Being a freelancer or small business owner can be a lonely occupation. Unless you are working with other freelancers on a project, at a customer site, or do some work in a public place, its very easy to spend entire days with no human contact other than electronic work emails. Its one of the things I do miss (its actually the only thing I miss) about being a permi in an office working for somebody else – the conversations with other people and the ability to bounce ideas around.
As small business owners, because we are now the managers of our own companies, we will suffer all the twangs of self-debt that are normally reserved for managers of major corporations. We are the CEO, the MD, the board and the marketing manager. Any decision we make can make or break our business, and as one-man-bands, we don’t have anybody else to point the finger at if it goes wrong.
So where can freelancers and SME’s turn to in those moments of doubt, or when we have questions we don’t know the answer to, or just need people we can bounce ideas off of? Here are a number of suggestions:
My own personal favourite is forums, where you can ask questions and get a wide variety of answers (some good, some bad). Some good forums that I use are:
Freelance Adviser – UK based forum with sections for contractors, freelancers, accounts and agencies
General Business Forum – UK based general business forum, useful for any general business questions or advice
FreelanceSwitch – US based forum for freelancers
Contractor UK – UK based discussion forum covering everything that is IT contractor related (contracts, IR35, tax, agencies, CVs, etc)
I belong to two mentoring groups – one is a personal goals group, and the other is a business mentoring group. We all get together once a month, discuss what we are doing and our plans for the future, and are set goals to accomplish. The best part of the group is that we have a mix of different types and sizes of companies involved, so if I get stuck on an issue or need to bounce ideas around, and can be sure of getting some great ideas and feedback. I found my group via the LinkedIn Ambitious Owners Managers group, but there are various ways to find the mentor group for you.
Don’t be afraid to communicate and meet up with other contractors or freelancers in your social group. There are several freelancers I have worked with in the past, I make a point of staying in touch (via Twitter, Facebook or email) and try to meet up with them now and again for a meal, a pint and an exchange of problems/ideas.
Old bosses (from permi jobs of the past) can be great sources for advice and for trying out business Ideas. After all, they run businesses, and whilst they may be bigger companies than your small freelance company, the problems will all be the same.
And lets not forget your existing customers as a source of advice. Clearly, you need to be selective on what you ask and how you ask it, but if you are puzzled on areas such as what new services you should offer, or what your USP is, ask your customers – they will be ideally placed to tell you.