I was self-employed for just 11 months, and I still got a case of loneliness.
Mind you; I decided to become self-employed at the same time my husband and I moved states—not something I’d recommend if you can help it. To build connections, I joined Meetup, a service that allows groups with similar interests to get together in person.
I recall one such memorable meetup, in which another girl and I were the only two who showed up for wreath-making at a JOANN craft store. Midway through hot gluing the holly berries, I broke down in tears and blubbered to her about how much I missed my community. We did not get together again.
While the incident itself was indeed unique, the feelings I had were anything but. According to a recent QuickBooks Self-Employed survey, 40% of self-employed workers said they felt about as lonely “as expected,” however lonely that might be. 37% said they weren’t as alone as they’d anticipated, while 23% were lonelier.
That innocuous-sounding adjective—lonely—is a big one in the self-employed sector. So says sources like Forbes, Entrepreneur, and The Guardian. But does that have to be the reality for so many self-employed persons going it alone?
Build a community wherever you are
If you’re a self-employed worker reading this or someone thinking of becoming independent, hopefully, you fall into that 37% and not the 23% mentioned before. That said, if you are lonely, there’s no shame in admitting it, or even embracing the solitude. That’s according to Tiffany Eller, a graphic designer and the self-employed business owner of Moonbaby Graphic Arts.
“I’ve definitely experienced waves of loneliness from time to time,” says Eller. “It makes you feel a little stir-crazy.” Yet despite the occasional bouts of loneliness, Eller says she’s managed to build a community of her own with other self-employed business owners.
“If you’re self-employed, it’s likely you have a computer-based business,” she says. “It’s tempting to spend a lot of time on social media. Use this time intentionally by finding digital groups and communities you want to be a part of.” For herself, Eller says she enjoys interest groups, spiritual groups, mentorship/industry expertise groups, and groups where her ideal client likes to hang out.
“The key to building a community online is to post valuable content for people to engage with, and engage back with them!” she says. “When you’re present, your community comes to you.”
Eller knows this strategy well, in part because she’s become somewhat of a thought leader herself and leverages her brand on social media platforms like Facebook. There, she promotes entrepreneurial success strategies like charging for your experience, not your time, and not being afraid to “fire” a client who takes more than they give.
“My community is both online and in-person,” she says. “When you build enough of an online presence, the opportunities to meet people in person become more and more plentiful.”
As for how self-employed workers might build-up that online presence, Eller says it comes down to playing an active role in your space, whatever that space may be. “You can’t just be a bystander,” she says. “Much like in real conversation, if you’re not contributing value, your interaction with a person will end.” One way to keep that interaction from coming to a close? “Be present and get outside your comfort zone,” says Eller.
Three tips for combating loneliness with value and intention
- Try to enjoy your time alone.
“Instead of claiming the title of lonely, I use my aloneness as a time to reflect on me,” Eller says. “Kind of like in meditation. It’s important to take mental health breaks throughout the day to achieve this.”
- Network the heck out of your business.
“I love finding new groups of entrepreneurs in my area to expand my network. Once you’ve gone to a few [meetings or events], you’ll start to see the same people more often, giving you more of that ‘co-worker’ feel. This is also a great way to meet new clients and get referrals.”
- Make the most of your time off.
Eller spends her time off with family and friends. “If you’re stuck at a desk all day, give your mom or best friend a call when you clock off,” she says. “It’s always nice to have someone to connect with, whether they live in your home or not. Choose people who make you feel fulfilled, rather than drained when you talk to them.”
Loneliness: Always there, but better with time
Self-employment isn’t easy. Right, it comes with a certain degree of freedom, which many say they wouldn’t trade for anything. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t sacrifices, such as the pleasure one feels, chatting with a co-worker over lunch or sharing a joke by the water cooler. It’s hard, but not impossible, for self-employed workers to build a community, and given the tendency toward loneliness, it might also be more imperative for them than anyone else.
When asked if there’s a way never to feel some sense of loneliness while being self-employed, Eller says likely not. “I don’t think it’s something that can be eradicated; it comes with the territory,” she says. “But by finding the different avenues to combat it, the waves of loneliness come less frequently and with less intensity, and I’m better at identifying it before it becomes too much.”