Matthew Knight is the founder of Leapers - a community organisation that supports the mental health of freelancers and the self-employed. Their mission is to make modern work more supportive and sustainable for modern workers.
Matthew created a safe space of helpful and supportive interaction for freelancers all over the world. Since the pandemic started in April, Matthew has really upped the ante on support for the entire group, from bringing onboard counselling services for those who are struggling, always being there with a positive comment or suggestion, and definitely always being there with a smile and a coffee mug emoji every morning, even though he’s very honest about his own struggles with mental health.
Whilst the world braces for the impact of the emerging pandemic of COVID-19 caused by Coronavirus, people are looking towards remote-working whilst self-quarantined or enforced isolation, and the self-employed are preparing for the impact the outbreak may have on their ability to work.
Matthew, via Leapers, is collecting and creating resources around the topic for anyone who finds them useful, not just the self-employed - with a focus on maintaining positive mental health under challenging times.
We met with Matthew to see how he feels about being The Freelancer of the Year, Sweet FA 2020 winner and to learn a little more about him.
How does it feel to be a Sweet FA 2020 winner?
I’m both shocked and honoured to have been selected as Freelancer of the Year - what Leapers has been doing this year to support the self-employed has clearly been important to many, and I’m glad to know that the project is helping people and the work is appreciated.
I’m both shocked and honoured to have been selected as Freelancer of the Year
Why did you set up Leapers and champion mental health?
When I started the project almost four years ago, there was no conversation about mental health and self-employment, yet alone resources or support groups dedicated to the topic. I wanted to change that, as all too often I was hearing people saying how hard, how isolating and how challenging self-employment could be. The importance of mental health at work is now starting to be recognised by employers, who are providing support to their employees - but for the 5m+ people who don’t have an employer, mental health at work is even more important, as there are no sick days, no paid vacation, and all too often, looking after oneself gets de-proritised. The most important asset in your business is you - so we focus on encouraging everyone to make mental health a critical part of their business plan, whilst reminding them, you don’t have to do it alone. There’s thousands of freelancers who are happy to be part of your team.
Let's learn some more about you:
What do you do?
I’m a senior creative and innovation strategist - in short, I help businesses figure out what to do next. I’ve worked for agencies leading strategy and innovation teams, as well as client-side helping businesses to take confident steps towards something new. In the past few years, I’ve worked with both small startups and large established businesses including remarkable teams at brands including British Gas, Klarna, Sony, Disney, adidas and LEGO, and enjoy getting people excited about what’s possible.
How did you become a Senior Creative and Innovation Strategist?
I’ve worked in many different disciplines: design, media, technology, creative - but the two things which have been constant is an interest in problem solving and a desire to try new ways of doing things. I’ve always gravitated to roles which offer this. They call what I do different things in every single organisation, but if you’re struggling to figure out how to do something, give me a shout.
How long have you been freelancing?
I started when I was 15 working for record labels building websites. When I was 21, I started a digital agency with some friends and then freelanced for five or six years after leaving that business. Most recently, I have been working independently again after a few years in a leadership position at an agency. So, pretty much my entire career.
Why did you decide to go freelance?
It was never a conscious decision - I just follow where the most interesting work lies, and that often looks like shorter term projects or missions.
What's the best thing about freelancing?
Getting to meet lots of different people, fresh challenges, control over your own time, and most importantly, being able to be flexible - as a parent, I want to be able to spend as much time with my children as possible, and during covid, the flexibility has been necessary too.
What's the hardest thing about freelancing?
I don’t enjoy the relentless nature of finding the next role. I enjoy doing the work, not chasing the next brief.
What's one thing no one ever told you about freelancing you wished you'd known at the beginning?
You need to endlessly keep your contacts and network warm. Even if you’re working on a long-term project, keep reminding people you’re out there.
Can you tell me about a project you're proud to have worked on?
Leapers is without doubt the project I’m most proud to have worked on - but a close second would be the work I led establishing an internal culture programme within Carat, which led to some genuinely remarkable outcomes - any work where you can see tangible positive impact on people’s lives always feels great.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to become a Senior Creative and Innovation Strategist?
Always be curious - and don’t just think, but do too.
If a client was reading this, why should they hire you?
If a client is reading this - don’t worry about hiring me, but do give me a shout if you’re looking for ways to support the mental health of the self-employed. Leapers doesn’t just support individuals, but also works with businesses who care about their extended teams, and over 2021, I want to work with organisations who want to work well with their freelancers. Supporting your teams’ mental health leads to lower cost and higher quality work, so is a sensible investment. At the very least, let your freelancers know we exist - and we’ll support them on your behalf at www.leapers.co.
What I love about Matthew is that for him, it's about so much more than just the ‘work’ … it’s about all of the crucial yet often overlooked soft and hard stuff that sits around any freelance engagement… From onboarding, to mental health support to proper feedback and everything in-between. He is always a total joy to work with and his passion and enthusiasm for everything he does is completely infectious.
Matthew is a 20 year veteran of digital, innovation and creative businesses, and has most recently been head of strategy and innovation for Carat UK. His experience is a mix of creative, product, above the line, digital, media and advertising agencies.
Matthew has worked for agencies including W+K, Anomaly, AMV, M&C Saatchi, and brands including Nike, Innocent, Philips, British Gas, GoCompare and Arla. He is a D&AD award winner, regular writer for publications like The Drum, Campaign, The Grocer, and spends 20% of his time on non-commercial and non-profit projects.