How to Find Your Community of Freelancing Women
Tia Meyers is the founder of the 10,000-woman Facebook group Freelancing Females. She's also a freelance social media consultant.
You'll love this interview if you're looking for feminist tips on:
1 - Finding your community as a freelancer
2 - Niching down your services and identifying your ideal clients
3 - Transitioning from full-time work to freelance
How did you get your start freelancing?
I was working for a tech company for about two years managing marketing and partnerships, but we went through a large layoff of over 30% of the company after Apple came out with a similar product to ours. It was a hidden blessing for me, because I wasn't thinking about freelance before that. I had been working with a lot of artists and illustrators, and one of the artists reached out to me asking for help on social media. At the time I was still looking for new full-time jobs, but I knew I could use the extra money to pay rent in New York after being laid off. I took her on and really enjoyed it.
Then I went to a small agency that was more in line with what I really wanted to do, which was hospitality and restaurant marketing. There was a lot of verbal abuse in the first month I was there, so I quit. And I questioned myself: “Why am I working full-time when I could make the same amount of money doing the same work on a freelance basis? So that was when I really started to freelance. And that was about two years ago.
It's been a very great experience, but there have also been trials and tribulations. There was really no space for me to go and ask questions. I had been going through a non-payment issue with a client and found out that a couple of other women were also going through the same thing. We kind of banded together. None of us had had that happen before. We weren't sure how to go about it, so I talked to a lot of people who’d previously freelanced. When it comes to not getting paid, you have to be the biggest nuisance possible. Either you pay lawyer fees, or plenty of time passes and maybe your client goes bankrupt in the interim and you never see your money.
I asked a few friends if they would participate in a Facebook group, just so that we could support each other. At that point, everyone I knew was freelancing or had their own little side hustle. My friends invited their friends, and within a year we were almost at 10,000 women.
What made you decide that the group would be specifically for Freelancing Females? What was driving you to build a community of women?
I never realized how many communities were out there until I started Freelancing Females. I knew that if I made the group for men and women, at least to start off with, people wouldn't ask questions. They would be afraid to really share those heart-aching trials with clients. Now we have a discussion called “what to charge,” and the women are the most supportive I've ever seen. People can ask, “Hey, I have this type of project with this many years of experience, and I'm really not sure what rate to ask for.” I’ve never seen a woman go up to a man and ask that question. So it's really created that sense of a supportive community.
Our community is also very diverse in terms of jobs and location. Members come from all over the U.S., to Europe to Australia. We have a haikuist, a sword swallower, a freelance farmer, and then of course freelance designers and everything else in between.
10,000 women in one year is huge growth. What were you doing to continue growing Freelancing Females throughout the year?
I try to be in the Facebook group at least once a day to make sure the conversations are flowing and that everyone is very positive. Every single person who joins the group has to get approved, and every single post has to get approved. If somebody asks the same question that was asked yesterday, I try to send them a direct message letting them know, “Hey, why don't you refer to this post instead so we don't get so much of the same content all the time.” It's been a process, and it's definitely time- consuming. But it’s worthwhile because it keeps everyone highly engaged and they keep the content very high-level.
How do you think freelancers find out about your Facebook group?
I've had women come up to me who have said, “I went to a conference and I really didn't gain as much as I was hoping for, but a friend from the conference referred me to Freelance Females.” A lot of times friends refer their own Facebook friends to the group, which they can do really easily in a box at the top of the group page. That accounts for a big chunk of women. I’d say about 15% are added into the group by another person.
We also have other social media channels. Some people find us through our Instagram account. And in the beginning, I posted to other Facebook groups, just letting people know, “Hey, I have this group of women.” We also try to have offline events, which really boost the community up, because meeting people in real life just keeps your online community so much more successful. It’s been a lot of word of mouth, and it's growing from there. We get between 100 to 150 women a day.
What patterns have you seen in freelancers who are thriving and fulfilled, versus those who are struggling to find clients and gain momentum?
There are a lot of different factors, but one is self-esteem. A lot of women in the beginning are very nervous about calling themselves a freelancer on LinkedIn or telling people that they’re freelancing now from their previous job. That's one of the biggest things in being successful. Because once you get the word out there, people are going to recommend you, and people know people looking for jobs.
Another one: I know networking can be uncomfortable, but getting yourself out there is one of the most important things as a freelancer. If there is a company that you’re interested in working for, reach out. They may not have a project at the time, but don't be afraid to say, “Hey, I'm around the block this week for coffee if you'd like to grab some.” Most people will say yes. Taking down the barrier of, “Let's pick a date and a time,” and just saying, “Why don't you call me, I'll be around this week,” is so much more helpful to getting that initial meeting. Usually they'll keep you in mind for the future, or if they know somebody else they’ll refer you to them.
So I’d say self-esteem, networking, and not staying isolated. Freelance is a very isolating type of job, but it doesn't have to be. Even if you can't afford to go to a co-working space, get yourself out of the house. Take a walk, brainstorm ideas with a friend. It just helps so much to see different perspectives. If you're sitting at your desk all day, you're not going to be as helpful and successful as you'd be taking a walk every once in a while and getting out of the house or brainstorming with other people.
Where have you met your freelancing friends?
I have been very lucky to have met a lot of women through Freelancing Females who have become great friends. But I suggest just sitting at a coffee shop and asking someone next to you, “Hey, do you freelance?” It can be scary, but you can meet some incredible people. By doing that, I met an artist who was creating this illustrated book. And just go to different events. I try to get Freelancing Females members together once a month.
Earlier you said that you started off working with artists and illustrators, and then evolved to work more with hospitality and restaurants. How did you identify your ideal clients and then shift the client base you were serving?
When I first started, I was finding the jobs that were coming to me. They were in tech, healthcare, and restaurants. I really found that I enjoyed working with restaurants and hospitality, because it involved talking to people and community-building. I had grown up with my mom's family, who had owned restaurants. I guess it was some of my curiosity that brought me to that area.
Niching down your services is important after at least the first six months to a year. When I first started, I was doing everything. I would help you with marketing, social media, website, photography. It's great to take on those projects that really challenge you and also have different aspects to them in the beginning, so that you begin to understand what you truly enjoy. But once you do, make sure that you're doing those things, because your work will shine through so much more. Also don’t be afraid of saying to a client, “Hey, I might not be the greatest at photography, but I know I'm really good at social media.” They're going to appreciate you so much more, versus if you try to do it all.
I learned that the hard way myself by trying to do everything in the kitchen sink when I first started. Some of my students in Feminist Incubator have trouble deciding how to niche down, because it feels like they're narrowing their target market. They're worried they'll lose clients outside of their new niche. What advice would you give to other freelancers trying to navigate that fine line?
Usually, once you niche down your services, you actually start to gain more clients. People can go your website and directly understand what they're going to get, versus looking at somebody who does it all. Clients would rather find someone who's very good at social media and someone else who’s very good at design, instead of one-stop shop. Once you start niching down on your services, people recognize your more quickly as, for example, a designer or a specifically a cartoon illustrator.
Also, when you show your personality and your excitement to a client, they're going to hire you just off that. You'll find that there are 1,000 different options for a freelance designer, financial analyst, or HR person. But clients will hire you for your personality.
That’s so important. With my favorite clients, it’s personality fit as much as it is industry. Another question about branding yourself: what are your thoughts on labeling yourself as a freelancer or a consultant?
Freelancer and consultant kind of go hand-in-hand. I call myself a freelance social media consultant, because a social media manager is different from a social media consultant. People see freelance and know I work for myself. If I just said consultant, people might think I was a consultant at a company working full-time. So that's why I really try to keep freelance at the forefront. It’s becoming more common, too. By 2020, about 50% of the workforce in the U.S. will be doing some kind of freelance work.
I think the rise of freelance is fantastic. It’s a great lifestyle. And the more the merrier.
It's definitely a great lifestyle. It gives you flexibility. When we created 9-to-5’s and 9-to-8’s and 9-to-10’s, that was a totally different time. People are starting to question why you need to be in an office all day long. Why couldn't you just go to a workout class and clear your head for a little bit? If you're constantly sitting at your computer for eight hours a day, you're not going to be doing your best work. You need to take those walks, you need to live a normal life where you can leave your desk, go get lunch, or go to a client meeting. Some days we freelancers will be working until 10 o'clock, but it's working on our own terms, which just makes it so much more palatable than working for somebody else until 11 at night. I honestly work more now than I ever did as a 9-to-5 worker, but it's so much more worthwhile.
I relate 100%. Last question: How can readers support your work?
Joining our Facebook group is the biggest thing. We will be coming out with a website in the fall, so keep an eye out for that. Follow us on our Instagram, @FreelancingFemales. And come see us at events. We also allow everyone to host their own meetups through the group. So if you're in Kansas, or LA, or anywhere, and you just really want to meet with other freelancers, come into the group and post a meetup. That's really what we're here for. We want to foster connections and grow the community that way.