Welcome to 15 Minute Freelancer, your snack-sized guide to being your own boss and building a business and life you love. I'm your host Louise Shanahan. My LinkedIn bio says I'm a freelance health copywriter. But for the next 15 minutes, I'll be tickling your ears with practical strategies, behind-the-scenes stories, and nuggets of wisdom so you can create a freelance business that works for you. Whether you're just starting out or you've been self-employed for a while, I'll be right here with you to help you navigate the ups and downs of freelancing life. So grab a coffee relax and join me for 15 minutes of freelancing fun. Don't forget to hit subscribe.
Louise: Hello, and welcome to 15 Minute Freelancer. I'm sure you've all heard of the idea that if you want to see something exist in the world then you should just go ahead and create it yourself. Well, someone who truly embodies that notion is my guest today, Nikki Simpson, who's the founder and director of the International Magazine Centre, and the brains behind the brand-new conference Magazine Street, which we'll hear a little bit more about in a moment. Hi, Nikki, thank you for joining me.
Nikki: Hi, Louise, it's lovely to be here. Thanks very much for inviting me.
L: I’m excited to have this conversation. Let's start off with, tell us more about Magazine Street, what led you to organising it and what are you hoping that it's going to achieve?
N: The idea behind Magazine Street is to bring together some incredible magazine speakers, people who are publishing in magazines, people who are working in and around magazines, bring them all together, and then bring all my friends along to come and listen to them really. I've always kind of thought of it as bringing together my magazine heroes and just introducing them to all my pals. I think that's quite a kind of nice way to look at a conference. You know, most people look at conferences and think about stuffy rooms with crap coffee and you know, grey everything. I'm trying to as much as possible be the opposite of that, to the point I've possibly gone a little bit OTT and bought 180 metres of bunting. But yeah, the point is really just to help support people. This is small magazine publishers, of course, to help them get some knowledge on things that they might be looking for, help them to connect with other publishers, help them to just feel like they're not alone, really, and to be part of a wider community.
L: Can you maybe tell us a little bit about your experience of actually organising it? How have you gone about creating an event that kind of ticks the boxes for you, but also for your guests and for your speakers as well?
N: It's a very kind of basic formula. You find speakers, you find a venue, you approach sponsors, you ask people to come to the event, and you advertise it. It's quite kind of formulaic in that sense. But I suppose what makes it quite special for me is that this is the first one that I've run under the International Magazine Centre. In the past, where I was working for another organisation that has its good parts and its bad parts. I suppose the bad parts are that some of the choices that you might have made, you know, often get made collaboratively, and sometimes that can be really lovely, but sometimes as well I felt like I was ticking boxes in some cases. Whereas this time I feel like everybody I'm inviting is, for one a really incredible, really genuine, kind, and generous person. That's kind of part of my mission this year, just to really work with really amazing people. So that's been wonderful, just being able to make those choices.
What has been hard is that, of course, because I was working as part of a larger organisation before I had the money to be able to back myself up in the first place. And this time that's coming from my business. It’s fine, I mean I was prepared for it. But it's a bit more scary, I suppose, there's a bit more of, I really have to make lots of money on this, otherwise, you know, that's not that's not a good thing. So yeah, that's a bit scary. But I'm hoping and I'm doing a lot of visualisation at the moment about how I'm going to be feeling once the conference is over. I'm hoping to feel elated and that it was definitely worthwhile. I know, it's worthwhile because I've done it before and it's such a buzz afterwards. People give sometimes the most amazing feedback. We had feedback once that one of the speakers was so good that the person who was watching had completely reconsidered their career as a creative director.
L: Oh, wow.
N: When you feel like that it's not just an event, it's not just for the sake of it, it's something that could actually transform people's lives or people's careers. It’s wonderful to know you’re having that impact, that what you've brought together has impacted on people.
L: Yeah, and inspiring people like that. It sounds like if you're thinking about the difference between organising an event like this on your own versus as part of a team previously, obviously you've got the experience of having done it before which must be a huge advantage and it sounds like you've really thrived having so much more freedom doing it by yourself. But it sounds like it must be a huge amount of work, how have you managed to keep all the plates spinning?
N: I think the work is about the same, because although I had a steering group they were there to make suggestions on things that I could do. Whereas this time, I don't have that. But I would say that I do have a lot of help from people. For example, I've got a non-executive director who I meet with once a week, and she really supports me with ideas and just, you know, running things past her. And then a lot of our sponsors are really helping as well. So, you know, there's a lot of things in the lead up that they've been helping with as well, so it's not just me. I suppose the biggest task is actually just emailing people. Because you can't, unfortunately, just send one blanket email out to everybody and hope that they'll book tickets and then that's it done and dusted, it just doesn't work like that. A lot of my time is spent just emailing people and wondering what specifically might be useful to them at the conference, tailoring each of those emails. For my patrons alone, that's about 100 emails, which doesn't seem like that much, but then when you've got all the other stuff to organise as well, it's a lot. Then my mailing list itself has about 1000 people on it. So you're talking about maybe 1500 emails, all personalised.
L: What led you to send personalised emails? Because I would have assumed with an email list you would just send regular updates, information about what's happening, you know, as a regular newsletter?
N: Sometimes it works like that, but sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes you can just get enough people to just go, oh yeah, definitely, I'll just book tickets. But often, when it's an event that has so much to offer, if you don't see something specific in one of those emails to you, then maybe it doesn't attract you as much as it could, so you need that personalisation. There are probably ways to do that through mail merge, I'm sure there is, but it would be massive and fairly complicated. I really like the personal touch as well, I really like to be able to get in touch with people and it encourages them to feel more part of that community and encourages them to feel wanted really, you know. I think that's often what people want when they come to a conference, they don't want to feel like they're just Nikki no-mates and not knowing anybody. The personalisation is much more effective and much more fun, and good because it feeds into my wider business as well.
L: Yeah, that's brilliant, so it is a bit more work, but it does pay off, it is worth doing.
N: Yeah, I think so.
L: It sounds like you start off, when you're organising an event like this, with a giant list of all the things that need to be done, and then start going through thinking, okay, where can I delegate some of this, who can I ask for help, how do I frame that in a way that's going to encourage them to get involved, help them see what's in it for them, too. I imagine that part, asking people for help, do you find that challenging? Or is that something that you're kind of used to doing?
N: Well, no, that tends to be the fun bit really, or one of the many fun bits. Because it's working with my friends, I'm calling people up and saying, do you want to be part of this, and I would love to have you as part of my team. And most people, if they've got the time and the energy, most people are really keen to get involved. So that's fine. I love the way you talk about it, though, like it's really structured. Maybe one day, it'll be really structured, but mostly the system is find the venue, get the venue, and then invite speakers. Make a little list on a back of a napkin kind of thing of all the speakers you would like and then contact them and hope that they say yes. And then start getting all the stuff you need, you need their bios, you need their pictures, you need what they're talking about, you need to get all their travel and accommodation sorted out. Then get a webpage or webpages up and then start advertising it, and that's all I'm doing at the moment is marketing.
L: It sounds pretty organised.
N: It's organised now because we're three weeks away. But if you'd spoken to me three months ago, I'd be like, ah, mañana, mañana.
L: We hear quite a lot about how attending events and going along to conferences can be a great way for freelancers to connect with like-minded collaborators, potentially find some new clients, just kind of get out there and get their name out there. But I wonder if we can flip that around. Do you think that organising events and actually being the person who sets these things in motion is something that freelancers should be considering too?
N: It's quite a weird sensation running a conference because everybody knows who you are because you're on the stage at the front going, hi everyone, welcome, delighted to have you here, this is what we’ve got going on today. So people often come up to me and go, hi Nikki, how are you? And I'm like, oh fine, who on earth are you? Because they’ve been at my conference. And that's lovely to feel like the kind of centre of that hub, that's what the point of the International Magazine Centre is, the point is to be a place where people can collect like that. But I would say that from a freelancers perspective, I think anything that can raise your profile, because people talk about these things, people say, you should go to that, you should speak to that person because they know all about that subject. So a lot of the people that become members of my organisation are people who have heard down the grapevine from an event I've run usually how great it was and how wonderful it was to be part of that community. So if you also want to be renowned for knowing lots about your subject, then yeah, you should run an event on that subject, that makes sense, right? If I think about the way that my business has grown, there's so much serendipity, when it comes to networking, I think there's just so many hundreds of ways when I think about how I got to know so and so. And if I stem it back to whatever, then it's usually because I've met somebody at a conference or an event that either I've run myself or that I've attended of somebody else's. You know, that's really powerful.
L: I think if people are listening and thinking that sounds like a great idea but the thought of putting on a conference on that scale is a little bit daunting. It doesn't have to be a huge event does it? It could be smaller things in your community, it could be an online event, even like really small things. I'm doing something in October with a couple of other people, there's a copywriting conference and we couldn't go in person. So we're just going to meet up in person in Edinburgh and have the virtual experience as a little group. And that way, you kind of get the best of both worlds. Okay, we're already friends so it's not quite the same. But still, I guess my point is if you can be the person that takes the initiative and makes these things happen, then you're top of mind when people are thinking about you for similar things, aren't you?
N: Yeah, I would say two things with that. I mean, interesting that you say that you already know these people, but what you're solidifying every time you run an event like that is you're solidifying you in their mind. You know, if you didn't run an event and you weren't meeting in person, then it's not that they would forget you by any means, but just that you can only keep a certain number of people in your head, right? And if you're not seeing somebody frequently, or you're not speaking to somebody frequently, then you're less likely to think of them if somebody says, do you know somebody who needs a freelance designer or something like that. Whereas if you meet with that person, every week, you're gonna be the first person they think of. So just because you're friends doesn't mean to say it's a reason not to do it. I will say, as well, I run lots of online events as well and they are so, so easy and practical for you, you’ve just got to pay for a decent Zoom account. But other than that, you know, it's just a matter of inviting people. That takes a lot less effort, you know, and can be just as fun. You’ve just got to find a format that works for you where you feel like there's a real value to people attending. I'm not a fan of going to an online event where you're just listening to somebody speak, for example, I like to have conversation. We do peer-to-peer hive events as well, which are like, peer-to-peer support stuff. There are so many different formats, I mean, you could Google what kind of events can I run, and you'd come up with a list of about 500.
L: Yeah, or even volunteering at events that are already happening?
N: Yeah, that too, great fun.
L: Speaking, sponsoring all of that as well, these are all options. All of it really speaks to the importance of building connections. When you're a freelancer, or a company of one, or a small business, like you were just saying is all about the connections. And there's so much serendipity there, so even just going to the events, you're going to meet people. I wonder if you've got any tips for people, whether they're organising events, or attending, to try and get the most out of them and build those connections.
N: I think if you're attending, I sponsored an event the other day. I'm not suggesting that you sponsor an event every time, but I sponsored an event. It was just £200, but I went along and because I was sponsoring I was on my A game, I wasn't going to be sitting down at the side of the room like a little wallflower saying hi to whoever sat down beside me and then maybe look at my phone for a bit, you know, none of that. I was making sure that I spoke to lots of people that night that I never would have before. I suppose provide yourself with an incentive maybe to push yourself to get out there. Because networking can be quite hard. It can be quite kind of, will they want to speak to me, but I think there'll be lots and lots of people in the room who feel exactly the same. I often pick on the people who are sitting by themselves because they're looking like, I want to talk to people, but I don't know how to approach them, you know, so, there you go, you just approach them. I think as well, what's the worst that can happen, if somebody doesn't want to speak to you, they'll just go, thanks very much and then they'll move on. Most people are very generous with their time and energy. But I think just give yourself an incentive really, say to yourself, okay, I need to make 10 contacts today or something like that. Talking to a sponsor, Edinburgh Napier University, about what their students could do on the day, I said, why don't you create a bingo card for them where they have to speak to at least one speaker, they have to make a new friend, they have to speak to a sponsor, and they have to find out one interesting thing about something or other. So they're just giving them an incentive to actually do something other than just talk to each other.
L: That's a great idea. Speaking of sponsorship, I'm very excited to say, and listeners who subscribe to the newsletter will already know this, of course, but the 15 Minute Freelancer podcast is going to be a sponsor of Magazine Street, I’m very excited.
N: I’m really excited to have your podcast being done on the day as well.
L: I'm gonna be recording a couple of episodes, so listeners should keep your ears peeled for those in due course.
N: It's gonna be really fun to have that element to it where people are feeling like they could be actually featured in something.
L: I'm really excited because I haven't done this before. I'm going to be going around with my mic, hopefully asking people very insightful questions and getting little bite-size sound bites to put together into an episode, so I'm quite excited about that. If people would like to come along and say hello, and maybe feature on a future episode, and of course, enjoy the wider benefits of Magazine Street, where can they get tickets? Where can they find out more about the event?
N: You can go on to the International Magazine Centre website, which is www.internationalmagazinecentre.com, and then just look at the Magazine Street tab or its internationalmagazinecentre.com/magazine-street.
L: And of course, they can find out more about International Magazine Centre there too, sign up for the newsletter and all that good stuff as well. I will put that information in the show notes. Thank you so much, Nikki, it's been so lovely speaking to you and hearing about your experience of organising this event. I'm really looking forward to it and I will see you there.
N: I'm really looking forward to seeing you. Thanks for having me.
L: Thank you and thanks everybody for listening. Until next time, happy freelancing.
You've been listening to 15 Minute Freelancer with me Louise Shanahan, freelance health copywriter and content marketer at thecopyprescription.com. If you enjoyed this, please hit subscribe, leave a review or share it with a freelance friend. And if you've got a freelancing question you want to be answered on the podcast, find me and say hi on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram. Thanks, and until next time, happy freelancing.