For the uninitiated, “Jelly” is a networking event, that involves freelance or home workers getting together at a particular venue once a month to work, chat, socialise, network and generally spend time with other people in a similar situation, rather than working on their own as they normally do. Why it is called Jelly I have no idea. So that’s what it is, and I am now a regular at the monthly Birmingham Jelly.
I must begin by making it clear that I have never really been a “networking” person. I find socialising and small talk immensely difficult, often quite intimidating, particularly with people I don’t know. So it is the kind of situation I have tried to avoid over most of my 12 years in the freelance sector. That was all well and good with my translation business, as I didn’t need to go out looking for new clients or building relationships, but my tour guiding business is very different. With that, I do need to think about such things, but until just over a year ago I had not yet plucked up the courage.
One evening I ended up, by pure coincidence, becoming involved in the fringes of a meet-up of Birmingham entrepreneurs in a coffee shop and was invited to an event called Jelly by its organiser Rickie Josen. It actually sounded like something that might be for me – informal, specifically for freelance and home workers, in an excellent coffee shop – and that, combined with Rickie’s enthusiasm persuaded me to bite the bullet. And I am so glad I did so. Although it was daunting the first couple of times, and still is sometimes if I am not at my best, I make a point of putting each month’s event in my diary as a definite, unless there is a very pressing reason preventing me from going.
What does Jelly mean to me?
First and foremost, a chance to have contact with people in a similar working situation. The worst thing about being a freelance worker who works at home is the isolation. Despite your best intentions, it is so hard to do anything about this normally, in fact I struggled for many years. But Jelly provides a once a month social outlet – often enough to be an effective pressure valve, infrequently enough to be something to look forward to and to not take up huge chunks of your schedule.
Do we actually do much work?
Personally, not usually, but that is kind of the point from my perspective. Jelly is my reward for the many isolated hours in my office. I always keep the day clear of any deadlines or complex work. If I can do a bit of admin, catch up on some correspondence, or do a little bit on an ongoing project, then great. If not, it bothers me not at all. If I want to be mega-productive, I can sequester myself in my office for several hours, get my head down and do it, in fact that is how I spend many days during the month. Jelly is the thing that balances such days out, I don’t view it as just a different venue to do the same thing as I do every other day. It is all about the social side – interacting face to face with interesting people. And if I consider how long we used to spend doing non-productive stuff – office politics, gossiping about colleagues, clients and suppliers, talking about what we did at the weekend or watched on TV – when I worked for a normal company years ago, what it must have added up to in a month is way, way more than a monthly Jelly.
What kind of people go?
I must admit, when I first went to Jelly I was nervous about what kind of people it would attract, but there was no need. Generally, if you are the kind of person who needs to and wants to attend, then you will have a lot in common with the others there! It is a fantastic opportunity to meet and talk to intelligent, creative, down-to-earth and friendly people, to share ideas and experiences, to have a laugh and do all those things you miss out on when you work on your own. But that’s not all, there is a genuine networking benefit, as Jelly people can share contacts and opportunities, as well as supporting and promoting each other’s businesses. For me though, the single biggest thing I have got out of Jelly is friendship. Although I’ve lived in Birmingham for a long time, I have never had much of a social life or circle of friends here, as I have spent most of the time living and working on my own. But through Jelly, I feel as though I have genuinely made new friends, people who I have common interests with, who share some of the same attitudes and outlook on life, and who I enjoy seeing and chatting to not just on that day once a month, but all the time either in person or online.
In summary, this event with the funny name has enriched my working life and my social life, helped with my fragile confidence and has had a positive impact on my business. I would recommend it to anyone who works freelance or at home, perhaps it could be useful to you too.