#122: Why You Need to Start (or Tap Into) a Community of Freelancers

Freelancing can be a very lonely business.

But who ever said that the “I never leave my house” model is the best approach?

It isn’t.

Regardless of where you live, there are many options for connecting and collaborating with fellow solo professionals.

Even if you’re an introvert.

Not just to combat isolation. But also to share ideas, get useful feedback and potentially get (and give) great referrals.

In this episode, you’ll hear from Emily Leach, a long-time freelance designer and SEO professional who understands firsthand the value of having a community of peers.

Emily is the founder of the Texas Freelance Association, a non-profit for freelancers, as well as The Freelance Conference, which will take place this September in Austin, Texas.

She explains the different types of communities… the biggest benefits of each… where you can find them… what you can do if you live in a small town… and much more.

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.

Tell us about yourself

Emily Leach has been a freelancer in design and search engine optimization for 25 years. In that time, she’s worked with a lot of freelance writers, developers and AdWords professionals.

In the past few years, she’s come to see that many struggling freelancers lack community. They need a place to learn from each other about the business of freelancing.

In response, Emily started the Texas Freelance Association, a non-profit for freelancers, as well as The Freelance Conference.

What do you mean by community?

Your community is your tribe. If you’re a designer, it might be other designers. But if you’re a freelancer, it can also be other freelancers, regardless of industry.

Having a community brings certain benefits.

Whenever freelancers connect as a community, they soon start passing work to one another.

It’s useful to have trusted people to whom you can refer clients.

What other benefits do you see?

A community provides support. As freelancers, we no longer have easy “water cooler” conversations. We don’t have a way to share successes and losses.

We also miss out on social elements of work. We don’t have seasonal parties or get together for drinks after work. We miss the friendships with our work colleagues.

Where can we find these communities?

Many online communities exist. The Freelance Conference will have an online group. The Freelancers Union is another community.

For in-person events, check out meetup.com. Look for local meetings for freelancers and freelancers in your industry.

Facebook is another great place to look for events. If you find an event that might interest freelancers, sign up and invite your freelance friends to go too.

If you live in a smaller town, try piggybacking on other events by inviting freelancers you know instead of trying to create an event for freelancers from scratch.

Meeting up with freelancers from other industries gets you out of your vacuum. It expands your view of business and marketing.

How should we participate?

If it’s your first event, it’s okay to mostly listen and get a feel for the group. Otherwise, you have to engage.

Try to create conversations that aren’t just about business. It’s uncomfortable to be asked “what do you do?” as an opening question.

Start by learning about people. It’s also more fun! Go with the attitude of “I’m going to find a cool person.” Forget about business for a moment.

How can we start new local communities?

It can be difficult to create a networking event from scratch. Start by having an educational component, such as panel of experts.

If you want to create a new networking group, start by having an educational component to your meetings.

Find a topic that’s topical and useful to you and your target market. Find panel members who can speak on the topic. Open the panel up to questions. Afterward, allow time for people to network.

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Go to similar events and take note of what you like and don’t like. Also, take notes on what other people seem to like and don’t like.

What other ice breaker questions do you like to use?

“Where’s the furthest point away from here that you’ve been?” Then try to find the furthest point away that you’ve both been. This question gives you something to talk about and helps you relate to each other.

“What was your most embarrassing moment?” Then try to find a moment that you both share.

“What’s been the best concert you’ve ever been to?”

Any question that helps you relate to people outside of business is good.

How do you make the time to meet up with your community?

You need to adjust your mindset. Realize that these relationships are an investment. Investing your time now will open up time later.

If you’re resistant to going, make sure that it’s the right group for you.

However, you have to give a group a fair chance. Don’t decide it’s not a good fit merely based on one event.

Also, be honest with yourself. Is the event truly not a good fit? Or is it taking you outside your comfort zone?

Tell us about your conference

The Freelance Conference will be held September 7-9 in Austin, Texas. The conference is industry agnostic. You’ll learn how to become a more efficient and effective freelancer, and how to get more work.

This year, the conference will trial “the gig exchange.” Businesses will be given the opportunity to meet freelancers and expand their networks.

Where can listeners learn more about you?

Emily Leach’s website: emilyleach.com

The Freelance Conference: freelanceconference.com