When I first started as a writer and photographer, I was unsure of what steps I needed to take to advance my freelance career. And since I was working by myself, I didn’t have a mentor I could turn to or ask for advice. Luckily, I found support and mentorship from the unlikeliest of places.
Enter Facebook Groups. A friend referred me to a freelancing community that she was a member of, and from there I sought out other related networks. I ended up joining several of these groups because some jobs and leads were only posted in one group, and not being connected meant you could miss the right opportunity. These communities were a great resource for freelancers to find work, hire other freelancers, help each other develop social media followings, or give and receive advice.
Often, the groups that I found the most welcoming and helpful were aimed at female-identifying and racialized individuals.
Within these groups, the members felt comfortable speaking up against problems they faced – such as microaggressions from male peers – or asking for help from mentors in their field without the pressure of the male gaze. While not every issue that is brought up is limited to the experience of those who are not cisgender men, the value of being within a safe space was immeasurable.
Copywriter Jessica Grajczyk started the Toronto chapter of Girl Gang with the blessing of the original Vancouver chapter when she moved to Toronto in 2013. “The group is for cis and trans women, as well as gender non-binary, gender fluid and femme-identified folks,” she said. “It is specifically for these people because they face challenges in their professional lives that cis men do not, especially in certain sectors where leadership is largely still dominated by men.”
Many members are happy to offer advice in their field without worry that newcomers will compete with them for clients. There are several discussions daily where freelancers openly discuss rates, issues with rude clients and how to deal with them, or just have a chat with others who can empathize over the same problems.
“I have always found women-only groups make it easier to show up authentically and be vulnerable,” said Lana Karapetyan, the founder of Women Who Freelance (WWF), a network for female-identifying creative freelancers. Though first started in Toronto, it has since expanded to chapters in other major Canadian cities as well.
“Women freelancers face unique challenges – the most significant one of them being achieving equal pay for equal work,” she said. “I wanted to create a safe space where members would feel comfortable openly discussing topics like financial insecurity, mental health, rate negotiations and more. I strongly believe that when you’re surrounded by people who’ve had similar experiences as you and share similar struggles, it can become a true source of empowerment.”
Most of the group administrators moderate the community on a volunteer basis, often while working at their full-time job and on freelance side-gigs. Ms. Karapetyan started WWF in 2019 when she began working as a marketing strategist freelancer. Without access to mentorship, she decided to create her own community to connect with other women freelancers in the city.
“Freelancing can be incredibly isolating,” Ms. Karapetyan. “Being able to engage in relevant conversations with people who truly get it can do wonders for reversing some of those lonely emotions you deal with when you’re self-employed. I can’t stress the importance of having a network to tap into for advice to help you navigate the freelance world.”
If you’re looking to grow your career, try searching for a Facebook Group or a similar networking group in your area. The best online communities have administrators that oversee pending posts and moderate weekly discussions so that posts stay on topic and will weed out any disrespectful members if necessary.
Administrators and active communities foster each other in many ways, such as answering group questions and offering feedback, sharing helpful freelance resources such as tax and accounting software, creating directories for recruiters to seek out capable freelancers, or creating spreadsheets where freelancers can openly share their current rates of pay as a way for new freelancers to determine their starting rates or negotiate salaries.
Whether you’re a website developer, chocolatier or illustrator, there’s a niche for everyone – and you may be surprised to see the amount of support your community can give you.
Karen K. Tran is a writer, photographer, and various odd-job freelancer based in Guelph, Ont. She graduated from the University of Guelph in 2018. She is the leadership lab columnist for May, 2021.
This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about the world of work. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab and guidelines for how to contribute to the column here.
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