Talent [R]evolution

No man is an island: The value of a freelance network

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Talk to anyone who’s done freelance work over the past few years and they’ll probably all tell you the same thing: it can be lonely out there. Working from home while delivering projects with little collaboration and communication being limited to clients can take its toll. Humans are social beings; when we spend such large percentages of our time focused on work, getting the socialisation we need can be a challenge. With 70% of freelancers having said they’ve experienced loneliness and isolation, it’s a good time to discuss how we can combat that and build a freelance network.

These challenges go some way to explain why we at Outvise worked on fostering a community of like-minded individuals. The creation of a freelance network was not an overnight project; it required a dedicated group of people to create social situations that would foment a sense of camaraderie and belonging. In this article, we are going to discuss why it was important to us to establish closer ties between our freelancers and how we did it. 

Why is it important to belong to a community?

There isn’t just one single issue that affects all freelancers. As a group, they are hard to pin down and define simply because they are so diverse. This diverse group of humans all around the world have such different needs, desires and aims that it’s hard to even consider them a single group. Whether we call ourselves freelancers, contractors or self-employed one thing we seem to share is the feeling of a lack of a colleague-based, collaborative environment. 

There are a wealth of proven health benefits to being part of a community. Belonging, support and purpose are all important aspects that it can bring. Within the world of freelancers, the community can be a support network for individuals who need help, whether it’s getting to know each other or asking other freelancers for work advice. It can also lead to more productive work environments and the potential to widen one’s reach and join a new professional network.

Another important aspect of belonging to a community is the significance of contribution. We define our self-worth and the value of our work on how it is, or we imagine it to be, received by others. Studies have shown that feeling like our work has a positive impact on society at large, at either the macro or micro level, is enormously important for our self-worth. Sociologists have shown that we cannot understand the work we do when it does not matter to other people. One way as freelancers we can achieve this is through the validation of our peers. 

How do I join a freelancer community?

Several freelance networks exist all around the world and are often based on a single common thread. For example, this could be a community of LGBTQI+ people or a freelance network based on a common home town. There are a few tips on how to successfully navigate these groups, but advice usually starts by asking your fellow freelancers if they know of any groups you can join. 

A large number of freelance networks are formed around talent platforms, such as Outvise. We saw that one of the biggest issues among our freelancers was the need to communicate with and get advice from other freelancers in a similar position. Luckily, the only prerequisite for joining was to be an active member of our professional network. 

Another important part of joining a freelance network is to be recommended by someone in the group. By bringing in new freelancers through recommendation, they feel more welcome as they feel like they can be trusted to be insightful and active members. It is important to make sure that the members are not just another name on a list.

Joining a freelancer community comes with some suggestions. If joining an already pre-formed online community, it might be a good idea to just stay relatively quiet for the first session or just read the comments available on the message board before contributing to get an idea of what the atmosphere and style of communication are. After having done this, it could be wise to limit initial contributions to comments on other posts, rather than starting whole new threads. This way, other members will see you as somebody useful with a genuine desire to help others. 

professional network
Within the world of freelancers, the community can be a support network for individuals who need help, whether it’s getting to know each other or asking other freelancers for work advice.

How did the Outvise freelance network begin?

For our own network, we saw a need amongst the freelancers involved with our own platform. We knew we possessed high-quality talent as individuals, but realised that we could get more value from ourselves and each other by finding ways to share ideas and share our lives. 

We started by reaching out to the most active 300 users, the ones who are the most engaged. Despite being able to boast some 41,000 experts available for work on our platform, we needed to restrict our reach to create a completely new value proposition. We kicked off with various activities to help them engage with one another, start networking, find more business and create a sense of belonging. We promoted the launch events through a webinar, a podcast episode, and an ebook which caught the attention of many. They were then able to join our WhatsApp group to find out about online and offline networking events, have vital conversations, share tips and make deals.

After its inception, the freelance network then became a community of people, all with their own contributions and ideas of where it should go. But this growth begged the question, “Who creates the community?” Our goal is to have it organically run itself and to be self-governing. We encourage the members of the community to take the lead in organising workshops and meet-ups and to initiate discussions. With this self-sufficiency, we see growth opportunities in our target areas beyond Spain such as UAE, Germany, and beyond. 

However, we also needed to set some ground rules and guiding principles. To guide the group, we needed to emphasise the importance of fostering that sense of belonging through regular contributions. We encourage everybody in the network to contribute to initiatives, whether that’s taking a front seat or acting as more of a support role. 

A community is not just a collection of names on a list, it is a group of like-minded people with something in common that allows them to connect and achieve things together. As initial founders of the freelance network, we see our role to catalyse communities to make their own decisions around dynamisation, and moderation and promote the proactivity of members.

These guiding principles were established after asking participants about their pain points and expressing the need for constant feedback, suggestions and criticism of the success of the project. Doing so reflects our belief that people are stronger together and that freelancers are not alone, despite how it may sometimes feel. 

What’s next for the Outvise freelance network?

In the beginning, the network was just a digital community, communicating through WhatsApp and meeting on Zoom. Now, we see the importance of creating physical meetings to get real-time feedback and allow people to socialise without the barrier of distance. As the community grows, we will be looking at ways to have it splinter into more specialised groups. This could be based on location, area of work and levels of expertise. 

One of the benefits of this approach is that it helps get the word out about Outvise and can have people focus on a more niche level. By having smaller groups, freelancers can work together to form ready-made teams that already know how to collaborate and communicate well with each other and can deploy en masse. This has the benefit of taking vast amounts of the legwork out of hiring, making them more attractive to clients. 

We have also set up and established a set of KPIs that measure the impact of community building. These start by looking at the level of community growth (i.e., the number of members joining and leaving per month), amount of community engagement and readiness to participate in discussion both online and offline. It also measures whether attendance to events is staying the same or increasing week on week. 

We can respond to the results of these measurements by asking members for direct feedback, particularly to find the balance between too much collaboration and too little. It can be hard to judge it from the outset. 

We have recently held hybrid online and offline events to allow for maximum participation but pave the way for more in-person meetings in the future. Allowing members to meet in person was instrumental in forging real connections between freelancers and the network and also made the network more attractive to newer participants. 

What has come out of the freelance network?

As well as the in-person networking events we held in Spain, freelancers had the opportunity to meet us at the Talent R-Evolution event in Madrid. We also kick-started the community with an event in partnership with Aticco, a coworking facility service based in Barcelona and Madrid. Here, we discussed the importance of communities and how physical premises can help to facilitate them. 

The network also produced a webinar where three of our most experienced experts shared tips on how to use their top three freelance tools. The network promotes collaboration in the form of ebooks, with three experts working on each one. Our recent pieces on post-merger integration and digital transformation were a hit. There will be more ebooks to come on other themes that will showcase the sum of talents we have in our network. Recently, another three experts were featured in an article about the telecoms industry that shows the importance of people in our network working together. 

Community members can work together to ensure standards in the Outvise platform’s offering. Together, they can make light work of confirming and validating the expertise of potential candidates. 

There are benefits for the members too, namely through exclusive channels for disseminating useful information and access to workshops on how to succeed as a freelancer. This has included coaching sessions on personal branding and there is more about digital analytics to come. Finally, community members will be able to receive access to discounts on various services such as design, co-working spaces and online courses. 

A freelance network is about more than just making friends

Having seen the operation of how a freelance network functions in other places, we found it most important for every participant to be active. We do not see the point in a community that counts its value on the numbers included instead of the effectiveness of its output.

By creating this network of like-minded individuals we are paving the way for greater collaboration and communication which has several positive results; confronting the isolation felt by many freelancers, raising standards and providing incomparable work opportunities for those in the network. If you are interested in joining our network, signing up as a freelancer is a good place to start.

As the Talent Marketing Manager at Outvise, Tora oversees our freelancer community, ensuring they have the tools and resources to succeed. With a background in Business and Environmental Science and experience in digital marketing, she combines technical understanding with analytical reasoning to drive business and marketing solutions. Having worked internationally, Tora excels in detail-oriented tasks while keeping the big picture in mind. Passionate about digitization and analytics, she strives to create efficient solutions for customers using the latest technologies.

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