Welcome back to another episode of the advanced freelancing Podcast. I am very excited about my guest today. I wish I had discovered her and everything that she’s doing much sooner. And that’s part of the reason I wanted to have her on the show! I wanted to introduce her to all of you.

Meet Emily Leach, Founder of Freelance Conference

Emily has been in the freelance space since 1992, which is kind of a long time in this particular business style. It has given her a really amazing life. She was a single mom.  She shared that it’s tough to go to work all day and then get home and be able to spend time with your child.   In her case it was hard to feel like she was really there and present because she was tired. freelance-conference-organizer-Emily-Leach

Emily said she stumbled across freelancing.  She thinks that’s what a lot of people have done unless you’ve been freelancing only for the last few years or so. But if you’ve been freelancing for 10 years or more, you most likely stumbled into it. And that’s what happened with her.

After a couple of years, she realized that it was great. She can be at home. When her son needs something at school, she can go and do it. She can be here when he gets home. And she can be here when he leaves for school.  She also got to travel and do some volunteer work. It just allowed her the flexibility to still have a life.

What kind of freelance projects were you working on back when you first started?

She first started in the engineering space. So she did Computer Aided drafting. She was an engineering designer as well. So it was actually quite easy. And in that particular space, the hardest part was that computers are really, really expensive. The software was really expensive. But it didn’t take too long before you could afford that. It did allow her a lot of flexibility. So being in that civil environmental space, she got to do what she loved.  And she gets to migrate into other careers.

Emily shared that she also sees this in a lot of freelance business owners, were after about five or 10 years of doing a specific task skill, they kind of want to move on.  Not everybody, but a lot. She thinks it’s a nature of who we are as humans. And she thinks that when you work for somebody, you get that opportunity. Usually after about three to five years, you get an opportunity to advance into or move to a different group within a company. And that’s sort of a missing piece and freelancing unless you make it yourself.

That’s such a great point. I can’t tell you how many times this comes up with the freelancers that I coach one on one.

A lot of them are writers, but it happens across the board.  As Emily mentioned, you do something and you learn everything there is to know about it.  Then, you take it about as far as it can go as a freelancer. And then you kind of go, “Okay, what next? Maybe I don’t want to write all day. And maybe I don’t want to work for this particular group of clients anymore.” So people are wondering what the next real challenge? Because it’s not necessarily that you’re moving on from something because it’s unsuccessful. In a lot of cases, it’s actually that it’s been very successful. But there’s that other missing piece component to it.

How did Emily evolve from freelancer doing projects for clients into the different things that she’s been doing since then bring awareness to freelancing and to really build a community around it?

Emily shared that this also happened by accident. After a couple years, after she moved to Austin, she was approached by a friend/colleague to create a group on Facebook called Austin Freelance Gigs. And that’s what they ended up calling it. She really enjoyed the concept of helping other fellow freelance peers connect to work.

You can’t do everything that comes to comes to you either.  Because you don’t have the skill or the time, or the clients not a good match. There’s tons of reasons why work continually gets passed off to someone else, or passed up. So if you had a network of people that you trusted, knew well,  and you knew that when you pass them off the client was going to be treated well, then you may even work out a deal where you know you charge a finder’s fee for making the introduction.   That happens a lot. Then it’s so much easier for all of us to get the work that we really love to do.

Emily shared that this is a little off topic, but that’s still where everything started.    When they started that group, it grew really fast. So to Emily, she was expecting to start the group and in about three or four months, she’d have 25 people. And she had 25 people by lunch.  By the end of that week, they had 300 people. And in a few months, they had almost 1000 people. And what she loved about the group was not only that she got to really play in that space that felt like it was going to be wonderful, and sure enough was by helping freelance business owners find work and connect to each other, but they started to ask each other really awesome questions and have conversations about their business.  They asked things like how to run it.

Emily has always had this concept in her head of our stories matter.

And it turns out, they really do.  When we share those hardships, those ways that we made it through the other side of a challenge, it helps the next person get there faster. Even if they only borrow bits and pieces of it.

There’s so much to be gained from other people a lot of times. Some of the best gems that we take away and implement in our own lives or businesses are from other people. Whether it’s just their unique perspective and their fresh set of eyes on the problem that we’re having or it’s something that they’ve been through in their own experience where they can provide some insight that helps you navigate that on your own.

Emily said that there was sort of the inspiration for everything else that she did. So there was one night, it was actually July 13, and she vaguely remembers it. She was sitting in her little chair that I sit in and she was working.  She was watching and thread. It was a whole bunch of people in the group commenting back and forth about a question that someone had answered. And she loved it. So she just wanted to do this with other people in person.

She loves doing it online. But she wants to be face to face with a group of people that aren’t telling me to go get a job.  And she wants to be in front of people that aren’t dissing her for the life she’s living or the way she’s running her business. They are in it with her. And her experience adds value to them and their experiences add value to her.

She wanted to go to a freelance conference. So she went online and started looking everywhere. And it didn’t exist in any country.  This blew her mind. So she created one.

So how many years has the freelance conference been going on?

Emily shared that they just concluded their fifth year. I asked if it is always in the same location or if they move around.   Emily shared that it has always been an Austin the first five years. And they have made the decision to start moving to other cities. She thinks that the plan right now.  The plan is that they’ll spend the next four years going to other cities, making it a little bit more accessible to other people as well. And then they’ll probably come back to Austin for those five year reunion kind of things.

So at the freelance conference, who is it really for? What person would need to attend that? Do you have to be at a certain point in your business to go? Or is it designed to bring together freelancers from different experiences and backgrounds?

Emily shared that it’s definitely a living event.

It started out with whoever wants to come, comes. It was literally an idea. And about 100 days later, they had the first one and they had 92 people show up. And at the end of it, Emily was like, “This was great. How much fun was that? And everybody wanted to know when the next one was.

That’s when Emily realized that this is going to be a thing. So she’s definitely had to feel her way through this because she wasn’t a conference owner. Before she got out of doing website freelancing, you know, solely freelancing, she was doing website design work and SEO work. So she was really learning as she went along. And she admits that she kind of still is learning as she’s going.

So now the process inside of a freelance conference is for all of those people to be able to attend and get what they need out of it to get to the next level. They want content that allows people that are thinking about freelancing, and maybe a little scared to do it, to be able to connect with people that are already successful.  And with people that are semi successful and working their way up to being successful.  They want to show them that it can be done.

Emily said that we’re all just humans like you. And we did it. You can do it and you’re not in it alone. And the people that are further along, like we were talking about earlier, that are making more money already, or they’ve added products to their company, things like that to diversify some of their income. They have valuable lessons for those people that are striving to be where they are.  And they have lessons and challenges that they need to move past to get to their next level.

So the process now is to find all those different layers and be able to pull everybody together so they can learn from each other where they are. As well as have breakouts that allows people to go and learn more specific skills at the level that they’re at and the level they’re trying to get to.

So one of the challenges for a lot of freelancers is that we need to get out more often.

We need to connect with others who understand what we do. Because a lot of us probably still have family members that don’t really understand what we do. They know that it’s something online.  They might not even be convinced that it’s stable or real. But it’s very helpful to network with other freelancers who get it. They get those challenges you have around marketing or client management or invoicing and those types of things. But it’s also hard to balance taking time out of your business to go to a conference.

Can you provide a little bit more information about what types of workshops and information is presented at the conference?

Emily said that she spends her entire year watching people like me,  watching people that are solving problems in the freelance space and finding those solutions and proving out those solutions. And then she invites them in to be speakers. So that way, not just anybody is on the stage.  It’s very much curated.

And for the workshops, she does the same thing.  So the thing she loves about still having Austin freelance gigs here in Austin is that they have over 10,000 people in that group. And so it’s a really great space to watch the questions that are being answered. So she can see if there’s any pivoting happening in what freelance business owners are struggling with to make sure that maybe she need to bring that content into these workshops.

So they make sure that they have technology workshops too.   Emily loves those because one of the other things freelance business owners don’t tend to have is the time to do is research new technology.  And how they could be using it in their business. Why they should be using it in their business. So they invite some of those companies to come in and do hands on workshops, versus just a demo. Because demos always work perfectly. And then we research and make sure that they try to create a really diverse set of workshops and breakout sessions.

And what they’re really going to focus on coming up in 2020, the conferences Denver next year, and so they have at least two or three different workshops.

And in each of those, Emily said that she  would say there’s about three primary levels or categories that people move through in a freelance business. You’re either just starting or trying to start. Or you’re in this middle area where you got the starting down, and you’re really trying to make it simpler or more efficient and make more money without putting more time in. And then you have the next level of people where they’ve figured out even some of the efficiencies, how to run their business,  and they’re now looking for an increase way to increase income and make it even more efficient and effective.  They want to be able to spend more time with family or travel. So those are the levels of workshops that they’re looking for.

Emily said that if you’re out there and this is the kind of thing that you teach, she would love to talk to you and interview and see if there’s a good fit for what they’re looking for.

All of you freelancers who want to dip your toe into coaching or doing public speaking, a lot of times you just have to be proactive and you have to ask and you have to seek out these kinds of opportunities where you can share your expertise with a group of other people. And what I love with what Emily is doing at the conference is that freelancing has become more in demand.

Which on the one hand is great because a lot of us have plenty of work to do. And it’s really enjoyable and more and more companies are embracing freelancing as a way to outsource their work and get things done.

The downside of that is that it’s getting more competitive. And one of the things that I think is going to be important for freelancers, in the next five to 10 years, is to be looking at what trends are coming and what new software skills do.  I need to pick up what trends are happening in online marketing and communications that I need to be aware of. And if you’re like me, at the end of the day, you don’t want to sit at your computer anymore and watch a tutorial or a demo or try to pick up an online course about that newest software thing.

It’s so effective when you’re at a live conference.

And you can network with other people. You’re learning new things.  And you’re trying out software. You’re being able to ask the software creators or people who are updating it, direct questions about how to use it. Then you come home with tools that can help you up level in your business and stay competitive. I think that when you choose the right conferences to go to, that three or four days or however long you’re there is not lost time in your business. You often can get so many things done that can help your business move forward in huge ways in the future.

I’m so excited to be able to showcase a little bit more about what Emily is doing with this conference.  Because like she said, there really isn’t anyone out there that’s doing this. We have our little hubs in our cities, or we have our online Facebook groups of people that we interact with who get freelancing. But being able to do that in person is so rare.   And it’s so exciting to see that that’s changing.

Does Emily have dates yet for the 2020 conference in Denver?

Emily said that answer is yes and no. She says yes, because the dates that she chose were September 13 14th, and 15th. But se just found out that those are also the dates for a really big event, Startup Week, in Denver. So that’s not something that she wants to make people have to choose one or the other. So now she’s reevaluating those dates.

She said that you have to pay attention to other things that are happening, not only in that particular market, but things that are happening. we get into a lot of religious holidays that time of the year. So she really has to pay attention to those as well. So the dates are still coming.  But it will be in Denver or Denver/Boulder area.

She’s looking at both of those cities, because there’s so many things she wants to start doing. She wants to be able to start incorporating activities that people can do outside.  And the Denver/Boulder area has a lot of those options. So she just wants to make sure that they take advantage of that.

She wants it to be so that we people come to the conference, it’s more than just sitting at a table or in a chair listening to people talk. She shared that what’s interesting is that people tend to buy the ticket based on the sessions.  Which she gets because she would make the same deduction. They look at the schedule ask if this will bring money to them. It’s an absolutely accurate way to do it. But it’s not the reason they come back.

The reason they come back is because of the people that they met.  You’re just talking about the lessons they learned from the people that they met. And they’re just that relationship. They can’t wait to get back together and see each other because they typically only see each other once a year. And that is so much fun to watch.

I can imagine because it always seems that you end up meeting somebody who helps you with something, somewhere where you’re at in your journey.

It might not be the place that you expected necessarily, but it’s always interesting to be able to meet other people. And there’s so much of that conversation that you can just skip over when we normally meet someone who has a traditional job or doesn’t really understand freelance. We probably spend 10 to 15 minutes just trying to explain what it is we do and how we do it and why we do it.

So it’s nice when you could just sort of jump to like, “Okay, what is it that you do? Oh, cool. Do you do it part time or full time? Are you doing is this this alongside a full time job?” It’s just great to be able to connect with other people who instantly understand you and where you’re at. They might even be able to provide you with some really good feedback or insight about what’s potentially next for you as well.

Emily shared that they always make sure that they have a co working space area. They get it! They know you’re running a business. Sometimes you do just need to go, “Yes, I’m here. I’m able to make it. But I had to take this conference call. I really needed to make that online meeting happen.” So they can go to a space that’s separate and make those things happen and still be able to take advantage of the conference.

So the conference dates are still a little bit in flux, but it sounds like fall 2020 and Denver.

So everyone who’s listening, think about that as you’re making your 2020 plans of when are you going to step away from your business. What are going to be the professional conferences or events that you attend to help you level up? This is definitely one that you want to keep on your radar.

Where can people go to Learn more information about you and about the conference?

Emily share that it’s a really, really difficult one, freelanceconference.com.

I love it. I can’t even buy my own married or maiden name .com. So I always appreciate when people are able to have a simple website because not all of us are able to snag that before some domain person wants to charge you 10 grand. for whatever

I just want to thank Emily so much for the opportunity to speak with her and hear a little bit more about what she has done to build Freelance Conference up to where it is now and where it’s headed in the future. And freelancers, I often encourage this, you always hear from me when I come back from a conference about the things I’ve been able to take away from it, and how valuable it is. So even if you’re only able to attend one or two conferences a year be really choosy about what you go to. But you can get so much out of it and having that network of people that you can talk to during and after the conference is instrumental so.

For more freelance advice, get a copy of my book Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business—available now! Buy it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and more.