Why Jelly is good for small businesses

Working from home can be great, but it’s good to interact with other business owners sometimes. That’s where Jelly comes in

Working from home has many advantages but also a number of challenges, among which is the danger of becoming isolated. Working alone in your spare room may make you not only feel lonely and cut-off, but has longer term threats for your own and your business’s potential.

It can lead to “small fish” syndrome, where you feel very insignificant compared to the corporates and larger SMEs you read about on social media, and this can make you go for less exciting work than you are really capable of – at lower rates. And it might mean you stay within your comfort zone and don’t develop your expertise and experience to its real potential.

It’s essential to get out of the home office regularly and mix with other people, for social as well as work reasons. So when I stumbled upon the concept of Jelly on Twitter a few years ago, I was keen to give it a try.

Jelly began in New York in 2006 when two IT freelances were chatting one day about the drawbacks of working from home, and in particular getting sick of the same old four walls and missing the company of other people. They decided to invite some fellow freelances around to their apartment to work together for the day, and Jelly was born. Apparently it’s called Jelly because they were eating jelly beans at the time, in case you were wondering.

Jelly has no organisation, no structure, no hierarchy, no rules. It is simply a good idea, open to anyone who wants to put it into practice. I personally feel that the two main principles of Jelly are that it’s free to attend – although depending on venue there may be a charge for refreshments – and it’s not a place to sell, pitch or talk up your business in any way.

It’s about co-working, which simply means getting together with other home-workers, freelances and small business owners for a day of working alongside each other, chatting and helping each other out. People often bring along homemade cake to share. Jelly has a completely different atmosphere to any other business event I’ve ever been to.

There’s no need to dress up, and nobody has to stand up and speak, so everyone is relaxed right from the start. I’ve been amazed by how open people are about their problems and by the amount of help and support they’ve received from those who attend.

It’s a great place to meet people you’d never otherwise bump into. Jelly attracts people who never go to networking or other business events, either because they don’t feel it suits them or because they do something very specialised and don’t need the contacts.

It’s a brilliant place to get those irritating little IT questions answered – folks in this industry are used to picking up their laptop and working anywhere. Frustrated by Twitter? Not sure how to get that new logo on your website? Someone at Jelly will tell you in a flash.

The events are a place to catch up on local news and find out what’s going on with businesses, council decisions and good old-fashioned gossip. In a nutshell, all those important and juicy details you tend to miss out on when you’re working alone in your home office. So turning up could lead to more opportunities and better decision-making. And, of course, there’s always the possibility of making new friends or of meeting a new supplier, project partner or client.

Sounds interesting? Check out www.uk-jelly.org.uk/find-a-jelly to find your nearest Jelly, or ask on Twitter. If nothing already exists, it’s straightforward to start your own group, and my How to Set Up Your Own Jelly guide has been used by groups all over the world.

No matter how happy you are with your own company – and many of us choose to work from home because that’s how we function best – home-workers still need regular input from the outside world to stay motivated, enthusiastic and on top mental form. Jelly is an easy, relaxed and cost-effective way to get topped up.

Judy Heminsley is the founder of workfromhomewisdom.com, a blog that provides advice and inspiration for home workers, and author of Work from Home. She was a pioneer of Jelly co-working in the UK.

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