Open Collective
Open Collective
FL5 Community Review 2022 and the year ahead
Published on December 31, 2022 by Emily Weltman

This is our annual recap written at the request of Open Collective Foundation, our fiscal host. It’s the LEAST we can do to have nonprofit status while not having to manage any of the money, the bylaws, or the taxes. Of course we finished it dead last. (Read about fiscal hosting and why we went this route on or OCF’s handbook.)

Personally, answering the 7 (not really 3) questions for not 1 but 2 orgs (Rage2Rainbows too) about the past year was challenging.
It left me with one feeling: fatigue.
I am not tired from “The work” to build community, share resources and tips, educate and connect people.
I am not tired of our new members…25 this first year, or the meetups, twice a week for about 45 of the 52 weeks.
I remain inspired, energized, and proud of how far we have come. That said, getting some corporate sponsors would be great!

I am tired because the drive to make creative work, build community, and do good deeds to change “The Future of Work” remains even as I learn how much is stacked against us. I wish we could make the first lab cohort an official research project, but all of that takes time, money, and more people.
Many solopreneurs, founders, and consultants are beyond exhausted by the constant uphill battle to survive as an “underestimated” (read: unfunded) business owner. I am beat down by the media silencing our voices while shouting about billionaire's philanthropic benevolence.

The lack of time to make the impact we want is frustrating. Full fundraising campaign concepts and design ready to go. Research projects just waiting for money to hire editors and developers. Micro-grants begging to be filled so we can give a break to a few who are fighting to keep a roof over their heads while getting away from a toxic boss or toxic job. We will get to it; we're here for the long haul!

Why did we start FLOWLab⁵? 

We didn’t start FLOWLab⁵ to be a money maker but to provide a safe and supportive environment to help people on their self-employment journey and create collective power and opportunities to research, write, and support other orgs to do the same. These are not even my primary orgs (nor are they income generating) but I am proud of the funds we have raised and more importantly the real bonds we've created and network of people supporting each other irl. 
The reality is that the odds have forever NOT been in our favor.
4% of Black-owned businesses survive the startup phase, while only 4% of VCs professionals are Black, and 1-2% make up deal teams in private equity firms.
2% of women-owned businesses make it past the $1 million dollar mark.
Women lead 25% of small businesses and make up 43% of solopreneurs, but our annual receipts are just 12% and ~26.7%, respectively.
Women hold 9 out of 10 of the lowest wage jobs
1.9% of all philanthropic dollars go to women & girls, a fraction goes to reproductive justice.

We saw the burnout that results of no funding, toxic corporate culture, isolation (especially for our members with chronic illnesses and invisible disabilities). We saw the passion and brilliant ideas of people creating, doing their thing, and make social change at the same time. We saw the failure rates of clients who shut their businesses or the first 3 rounds of PPP that went to millionaires while others begged for rent forgiveness.

We saw the posts from entrepreneurs who were lonely, tired, and ready to give up. Everyone was at capacity, but they weren't complaining. One person would post "This is hard!" and hundreds of comments echoed the sentiment. The best thing we saw...none of us are giving up. We aren't quitting because going back to corporate life FT is not an option. We just need seed money for our members to get their businesses off the ground, so it’s less of a slog and more of an adventure.
Our members are creating some seriously life changing work and doing so while caring for sick relatives, kids, family with disabilities, and day jobs. We know that when we are stable, supported, resourced and networked we are doing amazing things!
The needs are there. We would love to make this cohort and org sustainable without the side of burnout.

About this community.

FLOWLab⁵ is on a mission to help diverse creators and innovators survive the first 5 years in self-employment, startups, and solopreneurship.

FL5 is a global network of social change agents, independent, creators and consultants who gather virtually and irl for mutual learning and support. Members help shape our bi-weekly sessions: Office Hours and coWORK.

We provide education, toolkits, resource libraries, references, job tips, tech stack insights, and a peer community of practice to build equitable and inclusive businesses from the start. Regular inspo, research, and writing prompts via our community Slack, with a special focus on a cohort model for stronger bonds.

Members get crafted introductions, new connections, discounted workshops, peer to peer expert advising, pop-ups including on-demand art direction and content feedback session s. We collaborate and communicate, navigating hard conversations and building an intersectional, neurodivergent community grounded in radical acceptance, where diverse-led small businesses thrive.

Our community is so engaged and appreciative, we can’t stop now. 

In a recent survey, 75% of FL⁵ members said we were their lifeline. (November, 2022).
"If you had told me a year ago I would still be coming, I would not have believed it. Now I have FOMO if I miss a week."  

"Being with the extraordinary people here is highlighting of my personal characteristics I’ve viewed as hindrances as extremely valuable benefits. I hadn’t expected that! " 

"Hearing others' stories that told my story... hearing about me... hearing others describe experiences and feelings so similar to mine... it feels like home ... safe tribe."
 "Being able to have real talk about hard things in a safe space."

"...finding a community where I feel valued without having to ask whether there's a reason for me to show up or not." 
We keep fees starting at $5 month to sustain a membership. (We have 3 people who are on comped memberships and 2 reduced tiers because of financial hardships). These are brilliant women and non-binary people doing incredible things. They should not have to fight so hard to survive.

Learn more here! 

Diving in deeper: What did we accomplish during 2022? 

Q1- FLOWLab launched at the end of January 2022 and started with our online meetups. We didn’t do a huge marketing push and have built our community 1 by 1, organically through our LinkedIn posts and word of mouth. Our info sessions had huge turnout and when we shared our vision of the Collective (our ecosystem) we were blown away by the positive response.

Q2- We found our groove with hosting community sessions, even when hitting some bumps in the road. We over-tested some new tech and listened to member-feedback to streamline as much as we could. We released our member handbook, and are learning how to remind members of their benefits and all that we offer.

Q3- We did not push as hard in August and the start of September to grow as originally planned. It seems our members were equally overloaded and burnt out, so we listened to our community, slowed down, pulled back, and even took a few weeks off!

But, as the weather changed, back stuck inside…we started kicking dust off our tires and getting back into it. 

We launched our website and in December '22 spent time updating it (which we will need to fix several buggy things still, especially mobile).

Q4- We were a bit burnt out (me-Em especially) but the requests for support from our broader community and the feedback from our beta member cohort has been so overwhelmingly positive that we doubled down on our efforts.
How did you use money?
We have not used all of the membership fees, and so far most of the community is run on unpaid labor and lots of love for this special group of (mostly neurodivergent) leaders and creators.

Some of the funds went to freelance support and supplies, and we will expense our Flo Desk annual email fee, but we hope to use more funds in 2023 to support the community and raise funds via a capital push for micro grants, as well as raise capital for some art/research collaborative projects we want to self-fund. 

What's next?
We need more––more money to hire help, to fund our members’ businesses with micro-loans and money to give each other support and skillshare. It would be great to pay ourselves and others to run member sessions too. I hope we can hire moderators and designers to finish the website, engage more with members daily, and move to our own domain rather than redirect to a page on as it does now.

In 2023 we would love to hire support all the content creation and admin work. To hire someone to write weekly updates consistently. We would love more members and sponsors too!

Year 1 down, 4 to go. We hope you’ll help spread the word.