Survivial Skills for Freelancers

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 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.

Why you should think twice about going freelance

I love my job. Let’s face it – I wouldn’t have stuck at freelance life for 17 years if I didn’t. But if you’re thinking of making the leap from a regular monthly income to the uncertainty of going solo, there are a few important things to consider.

Not the obvious, like what to charge, how to attract the right clients, or how to market your business. While they’re all vital questions, I’m talking about the dirty, gritty, soul-searching stuff. The “am I really cut out for this?” delving you need to do before you start.

Though I only have experience of life as a freelance copywriter, the same issues apply to any freelance career – freelance graphic designer, freelance illustrator, freelance rocket scientist (is that even a thing?).

The benefits of being your own boss

I’m sure you know all about the benefits of a successful freelance career. Chances are, these are some of the reasons you’re considering working for yourself:

  • The freedom to manage your own time
  • The flexibility to work where you want, how you want, when you want
  • The chance to choose who you work with, and what you work on
  • The potential to earn a good income
  • The ability to choose your own hours

Yet many of those benefits can only be unlocked by years of hard graft, reputation building and solid experience. It’s a fortunate freelancer who gets to pick and choose their pet projects from day one.

Consider this:

Being good at your job doesn’t mean you’ll make a good freelancer

So you’re a great writer/illustrator/photographer* – excellent. But being good at what you do, day in, day out, with the security of a full-time job and the stability of a regular income isn’t enough to guarantee you a successful freelance career.

*insert your chosen discipline here

Yes, it’s a great start – but there’s a lot more to it. Can you hack these hurdles?

All by myself

Freelance life can be hella lonely. I spent the first 15 years of freelance life stuck in my office, home alone, with only my cats for company. By the weekend, I was climbing the walls and chewing the ears off anyone who’d listen.

When I started my freelance career in 1999, email was new, and today’s popular social media platforms were a mere twinkle in the eye of a Harvard drop out. Hell – there was barely an internet. (Ever wish you hadn’t started something? Man I feel old!)

Only recently did I discover the support that’s available through social media, networking and events… and the joys of working in a decent coffee shop.

The café-bar at my gym has become my second office (thanks, Virgin Active!). Good coffee, free wifi, free heating, and the buzz of other people without the constant interruptions of working in an office. Yet it’s not unusual to meet freelancers who need complete silence to work. You’ll need to experiment to discover the working environment that ticks your boxes.

The thriving community of freelance writers on Twitter (search #copywritersunite) has kept me going on many a tough day. It’s great to have trusted colleagues-come-competitors to bounce ideas off – and for the necessary office banter. And nothing beats networking events for that “I’m a freelancer – get me out of here!” lifeline. It takes time to discover the type of event that works for you. Personally I loathe the “let’s all stand up and talk about our business for two minutes!” approach, though most involve a necessary element of shameless self-promotion.

Distraction, distraction, distraction

I know freelancers who can’t work without the buzz of daytime television in the background. Are you freakin’ kidding me? I can’t even listen to a song with lyrics without getting distracted. I suggest you keep the TV firmly switched off, but only you know what works for you (and who am I to criticise – Judge Rinder?).

If you need to focus – and believe me, you need to focus – create a work playlist. Mine consists of electronic trance, but who knows? Classical may be more your thing.

As for loading the dishwasher, hanging the washing, polishing the cat** you can look at these in two ways: as distracting household chores that remain untouched until you’ve clocked off for the day, or as valuable thinking/stretching/stepping-away-from-the-laptop time.

Above all, stay off social media, switch off pop-up notifications (annoying, distracting little mosquitoes that they are) and discipline yourself to check your email three times a day rather than once every five minutes (you know you do it).

Finally, be prepared for insecurity, rejection and self-doubt in spades. If you’re a sensitive soul who can’t take criticism or knock backs, do yourself a favour and cultivate that full-time, steady income role.

Freelance life is not for the faint-hearted. But if you’re organised, tenacious, thick-skinned, self-motivated, ambitious, driven and disciplined, it might just work for you.

The last word

There are numerous books about freelance life; I haven’t read any of them. I’m no expert on running a business, but having built up a successful freelance career over the past 17 years I do know what’s worked for me… and what hasn’t.

If my advice helps you to do the same, I’ll be happy.

As someone once told me: “There are two types of freelancers: those who freelance because they want to, and those who freelance because they can’t get a job.”

Make sure you’re taking the plunge for all the right reasons.

**not a typo