One of the toughest areas of working as a freelancer is that there’s a sense of professional loneliness. Most of your work days are spent alone in a home office. While local networking opportunities exist, they may not be geared toward the creative industry. You need to get out!
You need to meet more creative workers. You need to develop a method to network as a remote freelancer, to create relationships that will help you grow in your career—and keep from feeling like you work on an island!
1. Contribute in the Online Space
Playgrounds such as Dribbble, GitHub, and even portfolio sites such as Behance can lead to lasting freelancer relationships while helping you develop your skills and show off work.
The first step is the hardest. You might wonder if you have time to chat and play with designs that aren’t work based, but you do. And you might find that places like Dribbble and GitHub will help you collect feedback on working projects as well, so you can make them even better.
So, here’s how you get started. Don’t jump into every online forum at the same time. Pick the one that’s most closely related to what you do.
- User interface and experience designers might want to start with Dribbble.
- Coders and backend developers will probably find more like minds on GitHub or CodePen.
- Print and typography designers often share projects on Behance, in a more portfolio or project style format.
But you are going to have to do more than just upload your ideas to make the most of online communities. You need to engage with other users. Like projects, offer feedback to users who ask for it.
Remember, many other users in these networks are looking for the same feedback as you. While some designers might mentor you, you can mentor other designers.
2. Join Social Media Groups
Social media groups are a great way to interact with other people that have similar interests. While it can take a little time to find a group that best-suited for the type of chatter and interaction you crave, it’s a great way to meet other creatives.
The starting points are Facebook or LinkedIn. Both social networks have group features. Look for a group that focuses on your area of expertise, ask to join and then jump into conversations. (Don’t just lurk in groups; you are losing out on valuable networking time if you do.)
3. Take an Online Class
There’s a wealth of knowledge in classroom environments, and classes can be a great place to network with other students as well.
Look for an online class that follows a more traditional format so that students are taking the class simultaneously. This online class format will likely include plenty of changes to meet and connect with other students – even if most of the conversations are virtual.
One of the great things about tools such as Skype and Google Hangouts is that you can connect with people all over the world that share similar interests in a way that’s more genuine and real. When working with classmates in this space, opt to engage in video chat sessions so that you can actually see the people you are working with. Pay attention to facial expressions and body language.
Take it one step further if you can and plan a meetup outside the classroom if physical locations and schedules allow.
4. Get Involved with a Creative Organization
Membership in a national creative organization – and involvement in that group – can open the doors to creative networking, although it can take a little time and effort.
Start by finding a national organization – bonus points if there is a chapter nearby – to join. Look for a group that’s pretty active with plenty of room for engagement, such as online forums for members, web chats or meetups, and conferences or other activities.
Insert yourself into the organization.
- Interact and engage online. Ask questions; answer questions from others.
- Enter contests and promotions offered by the organization. Even for national groups, this type of engagement (especially if you win or rate highly) can help get your name and work out there.
- Make plans to attend a conference or event. While there’s a definite expense that comes with attending national conferences, there can be a huge networking upside, particularly if you are friendly and want to actively meet other people. It can be a bonus to go alone and take every opportunity to get out of your room and chat with others.
- Web designers and developers, consider finding a WordCamp event to attend. These short conferences (often just a weekend) connect WordPress users for training and development. They happen all over the place and are relatively inexpensive to attend. Find one near you.
5. Join Design Conversations
The best method of networking remotely might be to jump into design conversations everywhere.
Start with online forums or chats. (Twitter chats can be beneficial). Use hashtags to jumpstart creative conversations or jump into public conversations about design topics.
If you don’t find a niche that works for you, create your own. Start a Twitter chat and invite other creatives. Make sure to have a defined agenda and timeline so that these don’t drag on or get dry. (The easy formula for a Twitter chat is a defined topic with a hashtag, and use a moderator that poses questions to the group for answering.)
Finally, consider sharing your creative expertise by blogging. Engaging with other creatives by writing a tutorial, sharing information or observations about the field signals others that you are open to conversation. Invite readers to join a conversation in the comments to keep that engagement going.
Developing a professional network as a remote freelancer is something you have to build over time. You have to work at making meaningful connections and don’t feel bad about dropping out of groups if they don’t work for you.
But remember, online networking is a two-way street: to get real value out of it, you’ll have to give something back in return.