If you are a freelancer or you work from home, then you might know exactly how it feels to be on your own little island. You’re cooped up in your office all the I time trying to get work done. If you’re anything like me, you only look up and go outdoors when your stomach tells you it can’t handle any more.
Maybe you’re not that bad, but it isn’t uncommon to feel like you sometimes need someone to talk to without reading and imagining how they sound in messages. Sometimes you need some real, live, organic interaction with people. It frees your mind, helps you with ideas and lets you realize you aren’t the only person on the planet.
It can sometimes be rough for you, especially if you enter a new town or new industry and have no contacts. It may also feel hard because you just don’t think there’s anyone out there with your interests. Stepping out the house and meeting new people is imperative for the designer who works from home. If you haven’t already figured out ways to do so, here are some tips to help you get a jumpstart on connecting and networking with people.
Meet-ups and groups
I’m the type of person who doesn’t like to be placed in an atmosphere just for the sake of talking to someone. Speed networking and mixers just don’t bode well for me. On the other hand, I love being part of groups where people get together because they are passionate or interested in the same things. It makes conversation easier because I already have a conversation starter.
Most people who work from home are the same way. And for this reason, I recommend you join a group of like-minded individuals to talk with. Groups with members are big on making sure people feel like they belong. Finding the right group doesn’t mean you’re on the outside looking in, but it’s about feeling connected to other passionate people.
The benefits of many organizations and groups can be great. You can learn something from gatherings, receive free and discounted perks and even become a mentee in a mentorship program. A good place to start finding groups is Meetup.com. You can search through certain categories to see when groups meet and what they are about. Other places to start are nationally recognized design and other related groups (such as advertising, technology, etc.).
Find events and conferences
Maybe you are okay with speed networking and mixers. There are tons all over the world and it seems like those type of events won’t stop anytime soon. Maybe you want an event with a little more substance that caters directly to you. Fortunately, there are many ways to find that.
Meetup.com is great for groups and some events, but Eventbrite.com is even better for your local events. You can search your area in whatever category and find lectures, helpful get-togethers and more via Eventbrite. I found so many great events and conferences that I probably would’ve never known about had not been for Eventbrite.
Big design conferences happen all the time throughout the year. Lots of blogs and businesses put them on to talk about what’s going on in the world of design. While talking to people is not a requirement in any of these events and conferences, you’ll easily find opportunities to speak and interact with interesting people. It’d be wise to take advantage of such a thing.
Find an interesting person
If you’re more focused on quality over quantity, it may a good idea for you to find an interesting person in your area. Perhaps you’ve heard of them in the news and in the community. Or you may have stumbled across their work online. Many people are very easily approachable and welcome the opportunity to “talk shop” with other freelancers and designers.
Since I’ve been writing, people in my area (and other faraway lands) often send me messages just wanting to chat. Just recently, I got asked to discuss business ideas and freelancing over lunch. And what person in their right mind can deny free food? Reaching out to people you find interesting is wonderful because you should already have an idea of what draws you to this person — you already have things to talk about.
If all goes well, it’s going to be hard for that person to forget about you. And sending follow up emails is perfectly fine as well. One on ones are the perfect way to establish a connection and a relationship.
Take a class
Being a designer is almost synonymous with always learning. We go through so many trends in a year that we must learn and we are expected to know more and more about the next skillset over. As a print designer, you may always be asked about the web or mobile. As a web designer, you may always be asked about programming and databases.
As fun as it is to teach ourselves things or sit down and watch thousands of videos about stuff all day, it’s nothing like actually being in a classroom. You’re always in a room with someone smarter than you who can answer all the questions that video doesn’t even touch. And then there’s always someone you can try to teach to check if you really know your stuff.
Classroom settings are great places to build connections. Maybe you want to take some courses at a nearby college or university. Maybe your local library or some other organization offers quick little classes. Either way, taking classes is a great way to meet people and increase your skillset.
Get involved in the community
I’m a firm believer in the idea that if people work together, then they have to make connections and talk to one another. It’s impossible to work together without communicating! Civic organizations always need help with something somewhere. By getting involved you have the opportunity to practice your skills, do work that may be recognized by many people and make connections.
There are some groups whose sole purpose is to work on things for the community which are great places to start. But there are so many other great ways you can volunteer just by contacting people in your neighborhood. You get a chance to create for them and build trust in your work that can lead to paid work or referrals.
Take your work with you
A couple of months ago, I purchased my DSLR camera. I was so excited, I took it everywhere with me to take pictures of everything I saw. As a byproduct of this, people either came up to me and asked if I could take their pictures or asked me about how I was loving my camera and other photography related questions.
As designers, I understand how this type of thing can be hard, but propping your laptop open and doing some work at a nearby cafe is totally okay. Even sketching some things out on your tablet can get some people interested in whatever you’re doing. I’ve even seen designers and coders wearing fun little shirts that put them out there, referencing their skillset. You have to get a bit creative with this part, but sometimes making it known and making yourself attractive is all you need to get a person talking to you about work.
Think about the connections you’ve made that are strong today. Chances are you didn’t just shoot them an e-mail or shove a business card in their hands and hope for the best. You probably took the time out to make a real connection with that person. Maybe they were a classmate, colleague or just someone you met and kept in touch with. Networking and getting to know people doesn’t have to be a foreign concept because we’re freelancers and it doesn’t have to be put on a pedestal. Always remember that these types of things take time so go out there and meet some new folks.
Do you work from home and find networking difficult? What’s the best way to make new connections? Let us know in the comments.