Thursday, 14 November 2013

From Concept to Reality - the Cathean Ltd Medical Writers' Retreat

Note: This article was previously published in Medical Writing 2013; 22(3): 233.
Our group of solopreneurs with Kathryn White and Elaine Bailey

It was while riding my horse, Wilbur, through the autumnal woods close to home that the idea came to me. Why not organise a medical writer’s retreat to provide a support network for freelancers based in the UK?

I am a member of a similar and regional network of freelance clinical researchers who meet once a year to discuss topics relevant to their role. I have found these meetings invaluable and a fantastic opportunity to meet like-minded people. I am also actively involved in the EMWA Freelance Business Forum and have been involved in the Institute of Clinical Research Freelance Forum, so I have experienced, first-hand, how useful these meetings can be.

The task seemed daunting at first but I enlisted the help of business coach Elaine Bailey who acted as a sounding board for my ideas, adding suggestions from her own experience of setting up workshops and training retreats. I knew the idea was good, but I was still uncertain of how to move forward. Why would anyone want to come along to something I had organised and was there a need for such a forum in the UK? Elaine laid down the gauntlet - if I organised one for 2012 she would come along to provide group coaching to the attendees. It was a deal. This would provide the perfect launch and provide participants an opportunity to receive sound business advice, whilst networking with their peers. My objective was to offer my fellow freelancers a day away from the office in comfortable, informal surroundings where everyone could concentrate, without the distractions of work or home-life, on developing themselves and their businesses alongside others in a similar situation. I wanted to bring everyone together to swap ideas, thoughts and concerns.

I am fortunate to have a fantastic network of freelancers and colleagues, many of whom have been mentors to me since beginning my freelance career, while others are considering a move into freelancing, and I have been happy to answer any queries they have about that. The first step was to contact everyone I knew within that network and ask them whether they would attend such a retreat. The response I received was overwhelmingly positive. It seemed my intuition was correct – freelancers do value support from their peers and an opportunity to network with like-minded people.  

I kept the venue for the meeting local to my home to aid the organisational logistics. The Greyhound is a pub in the village where I live and the proprietors very kindly agreed to let me have the use of a room to conduct the retreat. A questionnaire was sent out to the participants beforehand to establish their needs so that, with Elaine’s help, we could tailor the training to meet their requests. The day of the retreat dawned and all my concerns melted away. People travelled from all over the UK to be there. The energy and enthusiasm in the room was palpable. We mixed group discussion with smaller break-out sessions and covered a wide range of topics in relation to managing a business, dealing with client demands and understanding our own value as medical writers. Everyone went away feeling positive and enthused and this was evident from their feedback. On that note, I will hand over to attendee, Alysia,
to give you her perspective.

I have value, do you want some?

Throughout the day, the atmosphere in the room was buzzing. As soon as I sat down I was drawn into conversation with the other freelancers around me. The range of freelance experience in our group was varied and so were our client portfolios. The honest revelations and often humorous contributions from the floor, combined with Elaine’s clever guidance using descriptive keywords and quotes helped us to collate a fantastic bundle of ideas and tools with which to improve our careers as freelancers.

When asked what issues we wanted to tackle in our freelancing lives, most of our concerns fell into two categories: how to become better freelancers and how to optimise client relationships. Some of us wanted to improve our time management and be more effective at our jobs, others wanted to learn how to best deal with criticism without feeling devalued. Some of us felt that we had taken on too much work, while others wanted to attract more clients through better marketing. All of us felt uncomfortable in talking about money with our clients.

After putting our heads together, a number of valuable strategies emerged on how a freelancer can grow and improve including how to master self-leadership and how to believe in our own self-worth. Our discussions also covered the practical sides of running a freelance business, including the value of online visibility in the form of freelance registries, a business website and social media sites. 

With all that brain storming we were ready for a late lunch at the pub! After good food and drink we all returned home. For some this was just a short walk, for others it was as far as North West England and Wales. Had it been worth the long drive over? Definitely and I am looking forward to the next one.
The next one was held on 20 Sept 2013 and was another great success! Thank you to everyone for their continued support of this initiative.