Back when I was an unhappy young attorney in the 1990s, I didn’t dream of being an entrepreneur. I wanted to be a writer (typical of unhappy lawyers).
It was my fascination with the early commercial internet that led me to combine writing with entrepreneurship. I enjoyed attracting people with useful knowledge and selling them things that would benefit them.
And it’s true that a lot of the early audience-builders were writers, publishing via email newsletters followed by blogs. At the time, internet bandwidth was a serious limitation, so the early web skewed heavily toward text.
Multimedia content began to catch steam in 2005 when YouTube launched. Podcasting already existed as a tiny niche format.
In 2006, Google acquired YouTube, and the vlogging era kicked in. It wasn’t until around 2010 that podcasting gained mass traction, even though numerous shows were available before then.
So now, in 2022, there are more “non-writer” content creators than ever, thanks to video and audio. And yet, with the resurgence of email newsletters and renewed interest in blogging, the written format also continues to thrive.
The first criteria for becoming a content creator yourself is deciding if you want to create content. With writing, it goes without saying that if you don’t want to write, you’ll never be great at writing. And that’s perfectly fine.
But creating audio and especially video content requires the desire to be the voice (or face) of your brand. Not everyone is comfortable with that. Plus, solid production value for audio and video is a must, which takes additional skills and time.
More people than ever seem to have this desire, though, and that’s fantastic. However, you need an audience-attraction strategy first, as a profitable audience won’t be interested in whatever pops into your head.
In this business idea, we’re going to explore a different way to approach both building an audience and generating revenue from client services – one where you adopt the role of producer instead of content creator or service provider.
The Benefits of Becoming a Digital Media Producer
In the first lesson of the free Personal Enterprise course, we talked about the “Hollywood model” for building a personal enterprise. I used the examples of Oprah and George Clooney to illustrate how having an audience leads to opportunities, usually at an increasingly higher scale and profitability over time.
These celebrity examples represent the “personal brands” that individual content creators who attract audiences develop. Some have the goal of building that personal brand, period.
Others (including me) see it as secondary to creating a business that transcends any one person. Regardless, your personal brand will be established by the work you do and the value you deliver to others.
In contrast, Hollywood producers don’t have the recognition that actors and directors receive, and generally, they’re fine with that. They’re the ones who make things happen, including financing, logistics, negotiations, and overall management of the cast and crew.
And they make a lot of money. Think about the Tom Cruise producer character in Tropic Thunder – he’s the one with the real money and power.
Similarly, a digital media producer makes things happen and is primed to be well compensated. In many ways, this is the typical role of any entrepreneur, except, in this case, a digital media mindset is important. So thinking like a producer (entreproducer?) is more appropriate.
And there’s another reason to think of this in terms of Hollywood. Independent contractors are the norm in film and television production, even though teams often work together on project after project.
As a digital media producer, you don’t have to create the content, copy, and other messaging. But you must take a strategic approach to content creation and audience attraction to build the base for eventual products and services.
The Hollywood Model Goes Mainstream
You can use the digital media producer model to build an audience while you focus on generating revenue by serving clients. But you can also use it to build an audience and serve clients, all from the leadership and management role of a producer instead of a “creator.”
For example, as we discussed in Building the Base of Your Personal Enterprise, freelancers and other client services professionals can afford to build a lucrative audience while also attracting the clients they need. The key to this is positioning your audience-attraction efforts as a media publication, not “freelancer marketing.”
The problem? It’s hard to spend the time to build an audience while also properly serving clients. So instead of being both the service provider and the content creator, think like a digital media producer instead.
You could work with other freelancers who create or curate the content for you. This frees you up to focus on client work while overseeing the audience aspect. Altogether, you can attract and work with more clients, all while building an audience asset those clients effectively paid for.
Even better, look at it from a pure producer point of view. Building an audience without something to sell means you’re out of pocket until you reach your minimum viable audience. Instead, think about how to emulate the advantage of the freelancer in the example above.
What if you sought out reputable freelancers who are looking for additional work in the niche you plan to enter? You can hand off client services work in exchange for a cut of the project fee, like a virtual agency. Plus, you’ll be in a position to understand the pain points those clients are experiencing, which can lead to viable product ideas much faster.
Introducing the “Teamlancing” Concept
This is not a brand new idea, as we know, thanks to the example set by the television and film industry. But it’s becoming more common and has been dubbed by some as “teamlancing” when specifically tied to serving clients with a network of talent.
What exactly is teamlancing? It’s the practice of collaborating with a networked team (or networked teams) of freelancers to achieve a common goal, whether for a client or as a remote extension of your own audience-building efforts.
- Individual freelancers can teamlance simultaneously on multiple teams, each with different numbers of contractors or combinations of freelance roles, for any number of clients — or manage other freelancers themselves.
- Brands can turn to teamlancing to maximize the flexibility of their operations with self-managing creative resources that are specialized, right-sized, and timed to their changing needs, whether project-based or for the long term.
Here’s an illustration of how it works:
To gain perspective on teamlancing from someone who is actually doing it, I turned to my friend Kaleigh Moore. Kaleigh is a freelance writer, consultant, and product creator who has moved into the producer role in her client services business.
I asked Kaleigh what drew her to the concept:
I think a big driver for me was wanting to shift more into a manager/leadership role within my business. While I still work on every piece that goes out, having a team to help with research, outlines, drafts, and editing speeds up the entire process exponentially, so that I can do more in less time (and have greater flexibility in my days). I have oodles of demand, but was feeling chained to my desk with the heavy workload – so teamlancing helped me find a strategic way to scale up my business while still being hands-on.
Kaleigh evolved into a producer role after establishing herself as the person who personally served her clients. As we know, even the most successful freelancers often start to wish for a model that’s more scalable and less dependent on selling their time.
Do you have to do the client services work yourself first before shifting to producer? Not necessarily, as long as you can attract clients via your audience-building efforts and manage the collaborative teamlancing approach.
I asked Kaleigh what the biggest challenge was when it comes to managing a network of freelancers:
It’s a lot of trial and error. I have LOTS of documentation in place for my team (onboarding guides, extremely detailed briefs, spreadsheets tracking different people’s strengths/weaknesses), which has helped, but the big thing has been finding quality, reliable people I can count on for long-term working relationships rather than quick one-off jobs.
If this sounds very much like what a Hollywood producer’s life is like, you’re right. And the person who puts it all together and gets the job done reaps the rewards.
A Step Towards a Productized Service (and Beyond)
When you perform services for clients — writing, designing, coding, or otherwise — you’re selling your talent and time. That makes you the product.
However, unlike other types of products, you aren’t scalable. There are only so many hours in a day. Even then, you can only work a fraction of that limited time frame without destroying your physical and mental health.
Plus, even in a traditional product model, there’s a lot more to running a business than the transaction itself. Marketing, management, administration, and more all have to be attended to.
One answer to this dilemma is to create a productized service. And when it comes down to it, the most scalable productized service businesses are those that have an entrepreneur who acts as a producer with a networked team of freelancers and contractors.
If you’ve already discovered your ideal customer, chosen a productized business model, and nailed down your value proposition, it’s time to execute. That leaves you with the task of finding the right people and developing the onboarding guides, detailed briefs, and methods for placing those people in the right role.
As you might have guessed, having prior experience with the teamlancing concept will give you an advantage when executing your productized business idea. That also means that if you haven’t figured it all out yet for productizing, there’s a lucrative intermediate model that can get you started while still aiming to move up the personal enterprise pyramid.
The Collaboration Code
When it comes down to it, teamlancing reflects an increased emphasis on collaboration in an increasingly networked digital world. As we head deeper into Web3, you’ll see tools and models that emphasize collaboration and community in a way that transcends the borders of any particular company.
In my career, collaboration has been one of the most important parts of my business success. Learning to “play nice with others” is more important than ever, and you can do it from any place on the planet you want (which is nice).
I can envision a DAO of experienced freelancers who all bring in business for the group. Whoever brings in a particular client is the producer for that project, while on the next gig, they may only play a small role. Tokens can be allocated among members based on how much each person participates in a given project, all on top of what the client pays.
The way you structure and execute your version of the producer or teamlancing model is only limited by your own creativity. And the way you choose to start is not the end of it – what you begin with will lead to opportunity after opportunity that you choose from based on your own sense of passion and purpose.
In other words, this is how you can build your personal enterprise. It’s not you against the world. It’s you plus anyone else you can collaborate with on various projects and ventures.
To me, this is the true promise of Web3. Tokens, NFTs, DAOs … these are all simply tools that allow people to come together from wherever they may be physically, get amazing things done, and make a good living in the process.