Don’t try this alone: why freelancers need friends

Amy Boylan

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“Was there anybody else you knew doing similar things or people that you met in any way that knew what you were going through?”

“No, no, nothing. I went it alone, completely… I was just completely in my own little bubble with the clients I was working for.”

Catching up on an old Being Freelance podcast, this comment, in a chat between Steve Folland and Gareth Hancock, leapt out at me. Gareth was describing how isolated he’d felt in early freelance life.

Today, Gareth – the man behind That. Content. Shed – is one of the loveliest and most sociable freelancers I’m lucky enough to know. He’s always around, inspiring and supporting his fellow freelancers. He’s helped and encouraged me from the very beginning.

Making friends is vital to staying sane and staying solvent as a freelancer. But it rarely features on the list of Things To Do When You’re Starting Out. Here’s some of the great stuff that comes from having freelance friends.

Stop reinventing the wheel

Chasing a non-paying client, choosing a new printer or holding a discovery call with a sick child in tow?

Surprise, surprise: you’ll not be the first freelancer to face any of this. Instead of researching or panicking alone, tap into a wealth of experience and wisdom on Facebook.

There’s Ed Goodman and Annie Browne’s Freelance Heroes, Steve Folland’s Being Freelance and Frankie Tortora’s Doing It For The Kids community.

And Steve and Frankie both have brilliant podcasts with amazing guests, so you can soak up ideas on the move.

Keep learning

Without a company training budget and colleagues who’ve been there before, it takes creativity to keep your skills fresh and your knowledge current.

Again, my freelance buddies know which courses are worth the investment, which books I should read and who to follow for the latest industry trends.

Twitter chats are an excellent way to stay on top of my game. I’d be lost without Fi Shailes‘ #ContentClubUK each week. The gang teaches me something new every time.

Then there are creative challenges like Ed Callow’#Write52 – an eclectic joy to read. Jake Keane has even committed to print, as well as podcasting, with his punk Creative Rehab project.

And Emma Cownley is the queen of snappy, wisdom-filled videos on freelance life.

Find out what people do all day

Just doing your job really well might not be enough to make clients happy. Being part of a broad freelance community means you’ll have a better idea of how your work fits with what everyone else on the project is doing.

The fabulous UX copywriter Laura Parker blew everyone’s minds at ProCopywriters’ #CopyCon19 when she explained that designers genuinely hate Word and would rather receive your copy on a crisp packet (OK, she probably didn’t say that, but it was hard to hear over the gasps).

It’s definitely worth learning enough that your client isn’t left negotiating gaps between each freelancer’s contribution.

Land meatier projects

Working alone doesn’t mean you have to miss out on chunky projects. Teaming up with other freelancers, in your field or across disciplines, opens the door to pitching for bigger jobs.

You get to work with friends, and the client avoids agency overheads. If you’re feeling ambitious, or want to test out the idea of growing your business, it’s a great way to dip your toe.

Make warm leads cosy

Having freelance friends means I never have to simply say “No” to clients anymore. “I write B2B, but Sarah is perfect for your product launch.”, “Technical manuals are a specialist skillset – John or Craig can help you out.”, “You need someone waaay funkier than me – call Emma.”

Being able to send potential clients to someone I know will do an amazing job makes me feel good, makes clients happy and grows a friend’s bank balance. Everyone’s a winner.

(Side note: potential clients waving red flags still get the straight “No”.)

Get paid your worth

Nothing pays the bills like money. And getting your prices “right” has to be one of the most common topics I see in freelance forums.

For me, the ProCopywriters annual survey is essential reading. It offers up-to-date information, not just on rates, but how people charge, too.

And Dave Smyth’s Work Notes Freelance Pricing Guide is a gold mine for helping you calculate a rate that keeps you afloat today, at tax time and in your dotage.

Kick loneliness to the kerb

There’s only so long I can go just talking to the postman, and Amazon doesn’t even wait for me to open the door anymore. Online freelance buddies break the silence.

And then, better still, there are all the chances to meet in real life.

For copywriters, there’s the annual ProCopywriters conference and the quarterly #CopywritersUnite nights held all over the UK. Creative freelancers can head to Creative North, and IPSE’s National Freelancers Day is a freelance-fest, whatever your industry.

No freelancer is an island

Working for yourself, you can avoid the colleague who microwaves fish every lunchtime and eats all the chocolate hobnobs. But creating your own virtual office full of people you love is good for your soul and good for your business.

What makes freelance life easier for you? And what are your favourite freelance resources?

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