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Freelancers: Beat Work-Alone Loneliness

Freelancers: Beat Work-Alone Loneliness

Mike Lenhart

When I first started doing the freelance graphic design gig a while back, I thought to myself, “Great! I can work alone and not be bothered by other people!” Being somewhat an isolationist anyway, this prospect appealed to me very much. With the advances in Internet and wireless communication, it was even better. I was able to do my work on my computer, contact clients on my computer, and even upload and exchange files on my computer – all from my home “office” – without really having to actually speak to anyone.

After a little while, however, I found myself feeling out of the loop in terms of industry goings-on and what other designers and clients were doing out there. It became difficult to see what the trends in design were and where they were heading. Plus, it was hard to see what the other “isolated freelancers” were doing. Not to mention the difficulty that can result from not getting out to actually see things in the world for motivation and inspiration. Oh yes, I had subscriptions to all of the leading graphic design publications coming to my door, but I was missing that human presence. This is not good for an isolated “isolator” like me.

So, I made a serious attempt to get involved in the local design community. I joined the local chapters of the AIGA and the Graphic Artists Guild, and even joined committees and the board of these organizations. I went to the monthly lunch meetings and various lectures that these organizations offer, and, not only learned some new things, I got in touch with people and obtained some social interaction. I can’t say enough about getting involved in the local chapters of the professional organizations for your industry.

Another move I made to get out of the isolation was to actually move my work environment from my home to an actual office space. Did you know that a lot of cities have business “incubators” that cater to small and starting businesses by providing below-market rate, furnished office space with all of the trappings of a real business? Many of them also offer classes on networking, writing a business plan, or financial management, for example, that many of us don’t even get around to thinking about. These incubators help your business grow, whether it’s a one-person shop or not. I got my office and moved in. The simple notion of having a physical separation from home and work made a huge impact immediately. It was also nice to have a place to meet clients without having to go to coffee houses all the time.

These days, I work with a lot more people on a daily basis with the design collaborative of which I’m part. We’re actually in the same building where I started out. I am still afraid of the phone for some reason and do most of my communication via email. My excuse for this is that it’s good to have a physical record of communication. I now have my headphones on a lot while I’m working, which can be a sort of isolation in it’s own right. But, for me, this is important for my creative time. As with anything in life, I feel there needs to be some sort of balance between the extremes. I take my headphones off when someone is trying to talk to me, so, that’s progress.