Arts / Career development / Events / Hiring

Balance, proactivity and zines: Dispatches from the inaugural Philly Freelance Fest

Scenes and lessons from the networking, workshops and zine distribution happening at the first event exclusively for local freelancers of all types.

Philly Freelance Fest at REC Philly, Jan. 30, 2020 (Photo by Paige Gross)

This editorial article is part of's Hiring Trends Month. Philly's NET/WORK tech jobs fair is Feb. 25.

Last Thursday, more than 100 freelancers and clients looking for contractors gathered at REC Philly’s new space in the Fashion District for the first-ever Philly Freelance Fest.

The afternoon-to-evening event was created by Indy Hall‘s Alex Hillman and freelance event producer Catherine Sontag as a way to help freelancers and businesses make connections as well as forge relationships within the freelance community.

The day consisted of a mix of one-on-one discussions, workshops, panels and general encouragement to share why and how Philly-area freelancers do what they do.

Freelancers from a bunch of industries, including business services, design, marketing, editorial, photography, product development and audio/visual production were in attendance along with clients from companies such as Seer Interactive, Visit Philadelphia and Hero Digital. Here’s a snapshot of what went down:

On making connections

Around 4 p.m., when this reporter arrived to the event, groups of five to 10 people, most of whom were strangers, were sharing their responses to prompts like “What’s the biggest hurdle you’ve blasted through?” and “What skills did you develop that you used now when faced with a new challenge?”

Groups found some similarities in how they tackle issues; others, not so much.

“We figured out that none of us handle a problem the same way,” one group member told Hillman when he prompted folks to share what they were finding.

“But that’s OK,” he said.

One group all agreed on at least one thing: They all struggle to find balance in getting the work done and not overdoing it so that they still have a personal life.

The word “balance” was written on many boards in the room.

On proactively finding clients

Brennan Dunn, founder of Double Your Freelancing, a resource site for freelancers and contractors, told attendees about the networking change he made that brought him more clients during one of the day’s workshops. 

A few years ago, when running his web development business, he found himself in the same pattern of networking as many of us do: Go to a networking event, have a bunch of small conversations where folks exchange business cards and get very little return from these exchanges.

Many freelancers are reactive, he said. They wait for someone to need their service and seek them out.

“How can we become more proactive in finding clients?” Dunn said.

Essentially, he shared, a freelancer should work to be proactive — find the people who would need your services and make yourself a valuable resource to them, even if you’re not selling them anything yet.

Dunn gave an example of an attorney he met who gave him valuable advice without hiring him. Every time he met someone who needed legal services after that, Dunn recommended the attorney. The word of mouth and sense of trust was the long game.

“The big eye opener for me was, ‘If I can get in front of people before they have a problem, and I can work with them down this path, I can create clients for my business without waiting for the stars to align,” Dunn said.

On gaining ‘Career Control’

Freelance writer and designer Hannah Litvin used Freelance Fest to debut a project that used a culmination of her skills new and old: “Career Control: Professional Work in Progress,” a zine featuring stories of local professionals finding freedom in working for themselves.

Litvin said she’d been doing interviews with freelancers — some of whom were friends, others she was introduced to for the project — and wanted to allow them to tell their stories as “a guide for the reader.” She’d seen many people in Philly’s tech scene join the freelance world and wanted to highlight those stories and the people doing the work.

“I kind of wanted to bring it outside the tech world, into the hands of people,” Litvin said, “instead of just staying within this tech bubble.”

And the way to do that? A totally free, very delightful graphic zine. In about 60 pages, Litvin tells the stories of five people who started their own ventures and the highs and lows they experienced along the way.

Litvin had been sitting on her interviews for a little while, and decided a zine was the exact project on which to execute some new skills. Litvin wrote and designed the zine, which required she learn InDesign (in just six days, she said), while Hillman edited and Agency M printed copies in time for Thursday’s event.

“I wanted to build something showing that I can work on the things I like — writing and design,” she said. “I wanted to really start prioritizing those aspects of my skills.”

For folks who didn’t grab one at REC Philly Thursday, keep an eye out for copies at your local coffee shop or event space. It may go online soon, but for now, Hillman said, you can track down a copy by reaching out to

Both Hillman and Sontag said midway through the day that they felt an event like this felt long overdue, and both plan for some sort of community to continue, whether by making Freelance Fest a recurring event, hosting meetups or building more of an online community for freelancers.


Oh, and P.S. to all you remote freelancers and in-house workers — the State of Remote Philly survey, born out of the Remote Holiday Party organized by Hillman and Pam Selle, closes this Friday, Feb. 7.

Companies: REC Philly / Indy Hall
Series: Hiring Trends Month 2020

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