4 years ago today, I created a little digital space where people who were interested in discussing the changing nature of work were welcome to chat
Little did I know that group would continue to grow in size and scope, to what we see at Leapers today.
Today, we’re a project with a simple vision: to see a more supportive and sustainable world for modern workers, and a simpler mission: to support the mental health of the self-employed.
"Leapers has given me the encouragement to continue with my freelancing efforts. It is wonderful to know that freelancers are being supported behind the scenes. Long may it continue."
Anyone who knows me, will be aware of two things: I’m not one to blow my own trumpet, nor am I very good at sticking at things for very long. Leapers goes against the grain on both fronts, as today marks 4 years of running a project which I’m so deeply proud of, and that has had genuine impact on people and the self-employment landscape.
Before Leapers, mental health at work for the self-employed was not a topic. Today, it is.
I can’t solely claim credit for this, but we have without doubt, influenced the number of conversations being had - from being the first resource for the self-employed on Mental Health At Work portal, to being the first mental health support resource for freelancers (and newly enforced remoters) during the pandemic, to being asked by government for our views on how small businesses can be supported better, to our research being quoted in press and by other support organisations.
"Leapers has been an amazing support across some emotionally and financially tough years as a freelancer, I will always be grateful for this community."
But most importantly, we’ve helped over 70,000 people in the past four years. That number is probably below the truth, as I can’t actually track how many people have seen our content on other websites, or that have read our resources when they’re shared or live in other places.
I hope this isn’t seen as boasting, it’s not about saying that Leapers is the only authoritative voice in this space - we are friends with so many other people, groups and organisations who are doing similar work, from fellow freelancers like Anna Codrea-Rado to the teams at Film & TV Charity and Mind, and fellow community leaders like Freelance Heroes and DIFTK - but rather I'm so incredibly proud that we are having an impact, that things are being talked about, and that people are finding the support they need.
"I honestly don't know what I'd do without the Leapers community."
Our research last year showed that 65% of the self-employed don’t know where to turn for support on their mental health. I’m hoping when we run the study again this year, after 12 months of increased coverage of the importance of getting support for your mental health, that number will be lower.
Yet, unfortunately, today the need for that support is not decreasing, but increasing.
We used to quote numbers like “1 in 3 will suffer from poor mental health in their lifetime” - I think this data is probably woefully inaccurate, and I think we have to agree that every single person will struggle with poor mental health at some point, and the self-employed face unique challenges and influences on their wellbeing that employees do not, and much of the generalised advice cannot address. Burnout, for example, is clearly a huge societal risk and issue, but ‘taking a break from work’ is not an option for many of the self-employed.
Mental health support for the self-employed requires a more holistic and more sustainable approach - not just dealing with the symptoms, but finding ways to help people build behaviours and practises which allow independents to work effectively over the long term; it requires changes in behaviours from employers - those who hire the freelancers, those who work with and rely upon external talent to run their businesses to both get the best from their freelancers but also work in a way that doesn’t damage the talent they lean upon; it requires change in policy and law to create better protections for independent workers, such as obligations to protect the physical and mental health of contractors and suppliers not just who are ‘on site’, but also when remote; and it requires independent workers to understand that their investing in their own mental health is the most important chapter in their business plan
"Since I found this community, it's like I have the best of both worlds, I have a permanent team (let's pretend we all just work remotely / from home but for the same office) but with all the freedom of a freelancer"
I can’t do that alone. Yes, with the limited time and resources we have right now, Leapers has done a great deal, but it isn’t enough. Four years in, we’re at a turning point for the project - we’ve laid the foundations: we have built a supportive and caring community; we’re curating and creating resources which we know help; we’re working with businesses to work well with freelancers; and we’re building friendships and relationships with partners who can help us reach and support more people; but now we need to get serious.
We need to make the project sustainable - we currently have no meaningful revenue and are a loss-making operation. People rely upon Leapers as a critical part of their support network. I have a responsibility to ensure it can continue. This means generating income by and for the project.
We need to make the project scalable - we have limited ability to reach people, and need to find ways of driving awareness, supporting people to establish healthy habits, and change the way employers work with freelancers, beyond just those people I can pester and provoke. This means focusing on developing ways to support people not just within the community, but embed support in many other places too.
We need to make the project measurable - to help people understand the positive impact that our approaches have, we need to start understanding the tangible benefits, in terms of emotional and commercial terms. This is especially critical for employers to believe in our work - if they can see the positive impact on the bottom line of working well with freelancers, that’s when things change. This means more research and evaluation of our work, and finding partners who want to help us prove those benefits too.
I also need to balance this with my own needs - the irony of running Leapers is the toll it takes on my own mental health. You can’t help but be affected by the emotional load of the community, and as an independent worker myself, a single parent, with my own mental health challenges - Leapers is the support network I need, but also creates its own demands.
I don’t really have ‘a plan’ for this yet. I had a plan at the start of 2020 for how to take the next step and make Leapers sustainable and have more impact, but COVID pushed us into a very reactive and responsive way of working, and also Leapers has always been quite ‘organic’ in the way it has grown and developed over time, but I feel like I do need to start putting structure around what has become a significant project, with so much potential to do so much more.
I think I need a co-founder - someone who is all in with me, and I also need to get better at asking for help.
So, how can you help?
If you’re an independent worker - the best way you can help is by being part of the community and helping your fellow freelancers, by listening, by offering support, by just being a member. Don’t underestimate just how helpful this is, and Leapers would be what it is without our members.
The second way you can help is by telling other people about our community and our resources. The more people who are aware of Leapers means the more people who might feel that little bit less lost when they need help.
The third most useful thing would be to talk to your clients / employers, and ask if they are interested in working with Leapers to signpost to our support. At the very least, ask them to tell all of their freelancers about us. If they want to do more, ask them to email me, and I’ll have a conversation about how we can help them become more Freelance Friendly.
If you’re an employer - email me. Ask how Leapers can help you support your freelancers to do their very best work for you. I to find a number of businesses who are serious about investing in their freelance talent, and want to work with Leapers in a meaningful way.
If you’re a community leader - email me. Let’s swap and share resources, support each other, and pull together on this front. We’re all aiming to do the same thing, and by working together, we can focus on the bits of the solution we’re best at delivering.
If you’re a platform - email me. If freelancers are your target audience, let Leapers help you add value to your offering, and embed our support in your product.
If you can afford to support the project financially - we do have a supporters page where you can make a regular donation to the project. Every penny really does help, and goes to invest in us developing further content, resources and tools.
And finally: to the people who log-in every morning, say hello, make a cuppa with us, support each other in their times of need, celebrate the little and big wins, and are absolutely the pillars of our community, thankYOU to everyone who makes up Leapers. I’m not going to list names, because every single member has real value to the community - but there are so many of you who go above and beyond, and I’m eternally grateful for the support you give each other, and me.
Thank you for being the support network I think we all need.