Today I’m joined by Ed Goodman who is a Freelance Digital Marketing / Social Media Trainer, and Founder of the award-winning Freelance Heroes – an online community of 7500+ UK freelancers.

As I’ll explain in the episode, I was super keen for Ed to come on the show because I really wanted to learn more about why he set up Freelance Heroes and how the wonderful sense of community is helping combat loneliness and isolation for those who are working on their own.

We also talk about Freelance Heroes Day and how the event’s hashtag was trending on Twitter, all the way through to what tech he relies on to run his business.

More Ed-related things:
https://freelance-heroes.com/
twitter.com/FHChat
https://www.facebook.com/groups/freelanceheroes/

 

Show Notes

 

Victoria   

Ed, so thank you so much for joining me today. I am rather nervous about having you with me today, I have to confess because when I first started this whole podcast idea, your name was literally at the top of my wishlist. And I just thought, “Oh gosh, how am I going to just ask him whether he’ll grace me with his presence on this podcast?” And I just thought, “Oh, let’s just go for it.” So I ended up recording you that little video and like, “Hi, I’ve got a question for you. Can you help me?” So thank you so much for responding positively to that and joining me today.

Ed             

Thank you very much for asking me, genuinely honoured and always happy to be asked to share the story of Freelance Heroes. I’m looking forward to our chat.

Victoria         

It was primarily because of your Freelance Heroes work that I wanted to contact you because I feel like you are doing such a fantastic role in the freelance world, by setting up the Freelance Heroes community. And I say that because when I first started working remotely, I was actually an employed Virtual Assistant and there were a few of us and we were all on Skype every day. So if we needed to bounce an idea around or if we had a question, people were just an instant message away. So when I left that and started my own business, I immediately felt quite isolated.  

It was quite an interesting process for me to translate that into feelings of being quite lonely, to be honest with you.

And if it wasn’t for some of the online communities that I found online, including Freelance Heroes, I would have felt quite down about it all, wondering if I’ve made the right decision.

So, can you tell me a little bit about what Freelance Heroes is and how it’s helping with the whole community vibe of freelancers across the UK?

Ed              

Freelance Heroes is a community. It’s an online community, a Facebook group presently, which has 7,500 freelancers from across the UK, all sharing kind of empathy and support for each other. It’s not a place where people can just go and sell their services because no one joins social media for that, right? 😉 But it’s a place where people can go into whatever their issue is. Often it’s late payment, it could be an app issue, it could be a confidence issue in certain areas.     

They can post a question and know that the people who are going to answer it are other freelancers and they’re not going to be judged on their decision. They’re not going to be criticised for getting it wrong because ultimately that’s how we all learn. And it’s a place where solutions can be brought and we could all move on because ultimately we all want to be successful. We all have goals that we want to aim for, whether that’s to continue being a freelancer for forever and a day or whether it’s to build an agency or something else. But if we can give other people a lift on the way and help them to be successful, which the law of reciprocity then suggests that they’re there for us when we need it, then everyone wins.

Victoria          

What was it that prompted you to start that community in the first place?

Ed                

So I was party to a conversation. I was eavesdropping, I’ll be honest, a conversation at a networking event between an established photographer and someone who was just starting out. Now the one was starting out was rightfully asking the established one, “What tips can you give me to help me kind of start to build my business, anything?”

And the established one decided to shut the door in her face and say, “Well, I don’t want to be giving my secrets away to help you.” And clearly everyone I tell this story to agrees that’s not the right way forward.

Victoria          

Not particularly collaborative or in line with the law of reciprocity that you mentioned earlier.

Ed                

The solution had to be found. So I thought: Well, if she could ask a simple question of an established photographer that was 100 miles away, then that barrier would be removed, even if I don’t agree that the barrier is there in the first place. So I went home and created a freelance group and called it Freelance Heroes and that’s literally how I started.          

This was in May 2016. I sent the Facebook group link to freelancers who I knew and quickly they started adding freelancers that they knew and so on and so forth. Then suddenly the word gets around on other social networks and then Facebook started adding it in suggested groups. Then we go and win an award and before we know it, we’ve got 7,500 in there and it’s extraordinary.

Victoria          

Well, I think we need to backtrack and talk about those awards then, tell us more!

Ed               

Yeah, see how I subtly slipped that in there! It was the IPSE, The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed, they have their freelancer of the year awards and we won ambassador of the year, this year, which I’m absolutely thrilled about. Because again, these aren’t the reasons why you do it, right? Freelance Heroes is a free community. Whatever happens, it always will be and it’s a lovely accolade to receive when it happens.

For me, the things that bring it home are often some of the more sensitive discussions that take place. I remember once, not that long ago, there was a woman who posted quite openly and honestly how she had 66p left in her account and she just didn’t know what to do.       

Now, it would’ve been easy to say, “Well, you shouldn’t have let yourself get to this point.” But that wasn’t going to give her the solution that she needed. If she was going to get knocked for it, she still would have only had 66p in her bank account. But there weren’t any of those. What actually transpired was, using her words, she put together two A4 pieces of paper, full of suggestions to help get her business off the ground. She said she could have cried at some of the positivity that came from that. I genuinely feel that, to me, that’s the greatest award that the group can have, but it’s always nice to be presented with a physical award.

Victoria          

Oh yeah, who doesn’t like a bit of social proof every now and then?

Ed                

Yeah, absolutely, but that’s the group, it’s the people that’s in it that make it grow. And yeah, fine, it needs moderation and facilitating. But it’s the people that are in it that make it grow to what it is.

Victoria         

I think the great thing about that particular community, is that it’s not industry-specific. There are great benefits to come from ones where you’re networking with people within your industry, particularly from a referral or a collaboration perspective. What you’ve managed to create is something that’s very well rounded and you’re getting input from lots of different backgrounds and professional industries and all of that good stuff. It’s just a slightly different take on the advice and all of that good stuff. And I think going back to that lady that you just mentioned, if we take a moment to try and put ourselves in her shoes, I can imagine it takes a lot of guts and courage to post something like that in the first place and to put your hand up and go, “I need some support.”

Tell me about how, in the group, you’re almost combating loneliness and isolation, in her instance and in other instances as well.

Ed                

Well, I mean that’s just it. It is just about the loneliness and isolation. So firstly, going back to your point about the different industries within it. Ultimately there are hundreds, we did a survey recently to find out what the skills of Freelance Heroes were and there were over 200 different business types in there. But if you strip away that first level of service that we provide, we all have similar challenges in terms of credit control, time management, marketing challenges, sales, making sure that we’re paying the bills in our feast or famine chosen life. So actually, collaboration aside, whether I’m a social media trainer talking to an accountant, talking to a copywriter – very different businesses – but we all share the same pain points and share in our experiences around that.

There are two primary rules in terms of accessing the group. One of which is you have to be a freelancer and I know that sounds obvious. But I get a lot of people trying to join the group who work with freelancers, who employ freelancers, who provide a service that freelancers need. And I know the one I struggle with the most is those who employ freelancers because I never want to close the door on freelance opportunity. But the minute you start letting a wider circle into the group, the minute you start watering down the impact of freelancers helping themselves.

And the second rule is the fact that it’s UK freelancers only and not for any xenophobic reasons, but purely because you can understand the challenges that other freelancers face when you can picture their working environment.

Not their physical location, but their taxation responsibilities, the kind of business ethics, communication style that clients have. Even if you take other English speaking countries, we’re very different to America in terms of cultural differences in the business community.

Often when I see groups, they’re so much more sales orientated and so often we’re not like that. I’m not saying one’s right and one’s wrong, but it’s far easier to get that empathy when you keep it all kind of far more contained. So that’s the premise of the group.

We also have a physical get together every year called Freelance Heroes Day, which was originally just a social media event, but is now kind of a physical event over in the Midlands, the other side of the Midlands to where you are, Victoria, but in Wolverhampton.

It’s a place where it’s a day of learning. I run a poll around October, November time going, “Right, what do you guys want to hear about the most?” And then take the top five and then go and find the speakers to deliver them. And it’s a day of learning. It’s a day of meeting people who you feel like are old friends you’ve never actually met before because they’re in the group. And it’s a way of kind of physically celebrating freelancing together in the day. But that isolation point is paramount and is for me, I think the biggest need of freelancers across the country. Whether that’s a conscious or subconscious need.

No freelancer is an island.

Ed Goodman

And although the buck stops with us, the decisions that we make are our own decisions about how much guidance we get to help us make it. We need that guidance, no freelancer can ever be a successful freelancer without a good strong support network behind them. And this group is kind of providing a platform for that and it’s great to see it happen.

Victoria         

Fantastic. So this Freelance Heroes Day, what prompted you to decide to do that and get everybody together?

Ed                

Because I like a celebration. I like a party, is the short answer to that one!

The group started on the 16th of May 2016, so the first Freelance Heroes Day was on May the 16th, 2017. And it was merely a social media event, where the objective was to get freelancers to kind of shout out about other freelancers who’ve helped them on their journey, rather than celebrate themselves and to also share their working environment and to kind of give tips for other freelancers. It was very much a great celebratory social media event and we topped the trending charts, so we must have done something right that day.

Victoria          

Did you? Was that Twitter?

Ed              

It was Twitter, yes.

Victoria          

Fantastic, amazing.

Ed            

So that was good and then I thought, “Well actually, we can’t beat that, we can replicate it. But I mean once you hit the top of the trending, you can’t do it again.” So we thought, “Okay…”

And I should say we because about six months after starting the group, I brought in someone to help me. Annie Brown. Me and her are very different, but get on brilliantly because I think we’re so different in our style and she often defines us as: she’s the chef in the back of the kitchen and I’m front of house. So it works and it’s brilliant and it wouldn’t be where it is without her. So we decided that the next stage from a social media event was a physical event on top of the social media event.

We ran a poll to ask, “Where in the country do you want it?” Removing London because everything was London centric. There’s obviously exceptions, Brighton SEO and Cambridge Social Media Day, etc.. But we wanted one that wasn’t London. So Midlands was the one that came back, found a venue. The beautiful Grand Station and ran a day. We had about 50 people turn up for the first one. We had our second one in 2019, this year, where we had over 100 people come to that one. And we’ll be doing a two-day event next year because May the 16th is a Saturday. So we have to work this one out. I think there’s going to be a two-day event next year.

Victoria        

Oh brilliant, so if people want to get involved in that, what’s the best way just to make sure that they’re on the mailing list or that they stay in contact with you?

Ed               

Well needless to say, join the group. 😉

Victoria         

Of course, naturally!

Ed                

But even if you go to www.freelance-heroes.com, then all the details will be released on there and you can sign up for the mailing list, so that when… we don’t have these newsletters that go out regularly, it’s merely just when the details of the next even are released, then you can be on the first list.

Victoria          

Oh, that’s super exciting.

Ed             

It is and there’s something about that face-to-face and I know a lot of people, there was one woman who came to Freelance Heroes Day this year, who said that she stood on the platform at her train station at home. Her anxiety had prevented her from coming the previous year and she was um-ing and ah-ing about whether to go this year, even though she had a ticket and she stood on the platform and nearly turned around and walked home. But she went with it and she came and she was thrilled that she did. I don’t say that because it’s a testimony to the event. I say that because actually there were people that she trusted there, even though she’d never met them before.

And secondly, because actually people don’t think enough that freelancing is a feast or famine environment and often pulls on our emotional and mental well-being strings in a way that we just can’t prepare for. So you might be the best VA in the world and I suspect if you’re not, you’re certainly up there, Victoria. But my point is you might be the best VA in the world, but…

If you’re not mentally prepared for the challenges that a freelancer can face or, more to the point, you don’t have that support network at the time that it hits, then you’re in real trouble.

Ed Goodman

And that, for me, is ultimately where Freelance Heroes comes in. It’s not necessarily about sharing which bank account you should open your freelancing account with or tips for credit control. It’s about actually giving you that lamppost to lean on. And again, it happens every day.

Victoria          

So when you were at that event and you were meeting people for the first time, because I think it’s so true what you were saying earlier – they’re like friends that you’ve never met before. And I know when I’ve been doing this podcast series and doing the different recordings, it turns out that I’m suddenly face-to-face with somebody, talking to somebody who I feel like I’ve known for years yet we’ve never even got on a phone call before, let alone seen each other in person. But we’ve kind of like created that foundational friendship behind the scenes, purely through online community. So what was it like for you to meet people face-to-face at long last?

Ed           

A little frustrating because everyone wanted to come say hi or I wanted to say hi to everyone else. It’s like your own wedding, you don’t really get a chance to enjoy it so much because you’re too busy making sure everyone else is. So it was brilliant. I mean, I can’t describe the specifics with that other than those words you’ve already mentioned. It was a great opportunity just to meet someone, to know that I know them, having never met them and just to give them a bear hug and just say, “Thank you very much. Thank you for being you. Thank you.”

And that’s again, part of the reason why it’s called Freelance Heroes is because a freelancer and Freelance Heroes is two different things. It’s about celebrating freelancing, but Freelance Heroes are those who, on their way to achieving their goals and whatever goals they’re unselfish about that, it’s just taking other people with them on that journey, to help them. And the people in the room had done that. So it was an amazing way to say, “Just thank you, thank you for being you, thank you for being so open minded. Thank you for having that positive attitude towards it.” And it really was a great celebration and I slept well that night.

Victoria          

Exciting, you keep setting that bar higher and higher and higher, so no pressure on all of that.

Ed                

I’m a fool to myself I think. But it’s a Saturday and I know that some people will benefit from that and some people will be alienated by that. So let’s cross our bridge by doing it over two days and we’ll have some workshops in those times as well so people can get some practical sharing of knowledge too. And the second day was very much the same as the first, we had twice as many people and that was ultimately it. And it is just the knowledge and some of the speakers on those days as well.

I remember one of them was about building goal setting and I remember I asked the brilliant Kelly Molson, who runs a digital agency, Rubber Cheese and she started out on her own and she said, “Well I’ve never done any public speaking before.” I went, “Yeah, you have, I’ve seen you talk at networking events, small groups.” “Yeah, but never a big events and also, I’m the worst goal-setter in the world.” And I went, “That’s why you’re the perfect person for it because you’ve got an agency, knowing full well that you would’ve done things differently to get to this point.”

And it’s not about picking someone who is an accomplished keynote speaker, but actually picking someone, who can tick the box and say, “Actually, I’ve done that.” And again, I got someone to do SEO, who’d never done public speaking before. But they’re the best person I know at SEO. So it was great for them to do it, but equally, it’s a great opportunity for people in the room to learn from the best. I’m looking forward to seeing what topics we end up having to discuss next year. And I suspect much would be the same, but that’s fine. Often a refresh is a good thing.

Victoria         

I know that you’re juggling Freelance Heroes with other commitments though. So tell us about what else you’re doing and how on earth are you finding that happy blend between all of those different hats that you’re wearing?

Ed              

I’m a digital marketing and social media trainer, that’s my freelance job. That’s the thing I get paid for because it’s not Freelance Heroes, that’s for sure. So it’s the digital marketing training and it’s either go into companies and deliver in house training designed to whatever their digital marketing needs, weighted more towards social media than anything else or open courses. And I’ve got one in London tomorrow. So yeah, that’s ultimately what I do and I don’t deliver training every day. Obviously pitching to clients, trying to pick up the phone, do some cold calling, write courses, send proposals off.

And amongst all of that, facilitate the Freelance Heroes group and they’re the two main things that my focus on and also because I want Freelance Heroes to have a next stage. I have done this for free over the last three and a half years and I don’t regret that or begrudge that in any way. And as I say, the Freelance Heroes group, will forever remain a free group as it is, but I am building a website to go alongside it, which will be a subscription-based website that you won’t have to join if you’re a member of the group. It’s entirely up to you. It’s like an attachment to it but not a prerequisite and it will have other aspects to it which are all still just being confirmed. But yeah, that’s in the process too. So it won’t affect Freelance Heroes but it’s kind of taken it to its next level.

Victoria        

Okay, but still something for freelancers, still with that sense of community, but with some combined learning material along the way. Is that what it is?

Ed                

Absolutely and I think that’s the key point you meant there, is the heartbeat of this is the sense of community because there are so many tools available and you can ask freelancers, “What’s the best app? What’s the best bank account? What’s the best bookkeeping?” And all that and they’ll give it to you and ultimately you don’t need me to give you a website to say, “Well here’s what you should sign up to.” And website full of affiliate links, so to actually have something that is a sense of community.

One of the greatest abilities for Freelance Heroes to grow as much as it was, is it’s on Facebook. One of the biggest threats to Freelance Heroes is it’s on Facebook.

Not just because Facebook can pull the plug, we run into a good group and Facebook have a better reporting mechanism for those who don’t. But secondly, because a lot of people don’t want to join the group because there are so many members in it. So partly the website, the subscription, which will be chargeable separate to the Freelance Heroes group, will be an opportunity for people to converse in a smaller group, but continuing the same ethos. And as I say, there’ll be other features and benefits as well. But the sense of community that you mentioned will be at the epicentre and will be what drives the next stage.

Victoria      

Will that be on Facebook again or will you be looking at different platforms?

Ed                

No, so it’ll be on its own. It’ll be a website on its own. What I probably will do is integrate a Slack channel into it, to make that the forum side of it. But I don’t want to reinvent the wheel. If we’ve got a Facebook group, we’ve got a Facebook group. I don’t need to have a secondary Facebook group because the danger is that just gets the same size that Freelance Heroes is now. So yeah, we’ll probably integrate a Slack channel into the membership and use that as a smaller community tool. But community will still be the middle of it, but no, it won’t be on Facebook.

Victoria         

Cool, okay and then you mentioned Slack, is that something that you use on a regular basis and is there other tech that would kind of be in your top 10 list or top 5 list?

Ed            

Slack’s not something I use on a regular basis, but there’s a lot of forum plugins. So at the moment the Freelance Heroes site is built on WordPress and I don’t have the capital to be able to build something entirely bespoke. So being able to create a forum within it, there are some apps on there, but they’re not all entirely as stable as I would like it to be. They’re a bit clunky and a bit 1990s in terms of forums. I think Slack is the best model and I have used it before and I find it’s always been a challenge for freelancers because we’re not all collaborative and collaboration is a by-product of freelancing.

It’s a brilliant thing to aim towards, but it’s not the reason people go freelancing. So when you’re not having a collaborative, you’re not working on the same project. Slack therefore, needs to be used in a way that’s incredibly different for the way that Slack is normally used in companies. That’s going to take a bit of a mind shift to get my head around that before it’s released, let alone then kind of selling it to the wider freelance community. But I have looked at others, but I keep coming back to Slack.

Victoria        

It sounds like you’ve got a lot of ideas bubbling underneath the surface.

Ed            

I think it’s enabled me to achieve some brilliant things, but also probably be my downfall.

Victoria       

What, like shiny object syndrome? Is that what you’re thinking?

Ed           

Very possibly.

Victoria    

And what about the tech that you use in your own business? Are there any systems or products that you rely on quite heavily to do your day job or any of that stuff?

Ed                

So I’m a man of simple means. I try and keep things as simple as possible and I’m not one to look for a shiny new app for the sake of it. But the tools that I probably access on a more regular basis than anything else are the Google suite of products, Gmail and such. Facebook obviously because of Freelance Heroes, and Outlook – I’ve got a few email addresses to manage and then, dare I say it, for fear of a few eye-rolling from a few listeners, I still deliver training on PowerPoint.

Now, I’m a massive fan of PowerPoint, but when you’re delivering something that’s quite techie and has some theory behind it, then you need to display it on screen and PowerPoint’s still the simplest tool for me, to enable me to do that. And there were some other tools that I love, Google Keep is great for note taking and Trello as well is how Annie and I often kind of run Freelance Heroes Day and communicate with each other. And then MailChimp for our own email lists, for when we send things out and then Ticket Tailor is what we use for selling tickets for the events, which I prefer to Eventbrite.

Victoria         

Oh really, what’s your reason for that?

Ed            

It’s just that it’s a nicer site. It’s a difficult one because people go to Eventbrite and it has kind of an ability to add on more, but it’s a cleaner site, the flexibility to design your ticket is I think a lot nicer and also, it enables you to invest in certain aspects of the event because you don’t wait till two weeks after the event before the pay-out. And also, the commission’s lower. So that’s also going to be a bonus because you pay a monthly fee, rather than a commission on a ticket.

Victoria           

A lot of people go to Eventbrite perhaps because they’re searching for a particular keyword event in a location. So I’m guessing you’ve got your email list, so you can send people directly to the site. They’re not necessarily searching – you’re literally putting the link in front of them.

Ed             

Yeah, absolutely and the main traffic comes from our website, comes from the email list and then also of course from the Freelance Heroes group as well. There’s a captive audience within there. There is an argument that says we should sell tickets on Eventbrite as well, perhaps. But actually, we’d exceeded our ticket targets for both years. So I don’t feel like I’m missing anything from that.

Victoria          

No, so see you Eventbrite, we don’t need you anymore! Close down that account.

Oh, fabulous, so if you weren’t doing Freelance Heroes and if you weren’t doing all of your lovely social media training, how do you think you’d be spending your time?

Ed         

Job hunting probably.

The reason I went freelancing is because I want to spend more time with my family, spend more time at home. I’m not a man of material desires. I don’t want a fast car and a holiday every other week. But I want to be able to pick up my boys or take them to school more frequently. And I’ve been, too often, travelling, getting up at 6am and not getting home till late. Travelling into London or training to wherever, yeah sure, there were times when I had to stay overnight.

Most of my training tends to be in London, but it could be in Birmingham. I’ve been in Manchester this year, Scotland, even Saudi Arabia earlier on this year. So it does take me around, but I spend more time at home than I ever done before and I’m really happy with that. So in terms of what that job would be, I couldn’t tell you. I was going to say podcast host, but I feel like there are clearly better people than me at that, as I’m looking at right now. So yeah, I don’t know what it would be.

Victoria         

I’m still learning, it’s all a work in progress.

Well, Ed, thank you so very much for joining me on today’s show. I really do appreciate your time and take it easy.

Ed          

Oh no, thank you very much, it’s been an honour to have the chat with you. I love telling the story of Freelance Heroes, so thank you for letting me do so.

So over the next few episodes, I’m going to be having some fantastic guests coming in to speak with me about all of the issues relating to building a remote working business and all of the tech issues and the tech challenges that building a team and building a trust along the way as well. So I hope you enjoy it. If you have any questions, drop me an email. It’s podcast@victoriatretis.co.uk.

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