Being freelance/self-employed/a small business owner can be hard.
Days can go by without speaking to someone outside of your immediate family. Or your social interactions are limited to Zoom and some meaningless chit chat on the school run.
Many people who start out as freelancers or running their own business find the isolation part particularly difficult. It’s just not quite the same as working with a group of other people, the jokes at the water filter, someone breaking the photocopier and swearing about it for the 8th time that day or going out for lunch with colleagues.
We’re sold a dream life when we first consider starting out alone. and whilst for many the benefits outweigh the negatives, that feeling of missing be part of something bigger can get to people.
I know it gets to me sometimes.
Whilst I’m not the most sociable of people in the world, some days I do miss just dossing about in the staff room or having someone I can rant to about something that’s not going the way I want it too (I’m a ranter, I need to express my negative feelings by shouting about them!).
So how do you build a sense of community when you’re stuck working at a desk in your office on your own, or at the dining room table (which is where I can commonly be found)?
There’s a lot of things you can do to help deal with the loneliness we can all feel. Some of the things I’ve found over the years that have worked are:
- Networking – Try out a few groups, see what you enjoy. There are lots of online events now for people like me who struggle to fit it in around school runs and naps.
- Being part of a membership – You need to find one that adds value to your business and is full of like minded people. I’m part of two which are great and not only help me build my business but also I’ve made great connections and friends. Don’t stay if they’re not adding value in these areas though and don’t join loads of similar ones, be picky.
- Co-working sessions – Whilst they’re not really about the chit-chat, you can get support if you need it or bounce ideas around.
- Finding clients who are right for you – Clients who align with you and your values. They’ll also turn into friends who will support you. If you pick right they’ll not just see you as the hired help but appreciate your skills and understand you are human and have challenges just like everyone else.
- Get yourself a pet – I have Alfie, he’s a Beagle we re-homed when I became self-employed and was able to take care of a dog properly. He’s awesome. Doesn’t answer me back and provides the best cuddles. He lies around snoring most of the day, but is always there if I need one of those rants. Whilst he can’t talk back to me, it’s still good for me to get it out there and not feel quite so crazy as when I’m muttering away to myself.
But one of the most important things I’ve realised recently is having something for me.
That doesn’t involve work, my family or Alfie.
Last September I joined a local choir. When I told my husband that I was off to have a taster session, I thought he’d laugh his ar*e off. Instead he was very supportive and encouraged me to go. I get a little bit anxious about trying new things, so he gave me the push I needed to get out of the door the evening of that taster and I haven’t looked back.
Once a week I get to spend 2 hours with the loveliest group of people and sing my heart out. I forget about everything for a few hours. My phones not pinging as it’s on silent. I can just spend time being me.
That’s so important for our mental health and this crazy online world I’ve engrossed myself in with becoming self employed. The instant gratification that’s now expected can be stressful to say the least.
Since joining I’ve done lots of performances, some small, some big. My family come and support me where I can.
The people I’ve met and made connections with are my friends as well, separate from everything else in my life which also feels really good.
I’d encourage everyone who struggles with loneliness from working by themselves to go out an explore new opportunities, to find something just for them which is separate from every other aspect of their lives, because it really truly is something quite wonderful.
So go on – try something. I dare you. And if you do, let me know how it goes! I would love to hear from you.