Building + Finding A Freelance Tribe

Written by Maari Casey on November 14, 2019

As a freelancer, our tribe is most important. We do better with people and community around us. Your tribe should be full of people who you feel can see you at your most authentic, most messy, and most jerk-ass-ed-ness and still stick around.

Imagine a time when we lived outside in the cold, hard world. We had to hunt to survive, bundle together to stay warm, and connect to gain security. Now we aren’t wearing animal skins much anymore but the principal of finding your tribe is still essential to survival, especially when you are venturing into the unknown, the backwoods of Alaska or the world of self-employment. So why do we need a tribe? How do we build our tribe? How do we find the right members of our tribe? Let the hunt begin.

A tribe is important because we as humans are built for connection. We do better with people and community around us. Your tribe should be full of people who you feel can see you at your most authentic, most messy, and most jerk-ass-ed-ness and still stick around. It is made up of people who can give you warm fuzzies when you need encouragement, people who can tell you like it is, and even people who can help you with a task that you can’t do. Think about a tribe in the most historical sense. There were different roles and purposes for different people, not every tribe member did the same thing. One person scouted. One person hunted. One person cleaned the hunt. One person cooked the hunt. One person scolded the children from putting too much ketchup on the hunt. You get it. There were several roles. When building your tribe think holistically about what kind of support you need. Yes, you need the warm hugs but you also need someone who can give you a kick in the pants when you need it. 

As a freelancer, our tribe is most important. Typically in a full-time role your tribe is provided for you, love it or not. You’ve got your HR, IT, finance, project managers, the funny email designer, the guy who hangs out by the coffee pot all day (what does he do again?), and all the rest of the people that make up your work tribe. As a freelancer you need to build that tribe for yourself. Sounds fun right? It can be and it also can be overwhelming.

Here’s a rough list of the tribe to start building:

Cheerleader – This is the person(s) who knows what you want to do and tells you to keep going. Think of them as your tiny Tony Robbins.
Devil’s Advocate – This is the person who always helps you see things from another side. Love them or hate them, they are good because they make you think about every angle.
Yoda – A more experienced person this is. Ha. Maybe this is a freelancer who’s been at it for some time or just someone who has worked professionally enough to help you with some of those ups and downs. They are your mentor when you need some real legit business advice.
CPA – Yes, do this. Even if it’s just a couple times a year for advice. I’d recommend finding a CPA who can help you with tax stuff, write-off stuff, and the ever-changing contract world landscape.
Legal – You may not think you need this upfront and probably not on-going but I’d recommend finding someone to help you set-up contracts, NDAs, and your business upfront. These can be pretty simple templates and many lawyers can quote you a flat rate for this help.
Connector – This is someone who knows everyone. Possible businesses who could use your services. Possible other freelancers who you could get coffee with. This is what we do at Uncompany a lot. Have one or two folks who just love to connect two folks who need to meet.
Crush – You don’t have to tell this person that they are in your tribe. You can just watch them from afar if you’d like. Find a few folks; celebs, designers, artists, other freelancers, who’s work and style you admire. It’s good to find some people who’s skill or business is what you aspire to. Also, don’t be scared to tell them they’re awesome. Even awesome people need to hear that.

This list is a good place to start. You of course can grow and add more tribe-members as needed. Find people who support a weakness you have with a strength they have. This will give you the help you need while giving them joy in supporting you with their talent. Double bonus, everyones happy. When you are thinking about your tribe write-out the people you connect with most often and start to tag them as some of the above archetypes and then look for the holes. If you are freaking out about taxes and write-offs you need to fill that tribe position. If you are feeling bummed, sad, and like you are no good you need to find your cheerleader and so on and so forth. 

So, now that you know who to look for, how do you find them? First, you start with your current circle of connections (see above), next talk to others, ask around, attend meet-ups, connect online with other like-minded tribe-seekers. This may sound a little like dating and IT IS. You are connecting to another partner who shares many of the same values, drivers, goals as you. 

The last part of building a tribe is the role you play within it. While every one of your tribe members has something to contribute, you also must contribute. You can’t expect your Devil’s Advocate to be honest and direct if you are dismissive and angry whenever they make suggestions. Your CPA won’t be effective if you don’t get back to them with your Q1 and Q2 bank information. There is an exchange within a good tribe. If one person stops exchanging their role then the tribe breaks down. If the hunter brings home the dinner but then no one cooks it, the system stops. It’s “building a tribe” vs. “build a tribe,” it is always happening.

Without my tribe I would have never been able to navigate the ups and downs of business and life. Do not be afraid to rely on others as you are building your business. When you can realize the power of a tribe you will see that it’s the difference between surviving and thriving in your business vs. scraping together berries in your backyard.