I’m excited to tell you about a personal project I’ve been working on for quite some time now. It’s called The Freelance Institute – a global community for freelancers and remote workers focused on learning and professional growth.
In this article, I want to take you behind the scenes and explain why I started this community, how I went about branding it, and what I hope it will offer to thousands of freelancers all over the world.
I’ve loved teaching for as long as I can remember. My desire to help others learn is why I started blogging and run a free newsletter. It’s why I create products for freelancers and even teach college courses in upstate New York.
Over the years, I’ve responded to hundreds of emails from freelancers. I was always amazed by their stories and how specific their questions were.
With little exception, I carefully crafted a hand-written response to each person.
After a while, I started thinking how valuable it would be if all of my 1,100+ subscribers could read the answers I was spending so much time writing.
I considered starting a private forum on my website, but that didn’t feel right. It’s nothing more than a glorified comments section. A step in the right direction, but wouldn’t scale (or sell) well.
I considered offering paid 1-on-1 coaching, which would let me get paid for my time, but didn’t allow anyone else to benefit or join the conversation.
Then one day I realized Slack was the perfect solution. It would allow anyone to ask or answer questions from anywhere in the world in real-time.
After doing some research, I realized I wasn’t exactly a pioneer in this area. Many Slack communities already exist, but only two focus on freelancing and none seem to focus on learning.
I saw an opportunity to create a paid Slack community that was entirely dedicated to learning – not just casual hangouts and networking.
That’s when The Freelance Institute was born.
Update: In 2021, I moved the community from Slack to Circle. At the time, Slack was the best option, but a new platform called Circle emerged and was much better suited for our needs!
Choosing a Name
Choosing a name was one of the most difficult exercises I’ve ever done. Is it a product? Is it a brand? How will I market it? As one of my own products? Should it be totally independent?
Pondering these questions alone in my office (wishing I had someone to ask) validated the need for this community even more.
I briefly considered building out Kickstart Your Freelancing as a brand, but the name didn’t quite match what I was aiming for.
I needed a name that:
- Wasn’t taken (website, social, copyright, trademark, etc)
- Conveyed a sense of value
- Conveyed a sense of learning and education
- Was (relatively) short and memorable
- Allowed for expansion (a brand name, not just a product name)
After much consideration (and many bad ideas), I finally landed on The Freelance Institute, which met all 5 requirements. Given my love of teaching and passion for helping others, the name seemed quite fitting.
Branding & Marketing
I don’t consider myself to be a fantastic logo designer. After a few frustrating hours making NO progress in Illustrator, I started looking for more inspiration.
That’s when I stumbled upon this brilliant chat logo available for licensing. I redrew it manually to satisfy my design conscience, but purchased the extended license to prevent legal headaches down the road.
It effectively conveys what you get (learning and education) and how you get (instant chat) it all in one simple, memorable mark.
Features & Benefits
I’ve read hundreds of blog posts and watched months worth of YouTube videos learning how to freelance. Hundreds of dollars has gone toward books and courses. I’ve gone to networking events. I’ve checked all the boxes.
While I learned a TON of information doing those things, I was always left with specific questions. How do I actually apply this to my own career?
I wish I could’ve asked the authors directly, but that wasn’t realistic. They wanted to sell products – not give free 1-on-1 coaching.
Getting freelancing advice from a blog post or video is a one way experience. Seeing conversations evolve in real-time provides next-level value.
Thanks to Slack, community members get access to 24/7 real-time chat in 18 highly focused channels managed by freelancing experts. They also tap into a stream of job opportunities, partnerships, and referrals or get 1-on-1 coaching via direct message. There’s simply nothing else like it.
There are a few reasons I’m offer community access on a paid subscription model. First, it provides me with a steady stream of reliable monthly income so I can spend more time answering questions and less time working for clients.
Second, it keeps the community high-quality and eliminate spam. Anyone paying for a community like this will be serious about helping themselves AND helping others.
It also funds marketing and advertising efforts – the more people join, the more valuable the community becomes. Lastly, it allows me to hire community managers and keep the experts involved.
I decided to price community access at $10 a month.
Not $8, $9, or $12. Anything other than $10 makes it seem like I’m playing a psychological game and I didn’t want to convey that message.
$10 is simple, easy to calculate, easy to justify, and will cover all the necessary operating expenses as the community grows.
Growth & Expansion
I’ve got some big ideas on how to grow this brand well beyond a community. Think about how perfectly books, courses, and workshops play into the institute metaphor. I plan to expand the brand properties over time and continue providing more value to community members.
The community has been very well received and the channels are buzzing with incredible conversations. We’ve even attracted some notable influencers you might recognize! Check out the website
If you’ve ever wanted to ask a specific question to a freelancing expert who’s “been there” and “done that”, this community is for you. Together, we can all benefit from each others skills and experience.