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How to Make Friends When You’re a Freelancer

by Hanna Brooks Olsen
featured, freelancing

The call of a freelance lifestyle is a strong one. Freedom and independence, extra income, the lack of a boss, the ability to work from home (or anywhere) — there are a million reasons why workers all over the world are setting out in big numbers to go it on their own. Though there is one distinct measure of a healthy life that is missing from the freelance experience: Being social.

A robust social life is decidedly not one of the more commonly-touted perks of being a freelancer. In part, it’s because most freelance work is relatively singular; freelancers almost always work alone, or collaborate with people in separate spaces or cities or even countries. As a result, many freelancers amass a great number of contact and even possibly online friends — less often, though, do they take it offline.

Which isn’t to say that freelancers are all shut-ins who never leave their homes — a large part of freelancing is also networking, which means a lot of us do drag ourselves out on a regular basis — but it is accurate to acknowledge that it can be really difficult to make friends as a self-employed sole proprietor. Plus, when everyone else is working 9-to-5, those daytime hours can get kind of lonesome. So how do you do it?

The first, perhaps most obvious answer, is coworking. In an interview with Inc., reporter Sarah Kessler explained that for her, working from a coworking space (once a kind of revolutionary idea, there are lots of them now) provided a place to get the job done, and also a way to socialized.

“You could drag yourself to after-work networking events, speakers, and conferences,” Sarah explained, “Or, you could meet dozens of people with interesting projects by simply working alongside them during the day.” The people who was working with were not only great professional connections, they also became friends. “After overhearing a discussion about an exceptional sandwich place near Coworking Brooklyn…I asked where it was. Instead of relating the cross-streets, my coworkers invited me to lunch with them. I not only had the scoop on the best lunch spot in the area, but somebody to eat with. ”

Not all coworking has to occur in designated coworking spaces, though. For newer freelancers, or those who are working on a tight budget, coworking spaces can be a little pricey. Or, if you live in a small-ish town, there just might not be one that’s convenient. Still, finding other freelancers in your area — either through Twitter (seriously, just search out other freelancers in your region), Facebook groups (Atlanta, for example, has a pretty active group just for freelancers), or even a Freelancers Union Hive — and inviting them to cowork from a cafe or other neutral space is a good way to not only make new friends, but also find potential partners to bounce ideas off of. It might seem like a weird thing to ask someone you barely know, but showing up with work to do is actually a lot less awkward that just sitting down for coffee.

Another way to find potential freelancer friends is through trade events. Conferences, meet-ups, Chamber of Commerce gatherings, or even happy hours hosted by local publications or groups are a good resource for finding other people in your area who share your interests. You can bond over the similar work you do, and also find possibly collaborators. Check with your local downtown business association or even local government events calendars to see if anything interesting is occurring — you might not even realizes the resources that already exist.

If there is no current meet-up in your area — or you haven’t found a group you like yet — it may also be time to just start your own. Look for other people near where you live and propose a lunchtime or happy hour gathering. Borrow some inspiration from Benjamin Franklin, whose Junto Club became a legendary social gathering “for mutual improvement,” wherein fellow creative individuals would gather to discuss current affairs, ideas they’d had, or other relevant topics. Copy Franklin’s idea and create your own gathering, using a Facebook group or an email newsletter, and be bold with the guest list. You never know who else is looking for new daytime friends!

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Hanna Brooks Olsen

Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer and editor for CreativeLive, longtime reporter, and the co-founder of Seattlish. Follow her on Twitter at @mshannabrooks or go to her website for more stuff.