Follow-up Friday: International Women’s Networking Group

Previously I wrote about the International Women’s Networking Group in Rotterdam, and how they’ve helped me find my way here in the Netherlands.

On January 25, 2019, we hosted a networking event for women to eat, learn, and most importantly, make meaningful connections for both their professional and personal aspirations.

left to right: Ria van Doorn, Yustine Alvares, Sterling Schuyler, Kristina Jackson. Photo by Sharon Salerni

What Women Want: Women Who Get Shit Done


The day of the event, I realized I was truly supported by women who knew how to get things done.

I previously found myself managing events because most people involved simply didn’t care, or were too afraid to take responsibility. No one was willing to commit to solving a hard problem, but they were eager to take credit for any aspect of success.

I’m not a big fan of failure, and I will do my best to prevent it. I am a person not only willing to take the credit for a successful event, but also to take the blame for a bad one. Someone has to get it done, right?

But for this event, it wasn’t necessary for me to carry the whole burden. None of these women were afraid to take responsibility, and none of us were willing to let it be a bad event.

In fact, I found that I was able to enjoy the event because we had all the pieces in place from the start. Early in the evening, I said to Kristina, “I’ll be running around during the event. There’s no way I can just sit down and enjoy myself. That’s just part of managing an event, right?”

Turns out it doesn’t have to be when you have the right team.

Motivated to Create Me-Time and Meet New People


We had two program blocks – Achieving Success and Personal Branding – as well as a networking activity prompted by Ria van Doorn. This was my favorite part of the evening because during the 30 minute break, I never saw a woman alone.

Ria van Doorn leads an exercise about establishing Me-Time. Photo by Sharon Salerni

Meeting new people is hard, especially in a roomful of strangers. But it became clear that these women were ready to start relationships, and the questions Ria provided were a comfortable way for women to initiate purposeful conversations with each other.

Have you ever been in a room with that kind of energy? Where everyone present wants you to walk up to them and introduce yourself? By the time the event had well-passed its conclusion, there were still women connecting and getting to know each other.

We had attendees asking how they could get involved with the next event, eager to continue making meaningful connections. I’d say my only disappointment with so many people attending was that I didn’t have a chance to meet them all.

Our Support Team: The People Who Make the Event Memorable


While we worked hard to make this event happen, we also had incredible support from both inside and outside the International Women’s Networking Group.

The Event Planner

Anna Gallo came on board at the last minute to help us create the ambience. I’ll admit: I was nervous about bringing on an event planner a week before the event who hadn’t seen the event space, and hadn’t been part of the event planning process.

But she was truly professional. She arrived with an armful of fresh flowers and a suitcase packed with magic, and she transformed that space from a co-working paradise to a cozy experience.

Attendees break the ice at Business, Bubbles, and Bites: A Women’s Networking Event

Again, I hate that my previous experience with event management has made me so jaded. But Anna truly restored my faith in working with professionals.

The Location Manager

And speaking of the space, Leon and his team at Progress Bar were simply amazing. Progress Bar is a co-working office that offers space to gather with like minded peers, so that members can achieve progress together. It was a great environment to host our first IWNG networking event.

Cintia Taylor talks about the power of storytelling. Photo by Sharon Salerni

We didn’t give Leon much guidance for a menu, other than a general ratio of veggies, fruits, cheeses, meats, and breads that we wanted (i.e. more veggies than meats). We also knew we wanted red and white wine, as well as a welcome drink.

It was a bare amount of information, but Leon transformed our request into a varied spread of snacks, beverages, and cocktails. He even made guacamole from scratch to go with the tortilla chips.

And beyond just our food and beverage needs, he made anything and everything we needed easily available to us, from kitchen equipment to music streaming. It was such a delight to not stress about these seemingly small components.

Nigerian meat (and veggie) pies by Kajose Culinair

The Featured Chef

While there wasn’t a full kitchen available for Ediri Sobotie of Kajose Culinair to warm up her meat (and veggie) pies, Progress Bar still offered everything they could. Speaking of those meat pies though, if you’ve never had Nigerian food, it needs to be on your bucket list.

It may look like an empanada, but the spice profile is unlike any other cuisine (at least as far as I’ve encountered). If you have an event to be catered, consider hiring Kajose Culinair. Not only will the food be a crowd pleaser, but you’ll also have Ediri’s bubbling personality to accompany it.

Final Thoughts


It was heart-warming to see my notifications full of praise for the event, the group, and all the women who attended. I am so proud to be part of this team, and I’m humbled to know such incredibly inspiring women.

This was the first large event that IWNG has hosted since its founding in November 2017, and I will say it’s the first of many. I can’t wait to see what we come up with next.

7 Things I Learned My First Year of Freelancing (and What I Want To Do Better)

In 2018, I made two major life changes: I moved to Rotterdam, and I started my career as a freelance marketing consultant. (Because why make only one stressful change when you can make two?)

For years I have read a plethora of articles, listened to a variety of podcasts, and followed some informative yet entertaining bloggers, always trying to learn about (and prepare for?) freelancing. Spoiler alert: nothing can prepare you for the freelancing life.

Regardless of that fact, I still want to share my experience, with hopes that it either eases you into your freelancing career, or that it provides comfort to you if you’ve already taken the plunge.

1. Being an independent worker isn’t the same thing as working alone.


Previously I decided this was the hardest thing I’d experienced as a freelancer. As a full-time employee at a company, I prided myself as someone who could be trusted to get the job done, with or without help.

This is certainly an important trait for a freelancer, but it isn’t quite the same experience. At a company, I was able to lean on other team members and ask questions if I didn’t have all the answers. But as a freelancer, I find I’m the only one around with any answers – otherwise, why would I be confident enough to freelance?

Additionally, as an independent worker, I could still talk with my colleagues and brainstorm with them whenever I needed. And while there are Twitter chats, co-working spaces, and Meetups, I haven’t yet found a true substitution for workplace camaraderie.

And maybe that’s just something I left behind at the standard workplace. But in place of workplace camaraderie, I enjoy late morning fitness classes and casual networking lunches. Not the worst trade-off.

2. I want to continue building my network, both on- and offline.


I’ve listened to podcasts and subscribed to newsletters about what will make my website capture more leads, but I’ve found that the best way for me to glean clients and close deals is to meet people in person.

I’m a gregarious, extroverted woman, so human interaction is a strength of mine. While I may be hesitant when entering a room full of people chatting, I can usually overcome my shyness (especially when food and beverages are present). And because I genuinely enjoy listening to people, I can better identify how to meet their needs in person, rather than reaching out over the internet or even the phone.

I find it’s also harder for people to say no when they have to say it to your face.

It may not work for everyone, but if having a “perfect” website and active social media aren’t converting, maybe you need to get out of the house, too.

3. The first clients will likely be people you’ve already met.


Work is always about who you know, regardless of whether you’re a freelancer or a paper pusher. It’s a reality many of us have faced when searching for full-time employment: if you don’t have a personal connection at the company, who knows if your CV was even read.

It’s hard to convince someone you’ve never met that you are capable of getting the job done, especially as a fresh freelancer. But if you already know someone who may need your services, reach out to them.

It’s much easier to continue building on a relationship that already exists, rather than laying down a brand new foundation. Your potential client already has a sense of who you are and what your work ethic is, so it takes less work to convince them to hire you.

That’s not to say it’s easy. It’s just easier than convincing a stranger that you – a brand new freelancer – can solve their problem.

4. The hustle never stops.


This is another piece of wisdom I heard constantly but had yet to fully grasp when I started. Training never stops. Networking never stops. Improving never stops.

I always have to be ready to make my pitch. I have to be conscious of everything I’m posting on various social media platforms. I am constantly searching for more opportunities while simultaneously balancing my plates.

I evaluate and re-evaluate what I charge compared to my costs. I determine which projects I will invest my time in, and which ones I can turn away. I prioritize my pitches based on my current motivation and level of knowledge.

I look for conferences or networking events to learn about a variety of industries. I send emails and follow up on those emails. I seek connections with people – online and in person – to learn tricks of the trade.

This may sound familiar to anyone working anywhere, but what makes full-time employment different from freelancing is that there is no one pushing you (me) to accomplish any of this other than myself. A company may enroll you in training and even cover the costs, or the business may send you to a conference with a few colleagues to open new accounts. As a freelancer, I’m a company of one.

Almost every waking hour of my day, I’m thinking about how I can be better. It’s exhausting, but just like the rewards that follow, it’s all part of the hustle.

5. I want to be better at evaluating a situation (and saying no).


It’s really hard to say no when you’re embarking on your freelancing career and want as much work as possible. But the truth is that you probably can’t do all of the work well.

We’ve all accepted an assignment or five that we didn’t love. Bills need to be paid. Portfolios need to grow. Experience needs to be gained.

Of course, turning down work is much easier said than done (like most things I’ve mentioned so far). I’ve read in books and on blogs about the importance of saying no. I’ve talked with other freelancers and friends about it.

But if a project or client just doesn’t quite feel right, you (I) need to learn how to let it go as smoothly as possible. This is where treating other freelancers as teammates can help.

6. Treat other freelancers as teammates, rather than competitors.


This is one that I’ve also read repeatedly, but didn’t embrace until recently. (Looking at you, #contentclubuk.)

When I first started freelancing, I wanted any and every potential lead that I could convert. I didn’t want to share too much of my skill knowledge with others because I was afraid they’d be better at it than I am.

Maybe they will be. And maybe that’s a good thing.

I found that, more often than not, a client needs more than just what they asked for. That may be due to the fact that I am a marketing consultant, so I invite people to ask me for more than just one problem to solve.

But depending on the size of the project, sometimes it’s just not possible to do all of the things well. Or maybe you have enough work. It’s important to recognize your strengths and weaknesses.

This is where other freelancers are valuable team members.

We all have areas of expertise or enthusiasm, and sometimes it’s worth your time and sanity to pass a lead to another freelancer – a win for everyone involved. And then maybe down the road, the favor is returned.

Or maybe a client approaches you with a big project: a marketing strategy that requires a social campaign, graphic design, copy writing, event promotion, and web support. While you could do all aspects of the project, maybe it’s worth bringing in an extra set of hands to achieve the best possible outcome.

And who knows – maybe you’ll achieve a sense of workplace camaraderie.

7. I tied my self worth to my employment status.


This was an unbearably painful realization I had around 5 months into freelancing.

I had been working for other people (companies) my whole professional life. Every weekday morning I woke up and knew exactly what I needed to accomplish that day at the office. At the end of the day, I usually felt like I had achieved those goals (regardless of whether I felt fulfilled).

After nearly 10 years of full-time employment, I still kept that routine. In 2018, I woke up every morning and thought “What do I need to accomplish today?”

And often times, I didn’t have an answer. I just knew I needed work.

I built a website. I searched for work opportunities. I asked family and friends to send out my CV. I joined Facebook groups. I listened to podcasts and read blogs. I completed online training. I attended conferences.

And while I had a handful of clients, it just didn’t feel like enough. My billable hours were nothing like what I was earning previously. I would remind myself that I wasn’t necessarily working meaningful hours as a full-time employee, but it didn’t alleviate the itching, creeping despair.

And as the days became weeks, and weeks became months, I was really struggling to explain to others (and myself) what, exactly, I was doing, and whether or not I even wanted to do it. I was so hungry for work. I was starving for more value.

I started to ask myself

Am I worth anything?”


And that’s not a good place to be.

I believe in the value of hard work because it, in turn, has always made me feel valued. The key difference now? I have to grant that value to myself, instead of wait for someone else to define it for me.

In full-time employment, I could pin my value to the amount of invoices I created, the quantity of orders I fulfilled, the numbers of projects I completed, the hours I worked, or the revenue I brought into the company. I could list all of these things as reasons I am paid XX amount.

If I’m not doing any of that in a quantity I deem valuable, does that mean I’m a worthless employee for myself?

In the middle of 2018, I would’ve told you yes.

And even now, there are times I struggle to say no. I have to remind myself that there is so much more to being a freelancer than simply accomplishing the items on a daily checklist.

More than just giving myself worth, I have to decide what about myself is valuable.


To help me define my value, I started tracking all of my hours. Not just my billable hours, but the time I spend writing blogs, updating my website, networking, searching for clients, and even accounting. I don’t feel any of these activities give me value, but it’s been a helpful step towards finding it.

Final Thoughts


2018 was the year I decided to forge a new path for myself. One year later, I’m still building it, not even sure of where it’s going.

Becoming a freelancer is my first attempt at building a career path. I know it’s been done before, but not by me.

So this is my goal for 2019: to re-define my self worth, and use freelancing as a tool to find it. I’m ready to take ownership of this career path.


Interested in making me part of your own journey? Let’s chat!

Follow Friday: International Women’s Networking Group Rotterdam

One of my biggest reservations about moving abroad was how difficult it would be to meet people.

First of all, as a freelancer, I’m not interacting with many people (if anyone) on a daily basis. I may occasionally meet with clients, but as it stands now, most of my work is remote.

And second, even if I do happen to leave my house, most of the people I interact with are Dutch. Don’t get me wrong – the Dutch are lovely. But I don’t speak Dutch, and even though they speak English, sometimes it’s nice to speak with people who have similar experiences.

International Women’s Networking Group Rotterdam

Like most people, I turned to Facebook to find people I may have something in common with. The International Women’s Networking Group Rotterdam was one of the first I found.

As I mentioned in my previous post about Vierde Vrijdag and Susanne Pieterse, networking can be nerve-wracking. It’s not easy to walk into a room full of people you don’t know but seem to already know each other.

Meeting the women of this group was different, primarily because the first time I met them was at a café, and every person that attended the event seemed to awkwardly approach the table and say

“Is this the International Women’s Networking Group?”

As a result, the conversation would break in order to welcome the newcomer and conduct a round of introductions, and then conversation would continue with this additional person.

And that’s how almost every event has been: anywhere between 6-10 women will attend a lunch or dinner to socialize and network. It’s been such a pleasure to meet women who work in different industries than I do, and to learn about their experiences moving from their home countries to Rotterdam.

Recently, we shared our stories about doctors and hospitals in the Netherlands, and we found that our experiences – good and bad – were not unique to just our individual selves. We all agreed that doctor visits are much easier in our native languages, but we’ve all accepted the inconvenience as part of living abroad.

There are also Dutch members who, in addition to being great company, help us navigate cultural customs, correct our pronunciations, and broaden their own horizons in our interactions.

I’m extremely thankful for this group of women who motivate me not just to leave my apartment, but to push the possibilities of friendship and professional opportunities.

Starting the New Year with a Strong, Driven Network of Women

As much as I praise my personal experience, making the decision to attend an event can be difficult for many people. Beyond simply collecting business cards, people want meaningful connections in all aspects of their lives.

At the end of January 2019, the International Women’s Networking Group Rotterdam is hosting an event at Progress Bar to help women network in order to achieve growth. Unlike other networking events, we hope to learn as much as possible about our attendees before they arrive in order to jump-start their networking process.

click on the image above to visit the Facebook event, or purchase your ticket here

We will provide a low-key ice-breaker activity to help attendees start conversations with each other, with the goal of establishing at least one meaningful connection.

There will also be speakers covering topics such as personal branding and capitalizing on the “A-ha!” moment. There will also be a chance to win goodie bags. And, of course, beverages and snacks will be provided to help ease every introvert into this social situation.

And on top of all that, guests have this unique opportunity to see what Progress Bar offers as a co-working space. Unlike others in the city, Progress Bar’s intimate space encourages members to interact, as well as enjoy meals or coffee together (at no additional cost). Their mission is to promote progress, and they believe that interaction with like-minded people outside of your normal circles is key to success.

I highly recommend you join us, not just because I want this to be a successful event, but because I believe we can all benefit from meeting new people (but in this case, women).


Are you looking for a strong, independent woman to get shit done? Let’s talk!

Follow Friday: Vierde Vrijdag and Susanne Pieterse

Scrolling through my Twitter feed, I saw “The Blockchain Tiramisu – Tech Stacks and Pragmatic Engineering,” and thought to myself I like tiramisu, and also blockchain!

Upon further investigation, I discovered that this event was not, in fact, serving tiramisu, but it ended up being a great experience anyway.

Vierde Vrijdag at The Hague Tech is a gathering for people in business and tech to socialize and learn from each other about various trends and developments in the industry. I didn’t know much about the presenters, but the programming sounded quite educational (for myself, at least). People spoke about intellectual property laws, blockchain, and digitizing the city.

Unfortunately I was not able to stay for the whole program, but I had the pleasure of listening to Susanne Pieterse talk about what blockchain is and how it can be useful to a variety of businesses.

Susanne Pieterse and her company Pieterse Innovate

Pieterse started her presentation informing us that she will give this presentation at an event for the Powerful Business Women’s Network, and we were a test-run audience. The PBWN asked her to present not only because of her prestigious status as a powerful business woman, but also because their audience wanted to know more about how blockchain technology can improve their companies.

As a woman interested in networking and being powerful, I was already intrigued.

She went on to tell us about her work experience as a legal consultant who worked in digital zoning for ten years. She had always been interested in computers, so she studied programming last year and then started her own business, Pieterse Innovate. The company advises clients on how to innovate and evolve their processes.

But her enthusiasm doesn’t end there. She also runs blockchain030, a blockchain co-working event every Monday in Utrecht, and she started the podcast Block Rock, which focuses on Dutch blockchain news and projects.

How Blockchain technology is being used

Pieterse gave a great explanation of blockchain technology (safe, immutable, shared ledger), emphasizing that its use is based in trust. While it’s not a solution for everything, it is extremely helpful when

  • More than two parties are involved
  • If there are conflicting interests
  • In the presence of shared common trust

She also gave a few examples of how blockchain technology is currently being used. Pieterse mentioned the Port of Rotterdam collaboration with Blocklab, as well as automated micro-transactions for package deliveries, and an experimental effort to tag social welfare benefits. (Though it was noted that the kindpakket project decided it was too difficult to implement blockchain this way at the moment.)

But blockchain can be used for so much more.

Supply Chain Management: An experiment with a fishery found that everyone in the supply chain had conflicting interests. When an app was developed to solve the problem, many in the supply chain rejected its use because they felt it didn’t represent their interests.

Energy Usage Data: With Oehu, smart meter owners submit their energy usage data to the website. Users remain owners of their data, but the shared access to the information will help improve the technology.

Theater Tickets: GUTS Tickets uses blockchain to create a fair ticket resale market. As a result, it fights ticket fraud while giving fans a better opportunity to attend shows.

Document Verification: The University of Nicosia uses blockchain for certificates, which means future employers or organizations would not need to contact the University to verify the authenticity of the document.

Final Thoughts

Vierde Vrijdag was a great opportunity to participate in a discussion about the tech industry, rather than just reading about it. At first I was nervous because it seemed like everyone already knew each other and was familiar with each other’s work (that’s always the case at networking events, right?).

But when I got pulled into a conversation, it turned out that other people attending also didn’t have a background in programming. My greatest takeaway from the event – as well as Pieterse – was that it doesn’t hurt to just go: go to a networking event, go to a panel, go hard on the paint and start your own business. Just go.