Interview with facilitator and author Felicity Dwyer

Felicity Dwyer has built a rewarding freelance career as a facilitator, trainer, and coach. She facilitates peer learning groups, workshops, seminars and one-to-one support for managers and staff, to help people enjoy more productive and collaborative working relationships.

What’s your career background?

I’ve been working for myself since 2003 and love the freedom that allows me to follow my professional interests and choose my projects.  

My last employed role was with a strategic skills organisation for the voluntary sector. I enjoyed the job as it was varied and reflected my values around lifelong learning. But I wanted a more hands-on role in facilitation, training and coaching, and felt freelancing would allow me to develop the career I wanted.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

In my previous employment, I was invited to join a peer learning group. We worked with an external facilitator to help us identify what we wanted to learn, to develop ourselves in our roles.

My lightbulb moment was realising I would like to do what our facilitator was doing. She became a role model to me, and later a valued colleague, as we’ve worked on numerous collaborative projects. Most recently we’ve been helping an international charity establish an internal community of practice.

How did you move from idea to actual business?

Incrementally. My early career was in editorial services, and many of my initial freelance contracts were for developing good practice materials in areas such as leadership development and learning needs analysis. And I gradually built up the facilitation, training, and coaching aspects of my business, gaining new qualifications and building up my experience along the way. This is now my full-time occupation.

How did your career change after having children?

We moved from London to Hampshire just before our daughter was born and after her birth, I realised didn’t want to be spending so much time on travel or overnight stays. I worked hard to build my local network and connections, particularly as I then worked primarily face to face.

In recent years some of my facilitation work has moved online, and I’m now able to work from home with clients in the US and Europe, as well as the UK. 

Who’s your target audience?

Most of my work is with managers, at different levels of seniority. My clients aren’t necessarily the people who attend my workshops, seminars and learning groups. The people who commission me are often HR managers or training providers. 

How do you spread the word about what you do?

I spread the word about what I do a few ways:

  • Primarily through a small number of established referral sources, and working collaboratively in association with training providers. 
  • Maintaining an up-to-date professional profile on LinkedIn as work sometimes comes in through that channel, as well as my website. And potential clients will check you out there.
  • Speaking at conferences and events is a great way to raise your profile and reach more people. 
  • It’s important to remember that marketing isn’t just a process of pushing content out on social media and hoping someone notices. For most freelance service providers, it’s more important to connect and engage with other people and build relationships. 

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

Working for yourself means riding the emotional waves, with the crests of excitement, taking risks and learning, balanced by troughs of disappointment along the way too.

I’ve had some experiences of losing out on contracts that I really wanted. When I started, I lacked confidence in proactively putting myself forward for work. It also took me a long time to be able not to take rejection personally.

A valuable mindset shift has been to see pitching for a piece of work as the achievement, and to not give too much emotional energy to the outcome. There are lessons to be learnt from failure, but I find it’s best sometimes to allow a bit of distance and let emotions settle. This allows you to reflect more objectively on the experience and draw out the learning.

And your proudest moment so far?

Writing my book, Crafting Connection. I came up with my Connecting in 3D model, as a way of structuring many of the ideas that have helped me as well as my clients over the past 20 years. 

The first dimension is about ways to connect within. The book explores ways of understanding different aspects of yourself, sharing ideas that I’ve experienced as transformational in my own life. The next dimension is connecting with others. This explores a breadth of communication skills to help you build stronger and deeper personal and professional relationships.

The third dimension is about enriching the interconnections between all of us. This includes advice on how to build your network and communities.

Why is work so important to you?

It is important because I believe in the importance of developing skills. And I mean this in a broad sense which includes cognitive, technical, physical, emotional, and social skills. Information can be easy to find, but skills take time to develop which adds to their value.

I enjoy using my own skills and gain a strong sense of professional satisfaction from doing a good job. And I love to help others develop their skills and to hear about the impact the changes are having, for example to the way they lead their teams.

Who inspires you?

My husband inspires me with his determination, intellect, and support. My daughter inspires me with her emotional intelligence and creativity. 

And I’m continually inspired by the people I work with, many of whom are doing their best to lead with empathy and sensitivity in difficult situations. I am inspired by people who are open to new ideas and who are generous in sharing their own knowledge and insights with others. 

How do you balance your work with your family?

Something that has changed for me quite recently has been setting much stronger time boundaries. I’ve been guilty in the past of allowing work to creep into family time. But having made the decision to stop work earlier to spend time with my daughter, I find my time management is more focused. And I say no to work if I believe it will have a negative impact on my family. 

What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar? 

1) Get clear about your sense of direction

Get clear about your sense of direction, and then look out for opportunities. I’m not the world’s most strategic planner, but am proud of my career and have built it by saying “yes” to offers that interested me.

One of the criteria I used for deciding whether to accept work was whether I would learn from the experience, and whether it would take me towards my longer term aims. There’s also a certain kind of excitement which I feel in my body and tells me that this is a project to accept, even if it’s a bit of a stretch.

2) Be aware of how different kind of task affect your energy levels

I’ve realised that there is part of my workload (assessment) that I find quite cognitively draining even though I’ve done it competently for many years. This is clearly not a strength so I’m starting to turn down contacts that include this kind of work, to free up more energy for the aspects I find energising such as facilitation and speaking.

3) Look for opportunities to help other people where you can

Look for opportunities to help other people where you can. Build a reputation for being helpful and supportive. It will help you build up goodwill when you need help in return. And it also feels good to help others, we are all connected.

Find out more about Felicity Dwyer.