Sarah Dryden, Freelance Events Director
How did you start your freelance career?
Six years ago, I left ?What If! in New York and moved back to London. I didn’t have any big strategy for what I was going to do; I wanted to come back to London and get my feet on the ground and see where things led me. I’d always liked the idea of freelancing and the freedom it allows. I saw friends had left jobs and started working for themselves successfully.
I lacked a lot of confidence to do it myself. I didn’t think I had the skill set or that people would want to hire me for projects. I lacked bravery to do it.
After having some conversations with people about my next move, a friend said she was setting up her own business in New York. She invited me to get on board to launch the London side of Spacehopper, which helps corporates and businesses find creative spaces to hold their meetings and events in.
it wasn't full time and as it was a startup it didn't pay a great deal of money but it meant I still had time to really think about what I wanted to do. When you're in full time employment, you don’t always have the headspace to think about what you want. It also allowed to get out there and meet lots of people, which I did straight away. This experience got me out there networking, talking to people about what I was doing. This led to me getting three regular clients, including Wavelength who I work with now, a leadership development business that runs a program of events to help leaders become more innovative, to create a better culture and environment for employees.
My confidence grew as I realised that people asked me to work with them and put their trust in me. Spacehopper started this process and it just grew and grew.
How did the events you ran at ?What If! help you in developing your freelance events career? And what skills did you find most valuable to transfer to freelance?
We produced global creativity learning events. When I moved to New York I did the same and was also responsible for the company's marketing events.
Skills-wise, I carried over the ability to work with lots of different teams, strong client management skills, running my own part of the business. I was responsible for this part e.g. running the P&L, a team, hiring; all skills which can be carried over to running your own business.
What is it that you love most about events? What made you decide to head in that direction when you went freelance?
The sharing of inspiration. We ran ALL EARS together (with Faith) and met some amazing people doing amazing things; sharing that with others and seeing the impact that can have on their personal and working lives; seeing things come to fruition when you're doing an event and seeing the big finished product; you just can't beat it. Seeing all that hard work come together and finally the big showcase of inspiration that you helped put together. Seeing people leave having had a great time at an event, learning a lot, inspiring them to change themselves or their business.
The social enterprises that you work with and the social strategies that your clients have are really important to you, aren't they?
They are. I think businesses have a responsibility to give back socially, to the environment around them and to their employees. The culture and happiness they create for the people who work for them is very important. I do volunteering myself; I think its good to give back to have a social impact, to create a bit of good.
How has the network you developed in your employed career helped your freelance path?
Amazingly well. I wouldn't have my freelance career if it wasn’t for the network I had at ?What If!; most of my clients now are from my days there. It's important to network and stay connected as much as possible as you never know when people are going to cross paths with you again.
You spent 3 years in New York. What key learnings did you take from working there vs working in London?
It’s always a good experience working in different places. New York has a very hard work ethic. I took as much as I could from that journey to get me where I am now.
You organise events all over the world. Where have been so far this year?
San Francisco and Portland, Oregon to visit Ritz Carlton, Apple, Google, LinkedIn as part of a study tour for Wavelength. Lots of places in Europe so far and sunny Sunderland!
Where do you work from? Do you have a preference?
I work from home a lot and also from Shoreditch House. If I’m doing many events, I’m on site a lot. The beauty of freelance is you have the freedom to work wherever; I can work from my boyfriend’s house, my mum's place abroad; it varies and depends on what projects I’m working on.
I can get bored of my own company if I’m working from home too much. At Shoreditch House I will invariably meet people I know working there too which is great and it's an inspiring space. But it's also great to have quiet time though to to be able to get on with stuff.
What did you do for work today?
I travelled up from Surrey, caught up on emails, saw my personal trainer and prepared for this interview. Tomorrow I have a meeting at a great social enterprise.
How do you decide how to structure your days?
It really depends what I have on. Working with multiple clients, it is important I protect time for each client. I have little processes I put in place e.g. different emails accounts for different clients so I’m not distracted when I'm focusing on each one.
I like being the master of my own week and not have someone breathing down my neck. I like to up early, at my desk by 7.30am and plan my day well ahead before everyone else is up and emails start. I make sure I take a good lunch break and get a good walk in or some exercise.
As a sole trader, do you pay for any professional services like accountancy?
No, I save the money and do it all myself. It's straightforward for me. I do my tax return online, it's easier than you think to do.
What's next for you?
Wavelength offered me a full time job which is brilliant. Freelance is great but I love working with Wavelength; I love what they do, what they're about and I still have the flexibility... I don’t have to go into an office every day, I still get to work from home which is so important to me.
I've enjoyed going through freelance time as I've worked out what is good for me. I couldn’t imagine going back into an office every day or working for a huge organisation again.
What piece of advice would you give to someone who is thinking of changing the WAY they work?
I'd say be brave; you can do more than you think you can do. The biggest thing is networking and getting yourself out there; talk to as many people as possible about what you do. You never know which doors it will open for you and where things can lead. Many of the clients I have have come through friends or friends of friends and being in the right place at the right time.
Being freelance has really grown my confidence and done so much for me professionally. I’ve learnt so much from it, I’ve pushed myself. When you work for yourself you only have yourself to fall back on, so you go that extra mile. You have to deliver or you don’t get paid. It's really set me in a good place for the future, whatever I do.
Interviewed by Faith Hill, Life Coach