In the workplace, we hear a lot about work-life balance and the need to be a well-rounded person.
For many freelancers language like that is reason enough to never work for another person again.
We aren’t very social animals and most of us aren’t normal workers either. Some of us do our best work at 2:00 in the morning after a feverish round of Halo 3.
Perhaps this T-shirt from ThinkGeek says it best:
Unfortunately there comes a time in the life of every freelancer when they must deal with that most dreaded of all creatures – other people. In order to prepare for this inevitable event, you have to look at your workday as a series of planned events. Sort of like a Warcraft raid, but only in real life. While we usually don’t have time to do anything but work, we have to make that time in order to keep our sanity.
Most of us aren’t large enough yet to have an office, or we simply don’t want the added overhead of having an office. If you have enough clients and you’re making money, why have one unless you are working towards an agency business model? There’s nothing wrong with working from home if you work on the internet and in our case clients expect that we do just that. While we all work from home for a reason, there are some downfalls to working from home that we need to overcome in order to be successful.
When I first started working from home, my mother-in-law asked me if I would miss socializing at the office. I thought it was a crazy question. Of course I wouldn’t miss the office. While I hardly hated my co-workers, I’ve always been the type that considered office socializing to be a massive time suck and useless in the bargain.
Since I started I can’t say I miss socializing at the office, but I definitely need to get out and do something every day. Whether it is a quick coffee with a friend, a stolen half hour at the gym, or a quick drive, I make an attempt to reconnect with society for at least a few minutes per day. This process is apparently called “socialization” and it is defined as the process of learning our own culture and how to live within it.
It can be argued that we function in our online culture just fine, thank you very much, but I think you’ll agree that getting out to see people once in a while isn’t a bad idea. Apparently Plato, Montaigne and Rousseau all thought that socialization was necessary. We’re going to accept that one of those guys knew what they were talking about.
What happens when we aren’t properly “socialized”? I think you all could come up with at least one example. I have always had an amazing capacity for saying the wrong thing. Before someone told me that it wasn’t quite appropriate, I told two children that whenever Hannah Montana sings, God kills a kitten. I did this because I thought, and rightly so, that it was hilarious. But think of the kid – I made the poor buggers think for a few seconds that God had a rifle range set up and was poling a kitten whenever Hannah warbled an unholy note. That just wasn’t cool. What’s worse – I came up with the idea from a piece of FaceBook flair. There’s nerd, and then there is anti-social nerd.
I Socialize Online. What’s The Difference?
When we socialize online, we tend to aggregate in groups and forums that represent our own interests. The negative aspects to socializing online are that we can create identities and roles for ourselves that are actually a far cry from our real characters. Most of us don’t even do this intentionally – we just have a different character online than off. In “The Social Net” by Yair Amichai-Hamburger, he writes about this role playing and alternate self as both a negative and a positive.
We are free to explore areas that we may not explore offline, but that can also lead to some anti-social behaviour as well. While Amichai-Hamburger is not trying to demonize online culture in his book, he turns the cold third-party eye of a team of psychologists on the whole affair with some interesting results. You can read excerpts over at Google Books.
Since we tend to form groups with those of similar interests, we are often not challenged with opposing viewpoints as we may be offline. This can lead to a fundamentalism in belief structures, political ideals and just about anything else that we communicate about on the internet. While online socializing has its place, it should always be supplemented with real life socializing to keep yourself balanced.
Socializing online with something like Twitter is another issue entirely. This tool gives you up to the second insights into the lives of those of your tribe, such as other web designers and other freelancers. You may actually find yourself making some real life friends over Twitter if you aren’t careful.
For those of you who are seeing themselves in my Hannah Montana debacle, you may want to do something a little more drastic than getting out to the gym everyday. You may want to join a group of some kind that encourages you to do public speaking such as Toastmasters or a similar organization. You may want to join a local volunteer organization, such as Rotary or the Kinsmen. Basically if you have absolutely nothing going on in your life except work, you need to give yourself some time away. This process is called resocialization. The term is usually applied to a major life change, such as going away to University or joining the military. If you’ve been at home working with nobody around for years, you may just find it to be extremely useful.
The Mobile Office is Not the Answer
A lot of people recommend changing your surroundings by taking your laptop and going to a cafe or a quiet room such as a museum lounge. While it can’t hurt to mix it up a little bit like this, you are still effectively in isolation. I’m sure that the odd freelancer has found work happiness in a cafe or in similar surroundings, but this only works if you have the concentration of a ninja master. Changing your surroundings usually won’t do much except reacquaint you with the negative aspects of human nature such as loud conversations about private medical issues and the need that some people have to talk in order to hear themselves. These types prefer coffee shops of the pricey variety *cough*(Starbucks)*cough*. If you need to go out, just go out. Leave your laptop at home.
That being said sometimes you do need a place to go if the family aggro is driving you to distraction. The best place to go is the library – no loud conversations, no distractions and no impossibly hot baristas. Wait a minute – maybe that cafe isn’t looking like such a bad idea after all…
Your Spouse is Not Your Socializer
If you are lucky enough to have a spouse, you can’t use them as your socialization mechanism, regardless of how easy it is. Your spouse expects you to bring your own personality and beliefs to the table. As it is unfair for them to come home and complain about work, it is unfair for you to expect them to introduce you to the entire world around you. That’s your responsibility. As a freelancer it is almost more vital that you set up date nights for you and your spouse as it is too easy to just hop on the box after dinner to tighten up some code. You may find yourself tightening up your belt when the divorce papers are served.
Just in case you were wondering, the impossibly hot barista is not your socializer either. Just walk away.
Date Your Friends
Set up an ongoing meeting once a week with at least one of your friends during the day. If you know a mom who is at home with the kids, she’s probably dying to get the heck out of the house too. Change your location and activity from week to week. Go shopping, have lunch, go to a free lecture. Whatever you do, don’t do anything to do with work. Does once a week sound too often to you? OK – that’s a sign that you need to do it.
Socialization and Sales
Even if it seems like work is coming in faster than you can finish it, there will come a day that you will have to conduct some sales-like activities to bring in new business. One of the first rules of sales is to not talk about sales. While you don’t want to waste your client’s time, if you are at a meeting it is expected that you start off with some small talk about family, current events or friendly banter of another sort.
This is where your socialization comes into play. If you are adequately socialized, you’ll ace all the nuances of a standard business meeting. If you aren’t, your prospective client will probably pick up on this fact with negative results for your business deal.
Sales techniques for the freelancer are a little different than the standard ones that you read about in your “Get Rich Quick” type books. It is much easier for a web developer to get clients than it is for an encyclopedia salesman to get clients. All you really need to do is pick up the phone, which is one of the main reasons for this article. Most web developers view the phone as an antiquated device that only troglodytes use. If it makes you feel better, hook yourself up on Skype and call with your computer. Whatever you do, commit yourself to one morning a month of picking up the phone and calling people you don’t know to get business.
This method of getting business is so much easier than bidding on contracts on online bid sites and answering ads on Craigslist because you are competing with nobody. You are the first one “past the post” in the eyes of the business owner that you are talking to and therefore the favoured one. You may find that most contacts made through your cold calling don’t even shop around – they just have you do the job. Don’t feel restricted to cold calling in your local area either, although you may want to start there.
Contact people in other states, provinces and even other countries. Check to see how the dollar is doing against the Euro and the British Pound. If it is lower you may find yourself to be the discount option of choice for a UK customer. Make sure that you are respecting the time difference and calling in the equivalent of morning for them.
Don’t think that mass emails can replace cold calls either. Your effectiveness rate will be much better talking to someone on the phone than it would have been if you had sent an email. A phone call is more personal and feels more honest in the eyes of your buyer than e-mail. You’ll be assuring your buyer that you simply aren’t a design mill and you have interpersonal skills. I don’t know about you, but I am sick of unwanted e-mail filling my inbox and I am always happy to get a relevant telephone call.
While many of us are not adequately socialized human beings due to the nature of our work, most of us are remarkable human beings. Think of what you are depriving the world of if you don’t get out there. It’s actually almost criminal that people are not yet aware of the awesomeness of you. Especially that barista. Go get ‘em, tiger.
Written exclusively for WDD by Angela West.
Do you consider yourself an anti-social freelancer? Please share your comments with us!