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Grit, Grind, Grow: Freelancing in Memphis

From FedEx and AutoZone to Elvis and Justin Timberlake, Memphis isn’t a stranger to business and creativity.

But the freelance scene is only just beginning to boom in the Bluff City.

Ranked as one of the top places for lowest startup costs, new businesses from around the country, and even the globe are tapping into Memphis’ diverse culture.

In fact, organizations like Start Co. and Creative Works are fusing mentorship, training, and collaboration to empower young Memphians to break the mold of the 9 to 5. And to create a more unified community, co-working spaces and meet-ups are popping up across the city.

In the heart of Midtown Memphis is Studio688, one of the city's first co-working spaces. It’s just a short jaunt from the famous Central BBQ and the eclectic coffee shop, Otherlands. Studio688 members can catch a whiff of smoky barbecue and freshly brewed coffee while gearing up for work—or use the local stops as an excuse to procrastinate work.

The repurposed home, owned by musician Lisa Mac, caters to a unique blend of creatives. It’s not uncommon to spot a writer nestled on the couch, a tattoo artist working on an intricate cover-up, or a fashion designer sizing runway models in the converted garage.

Once a month, Spark Memphis Leader, Rebekah Olsen, lures everyone away from their desks with wine and snacks for a meet-up in the conference room. She taps into her experience from nonprofit work and entrepreneurship to create a collaborative environment.

Shannon Little, the owner of Shannon R. Little Communications , is a veteran of Spark Memphis, “I enjoy Spark Memphis because it’s a casual way to get together with other freelancers. Instead of just trading business cards, we build a community, refer each other for work and build each other up,” says Little.

Despite the rainy weather and holidays, this past December Spark Memphis had their largest turnout for the year. Everyone pulled the antique couches and renovated chairs into a circle and started an impromptu discussion on insurance and business tools.

And, yes, I know what you’re thinking. Insurance? Sounds boring. But, for Memphis entrepreneurs, it was a hot topic. Blue Cross Blue Shield announced earlier in the week that they were leaving Tennessee, so the group traded networking for a brainstorming session on finding coverage for the New Year.

But business topics aren’t uncommon for the group. Discussions, like demanding clients and marketing, change each month. And the conversation usually takes off on its own course so the attendees can get the advice they need.

In fact, Spark Memphis had a surprise visitor from Nashville. Melody Jennings Bowers, co-owner of Virtual Collective will be facilitating the new Spark Nashville location.

She took the three-hour trip to Memphis to learn the ropes, but also helped guide the group’s discussion using her own experience as a freelancer. Spark members in Memphis are looking forward to collaborating with Nashville in 2017.

Outside of Spark meetings, members of the group also make an extra effort to stay connected throughout the month. So, after the meet up, Spark members head to the Facebook group to share links to websites, news articles, and favorite tools.

Rebekah Olsen Rebekah Olsen helps businesses, entrepreneurs, and nonprofits ignite rewrite their story. But when she's not writing, you can find her at her business, Memphis Gold Buyers, or traveling the world.

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