Freelancing blues? You’re not alone

Freelancers in the UK’s creative industries work in a diverse range of fields but all are united by a common enemy: isolation from the 9-to-5 workforce.

Some freelancers often sit alone at their client’s premises with no one to talk to, making it more difficult to build relationships and feel part of the team.

In fact, Mind journalist of the year, Cecilia d’Felice, recently helped one freelancer who said being an outsider at work had destroyed her confidence to “approach anyone.”

So is there anything to keep the ‘freelancing blues’ at bay? Or, as veteran freelancers would have you believe, is isolation the price paid for lower tax rates and more flexibility?

Having turned his back on four years’ full-time employment to set up his own Web design business, Jim Callender, Digital freelancer of the year (2006), is an ideal candidate to ask.

When at a client’s premises, he says, fend off isolation by looking how you should feel – lively, switched on, part of the team and most importantly – hungry to learn.

“Carry on learning in your own time whilst you are at a client’s premises,” he says. “From past experiences, this is something that will always benefit you.

“When you [then] hear someone talking about microformats or API's you will have some knowledge of the subject.”

For freelancers, working on-site shouldn’t mean cutting off their headquarters, which is typically a Web-enabled office in the home, the garden, or inside a business complex.

“The best way of avoiding this [feeling isolated at the client site] is by making sure your office is located 'remotely' or 'virtually',” Mr Callender, founder of Callender Creates said yesterday.

“Make sure you have your RSS feed enabled on Google Reader, and all the files you require either on a USB stick or on a file sharing service.”

Although the internet is his specialism, these online tools are easy to use, and according to Callender, are only part of the Web’s offering to fight isolation.

“Make sure you can keep in touch with your colleagues and friends,” he advised, referring to community-based websites.

“I love [micro-blogging site] Twitter, and since the mobile phone version and integration with Facebook, it’s very hard to avoid.”

Freelancers wanting to feel more involved should join podcasts and online seminars, as well as use the likes of slideshare.net, to watch presentations made to their industry, he said.

To combat isolation, Brighton-based Callender also visits upcoming.org so he can then attend the latest events in his industry – something another freelancer feels he should do more of.

William Knight, a self-employed journalist, explained: “Isolation is definitely a hardship, and I do get lonely from time to time stuck in my 4x8 foot working box.

“I always feel I should get out more and do more networking, but, actually, I'm too busy to spend time travelling to London - or wherever - just to network. I think if I had less work I might need to.”

For Knight, who writes for the IT industry, sometimes he says a bit too relentlessly, keeping the freelancing blues at bay is a question of expectations.

Inside his ‘working box,’ he says, “I even have a desk facing the wall. Yet I've never known anything different, and my expectations are that I will build relationships using phone and e-mail and very rare face-to-face meetings.”

But he concedes: “Sometimes you need a colleague just to laugh at the monotony and fill you with renewed enthusiasm

“This is probably and excellent reason to network more, even if it doesn't result in more business - just to keep you vital and full of new ideas.”

David Owens, a part-time teacher, full-time Dad and freelance photographer, agrees that isolation, when he finds the time, is best rid by talking with other freelancers.

As an employee, he always enjoyed the camaraderie of the office, but now, he enjoys the banter of his freelance peers, during the “freedom and flexibility” self-employment allows.

He said: “Going from a full-time job to freelance is like going from one extreme to another.

“Hang out with other freelancers to compare notes or at least use e-mail or online messaging. It keeps you in touch with other people and restores your sanity.

“It can also lead to more work in that people know what you do for a living then recommend you.”

Other ways the trio of creative freelancers said they beat isolation is by involving themselves in local politics or business, joining debating groups or speaking publicly.

If there are no conferences, exhibitions, quizzes or group meetings in the calendar, then set one up, either online or in the real-world, they advised.

These informal settings allow freelancers to be more candid, honest and sociable than they might otherwise be during work hours or at a client’s premises.

And Cecilia d’Felice, writing in The Independent in reply to the lonely freelance, said keeping the blues at bay starts with a smile.

“Our moods are affected by the expressions we make, so half-smiling will produce endorphins which will pick up your mood, which will generate a sense of wellbeing which others will notice and be attracted to.”

In a message which all freelancers should note, she added: “With a smile it becomes much easier to greet your colleagues and this will open up the possibility that conversations will naturally develop. Have compassion for yourself and your peers, many will also feel unconfident.

“By being authentically warm and open, you will create an aura of accessibility which will encourage others to connect to you. Be curious about them and if they do not immediately reciprocate don’t take this as a rejection, people often feel that they don’t have the right to enquire. The more open you can be the more established the relationships will become.”



 

26th September 2007

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