For thousands of small business owners across the country, navigating the twists and turns of 2020 has been overwhelming.
But those who are self-employed are likely facing their own set of challenges. Setting benchmarks, adapting to changing restrictions and a disconnect from others in their situation can be tiring. It’s the set of problems Alex Hillman and Nicola Black are hoping to address in a new accelerator and community of self-employed professionals called Work in Progress.
“We realized that the business support ecosystem is built around everyone else but freelancers,” Hillman said.
The pair are well versed in those challenges. Hillman is the founder of Indy Hall and co-creator of the Philly Freelance Fest, and connects with self-employed folks daily. Black runs brand strategy and design agency Nicola Black Design, LLC and has cofounded now-inactive SELF Philly as well as SELF Syracuse, communities of solo entrepreneurs. There’s a fair amount of programs and accelerators to help startups and small companies mark progress and set goals, but not much similarly for those who are self-employed or contractors, they say.
“It’s not always about increasing revenue or building your business — it’s about true connections with other people doing and going through the same,” Black said. “Supporting them through challenges, sharing insight and perspective, building one another up and just being a friend who understands what it’s like. Because being self-employed, while incredibly rewarding, can be quite lonely and difficult.”
Their idea is this: Gather two cohorts of 10 to 12 business owners or self-employed people each, organized around similar interests and goals. Those folks will connect and maintain a community on a private Discord chat channel, participate in virtual sessions to talk through problems, offer advice and learn how others are handling issues while setting goals to measure success. The members also gain membership to Indy Hall’s online community.
Black, who moved to New York last year, held on to her Indy Hall membership virtually and said it’s been a saving grace during the pandemic.
“None of us have experienced anything like this before,” she said. “For many of us, it’s been difficult to stay on top of it all — personally as well as in our businesses. It’s clear people could use a little extra support in setting clear goals to dig in and get things done. And having the support and experience of doing it together with people who understand feels that much better.”
The pair have been accepting applications for the accelerator program, which will cost $119 a month. There’s a handful of partial or full scholarships for BIPOC business owners, Hillman said. The application can be found on Work in Progress’ website, and is open to folks outside of Philly, too.
They plan to run the first groups in January. Business owners have so far indicated interest in learning how to navigate the pandemic, how to build out new revenue streams, how to find a likeminded community and how to transition from being an employee to starting their own venture.
The programing won’t be as rigid as other accelerator programs, Hillman said, so that it can remain as useful as possible to the people involved. It will likely take shape as participants lay out their own goals and define their own versions of success. The goal is to have the two groups of people curated by the end of the year to kick off meetings and community introductions next month.
“Even though I realize so many of us are facing some of the same struggles and pain, it shows me that I’m not alone in this as a business owner,” Black said. “I already feel like what we’re building is going to be incredibly valuable to Work in Progress club members.”
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