10 Ways Freelancers Can Get Help and Support
Freelancing can sometimes feel very lonely. You have left behind the finance department, the IT department and several layers of management. You have also left behind your colleagues – the friends you worked with, bounced ideas off, asked for tips, and borrowed inspiration from when you felt dry. There may be times that you miss all of those people – and all of that support.
Many of you are freelancers because you are good at one thing – your craft, your art, your trade. Now you spend each day doing what you love. Except that you have also taken on a bunch of jobs that you may not be good at – bookkeeper, manager, computer support person, marketer. You took on those jobs because they are part of the freelancing deal, not because you’re good at them. And sometimes you’re not good enough.
Where do you turn to for support? When things are not going well, when problems arise that are outside of your specialty, when you need professional advice, or when you’re just plain too busy, you need a support system. It’s better to start building one before you need it.
Financially, you are more secure if you have multiple income streams. In the same way it is important to build diversity into your support network. You don’t want to put all of your eggs in one basket. Here are some great places to find support.
Your Family or Significant Other
Help is closer than you think. Charity starts at home, and so does a freelancer’s support. How can your family help your freelancing career?
Unless you’re single, your decision to freelance will have an impact on your partner and family. Though they’ll enjoy your increased flexibility, they need to understand that you can’t always be flexible. Through your difficult times it’s great to know your family are behind you one hundred percent.
Your income – especially initially – may vary wildly from week to week. Your family need to be aware of that, and support you through your teething period. When I started freelancing, the ups and downs in my income was a concern to my wife, so I took a part-time job to make sure there was at least something predictable about the money I was bringing in.
How understanding are your family? And what have you had to do to engender that understanding?
Your partner and family can really help by understanding and respecting your boundaries. You may be physically at home, but some of that time you are also at work, and you need to be treated as such. Your family need to learn when they can interrupt you, and when they definitely can not. Clear boundaries need to be put in place so that your family understands when you’re in the zone.
The FreelanceSwitch article 5 Ways for Guarding the Sanctity of the Home Office gives us some strategies:
- Door Closed, Door Half-Closed, Door Open: agree on a system with your family so they know how available you are to them. A closed door could mean that you’re not to be interrupted. A half-closed door could mean that you can be interrupted if it is for something important. An open door may mean that your family can enter without risk to their lives.
- Headphones On, Outside World Off: Wearing headphones can be a great way to block out the outside world, and show others that they’re not to disturb you.
- Get a Webcam: You’re less likely to be interrupted if your family know that they may be walking in on a video conference.
- Ban Housework During the Day (or during your agreed work time): One of the boundaries you set should be that when you are working, you are not available to help around the house. Just make sure there is a time you are available to help around the house!
- Get Out!: Sometimes your house may not be work-friendly. Have an alternative place you can go to and be productive.
Even if your partner is not a talented web designer, graphic artist or writer, there may be ways they can help you with real work. Assuming they have the time and are willing.
In his article How to Double Your Income with the Art of Delegation, Joel Falconer points out for every hour of billable work, there is often another hour of burdening non-billable work. Joel’s idea is that you may be able to get another person – possibly your partner – to help with non-billable work like bookkeeping, marketing and brainstorming.
Joel talks about his own experience of getting help from his partner: “If this rule of thumb is true — and in my experience, it is — you can either double your income or halve your work through the art of delegation. I’ve just recently started delegating about 90% of those non-billable hours (and a few billable ones) to my wife, and so far it has allowed me to focus on getting more clients and doing more money-earning work.”
If your partner is willing and available, how do you go getting them involved? “Making the transition successfully is primarily about planning properly and setting clear boundaries. You have to know where your duties stop and your assistant’s begin, and conversely, you’ve got to know where the assistant’s duties stop and yours begin. There’s no better way to cripple an effective assistant than by dumping work on them that’s not theirs to do.
“You’ll need a list of duties, whether that list is verbal or written (obviously written is better), and you’ll need to communicate it clearly and concisely. Clearly because boundaries that are foggy around the edges are as effective as no boundaries at all, and concisely because anything that communicates more than the minimum necessary will be forgotten within five minutes.”
Websites and Online Communities
Many freelancers are web workers, and it is only natural that we would turn to the Internet for support too.
4. Information from Websites
Keep a list of websites and blogs that you find helpful, including sites about freelancing, your trade and skills you need, self-employment, and productivity. Subscribe to them using Google Reader or your favorite RSS aggregator so that you don’t miss any updates.
Some site on freelancing that I find helpful include:
Use tutorial sites to improve your skills and swap ideas. The tuts+ set of sites are particularly useful for powering up your skillset:
- aetuts+ (Adobe After Effects Tutorials) is a site made to house and showcase some of the best After Effects tutorials around.
- audiotuts+ (Music, Sound and Audio Tutorials) is a blog for musicians, producers and audio junkies featuring tutorials on the tools and techniques to record, produce, mix and master tracks.
- cgtuts+ (Computer Graphics Tutorials) is a source of learning on all aspects of computer graphics, including Maya, 3Ds Max, Cinema 4D, ZBrush, Blender, Mudbox and more.
- flashtuts+ (Flash, Flex and ActionScript Tutorials) is a blog/Flash site made to house and showcase some of the best Flash, ActionScript and Flex tutorials around.
- pdstuts+ (Photoshop Tutorials) is a blog/Photoshop site made to house and showcase some of the best Photoshop tutorials around.
- vectortuts+ (Adobe Illustrator and Vector Tutorials) is a blog of tutorials, articles, freebies and more on all things vector, publishing tutorials on techniques and effects to make awesome vector graphics in programs like Adobe Illustrator and Inkscape.
And for the areas in which you’re no expert, consider the Envato marketplaces as sources of support and components you don’t have the time to create yourself. The community forums there can be like having a department of specialists at your fingertips.
- AudioJungle sells royalty-free music and sound effects
- GraphicRiver sells royalty free layered Adobe Photoshop Files, Vector Graphics, Icon Sets and Add-ons for Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator
- FlashDen sells royalty-free stock files for use in Adobe Flash projects and general websites
- ThemeForest sells site templates and themes to skin popular CMS products like WordPress, Drupal and Joomla
- VideoHive sells royalty-free stock footage, motion graphics and project files
Finally, online job boards help you find new gigs and clients. Check out the FreelanceSwitch Job Board, and for more resources, read The Monster List of Freelance Job Sites – 2009 Update.
5. Support from Online Communities
Make use of the social nature of the web as part of your support network. Forums and social networking allow you to meet people, build relationships and ask questions.
Forums are a great resource. They don’t just allow you to ask questions – they are also a repository of answers to questions that have been asked before. They allow you to learn from other people’s mistakes. Find a forum that meets your needs and covers your interests, and make it your home. The FreelanceSwitch forum is a great place to start.
Twitter has become a phenomenon – use it! It allows you to keep others updated of your status, but it is so much more. You can use Twitter to ask questions, search for answers, and meet like-minded people.
Are you getting the most out of Twitter? These articles may help:
Linkedin is not only a good way of making business contacts, but also of finding those who can support your business. If you’re not using LinkedIn yet, you’ll want to check out Using LinkedIn – A Must for Freelancers.
Finally, Friendfeed takes udates from all of your social networking sources, and displays them together in one location. It’s a great way to stay up to date with your support network. Learn more from the Lifehack article How Bloggers Can Use FriendFeed Effectively.
There is lots of support you can get from other freelancers. You can get ideas, learn lessons and share jobs with freelancers who have similar skills to you. Freelancers with different skills can provide you with expert advice and support – and you might be able to return the favor. And freelancers can give each other moral support as we share the same journey.
Many freelancers are web workers, and do their networking over the web as we looked at earlier. But you should also look out for opportunities to network with other freelancers in the flesh. The FreelanceSwitch website often advertises conferences and camps for freelancers, like the Freelance Camp in Santa Cruz next month.
If you’re aware of other freelancers in your area, give them a call and organize coffee. You never know what might come of it. A helpful FreelanceSwitch article gives 9 Steps Towards Genuine & Effective Networking:
- Take people to lunch
- Mail newspaper and magazine clippings
- Phone calls to ask a question
- Meet people in person
- Take notes
- Stepping stones
- Make connections
- Befriend the “little” people
- Genuinely try to help.
7. Share an Office
If you enjoy getting away from the house, consider sharing an office with one or more freelancers. Besides sharing space and effectively lowering the rent, you’ll find plenty of other ways to support one another.
The WebWorkerDaily calls this “coworking“, and take you on a tour through articles that deal with the subject. It might not be ideal for everyone, but if coworking has worked for you, please let us know in the comments.
When you have more work than you can possibly deal with in the allotted time, call on another freelancer: outsource. Besides taking the pressure off you now, they may be able to return the favor in the future. But make sure you outsource to someone you trust, both in the quality of their work, and their ability to meet deadlines.
If you’d like to learn more, you may find these two articles helpful:
- How to Earn More and Play More: Getting Started With Personal Outsourcing
- The Benefits of Professional Outsourceing – Part II
When it comes down to it, there will always be specialized areas in business where it is best to hire a professional. Identify those areas in your own business, and start to build a business relationship with someone skilled and qualified.
9. Computer Support
Computers are bread and butter to many of us. Many freelancers spend a lot of time on their computers, and are fairly competent at installing and upgrading software and doing basic maintenance. Whether that is true of you or not, there are three areas you may need support with from time to time:
- support with computer hardware
- support with computer software
- support with your internet service
A local freelancer may be able to help you with the first two. For hardware problems I prefer to deal with technicians who build computers – they usually have lots of spare parts on hand, and spend lots of time each day putting computers together.
Though my Internet connection is my lifeline, I have found it very difficult to find an Internet service provider I am happy with, so I stick with the company I am least unhappy with. Internet technical support people seem to vary greatly in their expertise and ability to track down a problem, and I have found that to be true of every company I have dealt with.
If you have learned valuable lessons about computer and Internet tech support, please tell us the story in the comments.
Whether you see your accountant regularly, or just once or twice a year, make sure you find a good one. The financial world is very complex and specialized, and it’s not something I feel comfortable dealing with completely on my own. I have found an accountant I can rely on.
For the financial parts of my business I can take care of, there are plenty of helpful articles around, including:
- 7 Ways to be a Frugal Freelancer
- 10 Items You Absolutely Need for Financial Security
- Bill4Time Billing and Invoicing Software Reviewed
- Planning for Next Year’s Tax Bill
- 10 Tax Deductions Freelancers Can Make
- Get Your Money: Best Invoicing Practices for Freelancers
- Accounting for Rookies
- Online Bookkeeping for Freelancers that Won’t Cost an Arm & Leg
What other areas of your business do you entrust to professional services? Let us know in the comments. I’d also love to hear the details of how you are creating your own support network.