About three years ago, Corinne Neil and Megan Boswell began talking about a trend they noticed: Women promote other women more than they promote themselves. They realized it was even true within their friendship.
“We realized we were bolstering one another, and learning from one another,” said Neil, a freelance curriculum developer. “And slowly, we wanted to expand that to other people.”
Neil and Boswell, a brand strategist who spent 12 years working for American Girl, decided to form a company they say harnesses that energy: Jills of All Trades, an online network where women working as freelancers can connect and mutually reinforce each others’ careers.
The idea is that “solo-preneurs” of any stripe — from web developers to fashion designers — can enjoy a “watercooler effect,” and stay on top of trends and best practices for freelancers. It’s also a platform where the “Jills,” as Neil and Boswell call them, can find work. The hope is that they’ll recommend each other and promote each other in their own networks and perhaps collaborate on projects.
“We believe that women will champion other women,” said Boswell.
The network is also a place where potential customers can look for a freelancer who meets their needs. In that regard, there is already some steep competition: The website Upwork is a well-established global platform for freelance gigs. But Neil and Boswell assert that Jills of All Trades puts the customer and the professional on a more even footing.
On Upwork, clients name the terms of what they’re looking for, and freelancers compete for jobs by outbidding one another. On Jills of All Trades, bidding is not part of the equation. The focus is on clients doing a bit more legwork to find the right person for the job.
People can search through the gallery of Jills, which currently features 37 entries, to find a freelancer.
“The talent shouldn’t be in the dark. The talent should be forward. They need to be in the spotlight,” said Boswell.
While the platform is designed with women in mind, men — “Jacks” — can also join.
Boswell and Neil say they want to keep expanding the network, and eventually bring on other people to serve as “gatekeepers” for Jills in hubs across the U.S. They’re also trying to build out features, like an option for paying clients through the website, and forums where members can chat.
The two pitched their company at the most recent 1 Million Cups presentation, a weekly event sponsored by the Kauffman Foundation that highlights young businesses in Madison.