We grow up amongst a bevy of school friends (and not friends). There’s always a crowd around us, a cohort of classmates so to speak.
Then some of us enter the world of work, the island of cubicles, the continent of open office space. Throughout our journey we are surrounded . . . and then we drop into the world of freelancing.
At first we may relish the silence, or delight in the kitchen dancing to our choice of music without fear of judgement or ridicule — except for the cats. The cats are always judging, always sniggering. We love the knowledge that our milk in the fridge will not magically disappear or that there will still be a slice of cake in the tin instead of suspicious crumbs. Our lives are our own and we sigh with relief at the lack of small-talk interruptions.
And then . . .
. . . the silence becomes heavy. It weighs down somehow, an invisible mass gathering around us. The dancing alone doesn’t have the same delight. We miss the anticipation of “Will the milk be there or not?” An inconsequential chat about last night’s brain dead TV seems like the pinnacle of enchanting conversation.
The fantasy we had formed in our minds about freelancing from home suddenly feels more like a badly written horror story. One where the protagonist is inside their head so much they slowly descend into despairing madness.
You don’t need to stop freelancing though. You simply need to get outside your head and your house. Here’s some ways you can achieve this.
Networking can be fun
Arggghhhh I hear some of you cry, the suits, the stuffy biz talk, the regimented procedures.
But not all network groups are the same, and there will be one out there for you. I’ve been to networking groups full of stuffy grey suits. I’ve been talked down to. I’ve been bored. I’ve been scared. Some made me want to run and hide.
Yet there are networking events out there. I’ve been to some where the conversation was saucy, ones where the suits were colourful and there wasn’t a tie in sight, others where geek talk surrounded me, and places where the conversations were wide ranging and lively.
The trick is to try before you buy. Most networking groups allow visitors. Some ask for a nominal payment but it’s worth it so that you can find out what’s going on. And you can make some good connections even as a guest.
I tried so many, I felt I didn’t fit in, I vowed at one stage I was never going to another networking meeting ever, ever again, absolutely not, cross my heart and hope to die.
Then I found one. It was a women only networking group, and I realized that actually it wasn’t so bad this networking lark. They gave me the confidence to speak up, be myself, grow my business — which is what networking groups should be imho, places to grow personally and professionally.
Freelancer networking tip 1: Ask around, try before you buy, and don’t be afraid to try something new.
Co-working takes you out of your space
This is not networking, and coworking spaces are growing in number. Heck, we’ve even got one here in Morecambe. It’s a fab way to get out of your normal work space to work, and working somewhere differently allows for improved creativity too.
Because sometimes we get so stuck in our heads that there seems no way out, and we feel we can’t go networking or anything because we have to work. This is kinda a mid-way solution.
If you’ve never coworked then they are usually spaces where you can rent a desk for an hour, a day or longer. Included with that rental payment is access to plug sockets, wifi and other office amenities.
The great thing about co-working is that you can go, get your head down and simply work. OR you can go, be open to conversations with others who are working there and get help, advice and feedback on your projects or business.
Side note — sometimes you can get pop-up coworking spaces such as a Jelly which is an even looser arrangement and often free.
Freelancer networking tip 2: Check with your local biz people about coworking spaces, or ask Google.
DIY make your own network
Create your own group. Start a network of people you’ve met (who you like) and arrange to meet up regularly for coffee and cake. And creation. Arrange a Jelly. Or simply go sit in a coffee shop and people watch while you work, think create.
There is absolutely no rule that you can’t start your own connections in your own way.
Freelancer networking tip 3: Start small, start with a few known biz people, and expand organically (if that’s what you want).
Related reading: A Solopreneur Partnership: Joining Forces One Hour at a Time
Online for socializing in PJs
There are plenty of social media distractions to stop your workflow and enable your procrastination. However, used strategically you can make some great connections and have some awesome conversations. After all, that’s really what social media is about.
What if you can’t go out, what if you’re stuck in your home office for whatever reason? Then why not schedule chats via Zoom or Skype?
Now these aren’t sales calls, they’re conversations to stop you going crazy.
I have a regular Skype with someone I connected with online. We discuss anything and everything for an hour each week, and it helps, it really does. Especially on those weeks where I’ve been too busy to get out.
Related reading: Freelance Partners: Work Together AND Be Independent
Freelancer networking tip 4: Set up an online scheduling calendar (I use Acuity) and create 20-30 minute spots for people to book so they can chat about life, the universe and everything.
So there’s my twopenn’orth on avoiding the aloneness of freelancing. I hope you found it helpful. If you would like to continue the conversation, please be in touch via the info below.
Sharon is a writer and mentor who helps creatives get their business head on. She loves coffee, cake and JD and she always knows where her towel is. Learn more about Sharon’s work at her website.