Isolation ward: socialisation for the self-employed

After years of corporate life, when often the only reason they went into the office was to socialise, many self-employed people feel a tremendous sense of isolation when they strike out on their own.  They yearn for the contact with others, the shared jokes by the coffee machine, the hot gossip, the flirtations, the chance meetings in corridors.

Self-employment doesn’t have to be a lonely business: it’s just that the methods of communicating change.

First, realise that your telephone bill is going to be high.  It’s worth having a separate business line installed so that you can separate your work and home bills.

Second, learn to type.  It doesn’t matter whether or not you use the ‘correct’ fingers, but it does matter that you develop reasonable speed.  Your computer can be your social lifeline, and if you are still pecking out one  word a minute, you’ll find your new social life develops rather slowly.

Then it’s time to hook up with others.  Your contact list is your best friend here.  Get it as up to date as you can, then  make a point of calling two people every day for no good reason at all.  It keeps you within their sights and may sow the seeds for future work.  It’s useful to have something to say to them when you call, but what you choose to say need not necessarily focus on work.  You’d be surprised at how often someone will say, within a week or two of your call “I was just thinking about you – are you interested in talking about a piece of work?”

Equally, e-mail two people for no good reason and you’ll see the same kind of results.

Seek out people with whom you have lost contact through LinkedIn, Plaxo, Friends Reunited or other social networking media.  Don’t do the hard sell with them – be conversational and mention in passing what you are now doing.  Again, you’re sowing the seeds for future work whilst increasing the number of people with whom you can start to have contact.

LinkedIn provides a great space for meeting like-minded (and annoying) people – just like real life –  and the discussion forums can be educational, fun, aggravating and always interesting.  Contacts there can provide sources of  work. Ecademy provides a similar meeting space.

If you are feeling really brave, try Tweeting through Twitter.  It’s a quirky tool and takes a little getting used to, and with practice can start to open up new contacts and, potentially, new business.  The straight hard sell on Twitter puts people off.  Instead, mix social chat with tweets about what you are up to professionally.

If you are working from home, get out of the house at least once every day and take a walk.  Ideally, go to a shop or somewhere where you can have face to face contact with others, albeit just for a few minutes.

Occasionally, attend a networking event – whether a training course, a formal business networking forum or a conference – it does’t really matter.  The main thing is to get in front of other people.  In an earlier blog (“Klingons and wallflowers”), I talked about the joys of networking events, and you may pick up some useful tips there.  If you are well prepared, have your elevator pitch ready and don’t have too much spinach between your teeth, you’ll find that people want to talk to you, and you stand a reasonable chance of increasing your contacts.

Ultimately, self-employment can be more rewarding than corporate life, and if you work at forging contacts, it need never feel lonely and isolated.

To discuss any aspect of leadership and management development, soft skills training or business consultancy, call me on +44(0)161 929 4145 or email David Cotton.  Take a look, too, at www.davidcotton.co.uk.

I look forward to hearing from you.

David Cotton is an independent trainer, management consultant, facilitator and speaker with vast international experience.


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