Invisible Friends Are for Kids and Crazy People

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.

In-Person Connections

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.

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Princess Jones owns P.S. Jones Communications, a boutique communications firm that specializes in helping brands speak to their customers in their own language. She has been professionally writing for more than 10 years and she writes about the experience at Diary of a Mad Freelancer.

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13 thoughts on “Invisible Friends Are for Kids and Crazy People”

  1. Love, love, love this post, Princess! In my Corporate days, I did a ton of traveling and I always told everyone that I felt it really helped me keep it real.. A face-to-face breaks down some of the natural barriers that an online relationship puts up – whether you’re talking on the phone or through the magic of the internet.

    The face-to-face (and the traveling) is probably the number one thing I miss about freelancing. My clients are not local, but I did spend some time recently with my San Diego-based clients. One such visit ended up with me being put on retainer for a regular, monthly income with them for lots of work. All because I dropped in and we were just chit-chatting about what kind of things I did for other clients.

    I look forward to hearing about how your venture into the outside world goes, Princess. 🙂

  2. Perfect post! I’m meeting an online acquaintance tomorrow, in fact.

    I’ve met a few of my online friends – Jenn Mattern being one I really appreciate knowing. It’s true – these people are often as close (if not closer) than the friends in our neighborhoods. Cathy Miller is one, too. 🙂

    • You know about two years ago, another freelancer I barely knew from Twitter emailed me to say she’d be in Chicago–where I was living at the time–for work. We met up for lunch and we’ve been fast friends every since. Not only that, she’s been one of my best accountability buddies since. And this all came from randomly reaching out for more in-person connections.

  3. SUCH an important message, Princess,

    And hey there, Cathy and Lori…

    Facebook/Twitter/Email/Blogging is NOT in the same universe as face-to-face, and it’s deluded a whole chunk of the population (many freelancers in their ranks) into thinking they’re truly connected to people.

    Given what we do, it’s inevitable that a lot of our professional lives has to look like that, but the key is the awareness that that not only is NOT the ideal, it’s not even normal or healthy. Through that lens, we’ll be regularly looking for opportunities to look someone in the eye…


    • “Healthy” is what is on my mind right now. As much as I love how easy it is to connect with my friend in India through the Internet, I can’t let that stop me from getting off my butt to connect with clients and colleagues right in my neighborhood. I’m missing out on opportunity every time I choose to hide behind my computer.

      (Oh and I’m a big fan of yours. So if I ever hear you’re in NYC, expect to get an email with a meetup invitation in it.)

    • I wouldn’t say that you couldn’t do that without meeting in-person. You can also establish that through your work habits, your contact frequency through other mediums and other tactics. But, we’re all humans and through body language, facial expressions and overall impression, I’ve found that we make quicker and stronger connections through face to face meetings.

  4. Hey back to Lori and Peter-thanks for the shout-out 🙂 One of my personal goals is to get some more face-to-face time (both with clients and online friends). Totally agree with you, Peter. It’s just plain healthy to want to and I like that you point out that we should recognize that the online relationship is not ideal.

  5. I haven’t been the ‘work from home freelancer’ full-time for very long, but I can already see this process happening. I was actually really happy about it until I read your post! I always had part-time jobs away from home that got me away from my home office. Now that I’m in my office the better part of most days, I can see how this would end up being a problem after awhile. I think, in time, that I definitely want to try to gather a few clients that are close to home that I can visit in person on occasion. It might be hard living in rural Vermont, but I’ll try my hardest! Thanks for the excellent post!

  6. Working from home and working from the office are different scenario for me. Based on my experience as a freelancer, getting to your client into a face-to-face way can improve their trust.This is a great post that I could add into my reference. Thanks.


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