Welcome to the 2020 Freelance Jungle retrospective – where we look at what has occurred with your support via the Patreon in the year, 2020. I am getting into the habit of creating a Patreon crowdfunding retrospective analysis for the Freelance Jungle. Partly to see what worked, partly to see what didn’t, partly to demonstrate to people the value, partly because it helps breakdown those feelings of uselessness that can sometime plague my anxiety-ridden head.
This blog is a presentation of that Patreon crowdfunding retrospective (be thankful you don’t have to read all twenty five pages hahahaha).
Last year, when the flying monkeys reigned and life shifted dramatically (aka COVID-19 pandemic), something weird happened. Me, who is always naturally anxious, felt calm. A calm I believe I hadn’t felt in several years. I felt a strange ability to connect with the hardship, soothe my brain, and get on with the job.
It translated into two areas:
a) Not feeling personally anxious
b) Embracing Patreon
Making the Patreon work in 2021 is the aim of the game. Here’s a snapshot of the magic YOU, you wonderful supporters, helped create in notes from the 2020 Freelance Jungle retrospective. The 2021 stuff will be shown elsewhere because this is a little long.
This time last year, we had our first cases of COVID-19 in Australia. As someone who does a lot of health writing, I could sense where this was headed. One of the things I did throughout February and March with the help of Nicole (doing press releases and advising on press), Hayley (sharing content and feeding info back) and Jinny (with web work to support the petition) was push for freelancers to get included in JobKeeper.
How we did it:
· I made myself available for any press that would have me (that meant speaking to Sydney Morning Herald, ABC Illawarra, Radio National and countless other sources)
· Newsjacked every single video press conference I was available for to push the petition and make noise on rights
· Spoke to advocacy and activist organisations on how to maintain pressure.
Your Patreon funds gave me the time to be able to push for that to occur. The end result was that freelancers were included on JobKeeper. That isn’t only a Freelance Jungle win but by golly being able to add our voices to other groups pushing for recognition certainly helped. And you gave us the time and space to make that happen.
Dedicated support for stress during COVID-19
Here’s how things can change. I started writing about self-care and pivoting it to match COVID content by February. It got back to me that I was a butt of a few jokes and a few side-of-mouth online comments as a catastrophiser and other semi-nasty comments. That was hard and I wrote a lot about it in my journal because I was only ever wanting to help people.
For me, the 2020 Freelance Jungle retrospective is validation that I was on the right track. Not just with helping people but also upping my production and exploring ideas that resonated with the freelancers that back the Patreon (Pinkies).
I am glad I persisted in writing the content and integrating it into content that was already scheduled as well as charting out new stuff, despite feeling hurt at times by the comments. I also took the book I had written (all 65K words) and chunked it into what would later become “How to keep working when you’re dying on the inside”.
Funds via Patreon made it possible to:
· Pivot the content I had already written to suit prevailing conditions
· Tear the book apart and turn it into a course to support self-care (how to keep working when you’re dying on the inside – this will also return this year but in a different format)
· Be there online when people started needing extra help as clients started cancelling
· Made it possible to offer DOI on the Patreon rather than as a more expensive online offering
· Create a dedicated section for COVID-19 information
· Ignore the nasty comments and keep going without feeling as though I was wearing a tin foil hat
· Research and schedule content for shutdown and wake up to help reduce stress
The content in the COVID-19 section of the blog was the highest traffic grossing of 2020. It also helped a lot of people feel better about having to change their circumstances, lose their clients and pivot the way they did their freelancing business.
That included some online chat based, video call based and email-based suicide and crisis interventions and referrals to appropriate support services.
You can be proud to say your Patreon funds not only helped people feel better about the pandemic, you also helped people avoid hurting themselves and gain a friendly push towards appropriate crisis support services. And you helped me feel OK about my decisions then and now by demonstrating your support through the analytics, Patreon and subsequently, the analysis that is the 2020 Freelance Jungle retrospective.
PS: to the meanies, thanks for testing me and giving me something to challenge my ideas. It does help to have a circuit breaker to sanity check the creativity and the panic. But can I ask a favour? Instead of criticising what I create, I challenge you to turn that criticism into creation of your own. I’d love to see your ideas, art and creativity present an alternative to what I do so that there are more people solving the problems freelancers face. That way, we all win when I piss you off instead of it being lost in gossip! In fact, thanks again because you’ve inspired me to setup a challenge this year that centres around creating over criticism. Jess and I have been talking and I am super excited by it. So yeah, if I boil your potato, bring it to the challenge! <throws gauntlet with a wink>.
Increased online socialising
While your funds would usually used to advertise our face-to-face events, COVID put an end to them in the most unceremonious way. We had to cancel all February and March events. As you know, they did not begin again as it was too volatile to restart them. Here’s hoping 2021 is a little less difficult to predict.
What they did allow us to do is test a few ideas and increase video support:
· We increased our stress downs to monthly to cover the growing need
· We introduced “not so casual Friday” as an alternative to the stress down and get together for lunch and a dress up chat to embrace humour and friendship
· We started the crafternoons, a mindful event where members could do craft for an hour with Hayley
· I made this Thursday #IMT – running any special theme event in the Jungle takes time. This thread also gets collated and placed into blogs for the website under their categories. To give you an idea, collated two months’ worth of IMT input in appropriately themed blogs with links and so forth usually takes two days. That’s outside the promotion and management of the thread itself. A sample of those blogs are ones such as this and this one for podcasters.
· Thrifty Tuesday – we also ran a short-lived thread for approximately three months to help people find discounts and cheaper alternatives when the pandemic first landed to help offset the money lost through clients. This required research and management
And yes, the IMT and Thrifty Tuesday threads are included in online socialising as they bring visibility to our members and give you the opportunity to admire each other. It can and does lead to people finding each other for projects as well because the work is on display.
With the exclusion of Thrifty Tuesday, these events will return for 2021. Stress down, crafternoons and not so casual Friday will run in decreased frequency (so quarterly instead of monthly) to avoid over-saturation. The first is on February 19th, 2021 with the stress down.
The IMT thread may revert to fortnightly or monthly, depending on the next few weeks of interaction. I look forward to checking out what these blogs have uncovered more in an analysis outside of the 2020 Freelance Jungle retrospective if I get time.
The forum via Patreon
I’ve long heard that people only come to Facebook because of the Freelance Jungle and some of their other favourite groups. This hasn’t always sat that well with me.
Through Patreon, I was able to secure a trial of Discourse forums. They usually start at $50 USD a month, so a freebie was jumped on.
The forum itself is an experiment. I don’t think it’s working currently, so I am kind of glad I didn’t pay for it.
In the spirit of transparency, I recognise that because we have to run an uber tight shift on the Freelance Jungle, everyone is treating it like the Jungle. In other words, it feels as though it’s not driven by participants. It’s driven by when and if I show up. And also has some of the same issues of having to have strong boundaries for 7500+ people meaning the admins have to be strict.
In short, I don’t want the forum to be as strict. I want the Pinkies to embrace the space, take over, and push the community envelope of “for the freelancer, by the freelancer”. It’s easier to manage 200+ people and relax things a little.
To me, the forum is a potential for:
· Research and development site – where new ideas in a forum realm can be tested by a great bunch of Freelance Jungle supporters before they get introduced to the wider group
· More community directed action – I never wanted to be the face of the project or to be portrayed as the big bad wolf in freelancing. I want people to take ownership of what they do with my support and input where it’s needed. This is your chance to be freer and see where it takes us
· Better networking and friendships – smaller groups mean more meaningful connections a lot of the time. If you want to set up something and see who else is on board, now is your chance
· Greater diversity and representation – I’d love to see a queer business owner thread, or something dedicated to the BIPOC experience or what it’s like to be a freelancer with a kid with disabilities that adds value to experiences that maybe our admin team can’t speak to. I know it is challenging sometimes bringing that experience to a bigger group so view the forum as your chance to do it
Doing the 2020 Freelance Jungle retrospective has given me the opportunity to really articulate that better and move forward with it without feeling some of the cringe and guilt I felt. I don’t have enough time to run it as a me-lead thing, so I hope you grab onto it and run it as individuals.
I’ve mentally given myself a deadline of June to see if the Discourse forum is worthwhile. So, if you have an idea, get in there. I promise I will support you. But I do want to be a little hands-off so you folks get used to grabbing the mic more.
Launching the online classes
During 2020, we saw Zoom take off. The Freelance Jungle was no exception. In addition to our standard online events and new gatherings, education became part of the mix.
For Patreon members, I returned to my old product manager hat and produced semi-regular classes:
· Pains and gains – a class about finding your audience via personas of your clients and recipients of your side projects
· The anti-problem – sometimes, we can’t always see the solution because we’re focused too much on the problem. The anti-problem gives you the opportunity to see the opposite of what’s happening so that you can gain some much-needed perspective on the challenges you face
· Pitch perfect – learning the art of pitching through embracing a benefit and comparison-based framework that helps you get out the value of what you do efficiently. This is in response to the common problem where freelancers find it difficult to explain why they are valuable and a great choice when it comes to working with them at networking events and chance encounters with potential leads
These classes were super popular, even if at times they ran longer than expected. My confidence with teaching also grew. And it means there will be more of these classes to attend in 2021 as well as new ones on the roster. Again, I have made a big analysis in my version of the 2020 Freelance Jungle retrospective for my use on these so I can hopefully bring you even more exciting topics. But I would love your input if you attended. I know we often ran late and it was hard to get people to commit on the day, so I would love your input on how to fix those issues for example.
Introducing Crowdcast to the mix
One of the best tools the Patreon paid for was the Crowdcast tool. Crowdcast has opened up a whole new world of live and recorded events across a variety of topics. It isn’t cheap to run these sorts of events, however Crowdcast’s ability to integrate with Patreon while also offering free events, manage feedback from audience participants, the stability and quality of the video as well as the instant action replay have made it a favourite tool of the Freelance Jungle.
Crowdcast gave the Freelance Jungle the ability to:
· Offer question and answer sessions with notable people in their field including Martina Donkers shared her tips on grant writing, Holly Shoebridge with navigating JobKeeper (twice), Kate Toon on local SEO, Tim Hanslow with community management, Chloe Higgins talked about writing your personal stories, Ginger Gorman schooled us on dealing with trolling, help with how to find resilience in trying times with RU OK Ambassador Craig Mack and how to pivot under pressure was written and presented by me – Rebekah Lambert.
· Host panel discussions on sorting out your end-of-life choices, making a retail space look amazing on a budget, and advocacy about low pay
· Support the class aspects of “how to keep working when you’re dying on the inside”
· Run the virtual matchmaking component of the networking event between freelancers and small business owners, Get your Gong on
· Hold the final event for the Deadline Party
This tool allows us to effectively build a library you can access on a variety of different topics, free and paid. Paying for Crowdcast as a software isn’t the only part of the mix.
Your Patreon support has paid for:
· Time required to source guests
· The administration and project management to make them work
· Time spent in promotion of these events
· Facebook advertising for events
· The ability for me to have the time to do them in the first instance
And yes, you will see these sorts of events return in 2021. If you want to talk, take a gander at the people listed throughout the 2020 Freelance Jungle retrospective and pitch yourself or an idea to me. The worst I can say is no.
Launching short form courses
For me, short form courses are anything that ran for a month or thereabouts. In 2020, I began to experiment more with all kinds of formats with teaching.
Any educational work on Patreon gives me the ability to trial ideas before large investments are made. It also cuts down the cost and makes running education on Patreon viable. Before, when I would go to a town and run a face-to-face class, most broke even after paying for rooms, travel, accommodation and time allowed. As a person with disabilities, I would also need time afterwards to recover a lot as I was away from supporting bed, desk setup and carrying baggage, all which increase pain levels. I love a good face-to-face class, but they are costly and inefficient in a lot of ways. So, seeing digital classes normalised more helped me a lot.
Notable short courses run by the Freelance Jungle Patreon included:
· Marketing for introverts – in truth, this is a course I wrote several years ago but didn’t do much with. I thought it might not resonate. I was dead wrong. Marketing for Introverts was a good size class with amazing people. And it was a fun way to connect with Pinkies and help them uncover the genius they’ve forgotten trying to market like someone else. It’s also nice to bring people back to marketing instead of seeing them avoid it because it feels like it’s not for them. This will be re-run in 2021 because I love it.
· The Deadline Party – marrying product manager structures with accountability, the Deadline Party gave me the opportunity to coach 5 brave people through their own self-directed project to completion. I supplied the structure, but we cheered each other on as a group. It’s something I have wanted to try in some format since seeing the idea preview at an Ignite Sydney, where a young pianist took on a piece by Rachmaninov under the threat of having to present it to her friends at a party. Again, this was a massive success. We saw an animation showreel get created, a pregnancy photography business see its launch, a learning process for journalists launch it’s Patreon, supporting small business to uncover sustainability on their terms, and a powerful call to arms about racism and inclusion. This will also re-run in 2021
· Mental health month – having the Patreon meant I could make October mental health month a little special this year with guest speakers. These included speaking to April and Rebecca from Exsitu on values and end of life planning, bringing my end-of-life compatriots together for a special event on end of life with guests from Tender Funerals and Belinda Brooks the end of life consultant, and Amy’s presentation on art for mental health
How does Patreon pay for these courses? Mainly the time to create them, run them, market them and administer them.
The longer version of how to keep working when you’re dying on the inside runs for 10 units across a unit each fortnight. It’s amazing because it covers everything from project management to creative inspiration to burn out and managing your clients better. But I did find that it was difficult to keep momentum and that it could have been handled better. I also found people turned up for some units and not others. So, considering its amazing content, it may find itself in another format this year as the length was too much and the content not interactive enough.
I think it’s important to recognise it is hard to shoehorn a book into a course in only a few weeks and I did pretty well. But I want to do better this time around. I have been pretty harsh on myself about this course in my version of the 2020 Freelance Jungle retrospective. I don’t have your feedback to counter that if you participated, so please, if you felt it was worthwhile, I want your to fill in the feedback survey.
And yes, there are more classes and courses are coming in 2021 to hook into. Watch this space.
Increasing content creation
The Patreon creates time and space to make content that can then be used by freelancers as a reference. In 2020, the ability to blog about COVID-19 related content was part of this. It also included several dedicated content projects for both unpaid and paid members. The 2020 Freelance Jungle retrospective in regards to content made me realise I was a bit of a writing machine this year. Yes, one full of typos, but still, I got a lot of stuff written.
· The creation of a centralised Playbook with previous Patreon content available in one spot. This does need an update as we had a burst at the end of the year. However, it’s a lot easier than sending it via Patreon or email
· 30 days of self-care challenge – I wrote this prior to the pandemic and in light of the bushfires but it fast needed updating to cater to needs. All these kinds of challenges serve as reminders to help people and to the self-care conversation. By being visible in the realm of self-care, we increase people’s ability to speak about their stress and their mental health issues. The aim is always to normalise self-care and sometimes, talking about it makes some people uncomfortable due to stoicism and fear. It however was a popular blog section that opened the door to conversations on stress and crisis
· 30 days of freelancing in the apocalypse – this was another blog a day for 30 days challenge I gave to myself to produce content to directly help people during COVID-19. It was meant to be helpful and fun at the same time. This was the basis of the dedicated COVID section of the blog and was the highest grossing traffic area of the website
· The corona care package – inspired by the digital care packages given by Dropbox, we created a digital care package for Pinkies. In it, we included some business forms and activity sheets, a podcast recording for stress reduction, colouring in and fun activities to do for adult and kid alike, a pet rock kit, and postcard pictures to capture the times. The aim was to create a little artistic history, to help people with timely business support, increase mindfulness, and to let people (especially ones in Melbourne) know we were there for them. Plus, Jess and I occasionally need to have a little fun playing and creating. It was about reducing our stress, too
· The Melbourne postcards – being able to print out and post the postcards to everyone in lockdown helped make myself, Jess and Jinny feel better, I think. It’s hard when you see people suffering and a little mail can go along way. I am also a firm believer in us needing these bookmarks in history to remind us of the times that were the hardest. To give something that might end up in a photo album or a time capsule or simply to remind someone when they move to a new house or deep clean the office several years from now how far they’ve come is powerful. Patreon paid for that production, handling and postage
· The $5 tip sheets – originally started as physical sheets (what was I thinking? Thanks to Kylie Saunder for reminding me to use my website!) and moved to the blog, the $5 a month tip sheets have covered everything from writing better content to social media platforms in focus and more. These will continue and I have some humg-dingers planned for 2021 in various formats
· The 2021 planner – I always plan for myself. I am not usually open to sharing that process because I have been shamed about in the past. But getting over that shame is introducing people a different way to plan. I don’t really believe Person X’s plan they developed that worked for them is always going to fit you. So, I did what I do with coaching clients, students and myself. I gathered up all the potentially relevant questions and I put them together. That way, Pinkies could work through their planning thinking about their best decisions instead of having the road ahead dictated to them. This has proven to be a popular document and will have a virtual gathering based on the planner on the 19th of February 2021 so the year can start out well
· Life and times of an office rescue dog – being able to write this book in the style of many other kids books for adults was super fun. There are self-care lessons as taught by George the Office Rescue dog. Being able to write it and bring it to life was paid for by the Patreon
· More content on the blog – the more there are funds, the more I have time to write up what needs to be shared.
Regular stuff the Patreon pays for
Let’s also never forget that the Freelance Jungle is only possible because of the Patreon. I don’t know if most people are aware that I log more than a full time job running the group itself. It still remains unsustainable. And everyone who chooses to back the Patreon, even if they don’t give a crap about the rewards, helps the group survive. When I showed the 2020 Freelance Jungle retrospective to a friend, he joked I had built the marketing funnel without the next step. The goal this year and to shift things so that doesn’t continue.
What the Patreon pays for:
· The member directory – this costs money to run due to dedicated plugins separate to Divi as well as additional hosting costs to support the size
· Fees associated with hosting the Sounds of the Freelance Jungle podcast
· My time as an admin
· Writing of content generally for the website from threads and from questions etc. This includes gated content on the website
· Sending out the welcome cards to new Pinkies who opt for post
· The merch (stickers and cups so far) sent by Patreon (- I need feedback on this to see if it should continue)
· Every time someone reaches out in genuine crisis and a referral to a service is required
· Jungle Jobs – job group where fellow freelancers share their opportunities; we share what is curated from around the place as well as opportunities in the arts. It’s a sideline, not the whole ball game but it’s useful nonetheless for members that want to share their jobs. But please don’t join the Patreon expecting us to find you all the work all the time. We’d rather teach you how to grow your own leads and the board exists more as a repository of opportunities and the ability for freelancers to share their overflow than as a “come here clients and post your work” style offering. It’s more a solution to people breaking the rules in the main group than a massive part of what we supply you. I hope that you can see that.
· Regular social media scheduling of articles of interest.
· Getting to know you so that you can be tagged in as an expert or resource
· Fielding comments, invigorating interaction, spotting people who need assistance, answering direct questions, dealing with fights, sorting out disagreements and general community management to ensure the Freelance Jungle is generally safe and problem free
· Every time the admin chat or our specific board holds discussions, insights and meetings so we can figure out the thorny and fun issues in the Jungle
· The website hosting, Divi, yearly maintenance.
If you are still reading the 2020 Freelance Jungle retrospective
You might need a pat on the back, a cookie and a lie down for getting this far. But I do appreciate it. Thank you! There were a couple of things I learned running the Patreon this year. They will be discussed in other blogs because this one already stretches to the moon.
I also want to take the time to thank Nicole, Jinny, Hayley, Jess and also their previous contributions from Tim and Sarah with the Freelance Jungle. Every one of you adds belief and love to a circle we really needed in 2020. And even if paths change and diverge, I want to thank you for being you. Because you is awesome.
Here’s hoping the 2020 Freelance Jungle retrospective for 2021 gives me as much joy and insight as this one has.
Feel free to leave your feedback below. And enjoy this outtake photo while you’re at it.