The practical matters of personal finance for freelancers

Here are parts of my weekly newsletter I write for fellow freelancers: you can subscribe to my newsletter to get the full articles to your mailbox.

First of all, I have two separate bank accounts. I have a business account with a traditional German bank, which is where I receive all incoming payments and use for all business expenses. Then, I also have a private account. My personal account is with N26, which I absolutely love and would recommend any day! (If you consider signing up, please use my referral code – monikak3108 – which will give us both a €15 bonus.)

Recently, N26 introduced an incredible new feature and I couldn’t be happier! Customers can now create sub-accounts called spaces that enable them to assign a purpose to each. (mint.com does this in the US). One can also set a saving goal and see one’s progress. In the past couple of months, I’ve gamified how I use spaces, which is something I thought I’d share.

Next to my main account, I have the following sub-accounts:

A freelancer fund I’m aiming to save up the equivalent of how much I need for three months. My plan is to get to that goal and once I do, I’ll start paying towards my investment fund.

An investment fund where I plan to save up €2.000 and once I have that, get back to the book on investing my friend Clemens Bomsdorf wrote.

A holiday fund. I’ve set a goal of €3.000, which I know is enough money to cover flights, accommodation, and all my expenses to leave on a vacation for one month.

A relationship fund where I put money aside whenever someone pays for something I could have also paid for myself.

And a monthly savings account. I mentioned in Work Trips and Road Trips that I keep track of how much I spend every day. Whenever I spend less than €30 in a day, I move the difference into this space for me to see at the end of the month how much I put aside. On the first of each month, I move all the money from this space and also what’s left on my main account to one of the saving spaces. (Which at this point is my FreelancerFund or as my friend Theresa Lachner would call it, My Fuck You Fund). Btw. And if I haven’t mentioned it anywhere else, it’s a saving space you create to build up a safe blanket so that when you face a dry month, you don’t panic about it.

The advantage of me freelancing is that I earn money from different sources. I find this quite handy because it makes allocating money to my sub-accounts much more fun. I do that as follows:

I transfer 45% of everything I’ve earned from my business account to my private account. I’m keeping 55% on my business account to cover all my business expenses, taxes, and health insurance. On my private account, I split the money as follows:

I transfer…

40% of what I earn from my main client I keep as spending money.

5% of what I earn from my main client I immediately transfer to the FreelancerFund. In case I have another somewhat larger project going on, I move all of the 45% I earn with them to the FreelancerFund as well.

45% of all earnings I make from my books, my webinars on Skillshare, my photos I sell on EyeEm, and from small one-off projects I move to the HolidayFund.

If you feel like you too might want to consider creating multiple income streams, I’ve recently published three Skillshare classes to help with that:

Watch editing and monetizing your smartphone photos to learn more about how I monetise the pictures I take on the go.

If you’d like to set up a project but don’t know quite know how, I’ve put together a step by step class to help you come up with side projects to eventually monetize them.

And given we’re talking about monetization, you might also want to check out my class on Kickstarter and how to use the platform to finance creative projects.

If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to reach out.

New Skillshare class: Brand yourself on social media through side projects

Have you ever asked yourself how to use social media effectively?

This class is for you..

  • if you’d like to learn how to make the most out of social media

  • if you’d like to know how to brand your business as a freelancer

  • if you’d like to know how to create a side income

  • ... or if you want to build your reputation to eventually find a more suitable job.

In this class, I’ll deconstruct what it means to create. I’ll explain

  • how to frame creative projects

  • gain the self-confidence to create and publish

  • ... and will also talk about how to use social media in a meaningful way.

I’ve decided to create this class to help you utilize social media and unlock its full potential. You don’t need to be a creative to benefit from this class. 

It’s now live on Skillshare: https://skl.sh/2zraT5R

It’s a wrap! October 2018
Norn.co
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What’s a conversation you’d love to have and with whom?

Every time I started working on a new book, I’d start by asking myself just that; what would I love to know and who do I want to have a discussion with? Then I’d reach out to those people and have the sort of conversations I was craving.

If you’ve been reading these monthly reports for what’s now been exactly four years, you might have noticed I’ve had an obsession with “conversations” and how technology is impacting the way we communicate and spend time together. For my upcoming book project, I’ve reached out to people who gather friends and strangers to ask them more about how they see their role as a host and how they orchestrate gatherings that leave an impression; gatherings people ponder about even days or weeks after.

This new project has been filling me up with joy, in addition to a new client I’ve started working with: Norn.

To me, Norn is one of the most exciting ventures I’ve come across in recent years, and at least since I started working with Kickstarter. As conversation hubs, Norn’s aiming at bringing people together to help them facilitate meaningful conversations.

Together, we’re refining their customer journey and experience and also reworking their messaging. If you haven’t already, I’d recommend following them on Instagram.

Along these lines, yet slightly extended in their sense, I’d also like to recommend the following articles written by my friend Joe Edelman, who I consider one of the most inspiring philosophers of modern times:

Five Question Rethinking Civilisation

Non-Goal Drives

As for LifeStart, we’ll soon be launching new challenges on the platform after closing a challenge with Virgin Money Giving and Sony Pictures. I’ve managed to hire a couple of students to help us create interesting content for students. We’re still looking should you know a student who’s based in the UK looking for part-time work, and is a great storyteller.

I’m also in the process of launching a new Skillshare class on how to use social media as a creative, which should launch within the next couple of weeks.

What city dwellers can learn from young people who’ve moved to the countryside
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How do you feel about living in a city versus what do you associate with living in the countryside? For years, I’ve been thinking a lot about how much longer it might take until people start fleeing cities. Paying rent has become such a widely discussed topic, so it would only make sense for people to just give up on it. Yet, of course, it seems crazy to just give up on the friends we’ve found and start from scratch all over again. And, it especially might seem crazy to you that I’m bringing up this topic, given it’s not too long since I myself exchanged Vienna for Berlin, one of the cities with the most rapidly rising rents.

Personally, I’m not planning to leave Berlin anytime soon. I fully acknowledge the move has bumped up my monthly fixed costs by €500, which has clearly also impacted my priorities and how I’m spending my time. I acknowledge it and feel fortunate for being able to live the life I do. Regardless of whether it means I’m now more conscious of money than I previously had to be. However, despite all that, the topic of moving to the countryside remains an interesting one.

When I came across the recently published book City Quitters, I didn’t hesitate getting it even for just a second. I was curious. I understood why people would move away, but as someone who loves living in the city, yet also someone who grew up in the countryside and hated it, I wanted to understand how people ‘actually’ made it work.

Over two hundred pages later, I believe to have found a shared pattern and what many of the people who are happier living in villages seem to have in common. It’s how they practice intention.

It’s obvious paying less rent gives people the necessary time to be intentional. They consciously create the environments they want to live in. They are the ones who make things happen. The ones who initiate. The ones who gather, craft, and make. They host book club potlucks, they organize regular food share gatherings, they teach themselves about the traits unique to their environment and pass on the knowledge to visitors, but also locals. By doing all these things, they build communities and with that, a sense of belonging.

By being the ones who create, who proactively think about how to make their environment better, they feel happie

In a city, there’s so much to choose from. Initiating gatherings, and especially doing so regularly, might feel like a constraint. Which is why not that many do. Planning to meet up with one busy friend often feels like a hassle already. Organizing a group that’s larger, and given everyone’s busy with their careers and their millions of other commitments, creating regularity and gathering people is quite the task. If someone dares to do that, one can’t do it and only care partially. Not if a gathering should be remembered as meaningful.

Since moving back to Berlin, I’ve been thinking a lot about gatherings and organizing activities. This email might have been an unfinished thought, yet one I wanted to share, given it’s what I’m thinking about a lot lately and especially because of the book project I’m currently working on. I know it’s early on a Wednesday morning, yet I’d love to leave you with the prompt to think about something you’d love to see happen in your community. Then take the first step to making it happen.

How Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek Made Me Get a Dog
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When you hear about the book 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss, what does it make you think of? Beaches? Traveling the world? Remote working?

I picked up the book while sitting at a pool in Bali last year. For years, I heard about it regularly, and given the title and knowing the perks but also the disadvantages of remote work, I was skeptical. Those who read his books know Tim is a great storyteller and an exceptional curator. The 4-Hour Workweek is an easy read that will make you think about your personal situation, regardless of whether you crave to travel the world or not.

Tim has never actually (at least from what I remember) said one should break everything off and roam the world. He’s only made the point one should design the lifestyle one really wants. He asks you to think about what sort of life you want and then asks you to start implementing small changes to get there. For myself, I knew I missed the perks of having a dog, and not only because you don’t ever have to pick up anything from the floor that fell off the kitchen counter. But much more because you feel the seasons. Because people on the street smile at you. Because life slows down. Because there’s a little creature that is – if you’re lucky – incredibly ridiculous and gives you a million reasons to smile.

And so there I was. Following Tim’s advice, I started looking for puppies that were for sale (which is a clear downward spiral to actually getting one). I know many might say at this point, one should always take a dog from an animal shelter. I disagree because one should choose a breed and get the sort of dog for which one is able to provide a good life. Previously, I had spent a fair amount of time around Greyhounds and knew the breed is gentle, quiet, and even though they need to run free every day, they get tired rather quickly.

Greyhounds come in different sizes. My long-time dream was to get a big dog, so a Galgo would’ve been incredible, but I also knew life would be much easier with a small breed. And so I decided on a Whippet.

It was important to me to choose a dog that would be easy to take on public transport and one that others would also feel comfortable handling. Those who have followed my journey for a while know I travel a lot. Being on the road and being flexible has always been key to my business, and I knew I’d have to continue to travel a lot for work in the future. I didn’t want to put a dog from an animal shelter through the pain of seeing me leave so much, and thus decided on a puppy I could socialize to be with other people and also around other dogs.

When I first visited Orion, she was four weeks old. The second she saw me, she threw herself at my feet and didn’t stop licking them until we left. It was definitely love at first sight.

Over the next few weeks, I couldn’t stop thinking about the consequences of getting a dog and how I would handle it. My friends all questioned whether I was ready to take on such a responsibility. I just laughed and said that something would be terribly wrong with me if at the age of 31, I wasn’t able to take care of a dog. Especially because I’ve had dogs before and knew what it meant. I must admit, I forgot that training a puppy is million times more work than having an adult dog. Yet that’s a different story.

I knew I wanted Orion to be social around other dogs. I wanted to make sure she’d sleep in her own bed and not mine, as it’s common amongst Whippets. I wanted her to be loved by people so that it wouldn’t be a problem to give her to others whenever I needed to travel. The preparations started...

When I first saw the price tag of Charley Chau beds, I gulped. However, I also knew making sure the dog doesn’t sleep in my bed was more important to me. When I then brought Orion home, she was so excited that she peed in my bedroom, but then she also slept through the night in her own bed without crying even once. Things were off to a good start.

The following months were tough. I won’t lie. I had a hard time getting Orion potty trained. She needed to pee every hour and a half. The doctor, and also her dog trainer in Vienna, said I needed to be patient and it was only when Orion was 11 months old that I brought her to a vet in Berlin who diagnosed her with urinary stones, which made life for her (and me and everyone who took care of her) difficult. She hasn’t peed in the apartment since the issue has been solved.

Before the summer, I had bought a modem powered by battery that enabled me to work online and without having to have it plugged into a socket. We then spent a lot of time in the park. She played with dogs. I worked. Now that she’s a year and a half, I can say that it truly paid off. She’s extraordinarily friendly to other dogs and even aggressive dogs calm down when they’re around her.

People love her too. I’ve been able to build a community of people who’d take care of her whenever I needed to leave for a couple of days or even weeks. She’s not blown away by the idea of me leaving, yet from what I’ve heard, she’s fine after the initial ten minutes. She does build an extremely close connection to the person taking care of her and seems as much in love with them as she seems to be with me. As for myself, I notice how I scroll down her Instagram after a couple of days on the road when I miss being around her. I’m okay not having her around when I travel, and I really struggle when she isn’t around when I’m at home.

For me as a freelancer, it’s been very beneficial to have such a constant in my life. Orion wakes me up every day at 7am and demands food and going outside. She makes me take regular breaks. We spend a lot of time in the park. She even has a very set time when she wants to go to sleep, which is 9pm.

Since I got her, I’ve been feeling so much more connected to my surroundings. When you have a dog, people on the street talk to you. Other dog owners greet you. Suddenly, it’s easier for everyone to recognize you. It feels like people trust you more. You become a part of your neighbourhood. It feels lovely.

On public transport, I’m no longer scrolling through Instagram. I have a dog to pet. I feel like I feel more. Like I connect more. It’s a good feeling.

And sure, of course, there are downsides too. She still struggles being by herself, which doesn’t always make things easy. And when someone comes close to me, she gets incredibly jealous. Not always fun, I admit. Yet, I also know I can train her and she’ll be able to handle these things one day. If I can make a dog walk next to my foot without a leash, teach her how to run next to my bike, make her give me her right paw when I say “Grüß Gott” (which is the Austrian way of saying “Good Day” or “Greet God” to be more precise), then I can most certainly train her to behave in intimate situations and when she’s supposed to be by herself.

Maybe it’s not endless beaches, but picking up poop a few times a day that make me feel like I live a self-determined life, and I sure know and appreciate it every time I’m throwing a ball in the park she might only sometimes bring back to me. Things feel right and for that, I can thank The 4-Hour Workweek and Tim Ferriss. It was a rather unexpected outcome of having read the bible of digital nomads.

Enjoyed the read? It's an adapted version of my latest newsletter. Get the full versions into your mailbox. 

What makes gatherings feel extraordinary?
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What do you consider are some of the elements of a memorable gathering?

Great food?

Interesting thought starters?

A beautiful surrounding?

Mind-blowing conversations?

All of the above?

Yes, probably.

Yet how does one go beyond just having another evening filled with small talk? And how does one go from that to a mind boggling dinner you and everyone else who sat at the table will think about, and possibly reflect on, for days or maybe even weeks?

What does it take to create an evening that doesn’t just help you learn more about yourself, but also helps you discover things about your friends you’d usually not think to ask?

Travis, the founder of Norn, a Berlin and London-based salon for meaningful conversations, told me he found these sort of conversations needed to be “ritualized.” In a way, the moment of a meaningful conversation needed to be elevated to allow for the conversation to unfold. The gatherer or host, however you’d like to call this person, needs to create a space, a platform even, where people feel safe. Then they need to gently guide the conversation without over-facilitating it; it doesn’t matter whether it’s a party of two or a larger group. As a host, it’s one’s task, and even one’s responsibility, to take the lead and create such a space.

The real question is, how do you start asking meaningful questions? How do you create such a platform?

If the (first) question comes out of nowhere – if you just ask – you might overwhelm the person you’re with.

It might make you come across as too forward. Too intense even.

I’ve been experimenting with meaningful questions myself. Last year, I bought a deck of cards with questions that help people self-reflect. They’re wonderful conversation starters when you’re out with a friend and want the conversation to have more substance. The card deck is very useful for group gatherings too.

It might be that it’s the cards that are professionally printed that create such a space. And maybe it’s also the reason why Norn prints a beautiful Conversation Menu to elevate the moment of the meaningful conversation. I know when I tried with a handwritten note featuring interesting questions, it didn’t feel the same way unfortunately.

If you’d like to experiment with such conversations yourself and are looking for good questions, you could get the cards from soheresone (which are the ones I carry around in my bag at all times). Look up Norn’s Instagram or subscribe to their newsletter or wait for the one’s Holstee is currently working on releasing. I’ve found the ones from the School of Life aren’t as good for groups, as they might be for when you want to reflect for yourself. Something that might also be worth elevating as a ritual with a good meal and maybe a glass of wine is an evening of meaningful conversations with yourself. Worth a try, I’d say.

Enjoyed the read? It's an adapted version of my latest newsletter. Get the full versions into your mailbox. 

It’s a wrap! September 2018
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LifeStartFest

All I think of when I think about September is the LifeStartFest. At the end of August, we started organizing a careers festival for students in Bangor and I was lucky enough to be one of the key people in making the event happen. Luckily, I wasn’t responsible for the logistics because that would mean I’d order the pizza from the US and the balloons to Bangor in Northern Ireland as we happened to learn in the process. I was tasked with programming it all and making sure our attendees would have an incredible experience. You can read more about it in my case study.

Because of the LifeStart event, and next to my usual community work, I spent most of September thinking about hosting gatherings and creating inclusive environments. Over the years, I’ve been a part of many online initiatives and learning how to sort out conflict and create a friendly environment online. Yet with how the social web’s evolving, I’ve found an increasing joy in thinking about offline experiences. The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker is one of the most useful books, and just like Reclaiming Conversation by Sherry Turkle, it’s a must-read for everyone who deals with communities.

I was also fortunate enough to be invited to the Community Summit at the TechFest in Copenhagen organized by my friend Severin Matusek and his co-matter studio.

One of my highlights of the month was that I joined Norn.co as a founding member in Berlin. So far, I’ve participated in two events and it’s been incredible to witness how they facilitate gatherings. I feel like I have so much to learn from them. And so, if you ever get a chance to join one of their events, I’d highly recommend it.

In October, we’re opening a new round of LifeStart Challenges, which is what will be my focus of the month. If you have some small projects you want me to help out with, please let me know. I’d also love to get involved in creating event experiences, so if you think having a community strategist on board would be of value, please reach out.


LifeStartFest: A case study about organizing a careers event for students
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What would you say are the ingredients of an exceptional event? What has to happen for you to go home and feel like attending an event was worth your time?

To me, it’s always been about the connections I’ve made and the people I’ve met. The conference or networking event could’ve been just average, yet my experience could be elevated if I met someone worth meeting again. In my opinion, it’s something that can’t be fixed with great catering or good speakers. I firmly believe that how we feel at an event is what creates a lasting impression.

Now, let me turn the question around and ask from an events organizer’s perspective: how do you make sure that creating moments of connection isn’t serendipitous and only experienced by a lucky few? How do you help your audience make meaningful connections?

On my latest assignment, I thought about this a lot. I thought about how to make it my mission to help as many people in the audience meet someone and have a conversation that goes beyond small talk. I thought about how I can make sure attendees of the event, which I got to program, feel encouraged to talk with someone they just met again, all while making sure as many attendees as possible have a fun time they’ll remember fondly.

When I was first asked to organize a careers festival on behalf of the organization I work with, Student LifeStart, in Bangor, Wales, I was wondering if that was something I could pull off easily. My first question was: how will I ever get speakers when the budget doesn’t allow to fly some key people in? I knew I’d have to have some speakers, but I also knew I’d have to think of alternative ways to fill an afternoon in a way for students to feel inspired and encouraged to think about their careers differently.

Technically, one could say the event was “branded content.” Sponsored by Virgin Money and Virgin StartUp, the business objective was to create a space to build a positive relationship with the Virgin brand. Given Virgin brands are exceptional to work with, we had a lot of freedom and were able to approach a career event more like what I’d like a career event to be. Those who know my story, and how I went from studying interior architecture to working in digital strategy and writing three books on going freelance on the side, will realize that I’m hardly someone who would tell students to decide early on what to study and how that determines the rest of their lives. If anything, I always tell people to follow their curiosities, be open about their passions, and connect with others who care deeply about the same things. (Probably what Richard Branson would also tell people he meets. :) ) In my belief, there are many ways to making a career, and the more diverse things one knows and is interested in, the more exciting their career can become. Knowing this event was about creating a branded content experience, the feeling the students would leave with was key to how we thought about this experience.

When thinking about careers and the vicious circle students face of having to have work experience in order for them to get work experience, I knew I had to invite speakers who demonstrate different aspects of how to get into the doors of a company and land a job. Simultaneously, and as someone who’s now worked for several years, often it’s the people we meet and who we studied with and have developed a meaningful relationship with that will help us get ahead in life. The students might not yet realize that who will really help them get ahead are the people who sit with them in class or at an event, such as the LifeStartFest. Thus, my personal objective was to help as many attendees as possible make new connections. In the ideal scenario, I wanted all attendees to find a new friend and someone they can collaborate with on future projects, or at best, submit to a LifeStart Challenge as a team.

We had five hours to fill, and I decided to spend more than three of them helping students connect with others in the audience. When you think about it, there’s a lot of content online and at everyone’s fingertips. In my opinion, events nowadays play a different role. The role of an event organizer is no longer so much about curation as it is about facilitating connections.

To give you some background on the framework for this student career event, which we organized under the umbrella of the Student LifeStart Project;

LifeStart is a website and a growing community for students to take real business challenges, evolve their professional skills, and receive mentorship directly from associates who work in top UK companies. The platform’s concept is grouped around multiple pillars, and there are business challenges for students to solve, which can unlock great prizes. It’s insightful content to help understand the world of work, and most of all, it’s the community LifeStart has been created for (and with).

The LifeStartFest seemed like an opportunity to take all that makes LifeStart and bring it into the room. This is what we did and how the event was different from others...

The event started at 2pm. We were ready at the door to sign everyone in. My first goal was to break those apart who arrived as a group. I wanted to create a more inclusive environment and equalize everyone by making sure that they all start out alone in order for those who arrived by themselves not to feel left out. For that, we used 12-piece jigsaws that were all designed in different colors. That was crucial, as we wanted for the students to find their new group quickly. Each of the jigsaws featured a question for the students to answer. Questions such as, “If you could go on a holiday to any decade, where’d you go?” or “If you got paid in happiness, what job would make you rich?”. (Slightly provocative I know) With every new person arriving into the group, they’d have one more piece of the puzzle and would be closer to completing it. The challenge of this exercise to actually work out is that you need people to arrive simultaneously and also not give away too many different puzzles at once while making sure friends don’t have pieces to the same jigsaw. My tip after this event is to start with three to four puzzles and then introduce new colors, and not give away pieces from all puzzles one has prepared for the event. You want for people who arrive to have a welcoming experience and also make sure they can start the conversation you’ve designed quickly.

Once we had everyone in the room, the moderator, Cleo Anderson, set the tone of the event. We didn’t start with the program immediately. Instead, we focused on helping people feel comfortable by once again focusing on the audience instead of the speakers.

When we were planning the event, we were looking for an ice breaker that would work in such a large group. We felt like introducing yourself to the person next to you is something many event organizers ask for, yet you also end up saying the same thing over and over again. I can only speak for myself, but at 32, I’m quite bored by my own answers whenever I’m asked to do this. We decided to introduce the toilet paper game, which works as follows:

Right after Cleo welcomed everyone and explained the objectives for the day, she said we now needed to have a serious conversation. Another helper and I walked along the sides of the rows and handed out one toilet paper roll to the people sitting at the end of each side and per row. While handing out the toilet paper rolls, Cleo said everyone should take how much they usually take when they go to the bathroom. This is, of course, super awkward and everyone breaks out in laughter. The exercise is quite innocent because once everyone has their piece of toilet paper, the audience is asked to say something random about themselves for each tile they took off. Having set the tone of this exercise and making everyone laugh was key, and with this exercise, we knew we had them.

I happened to also be the photographer at this event (talk about wearing multiple hats) and can say there was a significant difference in everyone’s facial expression. I’ve hardly ever taken as many pictures of genuinely happy people as I have during this event. (You can look at them here.)

After the toilet paper game, Cleo asked the audience for the most interesting answers, which helped carry the tone that was set, and we expected for the audience to actively participate in the event. We wanted everyone to know they’ll be heard.

Then, the obvious part of the program began and Cleo introduced the first speaker. We had prepared four talks.

One on the dos and don'ts when applying for jobs online.

One about not having a set path, yet still making a great career.

One given by the former LifeStart winner, who happened to get a job after his work experience week, which was one of the rewards of the LifeStart competition.

And one on using social media and turning side projects into a portfolio to get the job one wants. (I gave that one as you can guess.)

I must admit, I only finalized the program and informed everyone the night before. I was so aware of the flow of the talks and how I wanted people to feel guided through the program that I didn’t leave much up to serendipity. Before the event, and given our speakers were doing this for the first time, we spoke with everyone at least once and helped them shape their story. In my head, the flow of the event went something like this:

Inform (Dos and don’ts...), make them feel safe and understood (No set path...), give them a challenge to solve as a group (to make them feel connected and invested), give them a break (and ice cream), announce the winners after the break (to ensure the students came back), have the last winner and Bangor alumni explain his journey from participating in three LifeStart Challenges and what he’s done to win (to take away the students’ fear), then announce the new round of LifeStart Challenges (the 10 minutes dedicated to the actual branded content), close off with an actionable talk on how to use social media and get the job one would love (which fulfilled the promise of the event), then finish off with pizzas to give everyone a chance to wind down and exchange contact details.

We planned about 20 minutes for all talks. Cleo introduced every speaker before their talk and explained what they did for a living, how we met them, and why we thought they had an interesting story to share with the audience. We made sure to contextualize before we handed over to the speakers. After each session, we opened up to Q&A. Cleo was instructed to have questions prepared for each speaker should no one from the audience ask anything. It was important to us to make sure all speakers feel valued and like people were listening to their stories. Thus, and in case no one would ask anything immediately, we didn’t just want to send the speaker off the stage without giving them a final opportunity to shine.

Given the platform’s main purpose has always been about challenges and proactive thinking, I wanted to recreate that experience in the room and have attendees work in groups by having them solve a mini challenge. This was also a great opportunity to give away prizes and demonstrate that solving a challenge isn’t too hard and that collaboration is key.

We had 50 minutes scheduled for this challenge: students had 20 minutes to brainstorm how they’d improve co-living communication between students who just moved in together, which we believed was a question everyone in the room had to deal with. While students were brainstorming in groups of four or five, we assigned them to a judge by giving them a balloon, asking them to go to the judge who had the same color balloon and present their ideas to them. We made sure each judge had four to five groups to give feedback to. For this exercise, we used the space outside the lecture hall and also in front of the building. We were lucky it was sunny and warm(ish). We asked every judge to select one winner from their groups, which meant we’d give four winning groups Virgin Experience Days Vouchers.

Given each judge finished with their groups at different times, we instructed the judges to let everyone off into their break, but tell the students when they needed to be back in the hall for the winner announcements. Breaks are usually when many students leave, so we wanted to make sure they were invested in the event and had a reason to come back.

The event went on until 7pm. After the last speech, Cleo came back on stage and contextualized and summarized the entire experience. She highlighted what she’s learned to help the audience reflect on what they’ve learned. It was important to us to appreciate the experience and appreciate everyone who joined us for the day. We then invited the attendees to join us for pizza, which gave the students an opportunity to approach the speakers individually and ask them the questions they weren’t able to ask during the Q&A. We also used this time to say thank you to our speakers. Of course, everyone also got a Virgin Experience Day Voucher :)

All in all, creating this event was a rewarding experience and something I’d like to do more often in the future. I’m grateful Virgin Money and Hanzo trusted me fully and allowed me to focus so much on connecting the audience, which also meant they waved off the toilet paper game, which I know raised many eyebrows when we first presented what we were planning to do. For that, I’m thankful.

Should you be organizing an event and want to work with a community strategist, please email hello@mkanokova.com.