A freelancer friend recently commented that before last week he’d never heard the word teamlancing before. Yesterday, he received two emails on the topic and was curious what all the excitement was about. So, what is teamlancing anyway and why is the concept suddenly the most popular player in the world of content marketing?
In brief, teamlancing is exactly what it sounds like — a team of freelancers working collaboratively for a client or on a project. As more of us work remotely and with mutable responsibilities, it’s easy to realize that teamlancing is the concept of the minute for a reason. If you delve a bit deeper, you’ll notice that you might already be working in a teamlancing structure without having formally named it.
From exclusively 9-to-5 to teamlancing: A short timeline
Once upon a time in a world that looked a lot like the set of ‘Mad Men,’ a corporate 9-to-5 structure was the only work option available. From the midcentury through the grunge era, people worked an almost identical routine no matter their career or skill set.
All that changed with the invention of a little thing called the internet, which begat the work-from-home workforce, which paved the way for the gig economy, which allowed for the almost completely remote workforce of the coronavirus era. More than that though, as more traditional brands segue to direct to consumer models, it makes sense for the creative and collaborative process to follow suit.
Are you already a teamlancer?
It’s entirely possible that you’re already a teamlancer without even realizing it; these clues should help you figure it out:
- Were you interviewed virtually and/or have you never met your editor, supervisor or co-workers?
- Do you communicate almost exclusively through email or group chat software like Slack, Zoom or Microsoft Teams?
- Do you have a project leader but no boss?
- Has your client asked you to use a branded email address so that you appear to be on staff- even if you aren’t?
- Are you often asked to recommend colleagues to fill vacant spots on the team?
- Have you been asked to manage a group of freelancers?
If you nodded your head while reading the above list, you’re already riding the next wave of collaborative freelancing. If it all sounds a bit brand new and shiny if slightly overwhelming to you, fear not. We interviewed some freelancers who have been working collaboratively either as part of freelancing teams or by leading teams and they shared some tips on how to make this whole teamlancing thing work.
Should you be leading the team?
Many freelancers — like many corporate employees — are not quite cut out to manage teams. The good news is that the opposite is true as well, meaning some freelancers are born project leaders. It’s often a matter of working together and understanding each team member’s unique strengths.
Learn the ropes.
Like most new skills, working alone together comes with a learning curve. In 2014, Melanie Padgett Powers, Owner of MelEdits and host of the ‘Deliberate Freelancer’ podcast heard about a freelance position as the freelance managing editor of a local organization’s print newsletter. The job sounded perfect for her. As Powers describes it, “The longtime freelance editor was retiring and wanted to recommend a replacement.” That editor hired Powers “to work with her for about six months to learn the ropes.”
After that, the editor in question recommended Powers to her client and announced her own retirement. Powers said the client appreciated the former editor’s work “to find and train me, so they just hired me to replace her and we negotiated a monthly retainer contract.” And then things got really interesting.
“The retiring editor had two employees, both graphic designers, who had also worked for many years on the newsletter,” Powers said, “I did have a choice in keeping them on the team, but it didn’t feel right to me to ‘fire’ them and seek out new designers.”
More than that, the two existing team members “had institutional knowledge that was incredibly helpful and they had the skills I needed.” That’s when the teamlancing aspect came in. Powers chose not to hire the designers as employees. Instead, she offered to hire them as independent contractors at a negotiated hourly rate. Both designers agreed and Powers has been working with them ever since.
Should you keep existing team members?
Before you assemble your own teamlancing crew, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does it make your life easier or more complicated to work with existing employees, even on a freelance basis? If you’re not sure, you might want to start with a clean slate.
- How much of a learning curve is involved in forming your new team? If the entire process is complicated due to unforeseen external circumstances or events, you might want to keep people around who have already proven their loyalty and talents.
- What’s the roadmap? If your client or boss wants a radically different approach, you probably want to consider hiring new freelancers. It isn’t that the original team isn’t up to par, you just have to prove your own ability and creativity as well.
2 fundamentals of successful teamlancing:
1. Build a team you can rely on.
Writer and editor Darci Swisher, first met Shannon Reincke of Doubledog Design when Reincke was the art director for a regional magazine and Swisher was the managing editor. “When we both left to go freelance, we started bringing each other in on projects that needed both a writer and a graphic designer,” Swisher explained. “We’ve always liked working together and we get each other. We now have many repeat projects where we’re hired together.”
At some point, Swisher started taking the lead in projects. “My taking leadership happened organically. A lot of changes sent to her during the design phase of project involve text changes, too, so it just made sense for me to be in the loop throughout the project. For some clients, it’s just easier and more efficient to work with one person.”
2. Decide who works for whom.
The teamlancers I interviewed were very clear about not only their responsibilities but also the way payment works. Powers explained that she works “directly for the client, and my two subcontracting designers work directly for me. I oversee them and pay them directly.”
What that also means is that “the client doesn’t know their hourly rate or anything else about our arrangement. I can’t stress enough that they work for me, not the client. Therefore, all of the design work and projects go through me to edit or approve first, before I share it with the client. On the other hand, when the client’s staff have edits, they communicate directly with me and I share them with the designers. The client’s staff know the designers by name but coordinate everything through me.”
There is an exception though when Powers goes on vacation. “One of the designers works directly with client staff if the staff have design edits or need us to pull a photo or file from the archives that we oversee,” she said. “That’s a helpful approach since the client always has a representative available in case they need help.”
4 benefits of teamlancing:
While it might all sound like a brave new world, there are so many benefits for even the most independent of freelancers. One longtime teamlancer shared some perks:
1. It’s easier than it’s ever been.
Freelance writer/editor Pat Curry has been the managing editor of ‘Building Women,’ the magazine of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Professional Women in Building Council, for over a decade.
Curry said that freelancing as part of a team is “easier today than it’s ever been — and MUCH more accepted to work remotely.” She attributes this to the response to COVID-19.
2. You can have as much (or little) contact as you’d like.
Curry has many team members she’s never met in person because they are all over the country. “I recently started using Zoom meetings for one project and saw what people look like for the first time!” For anyone used to communicating solely through email or messaging, the new video conferencing apps make things feel less isolated for even the hardcore in-person worker.
3. Collaboration is easier than ever.
The online project management tools that are available really help facilitate collaboration. “I have used Basecamp for several years on one magazine,” Curry said. She’s also a fan of Google Docs, which in her opinion, “is just a great, easy tool to allow people to keep a project updated. I’m sure there are more sophisticated tools for more complex projects but even these simple ones help everyone see at a glance where you are in the process.”
4. Decide on a point person.
There is nothing worse in the life of a freelance writer than dealing with editing by committee, when everyone from the photo editor to the lighting director has input in the final product. In the teamlancing life, there’s an added peril of having so many creatives on board, each with their own opinion — and that’s before it even gets to the client. You need to stop this in its tracks.
“When you are leading a team of freelancers, I recommend you designate a primary client contact, whether that is you or another leader on the team,” Powers said. “You want to minimize the process for the client and show that you are a business owner and are in charge of a team. The buck stops with you, so to speak. You don’t want it to appear chaotic or to have multiple people reaching out to the client on their own.”
Great advice since it allows you to present a seamless front and product to your client. Powers reminds us:
“You are in charge and overseeing your team in a professional and morale-boosting manner will help ensure that both your team and your client are happy with the overall process and project.”