The solo self-employed are now a vital element of the UK economy, contributing around £271 billion to the government’s coffers in 2017, of which around £125–140 billion came from freelancers.
But with some predicting that by 2020, half of the workforce will be freelancing, we need to take an objective look at the world of self-employment and tackle its challenges head-on, giving freelancers the tools and skills they need to work effectively and happily.
New Epson EcoTank research, which surveyed 1000 UK freelancers, found that most (91 per cent) worked from home at least some of the time. When asked why they had chosen to freelance or work remotely, respondents said that a better work-life balance (53 per cent) and greater flexibility (62 per cent) were among their reasons. Some said they wanted to avoid working in an office, which they found stressful (47 per cent).
There are, however, disadvantages to solo working. While 54 per cent of respondents to Epson’s study declared freelance life ‘liberating’, a striking 48 per cent admitted to finding it ‘lonely’ and 46 per cent said it was ‘isolating’. The absence of an office social life is felt keenly by some; 32 per cent of respondents said they missed office banter and 29 per cent missed being part of a team.
Perhaps this is why the study also uncovered some worrying implications for freelancers’ mental health. A quarter (25 per cent) of respondents had experienced frequent periods of depression, and around a fifth (21 per cent) claimed that the loneliness of remote working had even caused them to have suicidal thoughts. The impact of isolation and loneliness on mental health is widely recognised, including by the national mental health charity, Mind.
According to Mind, at least one in six workers is experiencing common mental health problems, including anxiety and depression. It says there are small, simple steps you can take to look after yourself and make your workplace mentality healthier like staying active, learning new things and practicing kindness.
Annika Fagerstrom, head of consumer products at Epson UK says, ‘It’s very clear that the leap into self-employment brings many changes, most of them beneficial. However, for those lacking structure or support, solo working can be tough.’
We spoke to three freelancers to find out how they combat loneliness.
Claudia Moselhi, owner of CLO PR, has nailed ten key lessons to beat the isolation of working for yourself.
I run a PR consultancy in which I operate as a freelancer and bring a small network of freelancers together to build positive impact for clients.
I set up CLO PR 18 months ago and overcoming loneliness was the hardest part of the new job. I went from running a team of six and interacting with dozens of teams to sitting on my own at my desk, feeling like I was so far away from any of my connections. There was no one to even make a cup of tea for anymore.
The worst thing is not having anybody to bounce ideas off so you’re just left wondering if what you’re doing is actually any good or if it’s all rubbish. As a team player, this didn’t sit well with me.
But I learned that the feeling of isolation was in my head and proactive outreach to let people know that I existed was the route to combating loneliness.
Freelancers cannot be lazy when it comes to overcoming solitude. Like any new business, it’s part of the job and one that you can’t pick up and drop down. It needs to be part of your routine.
Networking changed everything for me. I set myself a goal of going to one networking event every week and I set up weekly dates with everyone in my black book. I realised that there’s an amazing underground community of freelancers sparking incredible ideas amongst each other that many would never know existed.
The freelance network is a very strong, interconnected and supportive environment. Everyone’s up for helping each other out. They’re the team I thought I’d lost forever. But it doesn’t come for free. You’ve got to network, network, network.
Here are ten lessons I’ve learned along the way.
Join a co-working space
You may wish to fulfil the cliche of lolloping at home in your pyjamas while you work at your leisure but you’re going to need to set boundaries of what is home and office.
Sectioning some of your time to visit a co-working space instils a strong work ethic and enables you to connect with other small businesses in a professional environment. It may bring partnership and new business opportunities. Home-based, pyjama-clad parties won’t.
Create structure in your day
In an office job, you’ll be used to professional routines – from journeying to the office, to joining regular team meetings, to lunching with colleagues. This goes out of the window and you’ll need to manage your time responsibly to feel a sense of achievement (and normality). When you lose structure, you lose focus.
Diversify your network
Don’t just build connections with people doing what you do but reach out to people in different fields of work who could complement what you do or link you to exciting new jobs.
You’ll find a large and strongly interconnected community of fellow freelancers online to ask for advice and bash around ideas. Facebook groups are great for this. Start building your own set of loyal followers on Instagram and Twitter, too. You will be able to interact with like-minded people who will support you in gaining new followers.
While some of your relationships might ignite online, they will rarely stay tethered without some face-to-face time. Meet up with your partners, clients and social media followers to chew the fat and help each other. Attend events to stay informed and knowledgeable about your industry and other industries that matter to you and your clients.
Be open to partnerships
Find like-minded people who you trust and share a vision to activate together. I formed a collective with fellow marketing freelancers to do just that. This cannot be achieved alone.
Find a mentor
The person who will provide perspective and ensure you’re on track to meeting your goals will be your mentor. Find more than one to keep you on your toes and your motivation high.
Don’t be afraid to ask for favours
You’ll be surprised how much people are willing to help you by taking the time with them and indicating how you can help each other.
Keep a networking budget
You’re going to be shouting people a lot of coffees but some of them may be worth thousands of pounds in revenue. What goes around, comes around.
Remember, you’re not alone: by expanding your connections, you’ll stay connected to the idea that you’re not the only one out there doing the same thing.
The irony is that as a freelancer, you’re not actually on your own. You’re working closely with clients and you may be collaborating with other freelancers or teams. It does require a mindset change.
Start building your network and you’ll find yourself becoming more visible to everyone. And in turn, everyone will start to become more helpful to you in building your business.
Ellen Holcombe, freelance copywriter at Word Person, makes an effort to meet fellow solo workers in her home city of Sheffield.
I decided to go freelance for a couple of different reasons. One was to because of my mental health. Being freelance has meant that I can work round my bad days and make the most of my good ones. I also wanted the freedom to be able to work on different projects with different clients.
I was worried about loneliness. One of the best parts of working has always been the people I work with. To tackle this I tried to work at client offices wherever possible, got involved with local creative communities and meet-ups, and, after a year of working for myself, moved into a co-working space with three other freelancers.
To any freelancers feeling lovely, I know that a co-working space isn’t always an option. I’d definitely recommend looking for local creative communities, Slack channels, meet-ups and twitter chats to get involved with. Also talk to your regular clients and organise working from their offices every now and then (if it’s possible). This won’t just combat loneliness, but can actually help your work too!
Hester Grainger was so motivated to end freelancer loneliness that she created her own networking group for entrepreneurial mums – Mumala Club.
I turned 40 last October and then was made redundant very unexpectedly from my role as marketing manager a couple of months later.
I had freelanced before, but I got used to the comfort of working in a permanent role. Being made redundant gave me the opportunity to take a step back and reflect on the direction I wanted to go in.
I decided to launch Mumala Club. An online networking hub for fab mums who are their own boss, just starting out or thinking about quitting the 9-5 to go solo. It’s great being able to share all I’ve learned about PR and marketing with mums that are growing their businesses too.
Was I worried? Absolutely. I talk – a lot! So I was concerned about how I would be working on my own at home every day. It takes a while to get used to not being in an office, which I really missed at first. I’m so used to bouncing ideas off other people. Thankfully I have a very understanding and supportive husband who I can always run ideas by.
I thought networking was the answer. It can be hard work though and it can be old-fashioned.
When I first freelanced my children were toddlers. I’d organised a babysitter and went to a networking event. I plucked up the courage to introduce myself. The woman’s response was, ‘I don’t need marketing,’ then she walked off! From then on, I decided that if I was going to freelance I needed a group or club that was supportive and kind.
So, I launched Mumala Club. Lots of people freelance for different reasons, but I often hear mums saying it’s because they can’t get good part-time roles. Many are becoming their own boss, but often have small children and can’t go to networking groups. It can get really lonely.
I wanted it to grow organically and for it to be a genuinely useful group, not just another page that clutters up your Facebook feed. So, I have to make sure that the content is always fresh, interesting and actually adds value.
The group grew quickly when I first launched it, so it’s a challenge to keep it growing. I’m forever having to come up with unique ideas to ensure people share it and that the group has good engagement. There’s no point having a networking club if members don’t interact.
I’ve had lots of lovely feedback. Mumala Club has been described as an ‘easy and fun way to network with like-minded mums, where we can share our experiences and receive valuable advice.’ Others have said how their clientele has grown since joining and that they feel inspired by the other members, which is lovely to hear.
Getting out of the house
My husband always jokes that he can tell when I’ve been working on my own, because I don’t stop talking when he gets home! I like to get out of the house to work either at the local coffee shop or bar. It seems a cliché but it makes me feel like I’m connected to the outside world while still getting work done.
I also like to catch up with people. Whether that’s having a brainstorm session over a glass of wine or getting a friend to come over and work at the kitchen table. My friend Katie is great at setting deadlines for me, which is what you can miss when you work for yourself.
The most important thing is to get out and meet people; meeting like-minded people who are also running their own business is essential. Equally it’s great to meet friends who don’t work for themselves, as otherwise you can end up just talking shop.
“The most important thing is to get out and meet people”
Setting activities (either work-related or personal) during the week also provides some structure, which can be lost when freelancing.
Join a fab networking group – either online in person. There are tons of groups out there so find one that suits you. Some are very corporate and business-like, others are about networking and support. It depends what you are looking for.