As a firm believer in freelancing the way you want, I try to stay away from stereotyping my peers. But I have noticed--and maybe you have, too--that freelancers tend to have a lot of invisible friends. And, by “invisible” I mean people they’ve never met. Whether through social media connections, blogging communities and freelancing forums, I know a lot of people pretty intimately that I might just pass by if we were ever on the same patch of sidewalk.
And it’s not just fellow freelancers, either. Many of the clients I work with, I've never met in-person. I remember attending a big meeting for one large DC based client because I just happened to be in town a couple of years ago. As I sat down to the table and pulled out my notes, I realized that I had a working relationship that lasted years with several of the people in this room. Sometimes I was emailing and calling these people several times a day. Yet, I had to ask each one her name before I could figure out who was who.
Last year, I spent a lot of time thinking about how I hide behind my computer. I’m one of those people who really enjoy my own company. Previous traditional jobs forced me to mingle with the general public so I always had a nice balance in my life. The moment I started working from home, I noticed that I spent more time in my head than anywhere else. I loved the fact that I could connect with others hundreds of miles away with just a few keystrokes. Still, I soon remembered that in-person connecting has its perks, too.
First of all, a face to face meeting creates a trust that you don’t always get when all of your contact is over the phone or Internet. This is great for client relationships. I used to have a client in Virginia whose office was near a shopping center I did a lot of errands in. If I happened to be around--um, and looking presentable--I’d walk in and say hi. I got a lot of work from her and I like to think that it’s because I made an effort to connect every couple of months. She could put a face to my work and that helped her trust me.
Another great benefit is that you don’t have to type as much. You get to give your computer or phone a break and just talk. If you’ve got email/Twitter/Facebook fatigue, this is the cure. You don’t have to “like” or retweet anything, either. It easier to decipher tone and meaning in person, too. No more carefully wording everything because you’re afraid the other person may take it the wrong way.
And finally, it gets you out of your home office and into the world. If you’re someone who spends a lot of time cooped up, this is perfect for you. Fresh air, sunshine and good company. What more could you ask for? And when you come back, you’re guaranteed to feel a little more inspired.
Making the Invisible Friends Real
So this year, I have a plan. I’m going to comb through my social media and email contacts for those who live in the greater New York City area. Then I’m setting up a meetup with each one. Lunch, dinner, cup of coffee or walk in the park, I’m going to meet as many people as possible this year. Not everyone will be into it, of course. But, the ones that are will get to see my smiling face in-person and we can both verify that each of us is actually real.
If you’re so inclined, there’s nothing stopping you from making your invisible friends real, too. I’m sure at least one or two of your Twitter contacts is local. Send them an email and ask them to coffee. Or participate in a TweetUp in your area. If you’ve got local clients, hand deliver that next holiday or thank you card you planned to send them. You could ask if you could stop by to pitch some new projects to them, or just offer to take them to lunch sometime.
For those of you living in less populated areas, don’t despair. Google Plus has nice hangout feature that lets you have group video chats that I’ve been using with great success. Skype has a similar feature. Invite two or three of your invisible friends and you’ll get the face to face connection without traveling a few hundred miles to get it.
And if any of you are in the NYC area, I’d love to put a face with your name. Email me and let’s take this thing to the next level.