Outstanding location – check.
The opportunity to meet people who have been there and done it – check.
Marketing, funding, digital communication, advice and support – check, check and check.
IPSE’s Women in Freelancing Network event (the signature event of 2015) had it all. Central London’s skyline was the backdrop as women from all sectors of the freelancing community gathered on the 27th floor at 20 Fenchurch Street – the famous Walkie Talkie building – on 10th September.
When IPSE set up the Women in Freelancing Network (WFN) in 2014 it was in response to the surge in the number of female freelancers. Research conducted by Kingston University for IPSE shows that in the period 2008 to 2014 the gender divide in freelancing narrowed and 40% of freelancers in the UK (a huge 1.88 million) are now women. The WFN acknowledges and encourages this group, providing a strong base of advice and skill development. It has been steadily growing in support since its launch last year.
An expert line-up took to the stage in the Walkie Talkie building to discuss issues faced by the female freelancing community. Major themes that emerged included self-promotion, digital marketing tools, competition, how to set yourself apart and the ever important question of funding, especially in those fearful early days.
First stop – marketing
Where do you start if you’re a freelancer? How do you set yourself apart from the competition you know is out there? If you want to get ahead, you need to create your own brand. This much was made clear. But this branding must be continuous in every area that you promote yourself. Freelance Digital Marketing Consultant Gemma Went was clear on the importance of being organised across digital channels. “You must remember that you don’t own Twitter. You can’t always control what happens, but you must try to influence and have a voice. All social media should work cohesively as one. If it isn’t a cohesive approach, it can be worse than not using it at all.”
The discussions and points raised on the night sparked debate among the attendees. Digital marketing in particular was a popular topic. The audience recognised it can be a very powerful tool for a freelancer in a world dictated by digital communication.
Next stop – funding
Why is it important and what difference can it make? Many freelancers struggle with securing the financial backing needed to consolidate and enhance their position. This can mean falling short of the mark and sometimes turning back to full-time employment. The resident expert on funding that evening, Simon Day of Howarth Lynch, who didn’t seem phased by being outnumbered in a room full of women, provided some clear insight from the panel on what investors are looking for: “You must make a strong case and be sure of what you are. Ask yourself, ‘Am I a product or a service?’ There are many others out there doing what you’re doing; it is important to be bold and stand out from the crowd in order to secure investment.”
Following a lively panel discussion, the floor was opened to questions, and women freelancers keen to bend the ear of the experts asked some insightful questions. Leah Hutcheon, founder of Appointedd and panel member on the night, said: “The panel discussion drew out lots of compelling debates. It meant that the questions asked afterwards were interesting and pointed.”
Michele Seymour, who runs a boutique consultancy specialising in world-class leadership development and executive coaching, said: “I am very open to listening to best practice advice from experts, and coming to this event by IPSE has certainly involved that. It’s also been immensely useful to discuss with like-minded women and keep my ear to the ground on what’s new and buzzing.”
Networking like a pro
The final highlight of the evening was the development of another skill essential to freelancers – networking. Esther Stanhope, a reputable Impact Coach, talked the audience through the process of relaxing into an event and reassuring yourself that really, you’re just talking to other people. She then immediately sparked conversation and a vibrant atmosphere in the audience, which spilled out into the adjacent room for networking over drinks and canapés.
The Women in Freelancing Network exists to enable women to learn, grow and develop their skillset while making friends and meeting client-leads along the way. Caroline Morgan, Non-Executive Director at IPSE, was there to open the event and said: “We’d like to establish a community which supports women freelancers; providing a friendly face to share advice and ideas, and also offer the opportunity to develop key skills. We’ve made a great start and I hope we can grow and reach out to women freelancers right across the UK.”
WFN will continue to hold events in various formats across the UK. For more information, keep an eye out on the IPSE Events section of our website.
You can join the conversation on Twitter by following @WomenFreelancer
And get all the latest news and articles on the LinkedIn showcase page: Women in Freelancing Network
Penny Haslam was host for the evening and perfectly embodied the role. With over a decade of experience in broadcast journalism, and being a freelancer herself, she enthusiastically discussed problems she had faced with the panel and with the audience. Speaking after the event, Penny said: “IPSE's Women in Freelancing Network is pure professionalism; incisive and slick. It provides the sort of business support that women freelancers can get a lot from.”
IPSE FREELANCER OF THE YEAR 2014
The panel also included current IPSE Freelancer of the Year Rebecca Shipham, exhibition and event designer @ShipsandPigs, who said: “There’s this freelance bubble which can mean you get caught up in your own head. I’ve been doing this for four years and it’s still so important to get feedback at an event like this.”