A Life Guide for the Anti-Social Freelancer

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.

WTF This is Too RL.  Noob.

WTF This is Too RL. Noob.

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.

Any Closer and I Stuff Live Ferrets In Your Pants

Any Closer and I Stuff Live Ferrets In Your Pants

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.

Srsly Go OUTSIDE!!!

Srsly Go OUTSIDE!!!

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.

Please Hannah Noooos....

Please Hannah Noooos....


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.


Getting Resocialized

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.

They Won't Look Like This.  Honest.

They Won't Look Like This. Promise.


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

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 = $$

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!

  • http://www.aspendew.com C

    Love the t-shirt at the beginning of the article. That’s not a good sign, is it?

  • http://www.j-run.ca/ Mondo Jay

    Good article,
    funny and informative…
    though your picture selection was kind of weird.
    That photoshop job on the woman’s face seemed kind of quick and dirty…
    Much like that kitten/Hannah reference.

  • http://www.goodkarmainn.com Rick Quarton

    Great article. Describes me to a T. If it weren’t for wife and kids, I’d be invisible.

  • http://blog.eliotsykes.com/ Eliot Sykes

    I know the dollar isn’t great, but the UK pound is worse, British freelancers might consider getting paid in US dollars (at time of writing).

  • http://www.ourvision.eu/ nuinosis

    hahaha, I love this article, thanks Angela :)

  • http://www.freeto.com.ve Pokas

    Really Good one, thanks!

  • http://airwvs.com rizal

    i dont wanna be a geek :P

  • http://www.truenorthe.com Courtney

    I’m in a business networking group and we meet once a week, and I’m always going out to meet my clients, since I work from home. Do a lot of freelancers just sit in their computer caves?

  • http://webit.ca Dimitry Z

    Good read. I though I could work from home but quickly it became apparent that without a social setting for work, the dedication is not always there. I found balance working part time at an office and part time from home. This way, I cannot wait to go to work, and then I cannot wait to stay home.

    • Tolana

      This is exactly the balance I need. I just need to find a part-time job that is worth going to.

  • http://www.joyeux-bordel.com Ekios

    EXELLENT !! ;)

  • http://wearesolid.com Andrew Rossborough

    Great article!

    I’m currently discussing the idea of shared office space with a few other small businesses and freelancers I know. While we’d still have the seperation of our own areas of the office per company, we’d still all be there to bounce ideas off each other and have a bit more social interaction during the work day. Maybe this is something others could consider?

    • http://burdickandmacey.com Jared

      That’s a great idea! I might run that by some other freelancers I know.

  • http://www.ree-she.com Rishi Luchun

    Great post

  • Peter Cotton

    actually it’s not that good to work from home
    No separation from work and non-work and actually, for most people becomes a huge time suck filled with thinking about work 24-7
    Some are good at compartmentalizing but most are not
    37signals and Jason Fried have touched on this and they prefer people who do not want to work 24-7: 8 hrs of concentrated quality is better than 14 of busy work, breaks and pajamas
    As far as being anti-social, you will never be that sucessful with the idea that antisocial is your permanent lot in life and it will not help you build the long term lucrative relationships you need if being your own boss is your goal and you want stability and balance
    Bottom line: work hard but don’t think you can be antisocial or tied to a computer all day and be super successful or even terribly productive long term
    Beware of burnout

  • http://pauldewouters.com paul

    I found a great way to socialize and make mo,ney at the same time: I teach English as a second language. I live in Brazil)
    This gives my necessary dose of social interaction.
    Then I can retire to my bedroom/office…
    Socializing has many benefits, it can give you energy and motivation boosts, if you socialize with the right people, I wouldn’t count binge drinking as a positive form of socializing.
    It can also give you inspiration, and new ideas, try it!

  • http://modxdeveloper.com shane sponagle

    I am a hermit developer :)

  • http://LuckWeaver.Net Pothi

    It’s true as a freelancer one misses a lot of social interaction.

    I personally engage myself in social service activities that keeps me get in touch with the real world!

  • http://www.hautter.cm Ana G

    :) Good to see that I’m not the only one dread using the phone!

  • http://www.freelancerant.com Johnny

    When I started working at home, I realized that sometimes I would go days without talking to anyone. Then I realized that if this continues, I’ll become that guy on the street talking to himself and wandering aimlessly in no particular direction.

    Cheers for putting this in a humorous light.

  • Emily Lozano

    That was hillarious! Great article and great voice. I have to admit I laughed at the Hannah Montana joke. But then… the kittens! Oohh!

  • http://www.theroxor.com Kevin

    nice article. And funny pictures :D

  • http://www.4psd.com 4psd

    Great Post

  • http://www.diysanctuary.com Brigitte

    Wonderful article! When I think back to my days in the office, I used to just cringe at having to socialize. But now I realize it was because of the mindset of “employees”. I find it much easier to socialize with clients and other freelancers.

  • http://createsean.com/blog/ Sean

    Good post. Took the “you read my t-shirt” picture and made it my facebook avatar.

  • Wow –

    Finally an article on this site that it’s worth reading entirely

  • http://siosism.com Siosi

    I think I’ve been suffering from this ever since I picked up freelancing. I DO miss the socialization, as dramatic as it can be at times. Thanks for the article and its relevant images!

  • http://fred-art.dk/ Frederik Højlund

    Very interesting article. I’m still attending gymnasium, but will definitely consider this when it’s time for me to start working (hopefully) in the graphic design industry.

  • http://jerrybantam.com Jerry

    Interesting article, another great post here. I love the content here, though it seems a bit infrequent or just not often enough, I wish you would post a bit more often, but hey what do I know!

    Keep up the good posts!

  • Scott

    Nice article. Scarily Accurate on a lot of points!

  • http://www.manhuakkk.com flappie

    great article! I’ll be attention to your writting!

  • http://www.mikesh.ch mikesh


  • http://www.icreate.ro gerdez

    Right on point with this post. I was really antisocial back in the days. I worked from home, it was my kingdom. But my social skills sucked, though I consider myself good company (and others seem to agree).

  • http://www.logodesignguru.com logo design guru

    i think that the rise of internet networking has done a lot in the sense of opening opportunities, although at the same time, it has reduced actual networking and makes it ok for people to be less physically social.

  • http://www.madlionart.net Lachelle T.

    I LOL’d when I saw the title of this article pop up in my Sage. After 8 months of working from home I began to realize I was developing some of the anti-socialism listed above. I know for a lot of Freelancers, our hobby IS our job. So what I did was come up with new hobbies that took place outside of my home/workplace. So going out to the river and doing photography and grabbing lunch or evening drinks with friends has definitely helped (well alcohol alone is fun too!).

  • http://www.sametomorrow.com Adam

    Good post as funny as it may seem I’m sure a lot of freelancers come across this situation.

  • http://medithi.blogspot.com/ Dishi washi

    I’ve been working from home for almost two years and the first two weeks it was awesome. Unfortunately, I am a very social person, so I went to a literary workshop in the afternoon to be less lonely. That wasn’t enough so then I asked my boyfriend to move in with me. That wasn’t enough either, so I started teaching English as a Second Language one hour a day and on Saturdays. ¿Problem solved? Nah, I also suscribed to a gym.

    Now that I read the article I can see the other ideas: an office with other freelancers, having children, ja ja. I’ll definitely have to consider more activities ’cause I’m not happy yet. I need people like I need water.

    The problem is I’m also a wanna be writer, and people do give me the inspiration I need. Without this interaction, I have nothing to write… but going out all the time to scape home after work also leaves little time for writing. I’m doomed…

  • JC

    Oh thank God.

    I’m a grad student in a specialized art/computer field, and faculty perpetually imply that freelancing and networking is the only way to get ahead in this business. And I keep considering about my total lack of social skills and wondering what was I thinking, going into this field?

    I’m somewhat consoled that there is some hope for me yet.

  • http://sarsini.it Martin

    Thanks for the advice. I am aware that if I would be a more sociable person I would freelance more. Don’t know if it’s laziness or what else

  • http://laura.popokatea.co.uk Laura W

    Love this article. Thank you!

  • dith

    Do not forget being anti social is bad for your health. If you have health problems in your bones or blood… no doubt it has to do with lack of social contact. Be careful with that!

  • http://www.johnpash.com JP

    What happened to the faces of the two people in the “ferret” pic? They look like someone tried to do a beginner photoshop makeover on them. You know the kind that are all over youtube. “How to remove blemishes with 10 filters or less”. Very strange. It’s hard to look away!

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  • http://www.thesociallyconsciouslandlord.com Maria

    OMG! Scary stuff! Sooo True!!!

    How easily we can just shut out of society when designing, blogging and coding from home while everyone else is out. By the time I’m ready to step outside, the sun is setting.

    But it’s still cooooooold out here! And snowing, maybe tomorrow will be nicer weather and I can keep procrastinating until spring.

    Meanwhile, I think I’ll adopt a cat to keep me company.

    And adopt the cat another cat to keep him company.

  • http://gfx-inc.net Gary Callaghan

    I want that t-shirt, some one buy me one.

  • http://bluemousedesign.com Nicolaas VdB

    nice post!

    you read my post…thats enough social interaction for me today..:)

    now back to my cave.

  • http://www.poojakishnani.com Pooja

    Great article, really hit home for me!

  • http://www.stargraphicdesign.com Jessica

    Great Article

    I actually quit my successful freelance business to head back to the office environment… for the sole reason of “I missed talking to people”

  • Shane

    Wicked article mate.

    “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.”

    Made me giggle for ages


  • http://www.acrylicstudios.com AcrylicStudios

    LOL describes me pretty well!!

  • http://www.dobson.be K. Dobson

    That’s me alright ;)
    Funny article, yet good to help put things into perspective. It’s good to have people tell you what you already know from time to time. Especially when it’s written as good and amusing as this.
    I also find myself twisting my own arm to get out and socialize, realizing how easy it is to get lost in your work. The more you get enveloped, the harder it is to detach yourself and step back into the “real” world, which you need to stay sane, sharp and get laid from time to time :D

  • http://www.nburmandesign.com Multimedia Design

    Great advice . Working alone is not as easy as it looks, since most people see the perks but not the downfalls.

  • http://ekbdesigns.com Elizabeth K. Barone

    Uh… Why is it a bad thing to work in a cafe? I love going to my Barnes and Noble Starbucks. It pretty much forces me to talk to people. I take my laptop all the time to sit and write for a few hours while I people-watch and drink my favorite coffee. I’ve met a lot of new people and have come out of my shell. The noise level doesn’t usually bother me, but every once in a while that guy who can’t talk in a normal tone of voice shows up, yapping away on his cell phone. Then I kind of feel stabtastic, but that kind of guy doesn’t normally stay long, anyway.

    Give your cafe another chance. (:

  • http://www.andreamatone.com/ Andrea Matone photographer

    freelancers joining a shared studio could be the solution to social apathy, and you may still get a chance to play relatively loud music when you work which is one of the main reasons I quit office work.

    • http://www.unuidesign.com Editha Fuentes

      What a great idea!

  • http://www.unuidesign.com Editha Fuentes

    This is so far one of the best articles I’ve read Lately. It was like reading a story of my life! … mmm I definitely need to think about this AGAIN. :P
    But I keep thinking about this, what is you feel that you really enjoy more designing-coding-writing or whatever you do, more than anything else?
    In my case, the only exception is my husband… but I’m often working completely focused and enjoying what I’m doing, exciting about the result of some project and I HAVE TO make a break to be in a party and talk about things that are not of my interest. I’m not telling that don’t enjoy those moments with my friends…I’m just saying that I’m always thinking about what I left unfinished, and I want to return soon where I was asap! xD

    I don’t know… I’m Anti-Social I guess jaja

    BTW, I want that t-shirt so bad! Where can I buy it? :D

  • http://synthetictone-media.com Synthetic Tone

    Having worked in a art department with a team of artists for over a decade, I love solitude and dream of the day when I can work from home. Its sad that society as a whole thinks everyone needs to be on the same playing field meaning everyone should be socialites and enjoy the company of others all the time.

    Let’s face it. If you have a low tolerance for stupidity, horseplay and inconsiderate individuals in general… increasing social interaction can have the opposite effect driving some further back into isolation.

    All I can say is thank you to the person who created noise isolating ear buds because as the amount of people in my work space grows… the more being anti-social becomes salvation for sanity and ability to focus and be creative.

    We are not all equal and should not be expected to be… remember… creatives are unique and some of the best have been the most anti-social souls and misfits to society. I believe its because they were more focused on their work and thoughts or ideas than their outside relations. Anti-social isn’t always bad unless you are trying to be sales person… then yes… it can be a big issue ;)

  • http://www.imageno.nl Edwin

    Interesting thoughts…:)

    You’re right in stating that every person needs to socialize every now and then. On the other hand, going into isolation every now and then won’t hurt either :)

    I personally need some time alone every once in a while (day), because it’ll allow me to order my thoughts and keep me from going insane totally!
    Replying to other people’s mail or comments from within total solitude, moderates your emotions. In other words, you can THINK before you say anything you might regret later on. That’s the real problem imho, that going verbal might cause grief.
    Latency would be a cool idea, for when using any words….;)
    Enter the blog !

  • http://aharmonyofhues.blogspot.com/ Ayush Kumar

    A very good article! A lot of designers are introverts and anti-socials. This articles really raises a good point towards the usefulness of socializing. And this motivated me too! Thanks a lot!

  • Joe

    I hate to be pedantic, but it’s amazing that people never get the difference between “asocial” and “antisocial”.

    …I mean, if you’re antisocial, that means your against the basic structure of civil society and you go around vandalizing things and punching people in the face for no reason.

    The word you want here is asocial.

  • Joe

    …and to be pedantic against myself, I meant “…that means you’re…” not “…that means your…”


  • http://www.ksnagra.com Kanwaljit Singh Nagra

    This article is so true! Especially about the Batista!

  • http://dougdraws.com Doug C.

    Wow, a whole article about me, lol. My problem is that socializing never works for me, and believe me I’ve tried it many many times. I’ve tried being polite, friendly, outgoing, engaging, concerned, understanding, and it never produces anything. I never get included in social groups, activities, or even conversations. No one ever calls me to go do something. In fact, the only phone calls I ever get are from telemarketers. Fortunately, I’m not so far gone that I feel the need to strike up any kind of relationship with them.

    Now at my age I have become more than content with my solitary lifestyle. My biggest social interaction of the week is going down to the gas station to get milk. I don’t really miss having people around because I’ve never had people around. There have been times when I’ve had people hang out, but that only lasts a short time and then they’re gone. So there’s never been any real interconnection between me and others, and frankly I haven’t develop any desire to seek it out. If people are just going to come and go and my attempts to be “social” are met with silence, then there’s really no point.

  • http://www.lwdesign.co.za Lauren

    Awesome article and spot on! It is consoling to know I am not the only one! I have been working from a home office for 20 years now with a break of 6 months when I went into sales in a corporate environment which was great but not my ideal occupation. I proved to myself I could be naturally social and outgoing and good at dealing with others completely if I wanted to.

    When busy and needing to get work done I am more able to focus properly when alone with no distractions (except music of course) and so can cover more ground and be more creative. But when I am not busy, it can be very isolating and depressing and so getting out to gym, taking my dog to the park, going shopping etc comes in handy and keeps me sane. Weekends I get out to cycle with my partner and friends, meals out ..I really enjoy meeting my clients and making calls instead of only emailing them for that personal interaction to ‘stay socially programed’.

    If you don’t use it you definitely lose it!

  • http://aotearoawebdesign.co.nz Jason

    OMG – there were SO many things I could directly relate to with this article. Great read – made my morning in fact!