The Definitive Guide to Creating Your Own Freelancing A-Team

Do you remember the hit television series, “The A-Team”? Not the ridiculously over-the-top Hollywood movie. I’m referring to the original, campy TV show starring Mr. T. It was a great show about a team of elite military convicts who banded together to create an unstoppable force for good. Plus, they blew stuff up in every episode.

In my last post titled 5 Reasons Every Freelancer Needs an Accountability Group I discussed the “why” of creating your A-Team. (Note: I really wish I had thought of the “A-Team” reference before the article ran. But, so goes life.)

The feedback was awesome and there seemed to be a lot of interest in the “how to” part of creating your team.

Well, without further ado, I present to you “The Definitive Guide to Creating Your A-Team.” Explosives manual not included.

Our group has been running for six months now and, during that time, we’ve learned a lot about what makes our group work. Please remember that, unless specified below, these are guidelines and best practices. I would encourage you to make appropriate changes and share them in the comments below so that others can learn from both your successes and mistakes.


What Is an “A-Team”?

I’m not going to belabor this point since I tackled it in my last post. However, as a quick recap for those just joining us, an accountability group is not a meet-up. I love meet-ups and think they’re a great place to find members for your A-Team.

Instead, an A-Team is a group of highly dedicated, motivated, and trustworthy freelancers or entrepreneurs who have a desire to grow their business and be challenged at the same time.

An A-Team is not a “B-Team.” I don’t want people who aren’t serious about growth in the group and you shouldn’t either. B’s need not apply.

Finding Your A-Team–A Quick Guide for Introverts

This one actually surprised me a bit when it began popping up in the comments. Partially because I’m an extrovert. Then, the more I started thinking about it, the more it made sense. Freelancing can be a great career choice for introverts because you get to work alone from home. Industry events, meet-ups, social gatherings, and other places where I met my accountability team are not usual hang-outs for introverts who tend to get drained by the interactions.

So, introverts, this section is for you because I’m assuming extroverts don’t need this advice. Extroverts, feel free to skip ahead.

  • Try attending one targeted meet-up each month–I know. This sounds like torture. So take a friend with you. Find a small group if necessary. Meetup.com is a great place to find common interest groups. Use terms that match the type of freelancing you do.
  • Use Twitter to meet people in your area–Twitter can be great for introverts. Use filtered searches on both location and keywords such as “freelance”, “my clients”, “Basecamp”, or “Freshbooks”–anything freelancers often discuss on Twitter. Then, ask them if they’d be up for grabbing a cup of coffee. No need to recruit them into joining your A-Team just yet.
  • Ask friends and family members if they know any freelancers–This sounds like a recipe for a bad blind date, but you’d be surprised how many people I’ve met through friends who made introductions simply because they thought we’d get along.
  • Speak at a local club or event–I recently spoke at BarCamp Nashville and I was surprised at how many introverts and freelancers ended up speaking. It’s a myth that only extroverts enjoy being on stage. Once you speak, you’ll be surprised at how many people approach you with questions and coffee invitations.
  • Write guest posts for websites–Sites such as Freelance Folder are always looking for good content. These can be a great way to meet people through the comments section. Read the profiles of the commenters and find ways to interact with them.
  • Join online freelance forums–Comment on message boards. Mention that you’re interested in meeting other freelancers in your area. Search the profiles. This can be a great way to get to know people before meeting them offline.

How to Select Your Initial “A-Team” Members

When creating your accountability team, there are a few pointers to keep in mind:

  • Be picky–You really want to find people who are rockstar freelancers. I can’t stress this enough. We’ve all heard the cliché that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. The same is true of your group. This is not a mentoring group. This should be a group of hand-selected, motivated peers. They should be serious about their own success.
  • Share the same core values–This doesn’t mean that you’ll agree on everything or are clones of one another. But, as you’re seeking advice on your business from your accountability team, you need to trust that the advice you’ll receive doesn’t violate your own ethics and principles.
  • Trust your instincts–Have you ever been in a situation where you were talking to someone and you got that “vibe” about them? They seemed nice enough, but something didn’t “feel” right. Trust that feeling. Your A-Team needs to be fully trustworthy and able to keep things discussed within the group confidential or it will be just another meet-up.
  • Find people who have aspirations–What do I mean by this? There are a lot of freelancers who are content with their setup. They have as much business as they want, they’ve got a system that works for them, and they don’t really want to change much. There’s nothing wrong with people like that, but this isn’t the group for them. You want people who want to grow. Maybe they want to expand their services, create products, or speak at events. The point is, they should have big goals they need help with.
  • Start small–Don’t invite every freelancer you know to the first meeting. Keep it at 1-3 others at the first meeting. Tell them what you’re trying to build and why and see if they’re even interested. You can grow the group later if you decide to (more on this below).
  • Get positive people on your team–If you’re setting big goals for yourself and your business, you need positive people on your team to help you. What you don’t need are people who are incapable of encouragement and label every negative comment they make as “being realistic”, “playing devil’s advocate” or “constructive criticism.” If you really are offering constructive criticism, you shouldn’t have to label it.

How to Set Clear Expectations Up Front

We initially made this mistake as we started to grow. We assumed that each new member understood what it meant to be part of our group–they didn’t. Just because they heard of the group didn’t mean they understood what it meant to be part of the group.

As a result, I wrote an email that I send out to new members that welcomes them to the group. I also copy existing members as a way of refreshing everyone’s commitment to the group. Without this type of expectation setting, it’s easy for the group to spiral out of control and morph into something different that you originally intended.

If you’d like a copy of the email we use, I’ve posted it on my site. Just click here.

How to Structure Your A-Team Meetings

So you’ve got your A-Team selected and you’re all pumped about your first meeting. Then the anxiety creeps in. How often should you meet? What should you talk about? Should you structure the meeting? How long should it run?

Here are our recommendations of what’s been successful for us:

  • Meet weekly–You’ll be surprised at how much there is to discuss about your business each week. Also, meeting less frequently makes it more difficult to plan out your goals between meetings. Two weeks is a lot longer than you think.
  • Get to the “good stuff” quickly–This is not the time for catching up on American Idol drama or the latest things your kids are doing. This is business. One of the best ways to kick the meeting of in the right direction is with the question, “Joe, how did your week go? How’d you do on your goals?” It gets people focused on the mission at hand.
  • Have a delicate structure–Some of my best ideas have come during my meetings with my group. The others in the group say the same thing. We allow for creativity and brainstorming session. We know that each week we’re going to review the prior week’s goals and set new goals. But that’s not all we do. We talk about new business ideas. We share struggles we’re having with growing our business. It’s these times that add so much value to the meetings. As one of the guys said, “It’s a delicate structure that allows for creativity while still getting things done.”
  • Plan for 1.5 to 2 hour meetings–Unless you’re just going to meet to review and set goals, plan for enough time to share war stories and ideas. Anything less and you’ll simply rush through the meeting and miss some valuable and motivating conversations.
  • Meet at the beginning or end of the week–Psychologically, trying to set goals mid-week is useless. Either meet at the start of the week (Monday morning) or at the end over the weekend. This way you can synchronize your goals according to a traditional work week.

How to Set Goals Not Tasks

Without a doubt, really learning the difference between goals and tasks has been the most valuable thing we’ve gained from our group. When we first began meeting, our typical “goals” looked like this:

  • Send proposal to Acme
  • Finish website wireframe for Beta Windows

These are tasks–not goals. You need to use this time to create goals for your business or company. Tasks like these almost always involve built-in accountability. For example, Acme is waiting on that proposal. Beta Windows is waiting on that wireframe. You don’t need an A-Team to hold you accountable to tasks–that’s what clients are for.

Goals, on the other hand, are completely different. Goals are about building a better business. Goals are what don’t get done in the tyranny of the urgent. So what does a goal look like? Here’s a few of my goals from this past week:

  • Complete the Freelance Folder Guest Post
  • Create the 12-month growth plan for [my new business project]
  • Create a list of 10 venues/groups to speak to
  • Request interviews with 10 creative business owners

The difference is that my clients don’t care if I get any of the above items done. I don’t have to do them; I want to do them because they’ll grow my business. If I don’t do them, the only person that misses out on anything is me. That’s why I need accountability. When the tyranny of the urgent strikes, proper goals will help me stay focused. And your A-Team will keep pushing you to reach your goals.

This is really a whole different post, but I hope you at least understand the difference enough to get started on this.

How to Plan for Growing Your A-Team

It’s inevitable. As your group hits its stride, you’ll encounter people who you think will make a fantastic addition to your accountability team. Don’t be surprised if people ask to be invited to your group.

Don’t rush ahead and invite the person just yet. You see, your group will develop relationships built on trust and accountability. A new person will change that dynamic. People will wonder if the “new guy” can be trusted for a period of time. So, you want to make sure that you’ve planned for adding new members accordingly.

  • Give everyone a vote–Before a new member is invited into the group, he’s discussed as a candidate among all the group members. You may love a person while someone else had a previous encounter with the same guy and no longer trusts him. You need to know these things. Put it up for a vote and decide on whether it’s majority wins or unanimous only. Then, respect the will of the group.
  • Setup trial runs–Give new members a “trial period” where both sides can say “this isn’t working out.” We had this happen once. The expectations were set up front and we all really like the guy–he’s a good friend. The problem was that both his schedule and the location of the meeting made it too difficult for him to really contribute successfully to the group. After a couple of meetings, he withdrew and we all still remain friends. No hard feelings. He would be welcomed back at any time should his schedule change.
  • Don’t invite competitors of other members to the group–I almost made this mistake once but I caught myself. Remember, we talk about our clients, growing our businesses, struggles, etc. Having competitors in the same industry is a recipe for disaster. It will be up to you and your group to determine what constitutes a competitor. Be very sensitive about this. A lot of freelancers offer overlapping services so you may have to take this on a case-by-case basis.
  • Don’t grow too large–When you’re group is going great, you’re excited about it. Other people become excited about it that aren’t in the group. It’s only natural. But a large group will change the dynamics. If you only have 90 minutes to share, strategize, set goals, and be creative, the more people you add, the harder it will become. My recommendation would be to limit it to five or six people at most.

Be Adventurous with Your A-Team

As with the original A-Team, you should find ways to grow and challenge each other as a group. It’s not uncommon to hear someone say, “We should try …” Go with it! Be willing to try new things. Not all of them will work out, but that’s okay. Be willing to experiment and see what works for your group.

We once tried reading a book together–it was a disaster. This sounded like such a great idea when we first met. We would all read a book together and discuss how we’d apply the principles to our businesses. The problem? It felt more like a book club. And the last thing we all needed was another book to read. We all read a lot as it is and it just felt like a chore. It also confined the conversation to someone else’s ideas. Instead, we let conversations grow organically which leads to some incredible talks.

The point is, you’ll never know what works and what doesn’t unless you’re willing to experiment and grow as a group.

Share Your Thoughts

So there you have it! The Definitive Guide to Creating Your A-Team is completed. All that’s left is for you to build your own group and conquer the world. Will you create your own team? What questions do you still have? Ask them in the comments below and I will answer every single one of them!

Comments

  1. says

    Thank you for writing this, Travis. I’ve recently started freelancing full time, but I’ve been a member of a small writing group for years, and some of the suggestions in this post have worked well for us (especially keeping it small). I can see how having a freelancing A-Team would be great.

    I have a small group of people I stay in touch with online, but we’re all in different parts of the country. Now that I’m getting into the swing of freelancing, you’ve given me something to consider that may help that big fear I still have: “When the main contract ends, what’s next?!”

    Having an A-Team will make that thought a little less scary.

  2. says

    Thanks, Christopher! Congrats on going full time!

    An A-Team can be a great way to build your network, develop new business, and create the built-in accountability you’ll need to build your business. If you have any additional questions on creating your group, just let me know.

    Cheers,
    Travis

  3. says

    This is a very good post. The idea of having an accountability team or an A-Team is really great. Though for someone like me who is from another country (Philippines), it can be quite hard to find people to meet up with. There’s not much resources I am aware of that brings together Filipino freelancers.

  4. says

    Thanks for sharing.

    I’m just starting in the freelance web design biz and I was thinking that a small group of green freelance web designers (green in business, not web design!) would be useful. But I don’t know any greenies. :-p

  5. says

    @Wowie – I’m not sure where in the Philippines you are, but I was able to find these groups that may be able to get you started. Even if they’re not near you or not perfect matches, you might try reaching out to them to see if they know of a group nearer to you:

    http://www.meetup.com/businessandentrepreneurs/
    http://www.tropicalmba.com/internet-marketers-in-philippines/

    @Gemma – Try this group: http://www.cornwalldigital.co.uk/ It’s about 13-14 miles from West Cornwall, UK where your Twitter profile says you’re located. :-) If that group isn’t a fit, they may be able to recommend one that is.

    Thank you both for your feedback!

    Cheers,
    Travis

  6. says

    Great post, Travis. I have been very fortunate to have worked with some great freelancers in the Milwaukee area and am really looking forward to the day when I have enough customers to go freelance full-time. I guess you could say I’m still searching for a couple A-Team members to make a go of it. Thanks!

  7. says

    Thanks, Russ! I really appreciate that!

    There are some great posts on this site about landing more clients. Plus, setting up your A-Team will certainly help you set and achieve some big goals which could help you launch sooner than you thought possible. Let me know if you have any questions on this stuff. I’ll be glad to help in any way I can.

    Cheers,
    Travis

  8. says

    Thanks for this! I’m freelancing now that I’m home with my kids after years working for others. I didn’t think I would find any like-minded groups without driving into the City. (We live in a small town about an hour out of the city.) I didn’t know about Meetup.com – and just found several local groups I will definitely look into! I would love to put together a team of freelancers — working with other creative people is one thing I really miss!

  9. says

    @Lindsay – That is awesome! I’m so glad you found groups on Meetup.com that are close to you! It really is a valuable tool.

    Another resource for everyone who’s interested in finding people in their area is to do a Facebook or LinkedIn search since a lot of groups are organizing there too. Their search features still suck on the whole, but they’re getting a bit better. It’s worth a shot if you’re having difficulty. :)

  10. niubi says

    Great article, Travis with some super useful information. I’ve also thought that it’s worthwhile to look into other business avenues – for example, DubLi – it would be wrong to focus on just one pathway when there are so many opportunities!

  11. says

    Thanks for such a detailed post,Travis. I’m going to print out your article and follow your advice. One question: how do you keep the group momentum going? Do some people decide not to turn up because they’re too busy or because they lose interest in coming along?

  12. says

    Travis,
    As the others said, this was an excellent post! I only meet with one other freelancer in my area from time to time, and we have thought about doing this very thing. But your post really lit the fire underneath me to make it a reality. I just need to find more people in my area. I’ve looked on Meetup.com, and there’s only one freelance group in my area, and they seem focused on social media. I haven’t concentrated on finding locals through Twitter, so I’ll try focusing on that more. Thanks for the motivation!

  13. says

    Wow, this is definitely a thorough guide. lol.

    I really love the idea of “setting goals” for the meetings. I’ve attempted to start something similar to an A-Team, and it would always turn into casual meetings and conversations, which would eventually lead to people losing commitment. I’ve even joined Meetup.com to find current groups within my city to possibly connect with.

    Thanks for the post. Lots of ideas I can use.

  14. says

    If you need to be pushed to get to your targets, Make sure that people all around you know about your personal improvement goals so that there’s pushing on you all the time. Reporting to them would undoubtedly make you think a lot about letting go of your goal .

  15. says

    Thank you for this post, Travis! When I read it, I immediately set out to start up an A-Team here in Madrid with some other ex-pat free-lancers (now we are 7), and we have been meeting on a weekly basis since then. We were able to get a facilitator to help us through 8 weeks of goal-setting practice as per the Barbara Sher Success Team strategy, but we still call ourselves the A-Team (A for Accountability and A for “Autonoma”, or free-lancer in Spanish!) and it has definitely helped us to get nearer to our goals and keep us on track. We set up weekly Buddy calls, as well as the meetings. When 2 people left the group to follow their goals abroad, we held a lunch/ training session to incorporate 2 new members and bring them up to speed. The meetings are serious and focused (over a nice glass of red). We’re on our way. And I will also try to implement a program through European Professional Women’s Network – Madrid, to get others creating jobs, too. Thanks again!

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