There’s a definite perk to bouncing ideas off your colleagues, but that’s just one of the many benefits of coworking. When you’re self-employed, there’s no longer anyone to ask questions, enjoy downtime or even commiserate with. Instead, it’s lunchtime and you find yourself still in your pajamas having a one-sided conversation with your dog.
When I first left my nine-to-five to become a full-time solopreneur, the coworker connection was one of the perks I knew I’d have a tough time leaving behind. I yearned for some socialization and office energy, but I didn’t know how to put myself out there and find “coworkers.”
According to Freelancers Union and Upwork’s Freelancing in America: 2016 study, there are almost 55 million individuals working as freelancers. If you feel how I felt when I first started out, know that you aren’t alone. It just takes a little effort to find the right people to fill the spot your previous coworkers left behind.
While the freelance lifestyle can be quite freeing, the routine of waking up, getting ready for the day and being productive during the same time frame is lacking. One way to leverage that same structure is to join a coworking space. A small amount of “rent” will give you a physical space you can work in and give you access to other freelancers from different industries. The flexibility of memberships (you can often rent space for just one day a week or in other customizable chunks of time) is unbeatable. Instead of renting office space where you foot the entire bill and then work alone, you’ll be surrounded by like-minded peers who you can choose to interact when you need a little camaraderie or inspiration.
If there are no coworking spaces in your area, but you own or rent an office building and are looking for some professional socialization, rent your space. You choose the hours others can utilize the space, which frees up time for you to meet with clients alone or have some downtime.
Hire a Coach
If you’re missing your coworkers because you’re longing for someone to ideate and strategize with, you may find what you’re looking for in a business coach. Good coaches will work by your side, motivating and cheering you along your journey. They have the skills of a counselor, teacher and strategist, and can give you all the tools you need to take your freelance career from good to great. Just be sure to hire a coach with lots of experience and who has maybe even done work in your industry.
If working with a coach isn’t your thing, or you don’t have the finances, find a mentor. Contact previous teachers and bosses, or look to your local community to see if someone has been working in your field and is willing to guide you. Just a few hours a month will inspire you, and they too will reap the benefits of coworking.
Similar to coaching, mastermind groups are great for freelancers who have their goals and plans figured out, but need the peer pressure and support that coworkers provide. The individuals in your mastermind group will all be focused on their own businesses, but, because it’s a small group of people committed to doing big things, you’ll be there to support each other.
If you’ve worked with a business coach, they should be able to point you in the direction of mastermind groups that might fit your needs. You can also search online for mastermind groups, but make sure you’re all at the same professional level. Experienced freelancers can’t benefit from newbies, and those just starting out may feel overwhelmed working alongside a more skilled professional.
If you don’t know where to find a mastermind group, start your own. Call up old schoolmates or friends and see if they’re also building their business. Make a plan to connect once a week or a few times a month.
Want to feel connected to “coworkers” without actually having them? Use social media for what it was made for—networking. Facebook’s group feature has options for just about every industry, all the way down to niche lifestyle specifics. One of my favorite Facebook groups is Boss Moms. All members are mothers and entrepreneurs (like me) who share the common interest of growing their business. If you’re a photographer, graphic designer or really any other type of solopreneur, there’s a group that will suit your needs.
Slack channels are another opportunity for communicating with like-minded professionals throughout your workday. If you have a question, ask it, and depending on the size of the channel, you can expect an almost immediate response. Twitter chats are also smart opportunities to “meet” new people. Join in, follow other users you relate to and continue your conversations after the chat.
Don’t forget about your old office buddies when you go out on your own. Some of the best people to connect with regularly when you’re a freelancer are your previous coworkers. You’ve already built a personal and professional bond, so while they may still be working a traditional nine-to-five, make it a point to get together for a lunch or happy-hour. Use the time to ping ideas off each other. You know what their working condition is like (because you’ve lived it!) and they are a blank slate that will give you their honest opinion on anything new you’re working on.
If you’re new to freelancing, reaching out to your peers or even a mentor may feel intimidating, but don’t let that hold you back! You have so many skills to offer the world, so reach out and find a peer to socialize with.