Why freelancers need friends (and how to find some!)

This post is by Sue White, successful freelance writer and Australian Writers' Centre presenter.

It’s a freelancing paradox. On one hand, if you’re self employed, existing friends pop out of the woodwork at all hours of the (traditional) work day. “I’m having a day off, want to hang out?” or “Just heading to the beach with the kids, interested?” Sound familiar?

All very nice, but usually those offers involve you reminding your dear friends that you are actually working, and very, very busy procrastinating about working on your next task.

But what about freelancing friends? Wouldn’t it be great to cultivate a few friends in a similar work situation who understand that you saying, “I should be nailing this deadline,” means “I need a bit of moral support, not an afternoon on the sand.”

If you freelance, you’ll be immeasurably buoyed by your freelance buddies.

So, where do you find them?

Here’s how: slowly, but actively.

My own freelance friends have been gathered over the long haul.  But the result is they’re not acquaintances; they’re real friends I can go to with problems or concerns.  They’re my brains trust – people I can turn to when my own brain is failing to find me solutions.

One such friend I met on a writing gig, another is an old friend from the yoga world, still another I met socially.  We’re not always doing exactly the same type of job (although many are writers), but our work lives are close enough that we all understand the pains of filing a BAS, tossing up whether to work from a home office or a studio. We also try to prioritise each others’ distress calls (“Really struggling with something, got a minute?”) but not to take it personally when the other says,”Sorry, totally slammed, but I can get back to you in an hour/tomorrow/tonight?”

My collective of freelancing friends don’t just help me out – its members regularly save my sanity.

While you don’t need a lot of them, you do need more than one or two. This is primarily because gathering a group of freelancers can be like herding cats.  Everyone is working to a different set of deadlines – as the very nature of freelancing means the rhythm of your work is individual. This means that a great week for me to catch up might be a hellish week for my brains trust members.

You need to be patient – these may not be friends you see every week – and you need to be realistic about each others’ schedules.  It’s the reason I long gave up on the dream of getting my individual freelancing friends to form a ‘group’ of sorts. Instead, I hang out with each on a one to one basis.  That’s much easier given everyone’s different schedules. It’s also far better for building trust – we only need to trust each other, not build trust with a broader group.

Aim for about half a dozen people in your freelancing collective, and then, as Seinfeld famously said, “You can stop hiring”. (He was talking about making friends over aged 30, but I reckon the principle holds true.)

Sounds lovely – but Sue, I need some freelance friends fast.

Okay, you don’t have five or six years to cultivate your brains trust? Here’s some tips for building a trusted network fast.

So – where might your new freelance friends be hiding?

1. In professional associations.
I’m a member of the Australian Society of Travel Writers and the Foreign Correspondents’ Association.  If I had time to go to their meetings and events regularly, I’m sure I’d meet plenty of like minded folks. In fact, from the few events I’ve attended, I know I would. But inevitably, those events happen on my busy weeks, so I rarely get to events. Undoubtedly, the loss is mine :)

2. Work with them.
You may not be ready – practically or financially – to ditch the home office (or kitchen table?) completely, but plenty of freelancers join a co-working space, or share a studio with other freelancers for the sole reason of building a freelance network.  I tried it once – here’s a story I wrote on a Sydney coworking space last year.  Heaps of benefits. For now, I’m still firmly ensconced in my home office, but friends are loving The Hub in Sydney. These setups exist in many cities across the world. Here’s a good link to a bunch of co-working spaces across Australia.

3. At a course.
I’m almost envious of the graduates of my magazine writing and travel writing courses at the Australian Writers’ Centre, because I know that upon graduating they get access to a private Facebook group. Here, likeminded folks share tips, contacts, successes and tales of the ups and down of freelancing. Often, group members get together offline and develop real friendships. It’s fabulous.

If you’re doing a course and no such opportunity exists, get proactive. If you connect with someone, ask to keep in touch.  Be the person who makes the contact list and passes it around the classroom (and then follows up by emailing it to the group – everyone loves that person).  Even if you make one freelance friend from the process, you’ll be on your way to building your own personal network.

4. At conferences and events.
I recently attended the Walkley conference – it was filled with journos. The freelancing day was even better; filled with yep, freelance journos!  The writing and journalism industry has talks, drinks and events on all the time.  So do most industries. GO TO SOME!  Go in part for the content, but go more for the potential friendships. (Don’t have money to attend? Many conferences or networking events will accept you as a volunteer – a great way to get to know people. Just ask.)

Remember:  friendships between freelancers aren’t about cash

It’s important to note when I say friendships, I’m not talking about building ‘strategic marketing alliances to bring $ through the door’.  I mean friendships!  Two different things.  Sure, freelance friends may pass the work around (I’m often doing this with members of my own freelance network), but that’s a side effect, not an end goal. Ultimately, you want this network for more important things than work: you want it for sanity.  Seriously – we all need friends.  Especially if we’re freelancing.  Now, off you go, get started!

Where did you find your freelancing friends?  Do you think they need to be in the same industry as you?  Or are you still looking?

Sue WhiteSue White is a freelance features and travel writer whose stories have featured in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Vogue Australia, Travel + Leisure (Australia), Sun Herald Travel, Women’s Health, Vogue Entertaining + Travel, CNN Traveller, the South China Morning Health, Good Health, various ABC outlets,Green Living, Green Lifestyle magazine and numerous other publications in both Australia and overseas. She teaches a number of courses with the Australian Writers' Centre.
This post originally appeared on Sue's blog.

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