2020 saw a surge in freelance communities being formed. Being associated with a community is important, however, there are a few things every freelancer needs to know.
I decided to write this article after having numerous conversations with freelancers about communities. Mostly hearing their complaints, I realized that we need to clarify this subject.
One says there are too many of them right now. Another says that they don't know which one to choose. Someone else said that they don't believe in the missions of the communities.
It is a very intricate topic and it may cause a couple of questions or remarks from the public, but my main message below is this: watch out for organisations that are masking themselves as free communities to pursue their personal commercial goals.
I may also be speaking against myself right now, as Freelance Business is a free community. We don't charge freelancers to join us, instead, we are working with partners to raise the funds needed for other activities. We've deliberately refused to create a membership organisation.
Freelance Business, even if it is called a community, is by nature the producer of freelance events and masterclasses, which turned out to be global, and we are working hard towards shedding light on the freelance economy matters, recognising all the players.
Now, since I clarified this from the beginning, let me share a little guide that may help you to look at things a bit more realistically.
Here is what you need to consider when you are engaged with a community.
1. Mission of the organisation
Ask organisation leaders about how they started and why they do what they do. Quite often such communities are being formed via social media channels first, which are developed with one goal - to monetise them later. Nothing against monetising the networks. Just filter appeals of such networks that ask you to 'help them grow' for free. If this is a community for freelancers, their first concern should be how to help their members grow and make more money.
Some networks camouflaged under not-for-profit status to carry the message of ''advocating for community'', but have they done any advocating in reality? Before giving them your time and money, look at their past record.
2. Do they promote free freelance work?
The goal of every community, in my opinion, should be strengthening freelance work. The moment freelance communities start recruiting freelancers and not paying them it's a sign to go away (read 'RUN AWAY' as fast as you can).
Every-single-freelance-pro would say that you should not do your work for free. Neither for a rainbow future that these organisations promise, nor because they are so nice to you. You can do pro-bono work to gain experience or to support a well-defined mission, but then it should be very short-term.
We have seen organisations engaging freelancers to do 'community' work for their own personal commercial interest.
I can get a rotten tomato now: at Freelance Business we work with all our speakers for free. Let me explain one delicate moment here. We don't pay speaker honorarium for several reasons:
1. We give a stage to starting freelancers and established experts. To be fair we need to keep the standard for everyone.
2. Our events are free to attend. Once we start making money on attendees or generate enough sponsorship funds to cover event and office operations, it will be fair to pay speakers too.
3. We believe that speaking exposure helps freelancers and freelance economy players to gain more visibility, therefore we encourage inexperienced speakers to join as well to test their efforts in public speaking.
Having said that, I am still very uncomfortable with this fact, but I hope it illustrates the difference between engaging freelancers long-term in your community growth and giving them extra exposure at an event.
3. Is their business model clear to you?
The business model is not a complicated thing to explain. Communities are either making money on their members, or partners, or both. An unclear business model does not promise anything good out of it.
4. Can they explain how they see the freelance economy in the next five years and why they do what they do?
No? Run away!
5. Is a Facebook group a community?
Depends. If you find what you are looking for, great, stick to it. It is mostly a communication channel, that at the end of the day will be monetised by their admin. I bet, you might have heard 'we run this community for free' and then ask you to do something in return.
6. Are you being asked to dedicate your time, finances, etc to a bigger goal?
Ask for their track record first to estimate their ability to deliver on that big fat goal they promised. Are you being involved in this project as an equal partner? You may end up spending your precious time working for someone for free. Go look for clients that will pay you instead.
7. Who is in the lead?
Check who is running this organisation. Is it a freelancer currently (or in the past) who is able to earn a good living and can lead by example? Is it a successful entrepreneur or an opportunist taking advantage of the fast-growing freelance economy?
8. Do they promote fair business practices?
9. Is it an inclusive organisation?
I have heard stories of freelancers being kicked off communities just because of the personal preferences of the community owners. I understand the rules of engagement have to exist but do not accept people's labeling and personal misinterpretations.
10. Does this organisation provide you...
...with connections you are looking for, experience you are lacking, support that you are needing? Then forget all the above and enjoy. :-)