Survivial Skills for Freelancers

6 top tips to find your freelance community

While there are definite advantages to working for yourself – freedom and flexibility for starters – there are disadvantages, too. Working alone means it’s easy to feel lonely and isolated and that, in turn, can leave you feeling no one understands the challenges you’re facing day-to-day.

But, as I say in Survival Skills for Freelancers, going solo doesn’t mean going it alone – and finding a community of like-minded individuals to work, collaborate and share with is a real gamechanger.

Here are my top tips to help you find your freelance community.

  1. Consider coworking

If staring at the same four walls each day gives you Groundhog Day vibes, consider renting a coworking space two or three times a week. While you don’t need to be a freelancer to use a coworking space – shared work zones attract flexible workers of all kinds – many freelancers find shared working gives them the lifeline they need to overcome the isolation that can come with the job title.

Some coworking spaces operate on a pay-as-you-go basis where you can drop in and use the facilities when you need to. Others charge a fixed weekly or monthly fee. Shop around to see what’s best for you.

  1. Get social online

Social media offers countless networks of enthusiastic, inspiring creatives just like you – and you don’t even need to move from your desk to join them! Freelance communities on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Slack are packed with information, advice, support, opportunities for collaboration… and likeminded people.

Start with thriving Facebook groups such as Freelance Heroes or Being Freelance, or look out for industry-specific communities such as Logo Geek (for graphic designers) or Freelance PRs.

  1. Give more than you take

As with most things in life, you get out of online freelance communities what you put in – so dig in, introduce yourself, browse members’ posts and engage with discussions. Resist the temptation to self-promote. Instead, engage with others, be encouraging, helpful and informed, and give more than you take. Once you’ve established yourself as an active member and become known as friendly, reliable and someone who knows their stuff, you’re more likely to attract likeminded people, which may even pay off in referrals and business.

  1. Do your research

Want to expand your network or social circle but don’t know where to start? Following hashtags on Twitter and Instagram can help you spot people with similar interests and goals. Give them a follow and reach out with a comment or DM. Many real-life friendships develop from online connections. (This happens over time, not overnight, so be prepared to invest time and effort.)

  1. Go local

Joining a local business network is a great way to meet likeminded individuals and has the added benefit of encouraging you to leave your desk occasionally! In person networking doesn’t need to be intimidating – remember, everyone was new once. Be yourself, show a genuine interest in others, and focus on making new connections rather than sales. It might take a while to find a group that feels like home, so be prepared to try a range of networking groups – from formal breakfast gatherings to casual chats over coffee – until you find the right freelance community.

  1. Build your support network

Making money isn’t everything. Sure, we all need to pay the bills, but you deserve some me-time, too! Keeping work and home life separate is super important when you’re freelance. Set firm boundaries – especially around your working hours – and refuse to let your home life come second.

A good support network of non-business friends is essential to your mental wellbeing, so never feel guilty about switching off the laptop, joining a yoga class, or meeting a friend for coffee. Switching off doesn’t just help you to recharge – it boosts focus, creativity and productivity. Your brain will thank you for it, and so will your bank balance.

Freelancing and feeling lonely? Combat isolation with these 6 top tips

Freelancer loneliness is no joke – and it’s widespread. In a survey of 1,500 freelancers*, 64 per cent said they regularly felt lonely, while a shocking 55 per cent said the social isolation of working alone had left them feeling depressed.

Sure, no one misses the office politics and the tedious commute, but we’re social creatures and it’s easy to miss the buzz and connection of working in an office – no matter how independent, self-reliant or introverted you are.

Spending weeks on end staring at the same four walls with only the cat for company is a sure-fire recipe for misery and frustration (believe me, I’ve been there!).

Prioritising your mental health is key to a happy, healthy working life – and combatting loneliness is a great place to start. As I say in Survival Skills for Freelancers, going solo doesn’t mean going it alone.

Here are six tried and tested tips to help you avoid isolation and stay connected.

1. Vary your surroundings

Getting out of the house might sound counterintuitive. After all, the point of working from home is, well… to work from home, right?

Yes and no. Spending too long in your own company isn’t just draining – it contributes to feelings of isolation and reduces productivity.

Many freelancers find shared working gives them the lifeline they need to overcome the loneliness that comes with the job title – and those who use coworking spaces get a lot more from doing so than desk space.

When I asked the freelance community what they enjoy about coworking, responses included the buzz, camaraderie and chat, opportunities for collaboration, improved productivity, mutual support, the chance to network, less loneliness, a vital boundary between work and home – and, of course, great coffee!

But it’s not essential to join an organised coworking space to get a sense of community. I enjoy the buzz and connection that comes from working at my gym, but you may prefer to mix it up by trying different coffee shops, your local library, or even a park when the weather is good.

Even varying your surroundings once a week helps to combat that Groundhog Day feeling.

2. Schedule in rest and social time

When you’re smashing through a busy workload, it’s easy to forget to take care of yourself – but you can’t keep running on empty!

Taking on too much and trying to do it all with too few breaks is the quickest route to freelancer burnout. Building regular breaks and exercise into your daily routine helps to release endorphins – those powerful, feel-good chemicals that help to ease stress, anxiety, and depression.

Here are just a few ways to build exercise into your day:

  • Go for a run, swim or bike ride
  • Take the dog for a long walk in muddy wellies
  • Dance around your kitchen while you wait for the kettle to boil
  • Challenge a friend to a game of tennis.
  • Lift some weights at the gym
  • Take a yoga, Zumba or spin class.

Even if you don’t feel like it – in fact, especially then – forcing yourself to disengage from ‘office mode’ can recharge your batteries and help you return to your desk with renewed focus and energy.

3. Find your tribe online

When I started out as a freelancer, there was no social media – in fact, there was barely any internet! These days, there are ready-made online networks of amazing, talented and creative people just like you, all around the world.

Finding likeminded people to cowork, collaborate and share with can be a real gamechanger when you’re self-employed – and groups such as Freelance Heroes, Being Freelance or the Marketing Meetup community are a great place to start.

Group members share their experiences and post questions, challenges and suggestions, and the community responds with help, support and advice. As with most things in life, you get out of online communities what you put in – so dig in, introduce yourself, browse their posts, give generously, and don’t self-promote unless you’re invited to!

4. Join local business networks

Networking can be a lifeline for the home-based freelancer – as well as a great source of new clients and colleagues – and it’s not as scary as you may think.

I used to think networking wasn’t for me. I equated the word with standing in a room full of serious, suit-wearing strangers, all set on selling their services. Then I discovered that not all networking is the same, and that the secret to enjoying it is to find the groups and events that fit your business and personality – so be prepared to experiment with different groups and formats.

Sure, it can take a while to find the right crowd but you’ll know it when you find it. Try asking the freelance communities online for recommendations in your local area, or check out Facebook Events, Eventbrite or meetup.com for inspiration.

5. Limit your use of social media

This one is less about connecting and more about protecting!

Social media has a habit of amplifying our feelings. If you’re feeling confident, resilient and in control – great. But when you’re feeling low, disconnected or lonely the last thing you need is the highlights of everyone else’s seemingly perfect lives.

Remember that social media is edited highlights – and don’t be afraid to take a social detox when comparisonitis starts to get the better of you. Switch off, pick up the phone or arrange to meet a friend for a natter. I guarantee it’ll make you feel ten times better.

As the saying goes, “Don’t compare your insides with other people’s outsides”. Stay in your own lane, and don’t worry about what other people are – or appear to be – doing.

6. Help someone else

Finally, one of the best ways to lift yourself out of a rut and to shift your focus outwards is to help someone else. Cultivate an attitude of collaboration, rather than seeing those who do the same job as you as your competitors.

Offer to help out at local business events, to speak at meetings or conferences, or to guest on your favourite podcast. It may take you outside your comfort zone but it’ll give you a renewed focus and a confidence boost into the bargain.

What could you do differently today?

*Freelancer Loneliness Survey, undertaken by The Leadership Factor (TLF), commissioned by Viking, 2019.

How to ditch negative self-talk and grow in confidence

“I’ll never be good enough”

“I can’t do that!”

“How could I be so stupid?”

We can all be our own worst enemy from time to time – and we’re all familiar with the mean voice inside our head telling us we’re not good enough.

Perhaps, for you, the fear is that you’ll never be clever enough, funny enough, confident enough. That you’re not a good enough parent, or partner, or friend.

However negative self-talk shows up for you, it’s damaging your confidence and holding you back.

The corrosive impact of negative self-talk

Having a negative internal dialogue may seem harmless, but it’s not.

Shakespeare wrote, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”.

Our thoughts have incredible power, and our brain has a habit of believing what we tell it.

Constant negative self-talk can damage your self-esteem and have a permanent impact on your self-worth. It even increases the production of the stress hormone cortisol, which dents your resilience.

That mean voice can impact everything from your relationships to the chances of grasping exciting opportunities… even how much you charge for your work.

So – how do you stop it?

Be kind to your mind

We’ve all heard the quote “Work hard and be nice to people” – but it’s not just other people we need to be nice to.

The things we repeatedly tell ourselves tend to become our reality, so the first step is to become aware of the language you’re using when you talk to yourself.

If you’re in the habit of berating yourself when you make a mistake, and you’re unforgiving when something doesn’t go to plan, make a choice to be kind to you.

Try reframing mistakes as learning opportunities. Instead of saying, “You’re an idiot! How could you let that happen?!” tell yourself, “That didn’t go so well, but I can learn from the experience. Next time I’ll do it differently.”

Learn to silence negative thoughts and turn them into positives. Instead of “I don’t fit in” say “By showing up regularly I’ll soon get to know people”.

Rather than telling yourself, “I can’t do it” break the goal into smaller chunks and focus on taking the first step.

(Readers of a certain age will know what I mean if I mention Pollyanna’s glad game.)

As a golden rule, if you wouldn’t say it to a friend, don’t say it to yourself.

Compare and despair

Negative self-talk can be triggered by comparisonitis. Social media is a common culprit, and time online has a habit of amplifying your feelings – good or bad.

If scrolling through Instagram leaves you feeling down on yourself – as if everyone else is smashing it, and you’re getting left behind – take a digital detox until you’re feeling stronger and more resilient.

Bye bye inner critic, hello inner coach

We all have an inner critic and an inner coach, but our inner critics are often so bloomin’ loud that our inner coach struggles to be heard!

You can change that.

Choose to be your own biggest supporter – using positive internal dialogue to encourage and coach yourself into grasping opportunities, trying new things, and growing in confidence.

It can take time to get into the habit of tuning out that destructive nagging voice, but it’s worth the effort.

Let me know how you get on.

You’re the boss! How to take back control of your freelance business and say goodbye to overwhelm

Remember how you loved the idea of working for yourself?

How you were drawn to the freedom and flexibility of freelance life? How you’d get to be in control of how you spend your time and energy, and to pick the clients – and the work – that inspires you?

What happened?!

It’s common to come off the treadmill of employment only to find yourself on a whole other treadmill.

You’re working crazy hours just to get by, no more in charge of your time than when you were employed, and what’s worse, you’ve swapped one boss for multiple bosses (hint – they’re not you!).

You’re not alone.

According to research by Leapers, 61% of freelancers are stressed by long hours and tight deadlines.

But there is a better way.

It’s okay to say no to work that doesn’t fulfil you.

It’s okay to admit you can’t do it all, and to ask for help.

And it’s okay – scrap that, it’s downright essential – to set boundaries that protect your energy and prioritise your mental health.

So, how do you take back control of your freelance business, and get more enjoyment from self-employment?

The empowering magic of saying no

When you’re self-employed it’s tempting to take on every piece of work that comes your way, especially when you’re starting out. Money is tight, paying clients are scarce, and you’re trying hard to build up your reputation.

Once you’ve established a handful of regular clients and a steady flow of work you have a little more freedom to ask, “Is this right for me?”.

Ask yourself:

Does it suit your skills?

If a client is asking for skills you don’t have or services you don’t offer, be honest and realistic. While you may be able to upskill in a particular area, taking on work that’s way beyond your capabilities is a recipe for stress and overwhelm

Is the timescale realistic to do a professional job?

We’ve all been there: “I’ll need it back tomorrow,” they say. If you don’t have the capacity to fit work in at short notice – and, frankly, most good freelancers won’t – ask if there’s wiggle room in the deadline. You can’t do your best work when you’re stretched to your limits, and most clients are prepared to wait for the right person to do the job.

Is the pay worthwhile?

Don’t undersell yourself. Knowing how to price your work as a freelancer can be tough. As a bare minimum, aim to charge standard industry rates for the job, as well as covering legitimate expenses. (Remember, as a freelancer you don’t get sick pay, holiday pay, a pension or any of the other financial benefits associated with employment.) You might find the Work Notes pricing guide helpful here.

What is your instinct telling you?

Being stuck in a cycle of attracting and accepting the wrong work takes the joy out of freelance life. But what is the wrong work? Your gut often recognises it before you do! Perhaps the client shows signs of not respecting the value you provide. Maybe they’re quick to quibble over your costs, telling you they can get the work done much cheaper elsewhere. Perhaps they’re vague about job specs or set unrealistic deadlines. If your instinct tells you to steer clear, listen to it – it’s usually for a good reason.

Takeaway tip: Being honest, professional and businesslike from the start will help to establish respect and trust from potential clients – and save you a lot of stress and aggro later.

Ask for help if you need it

As freelancers, we wear a lot of hats! It’s easy to feel like you have to be your own accountant, do all your own admin, troubleshoot your own tech, and be your own life coach.

Newsflash: you don’t.

It took me a loooong time to realise this, and I could’ve saved myself a lot of time and stress had I learned it sooner!

Outsourcing the tasks you don’t enjoy, you’re not good at, and that don’t make you money is just good business sense. Spending half your time on tasks that drain your time and energy can leave you questioning why you went into business in the first place!

The more time you spend doing the thing you love – and the thing that makes you money – the more fulfilled and happy your freelance life will be.

So, how do you decide what to outsource? Start by writing a list of the tasks you do each day and rate them according to:

  • how good you are at them
  • how much you enjoy them

The tasks that score low are those you should look at outsourcing first. Many freelancers start by outsourcing their accounts and IT support.

Finding the right person for the job may take a little while, but soon you’ll have a team of experts working for you and supporting your business while you get on with doing the thing you love.

And that feels good.

Set healthy boundaries

Freelancing can feel like a constant juggling act – between different clients, tasks, projects and deadlines. To stay on top of your game, you’ll need to set healthy boundaries with realistic expectations of your time and attention. Feeling like you’re permanently on call is a recipe for burnout.

  • Consider setting an email auto response that lets clients know you just check your email a couple of times a day – and stick to it! It reassures them that you’ve received their email, manages their expectations on when to expect a response, and sends a clear signal that you won’t be pulled off task every few minutes when you’re working for them.
  • I know many freelancers who don’t publish their phone number, and for good reason! Unplanned calls can be a real distraction when you’re focused and productive. Unless you really can’t avoid answering the phone, let calls go to voicemail and encourage the client to book an appointment at a mutually convenient time when they can expect your undivided attention. Apps such as Calendly and Acuity Scheduling are great for this.
  • Freelance life isn’t about the 9 to 5. Ultimately, your clients don’t care what hours you work, as long as you get the work done on time, so set working hours that work for you. Communicate them in your email signature and terms of business.

Takeaway tip: Setting clear, professional ground rules makes life easier for both you and your client – and helps you avoid burnout.

The bottom line…

Follow these golden rules to take back control of your freelance business and get more enjoyment from self-employment:

  1. Set boundaries
    Remember – you’re the boss! Learn to say no to the clients and work that aren’t the right fit for your values, experience or schedule. By doing so, you’ll open up space for the projects that are a good match for your skills, personality and passion – and that’s pure gold!
  2. Get clear on your process
    Communicate clear ground rules on what each project does and doesn’t cover, and on when you will and won’t respond to emails or phonecalls. When you manage your clients’ expectations, they’re less likely to micro manage, and more likely to trust you to deliver when you say you will.
  3. Ask for help
    It’s a sign of strength, not weakness! You’ll have a team of experts in your corner and you’ll get to spend more time doing the thing you love – which is the reason you went into business in the first place, right?!

Create clear boundaries that work for you and you’ll find yourself with less stress, a richer work–life balance, and a more fulfilling freelance life.

And who doesn’t want that?

 

How to market your freelance business in 6 simple steps

Knowing how to market your freelance business can be a real challenge.

You want your business to grow and thrive – but unless people know it exists that’s never going to happen! So how do you get your name out there, find those dream clients and build your freelance business?

In the bad old days (believe me, I’m old enough to remember) marketing involved a simple choice: you sent a mailshot, took out an ad in the local paper or picked up the phone and made the dreaded cold calls.

Thankfully, those days are gone – and, thanks to the internet, you’re now spoilt for choice* when it comes to marketing your freelance business.

(*read overwhelmed – anyone?!)

So where do you start?

Here are six simple steps to get your business noticed – without sapping too much of your time, energy or cash.

1. Get your website working for you

Think of your website as your shop window to the world. It’s often the first stop for anyone wanting to find out more about your business.

According to a 2019 study, an incredible 40 per cent of UK businesses have no online presence. When you remember that a well-written, well-designed, SEO optimised website could be working for your freelance business 24/7 that’s a lot of missed opportunity!

With free web-building tools such as Wix and Squarespace readily available, there’s really no excuse for not having a website, though investing in professional web design and copywriting can help to give your freelance business the edge.

2. Start blogging

Blogging is a great way to create value for your audience and to position you as an expert in your chosen freelance field.

Think of your blog as a conversation with your audience.

  • Get clear on the purpose for each post.
  • Aim to inform, engage and entertain by sharing helpful tips and advice.
  • Remember to include a strong call to action – somewhere interested readers can go if they’d like to know more.

Don’t just rely on search engine traffic to gain readers. Once you’ve published your new blog post on your website, share a link on your social media channels to increase your audience.

Fun fact: the word blog comes from the word weblog

3. Email marketing

Business emails fall into two categories: irritating spam emails for products and brands you’re not interested in (please tell me why I keep receiving invitations to attend engineering seminars!?) and emails you actually look forward to receiving each month/week/fortnight.

Your job is to ensure yours fall into the second category.

How? Put yourself in your client’s shoes. What do they want to read about? (Send a short survey to a handful of trusted clients and ask them!) How can you solve their problems, make their life easier, add value or even just brighten their day with an inspiring story?

To help you get the tone right, think of your email marketing as a direct conversation with a client. And make sure it sounds like you! Business speak and jargon are far more likely to turn people off.

Want to see how I do it? Subscribe to my monthly email newsletter. It contains a mix of news, advice and useful tips for freelancers and business owners and a no hard-sell guarantee.

Pro tip: keep it short, keep it helpful, keep it regular (but not too frequent).

4. Build your network

When it comes to spreading the word about your business, support can come from unexpected places. Don’t discount friends, relatives and former colleagues. They may not be in the market for your service, but with a little encouragement they may be happy to help you spread the word.

Keep an open mind when you’re talking to someone who doesn’t appear to be a potential client – you never know who they’re connected to!

As Maya Angelou said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Aim to make a great first impression. You never know where it might lead.

Pro tip: remember, networking is about being part of a mutually supportive community so skip the hard sell!

5. Use social media: don’t let it use you!

How many times have you reached the end of the day and wondered where on earth the time went? When you learn that the average person spends around 2.5 hours Every. Single. Day. on social media, it’s easy to see why.

While platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter can be great ways to build your network and spread the word about your business, they’re also a huge distraction – sapping your time, energy and productivity.

Instead of trying to conquer all platforms, pick one or two where your target clients hang out and focus your attention there. Resist the temptation to check for updates every two minutes and turn off those notifications – your brain will thank you for it!

6. Ask for recommendations

When you need a plumber or a decorator, you ask your network for recommendations, right? The same applies whether you’re a graphic designer, photographer, chiropractor or copywriter. In fact, 77% of consumers are more likely to buy from a business that’s recommended by someone they trust.

Five-star reviews are the best free marketing tool your business has.

Let that sink in.

Testimonials tell people we know our stuff. We deliver. We’re credible. We’re creative. We add value. We make their lives easier. We’re fun to work with.

So make the most of them!

As soon as you’ve completed a project, ask the client if they’d be willing to review your service for LinkedIn, Google or Facebook. Chances are they’ll be happy to help. You could even build your testimonials into project profiles or case studies to showcase your services and the problems you solve for your clients.

Check out this post for more on using recommendations to build your reputation.

Pro tip: find more stats on the importance of reviews and recommendations here.

The last word…

Many freelancers feel uncomfortable with the idea of selling and marketing their business – but you won’t succeed as a freelancer without it!

If this sounds like you, focus on the end result you deliver to your clients. Perhaps you save them time, or help their business become more successful.

Either way, you provide a valuable service and people won’t know about it unless you tell them! So, don’t be shy about promoting your business. A little marketing can go a long way.