Overcoming the Isolation of Freelancing
by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter
After helping to finalize The Business of Editing, the book compiling columns from Rich Adin’s An American Editor blog, I decided that we hadn’t done enough with the topic of how a freelance editor (or writer, proofreader, indexer, or any solopreneur who works from home) can overcome the potential isolation of working alone.
Although I understand it as a problem for others, I’ve never had a problem with isolation. That’s in large part because I’m about as extroverted as one can get — someone once said I could make friends with a lamppost. It’s also because of how and where I lived for the past many years — in apartment buildings, which provide built-in communities to interact with, and in walkable urban neighborhoods, where I could meet and interact with all kinds of people right outside my front door without much effort — neighbors, business owners and workers, beat cops, restaurateurs, dog walkers, other shoppers, and more.
For those who don’t live in such environments and have to go farther afield to feel connected with colleagues or the world in general, or who just need a little nudge to get out of an isolation rut, I have a few ideas. And I’m one of those folks now — I’m in an apartment building in a totally residential neighborhood and that lively outside world on my doorstep isn’t available any longer; it’s a world I miss. There are still neighbors to chit-chat with in the elevator or mailroom, and I can go out for a walk around the neighborhood, but there’s none of the business vitality, diversity, and community of Adams Morgan and Dupont Circle in Washington, DC, or Federal Hill in Baltimore, Maryland. It takes a little more effort to get up and out of the home-office rut.
The good thing is that, unlike when I started freelancing, nowadays you can combat isolation through the Internet, by participating in blogs, e-mail discussion lists and LinkedIn groups; on Facebook, Google+, Twitter; through Pinterest and Instagram, and whatever other new outlets pop up from one day to the next. There are new online communities every day. You can ask questions, offer insights and advice, explore new ideas, make friends, find clients and colleagues to work with — all without ever leaving your computer, much less your home.
Not that never leaving your home or computer is a good thing, but that connectivity does expand your horizons and connections with people with less effort than it takes to get out of the house, and with less trauma and more control for the introverted. The Internet makes it possible to stay connected to people you already know, find ones you thought were lost forever and meet new ones you would never otherwise have an opportunity to know. It might encourage introverts to stay put and leave the house even less often than otherwise, but it does expand your world.
That isn’t the same as, or enough, human contact, though. At least not for me. Ways I’ve gotten myself out of the office and away from the computer include:
- Not subscribing to the daily paper, so I have to go out at least every other day, but ideally every day, because I still much prefer to read the newspaper on paper.
- Joining a nearby pool club (for swimming, that is!) — or one for fitness, running, biking, hiking, dance — which has the potential to meet new friends, colleagues, and clients while counteracting the negative effect of all that sitting at a desk to work.
- Joining and actively participating in local chapters of professional organizations — if there isn’t a local chapter, you can always start one.
- Teaching and speaking, which brings in extra income while creating opportunities to meet new people.
- Occasionally doing some work on my laptop at local coffee shops, where other people might ask what I’m working on or I might overhear and plug into conversations around me.
- Playing mah-jongg (or bridge, euchre, etc.) — it’s good for your brain as well as your social life, probably brings in new people to meet, and could be good for your freelance business; a colleague invited me to join a regular game, and I’ve already met someone I’ll be doing some work for through that connection.
Other ways to combat isolation, both mine and a colleague’s, are:
- Get a dog — You have to go out at least once a day (usually several times!), which creates opportunities to interact with neighbors at local dog parks.
- Be proactive — Don’t sit around waiting for opportunities to socialize to come to you; be the one to start a writer’s or editor’s group, book club, dinner group, alumni connection, hobby club, etc.
- Reconnect — Join a high school or college alumni association; some of those difficult old classmates may have become interesting, even likable, adults!
- Get culture — Hang out at local galleries and museums; even if you don’t make new friends, you’ll enrich your soul (and might find new things to write about or edit).
- Volunteer — You meet new people (some of whom might become clients), do good, and feel good.
- Meet-ups — Considering how many freelancers there are in all professions, it is unlikely that you live where there are none, so why not start a local freelancers’ monthly meet-up? Meet for breakfast or lunch once a month and, if nothing else, discuss problems freelancers in your area are facing.
- Marketing day — If you work directly with individuals and small businesses, why not set a marketing day — that is, a day when you will go out and meet with potential clients. For example, call your local bookstore and ask if it would be interested in your giving a presentation to writers, or call your local Chamber of Commerce and ask if they would like you to give a presentation on how members can benefit from hiring services such as you provide. The possibilities are myriad — just put on your thinking cap!
- Silly day — The hardest thing for most people to do is to walk up to a stranger, introduce themselves, and give a marketing pitch. Why not break the ice with a Silly Day. Put your creative juices to work and do something silly (e.g., dress up like a clown and film yourself editing with humongous fingers); send it around to past, current, and potential clients and/or to colleagues with a note saying you hope this brings a smile to them; and invite them to participate in the next Silly Day with you. It will start slowly, but you will be surprised at how well this works on multiple fronts. People like to smile and smiles bring comradeship.
Thanks to the Internet, there’s really no excuse for being isolated, but the more introverted among us may need a little nudging to get out of the home office and at least see, if not interact with, the real world. Give it a try and try to make getting out a habit. You could be happily surprised at the results.
Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, proofreader, desktop publisher, and speaker whose motto is “I can write about anything!”® She is also the owner of Communication Central, author of the Freelance Basics blog for the Society for Technical Communication, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.