Being a sole trader, or a freelancer, can be a lonely old place. Most of us work from home. Many of us will largely rely on resources like LinkedIn for our networking. And the majority of our interactions with others will take place over email.
Contrast that with my previous life, in that building called er… oh yes, an office. Chats at the water cooler. Break out areas for brainstorming. Meetings. Office parties and company conferences.
Does just thinking about it make you want to cry into your pot of coffee for one?
Stop! It doesn’t have to be this way. Company, colleagues, a social life and support do not need to be an elusive, distant memory.
Without a readymade set of colleagues, clients, suppliers and peers, you need to get out and find them. It takes confidence, yes. It can be time-consuming, sure.
But it can be a sanity-saver and therefore well worth the effort.
So without further ado, here’s how to do it.
1. Where possible arrange face to face meetings. Or at the very least do skype or telephone meetings, so that not all communication with other human beings is digital. Face to face meetings may require more time and organisation. However the relationship that can be built up through even just the initial stage being face-to-face is invaluable. You’ll learn so much more about your client or colleague from their body language and as the relationship is stronger, they’ll share more. Once the initial embarrassment is over (what do you look like/where will you be sitting), the rest will be worth it, believe me.
2. Speak and meet with other people in your industry. Initially you may think ‘but I don’t want to share any secrets, and they might want to steal my ideas’, but it’s highly unlikely you’ll encounter anyone out for skulduggery. In the past I’ve chatted with other copywriters, to consider back up options in times of high capacity; to share tips on everything from sourcing work to pricing to how we approach a brief. If you’re good at what you do, there should be plenty of work to go round, and building connections with other people in your industry can be invaluable for learning and self development.
3. You know I’m going to say it. There’s no way to avoid it. NETWORKING. Yes, something I avoided for a long time. Something that for many of us takes a huge step in confidence. But a step that can change your life. It goes without saying that you need to find the right networking group. Formal/informal, large/small. But once you’ve found the right one/s, these people will become your colleagues who will support you and have your back. It’s also an opportunity to rediscover and practice those rusty old skills in presenting, selling, communicating and relationship building, in a familiar and comfortable environment. And if you can’t find the right networking group, set up your own! A brave client of mine stepped out of her comfort zone and did this, with great success.
4. Attend industry courses, workshops, conferences. A fabulous way to chat with industry peers, be among professionals, learn and take things at your own pace. New to the whole networking lark? Attend as a delegate, walk round, attend sessions and simply learn as much as you can. Then as your confidence grows, collect business cards and start contacting people to build your own network and circle of professional colleagues.
5. Upscale and take someone on or form professional associations and partnerships. Of course this depends on the stage and nature of your business. But a problem shared is a problem halved. Even just one additional person working alongside you is a place to bounce ideas, share workload, challenge one another and have more interaction, professional conversation and well, a person to gossip with over a coffee. And who knows, that leap in the business may be the start of a new chapter.
Don’t be a lonely sole trader next Christmas. Surround yourself with colleagues, peers and friends. Ones which won’t judge you or compete against you, but will support and challenge you.
So my friendliest, warmest wishes to all my colleagues and clients this Christmas, and an especially big thank you to my networking colleagues at Premier Connexions.
May 2017 be a wonderful year for us all.