#61: 6 Ways to Be an Ally with Your Freelance Business

Three requests for the podcast right now:

1. I want to do an Ask Me Anything episode. Please email or DM via Twitter your questions about the business of freelancing and I’ll answer them on a future episode. You can share your name or be anonymous.

melanie@meledits.com or DM @MelEdits on Twitter

2. I’m considering a series interviewing freelancers who make six figures. So, if you have earned $100,000 or more as a freelance business owner, let me know. I’d love to talk with you more about how you got there so we can provide tactics and inspiration to other freelancers.

melanie@meledits.com or DM @MelEdits on Twitter

3. I am looking for diverse guests, so please reach out and pitch me your podcast episode idea or recommend guests who are from marginalized groups. I’m doing my own research and outreach, but I’m open to pitches and recommendations too.

melanie@meledits.com or DM @MelEdits on Twitter

In this week’s episode I want to offer six ways you can be an ally through your freelance business. Your first reaction may be that you’re “just” a freelancer or solopreneur, that you don’t have a lot of power or a huge platform. But there are things that you can do through your role as a business owner to support Black and Brown people and those from other marginalized groups, especially if you are White.

1. Hire diverse subcontractors.

Not all of us have regular subcontractors, but occasionally we do hire people to help us with a project or partner with us on a proposal or we hire a virtual assistant to help our business. When you are considering hiring subcontractors, do a bit more research and reach beyond your immediate networks to see if you can hire someone from a marginalized group.

Humans often interact and hire people who look like us. Our circles are not often that diverse. It’s the same reason that people from marginalized groups have trouble getting hired as employees. But you can help break down the barriers in your own little world by asking people for recommendations and reaching out to a more diverse group. And just be honest: Tell people you are looking to expand your list of potential subcontractors to have a more diverse pool to choose from.

2. Refer and recommend work.

Many of us refer other freelancers or pass on work to people when we are over capacity or a gig isn’t right for us. As you expand your list of diverse freelancers, consider passing on that work to someone from a marginalized group. You can help them open the door to a new client and give them a connection they didn’t have before. This helps all of us because the more diversity we have in the workforce—and in the content we create—the more creative we all become.

You can also be transparent in Facebook groups and other networks you belong to, telling fellow freelancers what a client might pay, which clients are not great to work for, and recommending clients and projects when you hear of an opportunity.

3. Widen and diversify your network.

It can be difficult to learn different viewpoints or to hire for diversity if your network isn’t that large. Often, again, we hang out with and work with people who look like us.

You can do this quite easily on social media. On Twitter, I follow a lot of Black professors, journalists, authors, researchers and other freelancers. I also file several transgender people. All of this diversifies the news and perspectives that are reaching me. On Instagram you can follow a lot of great entrepreneurs, influencers and freelance business owners from diverse backgrounds. You can also follow specific hashtags, which lead you to more and more people and new ideas.

You can also do research and consider joining more diverse groups. Ask around. Ask people in your industry what other groups they’re members of. Look at any statements associations or organizations put out recently about Black Lives Matter and then look at the photos of their boards to see if they really are diverse.

4. Amplify diverse voices.

Are you a member of or a volunteer in a group in your industry? You can be a champion in helping make the groups you’re involved in more diverse. It’s not just about encouraging your friends and colleagues who are Black or Brown to join and get more involved. That can be important, but you need to make sure you’re inviting them into a safe and inclusive space, not just one that talks the talk without doing the work. First, ask questions like why isn’t the volunteer board more diverse; who chooses the volunteer committee members; how can you make conference sessions, webinar speakers and tweet chat hosts more diverse? This last one about having more diverse speakers is really important and overdue at a lot of organizations.

How many times do you see all-male panels? There’s even a name for this: manels. You would think we would have at least moved beyond this antiquated situation and added a few women. But nope, it still goes on.

A software company called Bizzabo did a survey analyzing the gender diversity of more than 60,000 event speakers over a five-year period, from 2013 to 2018 in 23 countries. They found that 69% of all speakers were male. So, how do you think these organizations are doing on racial and ethnic diversity? I bet we can all guess.

This brings up another issue: Pay your conference speakers when you can. We often ask people to volunteer as speakers for webinars and events. I volunteer all the time, both as a way to give back to my industry and to expand my network, which can lead to new clients in the future. However, the people who can often speak for free at an event have the money to be able to do this, especially if they have to pay for travel. These are likely wealthier freelancers and/or employees representing companies that want to connect with that audience.

It can be more difficult for people from marginalized groups to spend the time and money to work for free. Freelancers in general are often asked to work for free, and it’s often only the privileged freelancers who can do this. But other freelancers in marginalized groups are practically forced to do this as they build their portfolio or are asked to take free tests in order to get a gig.

And think about what a group is doing when it asks a person from a marginalized group to present or speak on a panel about diversity and being marginalized in their industry. And then the group doesn’t pay them? They’re doing the very thing they asked the person to speak out about.

Don’t just invite people from marginalized groups to speak at your event or webinar only on the topics of diversity. I have seen this a lot—the diversity panel is the only spot of diversity at a conference. You should be inviting diverse voices to speak on topics they’re actually experts on, whether that is graphic design, video production, photography or building their freelance business.

5. Educate your clients.

Some of you may balk at this. You may think that you’re not an “activist” or you don’t want to be “radical.” But if you are a White person who truly wants to be an ally, you have to work on being “anti-racist” (against racism—as opposed to just “not racist” yourself).

You can speak out on the systemic racist policies you see around you. And you can still do this in professional ways with your clients. If they are looking to hire people, you can recommend diverse candidates. If you are an editor or writer, you can ask them for—or choose on your own—diverse sources to interview and include in articles. As an editor, I point out problematic phrasing or errors and make sure to explain why I edited something as a way to educate people.

Look for ways you can educate your clients about their hiring practices, their language and their ideas.

6. Buy from minority-owned businesses.

Recently, there has been an uptick in book sales from Black-owned bookstores. And people have been sharing lists of local Black-owned restaurants and national online businesses they can buy from.

Do some research and ask around to see what local businesses you can buy from to support minority-owned businesses. Buying local is a good idea can in general, but this takes it one step further. Instead of buying from one of the big box stores, is there a local alternative?

Biz Bite: Share your pronouns

The Bookshelf: She Came to Slay: The Life and Times of Harriet Tubman” by Erica Armstrong Dunbar


97 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice

All-male panels called out on Tumblr

Bizzabo study: Almost 70% of Professional Event Speakers Are Male

Being anti-racist (lessons from the National Museum of African American History and Culture)

Drop the Hyphen in Asian American

These 7 courses will teach you how to be anti-racist

Black-owned independent bookstores

Black-owned bookstores by state

Black-owned business directory—provided by Official Black Wall Street

Bookshop.org—Buy books from the independent bookstore of your choice

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