Belonging to a community where you can listen and learn from others who are on similar journeys is a powerful part of your support network.
One of the most important aspects of building a sustainable freelancing career is ensuring that you have a community of people who can support your journey.
This community might be made up of advisors, collaborators, clients, peers, friends, family, strangers - but having a network of people who you can turn to for input, advice, wisdom and experience is essential, not only for the success of your business, but also for your own personal support and can help in tackling feelings of isolation or lack of confidence, as well benefits like finding new clients to work with, or just a cuppa when you're not feeling great.
One of the fastest ways to start building your own community is by joining existing communities - established online or offline groups of people who are already gathered around a topic or theme or interest.
Get started by finding other communities which already exist to support you and others like you.
There are THOUSANDS of communities which already exist, many of which are specifically tailored to freelancing or self-employment; some are sector specific - for designers, for journalists, for writers, for illustrators; some are focused on sections of society - such as women, parents, LGBTQI+; some are focused around geographic locations, like your home town, county or a coworking space; some are built on top of platforms with shared users - such as everyone who uses a software tool or a coworking spaces; some are broad and generally open to anyone, some are exclusive and even paid for - but you can be sure that there will be at least 2-3 communities which you'll be able to find that are right for you.
The simplest way to find an existing community group is to ask your existing network - turn to fellow freelancers and see what groups they're a part of. We did this on twitter, and immediately had a list of possible community groups and platforms to check out.
Another useful source of community groups is Enterprise Nation - who list a wide range of communities and networks focused on business growth and support.
We also have our own growing list of communities and groups with a focus on or welcoming towards freelancers and small businesses, called FreelanceFriendly.network - which you can add your own suggestions to.
It can sometimes feel quite overwhelming joining a new community - especially those which are really well established, with lots of conversations between people who already seem to know each other.
But don't fret, here are our top tips for joining and taking part in a new community. These tips are primarily around digital communities, but can also apply to joining any new group!
Don't feel like you need to jump in with two feet and start engaging and posting immediately - in fact, there's a huge benefit to taking some time and just 'lurking' first of all. Lurking is where you're spending time reading the threads, listening to conversations, getting a feel of the community first. This is also important to help you understand the tonality and behaviours in the space. Familiarise yourself with the rules of the group, and see what exists in the various rooms or spaces your new community is in.
Start building up your connections slowly by responding to other people's questions first, taking part in existing threads and conversations, and adding your experience or point of view. If you don't have anything to add - that's fine, don't feel the need to get involved in every conversation - but where you have some experience or observations you think might help, or simply a word of support, taking part in those existing conversations can help you build rapport with the other community members.
Once you're feeling ready - you can start a topic of conversation yourself, either by asking the group a question, or sharing something you're experiencing. Try not to make your first post a sales pitch or marketing story (unless it's specifically an opportunity to do this!). Gather input from the group, and listen to their responses.
Carve out some time on a regular basis to dip into the community and engage - just as with any type of relationship, it takes time and effort to build up new connections, and you'll get the most from most communities by returning to the space on a regular basis - perhaps once a week, perhaps checking in each morning. You can even go as far as blocking out some time in your calendar where you're invested in creating these connections in your communities. For example, in Leapers, many of our members log-on each day to say Good Morning.
If the community you've joined isn't right for you, if the content or the people don't feel that relevant, or the ways people engage with each other aren't your vibe - that's perfectly okay. Not every group is right for everyone. Keep looking and trying new spaces and groups of people. You'll most likely end up with a collection of different communities that you're a member of, being more actively engaged with some than others, and using different communities for different types of questions or support. Equally, over time, your needs will change - where you might have been highly active in a community for a while, over time you might move on, or become less active. That's okay too. Most communities are hugely welcoming to those of you who went away and then came back after a while.
Often, in much larger communities, it's not uncommon to find smaller groups who make their own connections, like spin-offs, or closer niche groups who spend more time together and hang out, outside of the community. This can be one of the most powerful aspects of online or larger communities, as they help you to create your own smaller and more intimate groups. You can even consider initiating this yourself, if you've found a group of people you're really gelling and connecting with.
However and wherever you start making new community connections, investing time and effort into building those connections over time is a crucially valuable part of being a freelancer.
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