamics are ones where everyone is in regular communication.
This might look like:
- Weekly status checks
- Monthly brainstorming meetings
- A friendly, digital happy hour to build morale
- Client debriefings and 360-degree feedback
- New business calls
“In a teamlance, you are teammates in addition to being freelancers, so there must be trust and knowledge sharing between the teams,” she adds.
7. Remain loyal and professional.
Although in a teamlance, everyone is a free agent, Ritchie reminds loyalty goes a long way. Even without the restraints of the organization of a ‘big’ company, teamlancers should consider themselves micro agencies that operate as leaders within their field.
And as such, being able to depend on one another can make or break a teamlance, Ritchie says:
“No one else on the team knows your area expertise as you do, so bring your A-game. Meet your deadlines, stick to the budget, remain available, and be accountable for your work quality. Flakiness has no business here where others’ reputations are counting on you.”
8. Keep the recommendation cycle going.
There will be times when you’re busy with freelance and teamlance work and other periods of drought. It’s the life of a solo-professional, but try your best to keep in contact with professionals you may partner with in the future, should an opportunity arrive.
“If you don’t already have a list of go-to freelancers for complimentary services a client may ask for, make one,” Long recommends. You can get started with this by identifying the services your past clients ask for often that you don’t provide and write down the great freelancers you could teamlance with to offer that service if ever needed so you can quickly provide a solution for your clients’ needs. In the end, Long says this will make you look even more like a hero — and the right hire for the job.
9. Push one another.
One of the greatest benefits of being part of a teamlance is the ability to learn from other professionals. Since they branched out on their own, they are likely at the top of their game and willing to help you expand your skillset.
Especially if you’ve been on your own for a while, you may find a ‘teamlance’ set-up to be a welcomed, refreshing change.
As Richie says:
“Whereas freelancing can be an isolating experience, teamlancing is about bringing together professionals to lean on each other, swap best practices, and sharpen each other. We push each other and learn what is possible.”
Some ways to expand your knowledge and remain motivated include:
- Setting up learning workshops where you trade skills.
- Giving helpful and constructive feedback on one another’s work.
- Going in together on a costly expense — like Adobe programs or content-management programs.
- Building a website together to illustrate your teamlance and bring in new business