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How I overcame isolation as a freelancer

How I overcame isolation as a freelancer

When I first became a freelance translator back in 2008, I had dreams of the flexibility and financial freedom it would bring. I figured I could earn at least 50% more than I did in my full-time job, could work almost wherever I wanted, could choose my own hours, pop out for some exercise when I wanted, and cook myself lunch at my leisure (deadline permitting). There was no commute, no office politics and no dress code. Yet despite the great benefits, and even though I’m comfortable in my own company for long periods, I found aspects of freelancing a real struggle.

Freelancing can be isolating.

In addition to the financial challenges I faced, one negative aspect of freelancing that surprised me was the lack of human connection. Without realising it, working in isolation at the kitchen table, on a purely project-by-project basis, gradually began to take its toll. My concentration levels dropped, along with my productivity, job satisfaction dwindled, along with my commitment to customer service, and my positive outlook began to fade, along with my mental health. I eventually needed to see a professional.

Now while not all freelancers will need help from a mental health professional, I know that I’m not alone. According to a 2018 survey by Epson (cited by hrmagazine.com), 48% of freelancers admitted they find it lonely, while 25% have experienced depression due to loneliness, according to the same research.

While social media can go some way towards creating a sense of community, it can also compound the problem. Because we have the ability to edit-out our negative experiences, it can sometimes appear as if everyone else is experiencing real success in their freelance careers. It’s rare for anyone to tweet honestly about the loneliness they might feel, or about their struggles and failures. And when you get the impression that everyone else is doing just fine, it’s tempting to make comparisons, shrink back and feel you have less to offer. Before you know it, you avoid social media altogether and drop your rates.

Now, of course, regular contact with project managers is necessary, and despite the friendly greetings (and maybe even the odd phone call), these exchanges are largely transactional in nature. Furthermore, this freelancer-project manager relationship can also contribute to compounding the issue. According to the Common Sense Advisory’s State of the Linguist Supply Chain report, many fear that taking time off or going on holiday will lead to lost clients. The expectation to be available 24/7/365 burns people out.

For me, as demotivated as I was, it was essential for me to incorporate social interaction into my working week, even when I was pressed for time, or worried about losing clients. And based on my experiece, I’ve put together the following actions that should reduce the risk of getting cabin fever, and help you feel more like a professional working as part of a wider community:

Join the conversation: Despite the aforementioned shortcomings, social media does provide a sense of community, as do sites like proz.com and translatorscafe.com where you can discuss a wide range of industry-related topics with your peers. Just remember that not everything you hear on social media reflects reality, and don’t forget to log off when you need to focus.

Start networking: Ok, I’ll admit, my heart sinks at the prospect of pitching my services to a room full of people, most of whom will never need a French to English translator. But networking isn’t always like that. As well as making surprise business contacts, networking has helped me realise that I’m not alone as a self-employed professional. It’s more of a support network, and there’s usually a good breakfast or lunch involved too.

Get some exercise: Go for a walk, run or ride at least once a day, even if it’s just to the shops. Far from wasting time, you’ll probably find that your productivity actually improves. If you have a bunch of emails to send, write them before you leave; you may well find the responses waiting in your inbox when you get back to your desk.

Rent a desk in a co-working space:  Although I was initially put off by the cost of co-working space, having my own desk in a separate location has revolutionised my life. I enjoy the banter with others in the same office and my productivity has improved significantly. I’m also able to switch off when I get home. And co-working spaces don’t have to be expensive. I found a local one in Winchester (Incuhive) that costs just £120 per month – a sum I easily earn back thanks to the improved productivity.

Keytext not only provides quality translation and copywriting services, but also helps to build a sense of community among its partners through close collaboration. Our translators, content writers, copywriters and editors work together to ensure that the quality of each translation or piece of writing exceeds client expectations.

And I’m not alone. According to a 2018 survey by Epson (cited by hrmagazine.com), 48% of freelancers admitted they find it lonely, while 25% have experienced depression due to loneliness, according to the same research.

While social media can go some way towards creating a sense of community, it can also compound the problem. It sometimes appears as if everyone else is doing well and experiencing real success in their freelance careers. It’s rare for anyone to talk honestly about the loneliness they might feel, or about their struggles and failures. And when you get the impression that everyone else is doing just fine, it’s tempting to make comparisons, shrink back and feel you have less to offer. Before you know it, you avoid social media altogether and drop your rates.

Now, of course, regular contact with project managers is necessary, and despite the friendly greetings (or even the odd phone call!), these are largely transactional and don’t really count as collaboration.

So, to ensure that you don’t feel isolated and demotivated, it’s essential that you integrate social interaction into your working week, even when you’re pressed for time. The following will help you feel less like a hermit and more like a professional working as part of a wider community:

Join the conversation: Despite the aforementioned shortcomings, social media does provide a sense of community, as do sites like proz.com and translatorscafe.com where you can discuss a wide range of industry-related topics with your peers. Just remember that not everything you hear on social media reflects people’s reality, and don’t forget to log off when you need to focus.

Start networking: Ok, I’ll admit, my heart sinks at the prospect of pitching my services to a room full of people, most of whom will never need a French to English translator. But networking isn’t always like that. As well as making surprise business contacts, networking has helped me realise that I’m not alone as a self-employed professional. It’s more of a support network, and there’s usually a good breakfast or lunch involved too.

Get some exercise: Go for a walk, run or ride at least once a day, even if it’s just to the shops. Far from wasting time, you’ll probably find that your productivity actually improves. If you have a bunch of emails to send, write them before you leave; you may well find the responses waiting in your inbox when you get back to your desk.

Rent a desk in a co-working space:  Although I was initially put off by the cost of co-working space, having my own desk in a separate location has revolutionised my life. I enjoy the banter with others in the same office and my productivity has improved significantly. I’m also able to switch off when I get home. And co-working spaces don’t have to be expensive. I found a local one in Winchester (Incuhive) that costs just £120 per month – a sum I easily earn back thanks to the improved productivity.

Keytext not only provides quality translation and copywriting services, but also helps to build a sense of community among its partners through close collaboration. Our translators, content writers, copywriters and editors work together to ensure that the quality of each translation or piece of writing exceeds client expectations.

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