Freelance communities: the way forward for independent workers

Leading freelance community owners discuss opportunities and challenges
As part of our largest event for the freelance ecosystem - Freelance Business Month, we invited the leading freelance communities in Europe to a roundtable discussion. We talked about what makes these communities successful, what are the current challenges and opportunities in front of them and why they are an important factor for freelance success.
Our panellists included:

· Barbara Reverberi, Founder of Freelance Network Italia and Simona Mapelli, Community manager of Freelance Network Italia

· Úna Herlihy, Co-Founder of The Indie List

· Peter Janssens, Co-Founders of Betoo.be

· Elina Räsänen, Chief Marketing Officer, XOLO

· Jean-François Bodart, Freelancers in Belgium

The talk was moderated by Elina Jutelyte, Founder of the Freelance Business Community.

You can see the full session below:
What makes a community unique?
Each freelance community is different: we invited our guests to share what makes them stand out.

We learned that there are many things that make a community special, such as the geographical market they cover (like Italy or Ireland), the host platform (such as Facebook or Slack), and the way they are managed financially (through volunteers, a subscription service, etc). With a similar mission - to help freelancers grow - these communities have different ways of achieving this goal. Some of them provide improved networking opportunities, while others provide job listings and help freelancers find assignments. Xolo, for example, provides an admin tool to help register freelance businesses and make accounting easier.
What defines success for a community?
Jean-François Bodart reminded us that success is something that should be measured – his community does this by running surveys and tracking engagement levels. For Peter Jensen, success is more difficult to fit into KPIs – it comes when the community brings together talented people who face the same challenges and can co-create better solutions. For Úna and The Indie List, facilitating as many matches as possible and making sure the opportunities they offer are as beneficial as possible to all parties is the main factor for success.

Elina from Xolo shared that when their customers use their service, the company becomes part of their freelance business. And if the business is successful, the freelancers are more likely to recommend Xolo's service to their peers. This gives the company an incentive to provide a top-quality service to its community, which leads to organic growth.
What challenges do communities face?
Our discussion revealed that one of the biggest challenges is finding ways to monetise the communities and make them financially sustainable.

The Freelancers in Belgium community is run by volunteers and their initiatives are sponsored by partners, but they would like to work directly with the freelancers. The Indie List community is free to join, but Úna worries that if they introduce a joining fee, some members might drop out and switch to free alternatives.

Location can also bring challenges – for example, Belgium is very diverse with a number of spoken languages, so staying relevant to the largest possible group of freelancers can be difficult for communities located there. On the other hand, regardless of the country of operation, the freelance world is global, and landing desirable projects over the endless competition can be a challenge for many independent workers.

For Barbara from the Freelance Network Italy and Elina Jutelyte from Freelance Business Community, the challenges are more universal – staying relevant, advocating for freelance business, growing the number of members and helping them to find solutions to solve their problems.
The way forward
Apart from common difficulties, what unites the communities is their dedication to bringing value to their members. Providing education for freelancers on relevant subjects, mixed with an exchange of contacts and a feeling of comradery is a winning strategy for communities, regardless of location or specialisation.

We are really grateful to all the experts who joined our discussion and helped us learn more about the power of communities and the benefits of joining forces and helping each other.

You can join the Freelance Business Community Slack channel here for free! If you'd like to get in touch with some of the other communities discussed, visit them at: XOLO, Freelance Network Italia, Freelancers in Belgium, The Indie List, Betoo.be.
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