Working for yourself has endless benefits but naturally, like most things in life, it’s not for everyone. Working flexibly without a structured office set-up to fall back on means that a week of reduced productivity can easily lead to lost earnings. It’s important for freelancers and solo entrepreneurs to stay motivated and feel supported, and the best way to do this is to build your own network of fellow freelancers. Loneliness has become a nationwide epidemic, and according to Forbes, 23% of millennials in the United Kingdom report feelings of isolation and a lack of companionship. Freelancers, who often work from home to save costs, are one of the most at-risk groups when it comes to feeling lonely. So much of our professional lives are now laptop-based, and since we no longer need face-to-face interaction to get jobs done, as was the case for past generations of freelancers, ensuring you get enough human interaction has become more important than ever.
As well as providing companionship, support networks provide freelancers and solo entrepreneurs with sounding boards for brainstorming sessions, people to celebrate with when you finally get that funding you were going after, and people to rally around you when you feel like throwing in the towel and rejoining the corporate rat-race. Lydia Birgani-Nia, a brand consultant and set designer based in London, says that the network of fellow creative freelancers she’s surrounded herself with keeps her going through rough patches: “As a businesswoman running your own company, or running several companies at once, it’s so easy to give up. Having people around you who keep pushing, and who interact with you on a daily basis in both a business and professional sense is so important.”
Birgani-Nia also values being able to turn to her support network for advice. “Everybody has different opinions, and when you network and build these connections with people, it helps strengthen you as a business woman,” she says. Birgani-Nia adds that it’s particularly useful when you can talk to people who’ve had different experiences than you, so that you can learn from and take inspiration from their creative professional journeys.
Christina de Witte, a young Belgian cartoonist who has already published a successful book, and who draws a weekly cartoon for a national magazine, thinks that we tend to underestimate just how important girl gangs are for women who work for themselves. For de Witte, her girl gang makes her feel “more powerful, secure and safe”. She also points out that the pendulum should swing both ways. “I think it’s very important to be part of a supportive girl gang for others. Cheer for your girlfriends. Give a helping hand wherever you can. It could take a minute of your day, but make a huge difference for others.”
Join digital and real life networks
Let’s say you’re a freelancer or solo entrepreneur looking to build your own support network of creative women. How do you even go about it? Birgani-Nia turns to social media to connect with like-minded professionals, making sure to meet them in real life too, to cement the bond. If you’re not sure how to find other freelance creatives in your industry, try attending some free events in your area. These events could take the form of panel discussions, lectures, or practical workshops, and they usually include time for networking too, so make sure you bring your business cards, and that your social profiles are in tip-top shape. Take a look at professional women’s networks like the Working Women’s Club, Future Girl Corp, Women Who, and the Female Entrepreneur Association, which host events both in London and around the world.
Ask your friends
Another way to expand your own network of like-minded professionals is to host mini bring-a-friend events at your house. Invite a few friends or people you know who freelance or have businesses in similar industries to you, and ask them each to bring a similar friend as well. You never know the bonds that will form, and most people know a ‘friend of a friend’ they can refer you to for a coffee as well. If you find someone you particularly click with, try working together on your separate projects. It’s far more fun to work next to someone you can have a quick chat with while you’re making a cup of mid-morning tea, and bouncing a few ideas off each other can inject with you a burst of creativity when you’re approaching that 4pm energy dip.
Birgani-Nia, who is Welsh-Iranian, was raised in Abu Dhabi, whose business world she describes as being incredibly male-dominated. So when she moved to London a few years ago, she made an effort to “surround” herself with “really creative women with a drive”. Luckily, women-focused professional networks have enjoyed a moment in the spotlight in recent months. Allbright, the women’s only networking club based in Mayfair in London, recently raised over $18 million to expand into the US, while New York’s fan favourite The Wing is opening in London in September. Similarly, the female-first dating app Bumble has expanded with a professional mode which facilitates networking, and Sophia Amoruso’s Girl Boss recently announced a new professional network to rival LinkedIn.
There’s never been a better time to get networking, expand your contact list, and build up a group of supportive women who can help spur you on towards your professional goals.