A Retrospective of Freelance Business Week Denver 2019

Freelance Business Week was hosted in Denver for the first time September 30–October 4, and was an undeniable success. The local organization for freelancers and solopreneurs, Better Together, took on this tremendous challenge. Considering that it occurred just on the heels of Denver Startup Week makes it doubly amazing that the turnout was so impressive.

Similar to Denver Startup Week, it was held over a workweek, with events taking place at several different locations around Denver, from the Washington Park area up to the RiNo District. The coordination of the venues and the excellent speakers was executed with great finesse. Not to mention all the great drinks and snacks!

Although I couldn’t be everywhere to attend all the events, I was able to get to over a dozen events during the week, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that by the end of the week, my mind was just totally blown! There were just so many pertinent freelance business topics covered, and so much incredible information shared. I took pages and pages of notes. It would take me too long to relay everything I learned, so I’ll just share some of the juiciest tidbits. 

Make sure to put this event on your calendar for next year, so you can experience it first-hand. 
For more detailed information, see the Freelance Business Week Denver website.


Opening Session

Drew Hornbein, Founder of Better Together, started the week off enthusiastically, with an overview of the treasures to come. Not only did he give us inspiration for the week, but he also facilitated some cool activities to help us to interact with other attendees, and to set and share our own expectations. And we’re off!

Reclaiming Purpose: How a Spiritual Lens Can Help Your Organization Be More Efficient, Effective and Holistically Grow

Speaker: Dylan Doyle-Burke
Session Link

  • Dylan gave us some great insight on how to set our own spiritual, ethical and moral goals within our business.
  • Exercise your emotional intelligence (EQ), using empathy, social contact and more.
  • Also employ your spiritual intelligence (SQ), by getting in touch with the purpose and meaning of your work.
  • The space between your EQ and SQ is where your true purpose lies.

The Good, The Bad & The Sweatpants

Speakers: Meg & Josiah Mothershed, Mothershed Design Company
Session Link

The Mothersheds are truly a “power couple” in the design community, creating compelling brand identities. Like any business partnership, they have had to figure out how to delegate tasks in the most efficient manner, using their independent strengths. They shared many of the lessons they’ve learned along the way.

Meg & Josiah Mothershed standing in front of a projected slide deck presentation.
  • Develop a standard process prior to client engagement. Don’t be reactive!
  • Consult an attorney and an accountant to get your business in order. Do not try to DIY these important contract, payroll and tax-related tasks.
  • Marketing and networking is hard. Do it anyway!
  • Say NO if it’s not a good fit and you can’t do your best work.
  • Maintain client relationships after work is done, so they think of you in future. Ask for testimonials and referrals before the project ends, when they’re still excited.
  • Include full scope of work in your contract, making sure to answer these questions:
    • What’s included?
    • How long will it take?
    • How much will it cost?


Instagram Hacks You Haven’t Heard

Speakers: Kristen Wurth (Strategy), Rebecca Todd (Photography) and Jacob Landis-Eigsti (Video), Purpose on Social
Session Link

  • It’s important to have a business Instagram account. And to archive posts by category for future reference.
  • It takes time to build a following. It helps to cross-promote between your personal and business accounts.
  • Make sure that your “grid view” reflects a well-branded identity. Plan ahead to curate your feed by color, for an appealing view.
  • Your followers will see only about 8–10% of your posts, so you have to post a lot to increase your odds.
  • Always mention and tag people, influencers and businesses. Use hash tags (#) for topics and people, on all posts.
  • Videos perform better than photos. There are several apps out there for editing your videos. There are available products for audio and for holding and adjusting your phone camera, while recording.
  • Stories perform better than regular posts.

How YouTube and Blogging Can Grow Profits and Influence

Speaker: Darrell Stern, Digital Marketing Jedi, Stern Marketing
Session Link

  • You are the solution to several problems for your clients. You must express this to your clients!
  • Publish regular video posts/blogs related to information that you can use to educate your followers. You will become the “go to” for that topic.
  • There are five types of media you can use to market your business:
    • Inbound marketing: bring people to you and give them hope that you can solve a specific problem.
    • Content: blog to prove that you know what you’re doing.
    • Social media: start conversations. Ask questions. Ask for sales and referrals.
    • Social networking: need to stay engaged with people via social media, or you will no longer see their posts, nor will they see yours. Stay connected by participating in groups and “touching” all your contacts periodically.
    • Outbound marketing: marketing calls, TV ads, direct mail, radio, newspaper, etc.
  • Be consistent and persistent with your blog posts. Always use the same hash tags (#).
  • Post to companies involved with your post (i.e., tweet Honda when showing photos of your Honda vehicle) especially if it’s an interesting story. You then get their followers looking at you too.


Processes Will Save Your Sanity

Speaker: Lindsey Anderson, Six Leaf Design
Session Link

photo taken from the back row of a presentation. presenter is standing in front of a TV displaying their slide deck.
  • Setting up well-documented processes can dramatically increase your efficiency and income. And free your mind up to focus on your craft.
  • Take some time to make detailed lists of all the tasks you currently perform, broken down to the smallest details.
  • Any tasks that include a repeatable set of steps can be funneled into a structured, reusable process, such as:
    • Script for inquiry call discussions
    • Documentation of service package details
    • Pricing standards (can be customized, as needed)
    • Templates for documents: proposals, quotes, invoices, contracts
    • Script for follow-up discussions and/or emails
  • Guide your customers to follow your well-organized processes. This makes life easier on everyone, creating a great client experience! And it reduces the problem of “scope creep.”
  • Take advantage of the many organizational tools out there, such as Asana (project management), 17 Hats (emails, bookkeeping, forms, invoice, contract), SquareSpace (website w/login for clients), Google calendar (for clients), Dropbox (file delivery), Trello (for task list) and Later (Instagram).

How to Achieve Financial Stability and Work-Life Balance as a Freelancer

Speaker: Jessica Gillis, Freelance UI/UX Product Designer and Founder of Hammock
Session Link

  • Pay yourself a set monthly salary, with plans for future savings in mind.
  • Calculate your financial “runway.” Your runway is the number of months you can live/work without any income, while still paying yourself a salary from your savings. Make sure to keep these calculations up-to-date!
  • When determining your monthly budget, take into account what you need for living expenses, and what you need to make to keep your business running.
  • Taxes should be about 30% of your income, or it may be based on last years’ income, or tax rate x annual income = taxes to pay
  • If you’re in a good place on your runway, you can turn away work that’s not a good fit.
  • The Hammock app helps calculate your runway.

The Hybrid Retainer: How to Escape the Cycle of Feast & Famine

Speaker: Rob Howard, the founder of Howard Development & Consulting
Session Link

man taking notes at a session
Photos by Justin Levett
  • Approach every client as someone who can become a long-standing client for recurring revenue. Appeal to them regarding their potential future needs.
  • Sign up your clients for an “assurance claim” (rather than referring to it as a retainer).
  • The assurance claim offers the following:
    • Priority response time: commit to respond to them first (as much as possible), set boundaries and business hours, convey the intangible benefit of retaining an “on-call” professional.
    • Proactive improvements: list of tasks that you will perform, self-directed
    • Can be monthly or quarterly tasks, as needed
  • Document the services provided using a retainer worksheet that lists all tasks to be included under the categories of “priority response time” and “proactive improvements.”
  • This system can simplify and improve your pricing, by allowing you to standardize prices according to your best estimates of time/effort required.


Adversity and Entrepreneurship: How Challenges Transform Your Life and Business

Speakers: Laura Maloney, Panel Facilitator; Rocio Perez; Jamila Bryant and Brenda Geer
Session Link

  •  “You can face fear and run, or face fear and rise!“ – Brenda Geer
  • “Fear is a mentor…If I fear something, I should do it.” – Jamila Bryant
  • You need to hang around supportive and inspirational people. Because you become the people you are around.
  • “Just take action and adjust accordingly.” – Jamila Bryant
  • When you’re stuck, get moving. Shake it off. Move around. Talk to people.
  • Networking is a marathon, not a sprint. 80% of the business you will get from networking comes from the sixth to eighth contact with a person.
  • Don’t dismiss people who show no interest in your business. Stay in touch with them and show an interest in what interests them. Build an authentic relationship!

Collaboration and Connection

Speaker: Diana Merkel, Creative Director, PS Design
Session Link 

  • Freelancers can be much more nimble and efficient and less costly than an agency.
  • She collaborates with other designers and contractors for tasks, as needed. It works well due to the delineation of responsibilities, and because the contract with client indicates these roles and responsibilities.
  • Quote the job to your client based on accurate time/effort estimates. When working with sub-contractors, make sure to get their calculations, and mark up if appropriate.
  • Make a spreadsheet indicating the job tasks for each role, with time estimates and use get total hours and rates to determine proposal total.
  • Provide clients with the following documents, based on standard templates:
    • General proposal
    • Statement of work
    • Sub-contractor agreement
  • Managing the project is key to an effective system. Using a pre-determined workflow to maintain consistency that sets personnel role obligations, order of tasks, communication protocols, file naming conventions, organizational tools, etc.

No-Bullshit Strategy to Upleveling Your Brand as a Freelancer

Speakers: Haylee Jordan, Owner, Romeo Branding
Session Link  

  • You need to position yourself as THE choice for your clients. 
  • Promote yourself according to your own USP (unique selling point), your motivating difference. That USP should be immediately obvious to anyone.
  • You need to become a BRAND that is easily expressed within a few words (i.e., Wes Anderson=stylized, quirky, character-driven director, Aaron Draplin=no bullshit, bold, blue-collar ethic, graphic designer).
  • Create a brand matrix for yourself that defines your industry, specialization, your competition and your ideal client. This will assist you to define your goals.
  • Construct a strategic, high-quality portfolio that reflects your USP. Be selective. Less is more.
  • Network with people related to your industry. Find out whom your ideal clients are already working with, and meet with them. Seek introductions from people who know/interact with stakeholders at your desired client businesses.

Hybrid Professionals: Who are You When You Blend and Combine Your Multiple Professional Identities Together?

Speakers: Sarabeth Berk, Founder, More Than My Title
Session Link  

  • See Sarabeth’s Hybrid Professional Identity workbook (on website)
  • Most of us are supporting several different career types at once. Although it is challenging, it is possible to meld those multi-careers into one hybrid identity.
  • There are steps to finding your hybridity, including naming what you do, drilling down into each role, and investigating the intersections.
  • Your hybrid identity is fluid and contextual, but it can make you stand out. By blending identities, working from intersections, and integrating instead of segregating these identities, you become a “hybrid professional.”
  • Creating a Venn diagram of your skills and roles will help you to craft a new title for yourself that combines your specialties.

Tax Considerations for Freelancers

Speakers: Heather Ryan, Owner, Tax Queen LLC
Session Link    

  • You are not alone! There are 42 million self-employed people in USA.
  • Types of businesses you can have as a freelancer/solo entrepreneur:
    • Sole proprietor: you are your business, you have liability exposure, pay self-employment taxes
    • LLC (single member limited liability company): you have liability separation between you and your business, pay self-employed taxes
    • Partnership LLC (multiple member limited liability company): partnership pass-through income depends on percentage of ownership per partner, pay self-employed taxes
    • S corp (S corporation): you have liability separation between you and your business, only taxed once, no self-employment taxes, use if you make >$50k/year
  • Contract freelancers should always complete a W-9 when hired by a company to have taxes withheld.
  • Freelancers (all but S corp) are responsible for all taxes to be paid quarterly, including income, Medicare and Social Security.
  • You should count on about 20% of your income going to taxes (both state and federal).
  • Document all your business expenses to receive deductions.
  • Freelancers must provide their own medical/dental insurance. There are several options available. Use an HSA (Health Savings Account). 

$6k to $56k: A Retirement Plan that Works for Your Business

Speakers: Elizabeth Windisch, CFP, Aspen Wealth Management
Session Link 

  • Freelancers are responsible for creating their own retirement plans.
  • Even one year of missed retirement contributions will have a huge effect on your eventual retirement payout.
  • You can get a Traditional or Roth IRA, as long as you have earned income.
    • Traditional: pre-tax $ – pay taxes when you retire
    • Roth: post-tax $ – pay taxes when you buy, so you get it all when you retire
  • You can also contribute to a Solo 401k and SEP IRA.
    • Solo 401k: only for self-employed, can save much more
    • SEP IRA:  employer sponsored plan, can allow employees to contribute
  • Don’t ignore your old plans. Consolidate or keep up with them to make sure your money is growing!


Concluding Inspiration

The final guest speaker was Brenton Weyi, a philosopher, orator and polymath. He has traveled the world and gathered many stories and experiences of human beings.  Through speaking, writing, art, music and philosophy, he helps bring people of all types together. He enlightened us about the incomplete nature of our interactions. Brenton pointed out that we normally share 92% of our thoughts and feelings, withholding the last, and most precious information. These are the things that make us who we are. It is up to us to share ourselves and to create a world of fervent beauty, where we link our human spirits and celebrate our unique origins. He urged us to ask the question of others, and ourselves “What kind of human are you?”

Learn more about Brenton’s impressive work at his website: http://brentonweyi.com.

Closing Session

Drew Hornbein, Founder of Better Together, ended the week with a few closing comments of thanks to all who attended, participated and planned this great event!

Freelance Business Week Marketplace

vendor table with cute little laser cut wood earings
Vendor Simple and Sylvan

We were fortunate to host some wonderful vendors for the closing marketplace. There were vendors for clothes, food, candles, software, crafts, financial services, virtual assistants and networking clubs. The Better Together organization for freelancers, who planned this event, was featured. If you are interested in becoming part of this wonderful organization, and/or attending some of the interesting events that they host, check out the website: https://bettertogetherassociation.org/.

Again, I was not able to attend all the events, but just from what I’ve touched on here, you can see that it was a very successful and beneficial event for freelancers and solo entrepreneurs! Hope to see you there next year!

Thank you #FBWDenver! ☺

Author: Patricia (Pat) Garcia, the founder of Design Explorer LLC. Pat is a solopreneur specializing in design and branding. See her work at http://designexplorer.co. Also connect via email, pat@designexplorer.co, or on social media: Facebook and LinkedIn.

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