• Jenny Stallard

Finding your freelance tribe

I created this site to help make a new tribe all of my own! Here's why...

Plotting a project like Freelance Feels involved a lot of thinking over a long time followed by a lot of doing over a shorter time. One of the things I did when the idea began to germinate was create a mood board of all the things I wanted Freelance Feels to be, and who I wanted it to offer them to. But most of all, at the top, was a list of encouragement to myself, born out of my experience to that point. And top of that list was the line ‘Create your own gang’. Alongside it was (actually, is!) ‘Ignore the noise of everyone else’.

It feels right to write about this for one of the very first posts here, on as these ideas are a real driving force behind Freelance Feels. Throughout my freelance career I have felt like I am not in the ‘cool gang’. Sound familiar? I bet it does. And I know I’m not alone. Hell, even the people who are perceived to be in the cool gang probably wonder why they’re not in another cool gang.

Adult life is not so dissimilar to childhood in that we are all just in a bigger playground (called work, not school), trying to fit in with the people who we deem cool enough. The cool girls for me were – and often are – the publications which are aimed at women. Ironically, among articles about squad goals and being kind to your sisters was a wall of silence when I pitched or applied for roles.

I was going to name some names in this piece, but I want to avoid that for a couple of reasons. Most of all, it’s that Freelance Feels is about self-employment for everyone. It’s not just about freelance journalism. So, for the purpose of this inaugural post, let’s just refer to ‘clients’ rather than name publications. So, there were some clients I wanted to work with which often didn’t reply to my emails. And boy, it stung. I wanted to be in their gang more than anything.

I often felt like I was a worthy contender. I’d see pieces on their site and think ‘That’s my kind of thing!’. And I’d pitch away. I pitched to different team members, and, so desperate was I to join one particular gang, I even applied for an internship. My email went unanswered.

In fact, many of them did. Not all, it must be said, but many. Each time, it was as if the cool girls in the playground had looked me up and down and decided I wasn’t allowed to play with them.

But many people who work on the ‘job’ side of things often end up freelance themselves. And, you see, the only time you truly realise the emotions of being freelance, of that ‘cool gang’ yearning, is when you’re the freelance one. Many people reach out once they know the evils of chasing payments and unaccepted Linked In requests.

But I’m glad all that happened - all those unanswered emails. Because it obviously set something in motion – and that something was a clear decision that, finally, if a ‘gang’ didn’t want me, then darn it I was going to create my own. I wanted to create a space to explore the feelings without telling anyone they weren’t welcome. I will be podcasting, and I hope that anyone ANYONE freelance can feel they are welcome to listen and interact.

My point here is that this isn’t just the case in the media, I’m sure. Anyone who is self-employed feels the ‘gang’ thing, I’m sure. At a networking event, there are always a group of people who seem to be a clique, and somehow that makes you want to join them all the more. For me, creating my own ‘gang’ and leading it by example (when I work in-house I do my best to always reply to emails) was a way to take control of how I felt about pitching and trying to work with brands I respected. If I created Freelance Feels, people would want to reach out to me. I’d be the person they wanted to talk to. Now I don’t want this to sound like some kind of grudge project! Rather, it’s part of the learning that’s got me to this point. It can be exhausting and mentally debilitating to try and fit in with a group or gang, to try and secure a certain client base, and there sometimes comes a point where you have to give up or keep chipping away.

The key, I think, is to chip away on your own terms. I still have brands that I hold on a pedestal, but I try to keep things in perspective. I pitch to them, and then I just let the pitch sit. I have tried to change my language, to offer them my idea, not say ‘I do SO hope you like it’, but rather 'I've got an idea, shall we talk?'. And I am learning to trust. It might take years for a brand I love to commission me, but it’ll be worth the wait.

Social media can be another place where we see a ‘cool gang’ and wonder if we’ll ever be allowed to join. Remind yourself that everyone is also wondering if they are as cool or worthy as the next person. Focusing in on your own gang gives you a real boost: For me, creating my own ‘gang’ with Freelance Feels has brought huge enjoyment and a boost to my self-esteem. I’m no longer just following, I am trying to lead.

Do you have the same with your freelancing? What’s your gang, did you create your own or do you aspire to be part of one and find that frustrating or upsetting?

Is it healthy to have some ‘cool gangs’ you want to join? I think yes, if you’re sure they’re the one for you. My reaction to this is to consider the values of a brand before I put my pitching heart to them. To consider whether they fit in with my level of cool. We need to remember to make sure the brand fits with us as much as we do with the brand. Take a step back, look at their content, their reach, their website, their social media. Just like you would if you were analysing a character in a ‘cool gang’ in a film, maybe. If work life is the playground, then just do a quick recce. Because you might find the ‘cool gang’ are actually looking for a new gang themselves. They might not be as happy as you think. Creating your own tribe has power. I don’t want to create a ‘cool gang’, which gives others the feeling of exclusion.

That’s going to be a hard challenge, as by default running something like Freelance Feels can perhaps make someone else feel like there’s now a new cool gang… argh! Well I shall do my best to be inclusive. With that in mind, I changed the tagline of Freelance Feels. It was ‘Wellbeing for Women who work for themselves’ but I changed ‘women’ to ‘humans’. After attending some freelance networking events and speaking to men there, I realised that there was no reason for this to be women-only. Men have the same ‘am I in the cool gang?’ feelings, and so men are welcome here, too.

I want to create a gang where everyone’s welcome – but most of all, this was for my own wellbeing. And it’s worked (so far!). Focusing on my own project instead of trying to join in on a big brand’s output has been liberating. I urge you to try it. If a client or brand feels like the ‘cool gang’ and you want to step away from those feelings, it’s time to try focusing on your own gang. Stop looking at their social media and spend a morning polishing your own offering – change your bio or pic or do some new content. And remember, most of all, that the tribe you’ll always fit in with best is your own.

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