Interview with Roanne Dods, co-producer of Small is Beautiful

Roanne Dods is the Co-Producer of Small is Beautiful, an annual international inspirational conference and a celebration of the world of creative micro-business, freelancing and enterprising.

What is your career background?

I trained as a lawyer in Edinburgh in family law which I loved, but I also loved contemporary dance. I had my own dance company performing around Scotland, training and rehearsing in evenings, at weekends and holidays.

How did your career change after having children?

My husband was a stay-at-home dad so he did a lot of the early years care while I worked. It was hard in many ways but I worked really hard at keeping a close close bond with my son.

I finally decided to go freelance so that I could be around more for my son – and that was such a good decision for me and for him – the quality of the work I do is as senior as I would want, and my time is mine to regulate.

Where did the idea for Small is Beautiful come from?

I love the EF Schumacher book of the same name which advocates for meaningful work and economics as if people mattered.

We have added ‘people and planet’ to that and Schumacher was very environmentally conscious too. We were inspired to run events for creative and microenterprises along the lines of the wonderful 99U in New York. We have taken our own directions since then but that was certainly the inspiration.

Who is it for?

Small is Beautiful is for individual enterpreneurs, small teams of entrepreneurs, creative, self-starters, freelancers who want to learn more about how to keep their businesses going and who want to meet like-minded people.

We attract a range of people from artists and designers, to publishers and therapists, coaches and business mentors, digital startups, writers.

Deborah Keogh, the other Co-Producer, and I both come from the creative world so that has been our focus. But Small is Beautiful would be just as interesting and inspiring for those from micros in social care, environment, education, health, healing and other value based sectors.

How did you make it happen?

We started with a grant from Creative Scotland. Their initial support and faith in the idea made it happen, and continues to help make it happen. The rest is grit, laughter, constant budget juggling, wheeling and dealing and a few favours!

How do you chose your speakers?

It’s a long and organic process with huge amounts of research. We want a balance of inspirational, practical and systemic thinking and they need to be able to speak well. We also want up to date ideas and a range of backgrounds.

We like people who have a real integrity and passion but not necessarily simply celebrity. We start with a long list but the first few people who join us start to create the shape and tone of the group. It is nuanced, intuitive and hard work!

Why do you think the world of micro enterprising/ solopreneurship is growing?

We know from research that it has been growing globally since the 1970s, it isn’t just a response to the more recent financial climate.

We think that the rise of digital is enabling people to do things for themselves a lot more easily, and people also want to create meaningful lives for themselves and being in charge of their own time, working on things that they are passionate about and are willing to make the sacrifices in terms of income to make this possible.

What do you think big corporations can learn from small enterprises and freelancers?

They can learn to be nimble, responsive, opportunistic and more textured in their relationship to niche markets. It is a much more personable approach.

What are you most looking forward to in this year’s conference?

My favourite bit is hearing the response from the delegates to the speakers – the laughter, the gasps of recognition, the frowns of disagreements, the looks of concentration and rapid notetaking, the people who are trying to write notes and type tweets at the same time, and the loud noise at the tea breaks.

I love people making connections with people they’ve never met – the aha moments when they make a connection with someone doing something they’ve never heard of and realising how useful a connection that could be for them.

This is all possible because of the speakers and their brilliant performances of course (no pressure on those this year!)

The 2016 Small is Beautiful conference will take place at the Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh on 15 June. You can register for your ticket here