This is the third and final part of our series on freelancing and the gig economy, exploring the 3 major challenges to consider if you’re going to be successful working independently.
Freelancers often view the independent work they do as less like a career and more like a calling. Whether they’re seeking flexibility, adventure, freedom, or even some degree of fame and fortune, answering this call was the first step to putting themselves on a path to greater fulfillment and success.
But for all it has to offer, this path is often a long one and definitely has its challenges. In talking with freelancers about their pursuits, 3 distinct challenges emerged:
- Offering a unique value proposition. Talent and passion for what you do are only the beginning. Long-term success as a freelancer requires mastery of the things they didn’t teach you in school.
- Charting your own career path. When you’re a freelancer, there’s no HR department or built-in support staff. You have to figure that out for yourself.
- Developing a network and a community. Being independent shouldn’t mean doing it all on your own. Savvy freelancers foster a diverse community to tap into for guidance, support, inspiration, and opportunity.
Let’s focus on the third challenge. Despite an avalanche of pieces about the importance of networking for freelancers, most observations and advice remains too surface level. I analyzed more than a dozen articles on the topic, and networking came up far and away the most frequently as a skill that freelancers need to master. Talk to freelancers and they’ll mention networking as a key skill they’ve tried to develop in order to grow and sustain their business. But in their own words, another term comes up as often, if not more: community.
When you shift your focus from the idea of building a network to fostering community, new possibilities emerge. Freelancers repeated called out community as a key source of career mentoring, guidance, and support.
Community can also serve as a source of creative inspiration. Many freelancers are idea-driven people seeking to innovate. CCL understands innovation as the process of connecting ideas to ideas, ideas to people and, eventually, people to people. Translation: It’s not a one-person endeavor. You’ve got to get out and connect.
One freelancer put it this way: “It can get lonely doing this type of work — you want to play with things and get ideas and inspiration from others — otherwise you can get in a bubble and get stale. Let’s face it; my next great innovation isn’t going to come from talking to the kitchen wall.”
Quick tip: You can foster a sense of community with others and still have some room for a little healthy competition. So go out and size up your fellow freelance competitors and be honest with yourself.
Your network is a valuable source of potential partners and collaborators. Find the right people to partner with while still maintaining your independence, and they can help you accomplish more and help you spend more time doing what you really want to be doing. One freelancer captured it this way: “There’s a lot you can’t accomplish just on your own. Fashion designers work like this. Musicians too. You can’t play all the instruments on your record. My ambitions are bigger than what I can create with my own 2 hands — achieving my dreams will involve leading others to help me do that.”
Quick tip: Make a list of all the things you are accountable for doing to run your business successfully. From putting together proposals to creating deliverables to ordering office supplies. Mark each of those items that you are currently solely responsible for doing. Then take a second look at your list and bucket each item according to things you would ideally like to do yourself, things you’d like to partner with others to get done, and things you’d like to outsource.
It seems that one of the keys to being on your own is to actually never be truly alone. Community fills that void. Continually invest in being a part of a diverse community of colleagues, family, friends, and others and it will give back to you in terms of guidance, support, inspiration, and opportunity.
If you aren’t currently freelancing but are giving it some serious consideration, hopefully this gives you perspective on the realities of this type of work and the differences from what you might have experienced thus far in your career. If you’d like to dive deeper on that topic, please attend this complimentary webinar on Jan. 18, sponsored by MBO Partners.