Tips for staying positive when you’re working solo

I am a freelance designer and developer by trade, and for the past year, since leaving my last traditional full time job, I have been working mostly from my home office. This has many benefits, such as being able to work when I want to, picking and choosing clients, and of course being able to work in my slippers occasionally. The downside is that my dogs aren’t great for conversation. Coming from the exciting and lively world of design and advertising, I quickly started suffering from something that many freelancers suffer from; the loneliness of working in a silo.

Many people find the solitude of working alone a big deterrent to sticking it out and making their freelance business work. Now that I am into my second year of freelancing, I’d like to take this opportunity to share these tips with others that might be starting out working for themselves.

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Find ways to celebrate.

At my last traditional job we had many celebratory traditions, from Friday night drinks to opening a bottle of Moet upon finishing a big project. These little traditions are great for team bonding, but they are also ways to mark milestones and celebrate little successes. Of course I don’t recommend opening a bottle of champaign for yourself every time you finish a project, but there are little ways that you can replicate this. Go out for lunch, have a cider, keep a box of cookies reserved for special occasions, anything to mark a little triumph.

Depending on the project you could include your clients on this. This can help them feel appreciated and make the relationship feel more like a partnership, rather than a client/supplier relationship.

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Find (or make) a community.

The main drawback for freelancing that I have found is the lack of human interaction. I came from an environment where I worked closely with 6 or 7 outspoken designers and developers, so we were in near constant conversation most days. Flash forward and I am sitting at a desk by myself, with no one but my dogs to talk to. This can be a startling change that can take a while to get use to. Fortunately there are ways around this.

  • Find a Facebook group with other freelance professionals that are going through the same experience. In Adelaide there is the Freelance Creatives of Adelaide group. A community of colleagues in the freelancing space can be a great outlet to talk through frustrations, reach out for help, or simply just engage in conversation. You’ll quickly find that the people in this network become your de facto colleagues, even though you are working by yourself.
  • The best way I find to work out problems or destress from a situation is to talk it out. Talk to your friends or family about your work. Exciting projects you’re working on, client that has been frustrating you, whatever they’re interested in listening to.
  • Join a co-working space in your area. These are shared office spaces that hire out desks for freelancers or people working remotely. While you shouldn’t set up in a co-working space and blab your deskmate’s ear off, working in a shared environment can give you a professional social outlet. Co-working spaces have shared kitchens, and many organise shared lunches and group events.

Human contact is crucial to getting out of your own head for a bit, and clearing out some of those cobwebs that come from working like a hermit.

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Find ways to get out of the house.

I use to get a lot of my exercise making my way to and from the office. This included walking to and from public transport, and then walking briskly through the city to the office and back. All up this ended up being about two hours of exercise a day, not including walking around at lunch and in the office. Once I started freelancing my commute went from an hour down to about 20 seconds (the distance between my bedroom and my office). This took a big toll on my wellbeing.

Getting out of the house as regularly as you can can help you to stay motivated, feel better, and stay connected with the world outside your window. I have two huskies, and I try my best to get them out for a walk before I start work, and at lunch time. This helps me get out of the house and gets them some much needed exercise.

You can also try working nomadically from time to time. Sometimes I grab my laptop and set up on a bench at the park for a few hours. You could try working in a coffee shop, a library, even a museum if they don’t mind you sitting there for a while.

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Find your most productive work hours.

There is nothing more demoralising than sitting at your desk trying to work and inspiration just not quite coming. If this happens to you a lot it might be that 9 – 5 hours just aren’t for you (and we already know that that’s the case for a lot of people).

When you are working for yourself you aren’t locked into the traditional 9 to 5 system. Find the time that works best for you, and settle into your own routine. I have colleagues that do their best work before 9am, so they are up working while I’m still snoozing. Of course it is important to remember that your clients will likely still be calling between 9 and 5, so you should still be available, but other than that work when it works for you.

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Of course these tips are coming from someone that has been working as a freelancer for a year. I’m sure some of you out there have been playing this game for much longer, so what are some of your tips? Share them below.