Are Freelancers Inherently Loners?
Independently Working Collectively
Most days, I work alone. I may have a phone meeting. I may be on Slack with a client throughout the day, but I am physically alone.
There are days when I feel so far away from the reader and wish I could call someone up and say, “Can I read this to you?” And then, there are times when I am writing next to another freelancer and we are not making a thing together; instead, we are making side-by-side. I could smile at my fellow freelancer and say, “Can I read this to you?”, but I would probably not want to bother them. They are not my business partner, or my coworker, or on my team.
There are moments when I miss the buzz of an office environment. Though, who prefers distraction when trying to think? Physical separation is often necessary to create. Feeling separate is quite different than being independent.
More people are choosing the gig economy over traditional employment because of the potential for greater financial gain, job satisfaction, and quality of life. As new freelancers, independent contractors, and solopreneurs enter the market, they often overlook the advantages of their new freelance collective.
All freelancers—writers, designers, architects—must distinguish themselves from competitors to attract business, but freelancers who work collectively have an advantage over loners.
Loners Loose Without A Network
On the luckiest day of the year, March 17, 2017, I went from moonlighter (main source of income is a W2 job, not a W9 one) to freelancer (all W9), joining 53 million other freelancers in the U.S. economy. I came armed with a client’s word that they wanted me to write for them monthly, a year’s worth of savings to fall back on, and healthcare coverage, too. Yes. I was lucky.
On my very first Monday as a full time freelance writer, still giddy at my good fortune, I opened an email from my truly wonderful client. “Bad news,” it read, “Our budget was slashed and we have to let you go. We loved working with you, though!”
You can imagine the freakout that followed. Immediately after reading that “too bad, so sad” email, I slumped in my chair and beat myself up for not securing a second and third client before leaping into the abyss! Slowly, perspective took over. I reminded myself about why I went into business for myself in the first place: to help those who are doing the most good for the most people to tell their why.
I did not set out as a freelance writer to only help one or two well-paying clients. I am in this to generate income and live a fuller life. I am also excited to help others tell their stories and improve people’s lives with their solutions to real problems. Clients coming and going is part of being a freelancer. I was not alone in losing a client to a downturn. In a month or so, I learned how not alone I really was.
My next clients came through another freelance writer.
Why Build Your Own Freelance Support Network
My neighbor, a small business owner herself, told me about her good friend living and working in Australia as a technical writer turned project manager of writers. Her friend became one of the best role models of how to build a freelance support network or what I will call, independently working collectively.
Shauna McGee Kinney put me on her team of independent writers and sent me regular work. Shauna encouraged all of us to work together and refer within the group whenever possible. Sadly, Shauna closed her business a year ago to work fulltime. Although Shauna loves her new job, she also valued the broad network that she developed through her business. She continues to connect me to them today.
Freelancers are able to develop a network that is broader in scope and expertise than our salaried counterparts. A trusted network is a competitive advantage for a lone writer, or designer, or consultant.
Connected writers are an asset to their clients. Freelancers can’t do it all. Our best clients deserve the best service. When we can refer them to the best in our network, we are providing value to our clients.
Consider paying the freelancers who referred you a commission. I do it. When I am paid the first time by a referred client, I pay the freelancer who referred me a commission. They do not expect it. It is not a formal arrangement. Commissions for referrals made by other freelancers are a way to encourage future referrals and show appreciation. Remember, often, they worked hard for that relationship.
Writers and other creatives serve their clients by making something whole from disparate parts. When writing a grant, my parts come from finance, programs, leadership, constituents, and third-party research. A great working relationship with each party involved in the process is vital to do great work. Freelancers work hard on building great relationships with their clients but leave little or no time for supporting other freelancers. Loners who build a support network are also making something from those disparate relationships with other creatives, entrepreneurs, problem-solvers, and visionaries—a valuable, supportive collective.
One of the greatest limitations for freelancers is time. A freelancer with back-up help can take on that community project or take time off to be a caregiver for a month or two without losing the ties they worked so hard to get and maintain. To succeed as freelancers, we can no longer behave like loners.
Freelance life involves independent work. However, by independently working collectively and supporting other freelancers in our networks, we can realize the kind of economy that will support us all and do great work in the process.
How can you better support your fellow freelancer?
Updated July 31, 2019