I’m calling on all Illawarra freelancers to participate in the virtual networking event that is ‘Get your Gong on’. You can register here. You may be unsure why someone who coaches you to reject exposure dollar and low prices is now advocating for participating in a project like this.

Here’s my personal rational for why Get your Gong on is valuable to Illawarra freelancers and why you should join me! 

I know for a fact it works

Nothing like a little self-endorsement of one’s choices, am I right?

When I first started freelancing in 2010, it was during the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). I had been smart before leaving agency life. I lined up two regular retainers before I left, and another ad-hoc project was pending. I had maybe $3000 in the bank.

I left my agency job. And I started work for the new clients. Before I knew it, one retainer was cancelled because they’d over-estimated their budget. I didn’t have a clause to protect myself against that happening. I was officially freaked out.

My monthly rent was over half of that money I had in the bank. It was a one-bedroom place, so getting a flat mate wasn’t an option. Having left a share house for that one-bedder because I had the flat mate from hell who attracted everything from the AFP through to knife wielding women at 2am, I was not about to go back to share housing.

You can see my dilemma.

To respond to the situation, I knew I needed to stand out from the crowd. I also needed to do things I cared about to sustain the energy. So, I set up two projects:

Bartering freelance work via Swap Creative

Swap Creative (my freelancing brand is Unashamedly Creative) was my direct response to losing work. I had to tighten my budget drastically. But I still wanted to be able to do things in life. I had also read a story about a woman living in New York of all places that had lived on barter for almost two years. The timing was right too, because the burgeoning collaborative consumption (or sharing economy) scene was rising up. Start-ups were popping up that focussed on everything from accommodation share (Airbnb), ride share (Uber), car share (GoGet) that we still have today through to tool libraries, local host experiences, sharing stage props across theatre companies and more.

So, I set up a barter. I was incredibly strict about how it worked. For example, it included a strategy plan that was outlined in the agreement. Or a certain amount of a particular style of work on blog writing or social media. Or it was an assessment of copy and a page rewrite. I limited the scope and marketed the elements like a product.

And it worked a treat. From Swap Creative, I received a case of olive oil that became Christmas and birthday presents as well as my oil at home for months. I had a running tab for beer and food at a favourite local pub in exchange for social media coaching and copywriting. I bartered garden furniture for a social media strategy. And I worked on a brand revamp in exchange for picking expensive brains and networking connections.

From the experience, I also received:

  • Further introductions into the hospitality and bar scene
  • Direct paid work when the client returned on several occasions
  • The people who bartered their garden furniture, Lisa and Duncan from Open Shed, not only returned as a regular client for some years, they also introduced me personally to several other paying clients within the Australian sharing economy scene. And several more in the general start-up scene. That kept me in work for the first three years of freelancing
  • The opportunity to work on some great projects. People that can see the value in you other than as a vending machine with skills tend to be creative, innovative, and fun. They’re willing to try something different- and they’re willing to treat you in a positive yet different way, too.

Did it always work? There were one or two clients that wanted the moon in return for pretty much nothing. However, the Service Level Agreements I made clients sign saw short work of that. And it did get the odd person who saw the website and said “yay, you do free work” try it on for size.

However, having even short agreements and knowing exactly what you want from a situation defines the success. I knew I needed a tangible return to survive and stay freelancing. It made me strict on clients, but it proved great results.

Fostering community connection with My Redfern Rocks

I was frustrated with people telling me Redfern was an awful place to live. I know it was a friendly, diverse community. Like most places I had lived in Sydney (Kings Cross, Glebe were others), people have extraordinarily strong opinions that often don’t match the reality. To target the racism and the uninformed opinions in the area, I set up the My Redfern Rocks Twitter handle and a Facebook page. I set about sharing the stories and the people of the local area in social media form.

The results of that project were:

  • A reduction in stigma and more people in Redfern (and surrounds like Waterloo and Eveleigh) joining in on social media to reiterate the positive parts of the community
  • Cementing my profile as a proactive local. This led to me being invited to all kinds of events (where I could network). It also included receiving an invitation to the Sydney Lord Mayor’s Christmas Party.
  • I was able to gain work from locals that appreciated what I was doing.
  • I felt really connected to the local area and became a champion for Redfern in large and small. It’s the same feeling I am hoping to grow with a focus on the Illawarra.

Once I left Redfern, I passed it on to a local couple. They continued the project for a while and even introduced Instagram to the mix. Sadly however, it does not continue to this day.

Why this is powerful

Creative projects like this have a great impact on what businesses and the individuals who run them think about us.

People are excited by different approaches to business. Sure, they may not always adopt that approach for themselves. But they are drawn to those who try it. It gives you the opportunity to stand out as supremely helpful, giving, and creative. In a sea of freelancers (even Illawarra freelancers) competing on price, this gives you a leg up.


Both opportunities also got my loads of press and recognition. Innovation stands out. It gives journalists something to talk about. But there’s more to it than that. It’s a chance to connect with the community in a meaningful way.

What’s involved in participating for Illawarra freelancers?

Part of the process is to look at what you want to offer. Get your Gong on is about making the introduction and using your creative abilities to help people. That means you go through a qualifying process of what you’d like to offer. The initial event is about introducing small businesses and Illawarra freelancers to the possibilities. Then, there’s help with seeing where that introduction leads.

My suggestion to any Illawarra freelancers looking to participate in Get your Gong on is:

  • Scan the Wollongong business scene. Look at the local business scene and have a think about something you can offer to help businesses navigate COVID-19
  • Think about the impacts COVID-19 has had on local Wollongong businesses. Do businesses have to rely more on marketing? Experiment with new methods? Sell new products? Join social media for the first time? Uncover things like web design and SEO in a hurry? Suddenly get comfortable with photography and video?
  • What sorts of innovations have you seen?g. a lot of cafes set up websites to handle their orders better. Small bars and micro brewers turned to home delivery. Personal trainers started classes online. Physios, vets, and medical professionals moved into giving virtual patient consults. A lot of businesses had to educate customers quickly about social distancing, changes to how appointments run and more. List the ones out you have seen in the Wollongong area.
  • How can you support those innovations in the short and long term? What will make an impact? Can you add help without being too tied to a business?
  • Apply the constraints to what you wish to give. What skills can you offer in $300 or less (or a couple of hours) that might help a business change for the better?
  • Think about what products you can offer within those constraints. Is it offering marketing or strategy plans? Education? Coaching? Social media reviews or SEO audits? A couple of head shots or one nice product shot for the website? Break it down!

Whatever we do and how we do it, we can influence the way the Illawarra comes through COVID-19. Plus, we get to put our skills to the best use possible.

Got questions? Head to the contact page and drop me a note. 

Register to be a freelancer for Get your Gong on now!

(this project has been made possible by the Wollongong City Council via the Quick Response Grants program).







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