Be interested in other people: the golden rule for freelancers?

When I talk to fellow freelancers who do a lot of work from home, a couple of challenges seem to come up again and again: staying solvent and staying sane.

We know we have to keep the pipeline of assignments flowing, to avoid the ghastly feast or famine syndrome, but how do we get enough (but not too much) new work lined up when we’re busy getting our current work done? And while we’re managing that balancing act, how do we keep ourselves motivated, up-to-date and avoid turning into people who talk to their furniture having spent so much time in our own company?

Here’s something that I’ve observed seems to help: being interested in other people. I’m a nosy so-and-so, a chatterbox and a bit of an approval-seeker (Do you like my new website? Do you? Do you?). But it turns out that these qualities come in pretty handy now I’m self-employed. I’ll admit, I went a bit bonkers when I first started out as a freelancer. It was January. I was snowed in. And I went from having about 50 face to face bits of friendly useful office chitchat a day to asking my cat how her weekend was. So I realised early on that I needed to plan to have at least one cheery phonecall or coffee date every day in order to keep myself going. Sometimes with a former colleague, other times a new contact. Just keeping in touch, exchanging advice, sharing know-how and news. Getting feedback, advice or just letting off steam.

Some really great things happened as a result. I didn’t have to look for new clients – they found me. My lovely network would mention me when asked for a recommendation and as a marketer, I know that a lot of this was to do with me being “top-of-mind” thanks to our recent chats. When thinking of a brand (or person) we tend to remember those we spoke to or heard from not long ago. I was accidentally doing Relationship Marketing.

I also came away from most encounters feeling inspired to get on and do something I’d put off, or more confident about tackling something new and a bit scary, or knowing more about something I’d almost certainly find useful at some point.

So getting back to the two challenges. If you find yourself worried about either or both, I recommend making more time to befriend and be a friend. Schedule some “Let’s catch up” calls for next week. Email your contacts and tell them what you’re up to, and find out their news. Take time to have lunch with an old colleague. Trust that you won’t have to spend time looking for work; work will find you. And your marbles will stay put.

Your cat will be grateful for the extra peace and quiet too.

PS: I wrote a paper on Making and Keeping Friends (advice for my colleagues at the Institute of Development Studies on how to build and maintain strategic relationships) so you may find some of the tips there useful if you’re looking to grow your network.