Wednesday 6 April 2016

The Loneliness of Freelancing and How to Beat it

The biggest shock for me when I dived feet first into the deep end of freelancing was not the feast or famine moments, the numerous rejections, or even the thought of doing my own tax returns. No, it was the sense of loneliness and isolation that comes with being your own one man band operation. It didn’t hit me straight away as I was too excited about the grand adventure ahead and with work already to be getting on with who had time to worry about such silly things? Yet slowly and insidiously it crept up on me and before long working from home became difficult and cabin fever had set in. 

For some this is not a problem depending on the nature of your work, but even then it can leave you feeling a bit on edge. That’s what comes from being used to working in an office for over 20 years around a veritable crowd of colourful personalities running, shouting, laughing, and generally checking their watches for when it’s home time. I can honestly say the shock left me feeling less than my chipper self for someone who goes on about being comfortable in his own company. Anyway over the months I have found myself a lifeline of options, and since it is a harsh lonely life in the freelance world I am going to share with you 5 ways to keep the temperatures of cabin fever from rising, and the fear of loneliness at bay.


I am starting with this as it is the most obvious option and it is really for those of you who do not have that separate space from their home (such as a shed, or garage) that can be transformed into a complete work space. Get out!!!! That’s it really, wherever you feel most comfortable be it your local greasy spoon cafe, pub or bar, or even a coffee shop. Nearly all of these offer free decent WiFi connections, and seating areas for people to bring their laptops, set up shop and work away. This is the easiest one because there is so much choice as to where you can go, especially coffee houses as not only are they sprouting up like Triffids in rainy season but some have set aside designated laptop bars with ample plug sockets. There is your local library that has dedicated work spaces for laptop users, WiFi, even cafe areas. If cost is an issue then pack a lunch and/or fill a thermos with your favourite brew and take it with you to the library; it will give you perfect excuse to step outside for a break while you eat, drink and generally recharge your batteries. It doesn’t have to be for the whole day but just enough to break that cycle of isolation; being around people busying away will feed your productive vibe, so pack up and get out.


Sometimes playing music or having the TV/radio on in the background isn’t enough to distract from the walls caving in on you. If going out isn’t an option for you for whatever reason, there is a way you can have the hustle and bustle of a busy environment in the comfort of your home. There are an assortment of websites and apps available for free that provide ambient background noise designed to relax you and fuel your productivity, or even creativity. My favourite is Coffitivity, a website (also a free Android and IOS app) designed by a team of entrepreneurs from Richmond, Virginia initially as a research project to help them work better. It offers three audio samples from a busy coffee shop; there’s ‘Morning Murmur’ and ‘Lunchtime Lounge’ but also ‘University Undertones’ should you hanker for your study years. Apparently studies show that the chatter and clutter of busy environments like a coffee shop provide the sort of distraction that allows creativity to flow. Although it is free, you do have to pay a premium if you want to experience ‘Texas Teahouse’ or ‘Brazil Bistro.’ Give it a try and if you want to have some fun with it, you can ease in your music playlist in sync to convey the sense that you’re in a relaxing live music venue. The distraction is so subtle that you barely notice the time pass, and before you know it your day is done.


The one element of working in an office I miss is colleagues, engaging with people all in the same situation (usually miserable and wondering why 4.55 in the afternoon seems to last forever). If you’re freelancing then chances are you’re living the dream but doesn’t feel like it because you’re on your own with no one to share worries, ask for help. Meetup is a hub for any community be it social or business related to connect people with similar interests and then….. well….. meet up (clue is in the name). Personally I have found this to be the most useful and have joined four local groups; a monthly freelancers’ lunch gathering for people to network and share advice on things like tax returns (yes I am really dreading this), a local media gathering to connect with other creatives (including writers), professional digital media group — a social gathering of freelance professionals, and a weekly coffee lovers group. The last one might seem random however when you go to these gatherings you never who you will end up talking to, a potential client or again person in the same situation who can offer help; and in case you’ve forgotten that’s how you make friends and influence people. The app and site have a built-in calendar and notice board so you can manage your meetups effectively. If you can’t find a group for you (and I’d be surprised if you couldn’t) then for a monthly subscription you can set up your own meetups.


Working at home is proving to be difficult for the reasons I’ve given, but perhaps sitting in your local coffee house is not an option (full of screaming school kids who just finished school and are high on their Venti sized lattes), or maybe your pub is screening the big match. What you need is an office, but renting one is expensive, not to mention time consuming. So it is with some relief to learn that many organisations now provide hot desking options for freelancers or people passing through town who need suitable temporary office space during their stay. In the UK, companies such as Regus provide temporary office space and meeting rooms on a rate that suits your budget and needs, but there are also many local options.


This is something created by a friend of mine, a freelance web designer (kudos Graeme). Set up a group on WhatsApp call it something like “hotdesking” and add other freelancers you know to the group. It helps if they are on WhatsApp as well, which by the way is becoming one of THE hot business communication and sharing tool available. So you’re at home trying to work but the washing up is screaming to be done and the dirty laundry basket is starting to move of its own accord but you can’t handle any of these right now. You want to head out but don’t fancy sitting by yourself and paying for hot desking is not an option, then all you do is post a message to your group let them know where you’ll be at a certain time. Chances are you read someone else’s mind and they were just looking for an excuse to escape their own confines. You don’t have to be in the same business just in the same boat, but it means you’re company for each other, you can even be of help either with ideas or simply watching each other’s stuff while you nip to the loo. It’s another lifeline for that essential company we all need even when we are living the dream.

The advantage of this list is that you can combine some of these to add variety to your working week. If you do work at home then the ambient noise app will provide the right kind of distraction. The rest you can combine to break your week up between working at home, attending a meetup gathering, sitting in the pub, and hot desking. These will also help you expand your social and professional sphere of influence with people who understand the difficulties freelancing can present. It can be a lonely world out there but it doesn’t have to be.

If you are a freelancer and you find this blog post useful I would love to hear your stories on how it has helped or your thoughts on it generally, so please do get in touch. Do you have your own coping mechanism or maybe working from home day in day out is not an issue, I’d still like to hear from you.

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