A 2014 study commissioned by the Freelancers Union and Elance oDesk found that there are 53 million freelancers in the U.S. That’s more that the total combined populations of 25 states. Perhaps even more striking is the fact that an estimated 40 percent of the workforce in the U.S. will be so-called contingent workers by 2020.
What does this mean for us freelancers? That the future is bright and that we’re part of a very big (and growing) community. The stronger this community is, the better off we are as individual freelancers.
It’s important that we help build this growing freelance nation. A great way to do that is to support fellow freelancers. We are not each other’s competition—we are each other’s network. Here are 8 ways to strengthen and grow our community.
1. Refer a Freelancer for a Job That’s Not a Good Fit For You
Sometimes you get asked to do a job that’s just not a good fit. Maybe it’s something outside your area of interest or expertise; maybe you’re overbooked; maybe it’s work that you’re no longer doing. Whatever the reason, this is a prime time to give some work to a fellow freelancer.
Chances are good there’s someone in your network that would be a good fit for the job, and giving other freelancers work is a great way to strengthen relationships and build up some social currency. Remember, we all have different angles and niches and there is more than enough work to go around.
2. Share Resources and Information
When you find a valuable resource, share it with the freelancers around you. It could be a nice roundup of freelance-focused websites, a good blog post about building your Twitter following, or a new time-tracking app.
Whatever it is, if you find it valuable, other freelancers will too. Bonus, by sharing these resources via social media, email, newsletter, or in-person, you’ll further establish your place in the freelance community and let people know that you’re open to making connections.
3. Hire Freelancers
In my freelance writing career, I regularly find that I need a photographer, a designer, or some web help. When possible, I try to hire freelancers. It’s a good way to show other freelancers in your community that you value them, and then, when someone asks who did your work, you can send them to a freelancer.
4. Refer Clients to Freelancers
On the heels of #3, whenever you hear of someone who needs a designer, a photographer, a web developer, social media guidance, a brand consultant, or a writer, refer them to a freelancer. To do this, you need to have a good sense of the freelancers around you. Good ways to tap into your local freelance community are to spend time at a coworking space, be active in groups and forums, and participate in freelance-related Meetups and events. If you can’t find any events near you, host one of your own.
5. Host Events for Freelancers
This is something I’m doing with a group called Santa Cruz Freelancers, and, I must say, I’m totally loving it. It started with a freelancers happy hour. The next event is an upcoming Q&A with two local attorneys to talk about some of the legalities surrounding freelancing.
The idea is to bring freelancers together for socializing, networking, skillshares, workshops, work sprints, and more. To get started, just plan an event (the happy hour worked well as I simply had to arrange a place and get the word out), and let it unfold from there. The community will take care of the rest and let you know what they want from the group.
6. Give Help Where You Can and Ask For Help When You Need It
The beauty of having a network of freelancers around you is that there is always someone around who can answer a questions. The flip side of that is that there is always someone who you can help with your own areas of expertise. These two sides of the same coin help strengthen you community and establish you as a team player whose vision goes beyond your own work.
7. Build Community
Reach out to other freelancers. Follow them on social media, share their useful blog posts, start building relationships, and support freelancers in your community. You’ll all be better off for it and your local freelance ecosystem will thrive.
Why do all of this? Because sharing, and freelancing, and community are where it’s at. If we want to thrive as freelancers, we’ll need a strong and vibrant freelance community. Plus, freelancing is the wave of the future and, lucky us, we’re already riding that wave.
Photo by Horia Varlan (CC-BY-20)