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Freelancers: How to Replicate the Water Cooler Experience

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Today's post was inspired by a suggestion from Virginia McGuire on Twitter. We'll talk about how you can replicate the social "water cooler" experience with colleagues in a freelance setting, when you're not all together working in the same office. The timing is perfect too. I just met fellow freelancer, Lori Widmer, for lunch last week. And yesterday morning I finished drafting the chapter in The Query-Free Freelancer dealing with colleagues versus competition, and why forging friendships with freelance colleagues can be essential to freelance success.

So let's get to it. Here are some ways you can bring a more social element to often-solitary nature of freelance writing work.

Lunch Dates

I'm fortunate that I have at least one colleague I enjoy the company of nearby. If you live in a more populated area than I do, chances are that you have many more local or near-local colleagues. Set up a lunch date with one or more of your colleagues every now and then. It gives you a chance to talk about work on a more personal level. But even better, it gives you chance to get to know each other outside of work.

You might think that Lori and I would spend all our time together yapping and ranting about work. But no. We talked more about things like family, holiday, and general life drama and then we checked out some local shops downtown. With a normal office job, you could take lunch with a co-worker any time to do these things. As a freelancer you have to make more of an effort to schedule them. But it's worth it.

Work Away From Home

Renting a shared office space with colleagues might be taking it a bit too far for many freelancers. But why not work together just once in a while. Take your laptops to a local cafe or library. Just having people in the general vicinity (even if you go alone just to surround yourself with strangers) can make for a nice change of pace. Besides, you might meet some new friends that way -- people there working for exactly the same reason.

Meet-Ups

Want to get a bigger group of colleagues together? Plan a meetup on an evening or weekend when everyone's available. Go to a bar or club. Meet for a group dinner. Or choose something a bit more out of the ordinary -- set up a regular club of sorts (a book club maybe), meet for a round of bowling, or even plan an all-day outing of interest to the group.

Twitter and Social Networks


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You don't have to replicate that water cooler feeling in person. Sometimes your favorite colleagues are half a world away. Keep in touch regularly on Twitter or your favorite social network. Use private messaging features to keep a personal element to the relationship where you can say anything and everything without fear that everyone in your network is virtually eavesdropping. Yes, social media tools are generally designed with the public elements in mind. But that doesn't mean you can't use them to maintain more comfortable private relationships with colleagues.

Not quite your thing? Then shoot them a friendly email. That's how I keep in touch with colleagues I consider friends most often. We email each other one-on-one, as a group, or whatever feels right at the time. Whether you feel like getting the latest gossip, sharing a horror story from a work day from hell, or just seeing what's going on with people, email might be "old school" but it's still a great way to keep in touch and stay social in your freelance life.

Don't let freelancing lead to loneliness. You have thousands of colleagues out there, and you're bound to know and like at least some in your area. Why not reach out and get to know each other better?

Do you regularly keep in touch with colleagues on a personal basis? What are some of your favorite ways to keep in touch, or your favorite things to do when you get together. Leave a comment below to tell us about it.

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Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, and indie author. She began writing for clients in 1999 and started her first blog in 2004.

She owns 3 Beat Media - a publishing and client services company which operates All Indie Writers as well as several other websites and blogs including The Busy Author's Guide and BizAmmo. Jenn comes from a background in online PR and social media consulting, having owned a small PR firm for several years before choosing to pursue a full-time writing and publishing career.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names in the areas of children's fiction, mysteries, and horror fiction. Jenn is an active member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA) and currently serves as the organization's Assistant Coordinator of Promotions and Social Media.


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9 Comments

  1. Cathy Miller November 16, 2010 Reply

    The freelancing community is one of the most generous I know and has been invaluable to me in the transition from my Corporate world to this one.

    Since I moved from San Diego to Boise, ID, they helped keep me sane-well as much as anyone can do that. :-)

    • Cathy Miller November 16, 2010 Reply

      PS-Since I am in San Diego for the 3-Day Walk for Breast Cancer, I just made a lunch date with Anne Wayman. :-)

  2. Carol Tice November 16, 2010 Reply

    Ooh, I’m jealous you’re getting to hang out with Anne in person, Cathy!

    Living on an island as I do, in-person meetups are rare for me and take careful planning. Any time I go into Seattle I try to stack the day with as many meetings as I can. I love connecting with other writers in person. Best for me is a conference or event when I can meet dozens of writers at once.

    I definitely don’t do it often enough…next year, I’m thinking I’ve got to get to BlogWorld so I can meet a ton of key folks at once.

  3. John Lister November 16, 2010 Reply

    I can recommend Jellys, which are free one-day events. To quote the description:

    “Jelly is a casual working event. It’s taken place in over a hundred cities where people have come together (in a person’s home, a coffee shop, or an office) to work for the day. We provide chairs and sofas, wireless internet, and interesting people to talk to, collaborate with, and bounce ideas off of.

    You bring a laptop (or whatever you need to get your work done) and a friendly disposition.”

    http://workatjelly.com/

    • P.S. Jones November 16, 2010 Reply

      Thanks for that tip, John! I just signed up for the Chicago Jellys. I also participate in a lot of Meetup.com groups. They’re usually free and you get to meet a lot of people. I’m a part of group that just meets and works in the same room on Thursday nights. Then we eat and talk about what we’re working on. It sounds boring but it’s awesome.

  4. Rebecca Garland November 17, 2010 Reply

    Hm. I keep another full-time job as a well-paid hobby. I get to interact with educated, friendly people with the same passion I have all day long! I also get to interact with teenagers and plenty of people who should probably go work in an isolated cubicle somewhere in a mindless job that doesn’t require much skill or brilliance. But then you can’t have everything. (By the way, the teenagers are often the most interesting conversations I have all day – wish I could say the same for a few of the other teachers LOL!)

  5. Lori November 17, 2010 Reply

    It’s worth it indeed. :) I enjoy knowing we can get together.

    Totally agree on the work away from home. One thing I’ve noticed is I have to slow down – the connections in some places aren’t as fast as my home network, nor is my laptop as fast as my desktop. I plan accordingly – small stuff with longer deadlines or less work involved is great for coffee-shop work sites.

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