There’s an image of a freelancer. You’ll have seen the one. A happy-go-lucky, tousle-haired professional, steaming drink by their side as they type into a laptop in the window of a coffee shop. They’re smiling.
Oh, and there’s the one sitting in their kitchen, cup by their side, sleeping dog at their feet as they look at their phone. There may be a pile of papers nearby, or a pad and pen for when inspiration strikes.
Or the one as they cross a street in an exotic location, messenger bag slung jauntily across their shoulder as they dodge traffic, laughing because they’re on their way to the next six-figure job meeting.
Or, perhaps, the one where they’re sitting on a sofa, one dog sleeping at their feet, another on the sofa next to them as they type into their laptop while drinking builder’s tea and eating homemade bread for breakfast.
Oh, hang on, strike that last one. It’s me right now.
You see the popular image of a freelancer is usually one of those.
What you don’t often see is the image of the freelancer tearing their hair out when a client fails to deliver material on time, or gets snarky, or adds new items to the brief or changes the deadline without warning (or talking money), or lies to them, or simply disappears (sometimes without paying). You don’t see the frustration and anger, the being treated as an employee rather than a businessperson, and the huge pile of shit that can often descend just when you thought the job was a good one.
You also don’t see the dishevelled house when deadline looms, the family and friends talking about your ‘job’ as if it’s a hobby and the stress caused by constantly searching for work.
Don’t get me wrong – being an independent businessperson can be the best thing and the worst thing in the world, but most of us wouldn’t change it for anything.
If you’re a freelancer you need a freelance support network.
Being a member of a professional society or two, which usually have wonderful, valuable forums for support and encouragement, is a no-brainer. You will meet people in your profession who will understand what you are going through in your niche.
A support network made up of people outside your expertise can be extremely valuable.
A non-exclusive network can help you understand what other freelancers are going through, talk to experts in fields you might not come across in your normal working life, and can be a sanity lifeline.
It’s the freelance equivalent of getting out more!
There are networks that meet virtually as well as in-person, and they appear for all kinds of freelancers. Sure, there are groups that meet in LinkedIn or on Facebook, but the best ones are those that dive across social networks and become a true tribe.
I’m a member of three, and they all provide help, support and encouragement in equal measure. You might find your own, but to show how a support network can stop you being isolated, I’ll mention them here.
Being Freelance started in 2015 with Steve Folland’s podcast. He started his vlog in 2016 and opened up the Being Freelance Community on Facebook in 2019. Steve is an audio and video creator and his infectious personality, in just over a year, has helped create a group of 1,700 like-minded members. I’m one of the very first members, and have to say I love it.
We’re called BFFs, love biscuits (mine’s a fig roll, thanks), and help each other out. We chat about anything and everything, from picking the collective community brain to having a giggle over silly things that only freelancers would understand. We also celebrate our wins.
Early on Steve started the Non-Employee of the Week Awards, where he celebrates members of the community (I’m proud owner of number 9) and announces the winner from the ‘car park of dreams’. It really is a special moment.
We now have a virtual book club too, where we collectively pick a book, read it then meet up on Zoom to talk about it. Hey, we did this before Zoom became a ‘thing’ during the pandemic.
The Being Freelance Podcast is one of the best around for freelancers, with guests talking through all aspects of freelance life. They’re not boring, or salesy, or corporate – you just get good, honest chats with fellow freelancers to make you feel a little less alone.
Founded in 2016 by Ed Goodman (a freelance social media trainer) and Annie Browne (a virtual assistant), the Freelance Heroes Facebook group has grown to a whopping 9,500 members. The group exists to allow freelancers to chat and share tips in a safe, comfortable environment, and has a real-life meetup in the autumn in Wolverhampton (but like everything else in this plague time, it’s had to be postponed this year until November).
There’s a Freelance Heroes Day every year, which is today, May 16th, so get on over to your social media of choice, look for the #FreelanceHeroesDay hashtag and get sharing with other freelancers. The aim is to pay tribute to the 2 million UK freelancers, build their network and expand knowledge of the freelance industry. It’s huge.
You can also join the community via the Freelance Heroes website and become a paid up member if you fancy (with some extras that the Facebook group doesn’t have access to).
Atomic is run by Andrew and Pete, and is a paid platform to help small business owners and entrepreneurs grow their business in a smarter, more sustainable way. They, too, have a Facebook group for members and is a small, exclusive group that packs a punch.
Atomic is for freelancers seriously wanting to up their game, and has the largest amount of training I’ve seen in one place, covering all aspects of business. From tips and tricks for getting new business, to how to set up a mailing list and becoming more confident, if there’s something you want to know, it will be here. And if you do find something that isn’t there, tell the team and they’ll be on it.
There are tailored all-day training pathways, masterclasses and quick bits of training to fit in while you have a coffee. The training is great for everyone.
Every year they have a real-life meet up in Atomicon in Newcastle, which had to quickly move online this year (wonder if you can figure out why?). But next year is set to be epic.
The community is supportive and knowledgeable and even impressed me, a Yorkshire lass who isn’t easily impressed. There are regular Zoom meetups for some virtual contact, to pick Peter and Andrew’s brains, meet members and generally talk through the ups and downs of freelance life.
You can join Atomic at the moment (16 May 2020) for only £1 , get all the details here, and tell them I sent you if you join up, we’d love to see you over there!
There are other networks out there, but I’ve highlighted the three that I love (and I wouldn’t recommend something I didn’t love). In these really weird times, freelancers now more than ever need to help each other out.
As a freelancer, joining a network: