The internet is full of memes on the joys of being alone: peace, tranquility, your stuff always being where you left it, no one stealing your snacks. The pandemic and the rising number of people working remotely has also led to an increase of content about the joys of working alone—better work/life balance, calmer environments for brainstorming, etc.
But for solo entrepreneurs, all that alone time can be at the expense of growing a business and building a network. And possibly maintaining your sanity (even the most introverted entrepreneurs need a little human contact sometimes!). Solo Hustle can fill in the gaps for accountants, project managers, and digital marketers you haven’t added to your team yet, but it’s not the greatest conversationalist. So let’s talk about why it’s a good idea to find a community, where to find it, and how you can use it for your personal and professional growth.
Why you need community
Whether it’s in person or virtual, having a group of like-minded people who are experiencing similar challenges is a comfort. For instance, belonging to a community helps you:
- Hold yourself accountable.
Working for yourself is the dream, right? Make your own rules. Answer to yourself. But sometimes you need the encouragement of others and to be answerable for more than whatever is on your task list. Having a community that holds events, offers opportunities for community work, and other engagements, can be the motivation and encouragement you need.
- Celebrate your wins.
Your friends and family will always cheer you on, but sometimes you need to celebrate wins with people who truly understand the level of work and effort that went into landing a new customer or expanding your business. Some communities even offer opportunities for awards, grants, or other high-profile ways to call attention to your business and earn some accolades that can increase your trustworthiness.
- Find or be a mentor.
Learning and teaching go hand in hand and should be pursued throughout your career. Joining a community offers expanded opportunities to either find or be a mentor, or both. While community-organized events and talks can be inspiring, building one-on-one connections allows you to have in-depth brainstorming conversations, get ideas about expanding services or products, and open yourself to new ideas and even new audiences.
- Get more business.
Many communities offer job boards and other ways to share or seek opportunities. Workshops provide information to increase and enhance skills. Conventions let you get face to face with potential customers and others in your field. Sometimes even membership to a particular organization can increase your credibility with potential customers.
How to find a freelance community
The great thing is that most communities want members so it shouldn’t be too hard to locate a group that meets your needs and offers opportunities. Here are some ideas.
It should come as no surprise that social media is ideal for exactly this: connecting people from diverse geographic locations around common interests. Use the network’s search tool to find groups based on interest, area, level of skill, and more. LinkedIn is more likely to be a source for professional groups—especially those that offer certifications and other official learning opportunities.
Think outside of the usual social media as well. For instance, if you use Slack to conduct business, you can also find community channels that meet your interests or needs.
Organizations centered around your industry are great places to meet like-minded professionals, and these organizations typically host a variety of conferences, workshops, happy hours, and learning opportunities. Joining a local chapter of a national organization can be the best of both worlds: regular communication with nearby people who can provide support and feedback, as well as a connection to a larger and more diverse community with similar interests.
Apps aren’t just for dating or shopping. Sites such as Eventbrite or Meetup help you connect with upcoming events and groups that match your business or professional interests. It’s also a great way to locate “open house” type events where you can check out a group without committing to a membership or being thrust into a more in-depth interaction.
The water cooler became ubiquitous for inter-office casual interactions because everyone needs a drink at some point during the day. For freelancers, everyone needs a method of getting their name and skills in front of customers, and many find that on work platforms such as Fiverr. Whether or not you need to find customers in this way, these platforms often provide educational and community-gathering opportunities that you shouldn’t discount. Most are free to join (the platforms earn money by taking commissions) so you can enjoy the camaraderie without cost if that’s all you’re seeking.
How to benefit from a community
OK you joined. Now what?
First, keep in mind basic etiquette. While ideally your membership in a community will lead to growth in your business, you can’t just show up and just start pitching your services or asking for leads:
- Read through all new member materials. Attend any new member sessions. Be open, friendly, and interested in learning how to be successful in the group.
- Set up your profile completely.
- Reach out and introduce yourself.
- Attend events—be an active participant.
Many professional organizations offer marketing opportunities to members, including listing in directories, opportunities to advertise in newsletters and other materials, and learning seminars. Review and take advantage of any opportunities that meet your business needs.
Create a professional network
Freelance communities can be a great place to expand your professional network and make connections with people who offer complimentary services or products to your own. This, in turn, can be beneficial when pitching new clients who need more than you can offer on your own. Team up with other community members to better serve mutual customers and attract new ones.
Help when you’re stuck
Hubspot is a popular sales and marketing tech tool that has an active online community. Both on their chatboards and on social media user groups, Hubspot customers frequently ask each other questions, share how they solved unique problems, and trade tips and tricks.
Finding a community that has your back when you run into a problem and have a deadline approaching is invaluable. Not only will you keep projects on track, but you’ll likely learn new ways to solve common problems and gain insight into how others tackle challenges.
Need a place to start?
Head over to LinkedIn and Facebook and follow Solo Hustle. As we grow, our network of freelance and solo entrepreneur customers grows as well. Meet fellow startup leaders and trade ideas on how to manage your business and grow your business.