I felt like I was well prepared when I decided to be a freelancer. I spent a lot of time researching what other freelancers were saying, trying to figure out what was working for them and what wasn’t. I learned to say no to projects I wasn’t a good fit for; to charge what I’m worth; that contracts are a requirement. I was determined to avoid the common pitfalls that new freelancers often fall into.
The biggest challenge that I faced was the loneliness that came from working in isolation. I found myself sometimes working an entire week without actually seeing anyone in person—my only communication during the work day being email or phone calls. Looking back I should have expected the toll this would take on me, but I was so focused on the business that I didn’t stop to think about my mental health.
I don’t recall whether the subject of loneliness came up when I was researching the freelance life. Maybe it did and I ignored it. One thing is for sure, this doesn’t get as much discussion time as other common freelancing topics like getting paid by clients and hourly rates. But, mental health is important—and in many ways, more difficult to manage than the business stuff.
This got me thinking, so I did some searching to find out what other freelancers were saying about this. I came upon a post on reddit where someone states they are quitting freelancing due to loneliness.
Today is the day I decided I’m going to stop freelancing. It’s not for the lack of clients. Actually, I live very comfortably. Have a regular stream of projects. The reason why I’m going to quit it is… loneliness. I just can’t take it anymore. No money in the world is worth it. — LonelyFreelancer
This post kind of made me sad, for two reasons.
First, the user created a throwaway account to post this. In Reddit terms, a throwaway account is when a user creates a new account to post something because they don’t want it tied to their main account. Loneliness and depression is nothing to be ashamed of; we should be open with each other about all the challenges we face as freelancers.
The second reason it made me sad is because it doesn’t have to be this way. It sounds like this person enjoyed being a freelancer and was successful, but found the loneliness too much to bear. A freelancer can find ways to prevent loneliness.
Invite someone out for coffee. Invite an ex-colleague to coffee or lunch. Meet up with someone you met once at an event but haven’t had the chance to have a one-on-one chat with. The great thing is that this can also have business benefits because by strengthening relationships you open possible business opportunities. It’s a win-win. Come to think of it, every item in this list has a duel benefit.
Partner with someone on a project. Don’t try to be a hero and do it all yourself. When I first went freelance, I thought I would prove that I could do it all myself, until I realized that I didn’t want to do it all myself.
Join a coworking space. Coworking is a shared space where freelancers and independent workers gather to work amongst each other. This gives you an opportunity interact with people and to foster relationships with potential partners and clients. Perhaps the biggest evidence supporting the idea that loneliness is a problem for freelancers is the fact that coworking exists at all and is getting more and more popular.
Go to industry events. This is one I did quite a bit before I went freelance and then stopped doing it for whatever reason. Going to events is a great way to meet new people and learn something, too. Most events have a time before and after the presentations to network. The good ones also have free beer and pizza.
Meet clients in person. I see a lot of disagreement among freelancers on this one. Many freelancers feel that meeting clients in person is unnecessary. To be clear, I think they’re wrong about that. I think meeting clients in person is necessary because it helps establish a rapport and strengthens the relationship. We work in a global business, so it may not be possible to meet every client in person, but if you have local clients I highly recommend it.
Be active on social media. This one feels like kind of a cop-out. It helps as long as it’s not the only thing you rely on. I’m pretty active on Twitter and enjoy interacting with other professionals in the web industry, but I relied on this far too much as a freelancer. I still recommend it as part of the solution. Shout out to Austin Kleon’s great book, Show Your Work.
Work at someone else’s office. Ask to work with a client or partner at their office. Turn it into a work session so you can instant feedback from them on the work you’re doing together.
Be a contractor. This is the one that helped me out a ton. I took on a contract job where I worked in the office everyday at a local company. I learned from that experience that I don’t like working from home in isolation. By taking on a contract job, this allowed me to maintain my independence while at the same time interacting with people daily.
Don’t forget that you have a life outside of work. Don’t forget about your family and friends. Stay dedicated to a hobby. Make sure you have plenty of off hours and turn off email notifications on your phone.