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‘We might work on our own, but we’re never alone’

This week is the fourth meeting of the Sheffield Collective – a networking group I hastily set up at the start of lockdown when the shit was firmly heading in the direction of the fan for so many people.

It’s aimed at freelancers, sole traders and self employed people based roughly around the South Yorkshire area (but there’s no hard and fast rule).

There’s a ton of networking groups out there (I know, I go to most of them) so why on earth did we need another?

Well it stemmed from my own personal experience at the beginning of the crisis where I saw a lot of work being cancelled and a general feeling of being a bit helpless and – dare I say it – lonely.

Like many other people, I don’t qualify for any of the Government’s self-employment grants as I haven’t been doing it for long enough, nor can I be furloughed. I don’t have a manager I can pass the problem onto, nor any staff I can rally in defiance. I was on my own. I had a bit of a panic, and a bit of a cry, then decided to come out fighting.

But I wondered how many others found themselves in similar situations, and realised there is a ‘gap’ for a group focused on this particular set of people. Not JUST about making contacts or getting referrals – but also to help and support each other when we need it; creating a network, yes, but a bit more than that…. a collective.

I didn’t really know what it would look like or how many people would turn up to the first ‘virtual’ meet-up back in April. But we got a good group together and feedback was positive. In truth it is still finding its feet in terms of what it will be long term – perhaps with some physical events alongside trusty Zoom – but it’s relaxed, laid back and warm feeling is kind of the point. I know that won’t be for everyone. I also appreciate ‘hard’ networking events where it’s all about getting back to business, and this really isn’t that – but it has its own niche which it fills nicely.

The support from some of the regular attendees and particularly from Sheffield Digital has been absolutely fantastic.

If you’re interested in the format, it’s pretty simple – everyone does their opening introduction (doesn’t feel right to call them a ‘pitch’ in this setting) and then we head into smaller break-out rooms for a bit more of a chat, then back together for a short talk from one of the members, then back into break-out rooms for some one-to-ones. I say it as if that’s how it’s worked every month. It certainly hasn’t – and it’s taken a little bit of trial and error to figure out that’s the right direction. Last month for example, we didn’t manage any break-out rooms because I’d asked everyone to come along with their stories of meeting celebrities, which meant the introductions hugely overrun. There were some CRACKING stories, for sure, but from this month we’ll have a 60 second limit in place.

I’ve had some lovely feedback from members who’ve found it really useful, and been told of friendships away from the Collective which have formed from meeting at it, which is brilliant. Equally I know some people have been to one and decided it’s not for them – and it’ll take a little while to settle down to a core group which hopefully with start to grow from month to month. I just hope the meet-ups have helped people – whether that’s by making new connections, forming a friendship, or just an hour they can look forward to for a bit of chat with likeminded people.

In time we’ll probably start to explore some key issues which affect us all – whether that’s the fallout from Covid or the ins and outs of the forthcoming IR35 changes.

Incidentally, if you’d like to know – things have picked up pretty well for me since that initial breakdown. I’m taking nothing for granted, but so far, there have been no more tears. But should I hit a bad spell, I know the Collective always has my back.

* If you’d like to find out more about the Sheffield Collective group, drop me an email to or just come along to a meet-up. The next one is Thursday 30 July – register through Eventbrite to be sent the Zoom info a couple of hours before:

About the author, James

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