We know you will think WTF is a ‘Freelancer Ecosystem?’
Is it something special you get invited into if you are a well-behaved Freelancer? No!
Is it like the Bilbberg club for freelancers and independent workers? Certainly not!
No, it is a word used to describe the interconnected and interdependent network that you can grow around you when you are building your freelance business.
We knew when we picked this title; it would need explaining.
It might not even work in your native language, but the ecosystem is the word that best describes what we think is happening.
Also is a lot easier to say than ‘an interconnected and interdependent network!’
noun: ecosystem; plural noun: ecosystems; noun: eco-system; plural noun: eco-systems
The good news is you don’t need to look very hard.
Macho sports analogies rarely work for me, but I’m rolling with this one. Partly because it is Al Pacino, but mainly because in the context of the movie scene, I see a secure connection between freelancing and Pacino’s famous speech.
In the movie, the football players are so stuck they don’t know where to go, they are loosing and need to pull something together to win.
And Tony, Pacino’s character makes the point that everything they need to win is all around them.
By reaching out one step at a time, you’ll start to build and find your ecosystem. You need to be brave and vulnerable, and it might take longer than you’d like, you could feel embarrassed and intimidated.
I did, and sometimes I still do, we all do.
Look up imposter syndrome and freelancing, you see it’s not just you.
As for looking for places to build your ecosystem, you can start with this post here.
Before I go on, we need to put this into context; there are both blocks and privileges for everyone.
If you are reading this and thinking ‘well I can’t find the right kind of espresso shop near me.’ You’ve missed the point.
Likewise, if you work with at-risk or underprivileged people, I’m not adding a ‘romantic level to the struggle’ with this post.
When people talk about ‘Freelancing’, there seems to be an assumption that ‘Freelancers’ are beautiful, mainly white people with perfect teeth and super-thin laptops and a retro bicycle that never gets them wet, unless they are on a Zoolander gas station type photoshoot.
There are many different levels of freelancing, from designers hustling cool cafes in London, Paris and Munich to people stuck in a bedroom working for a low wage on Fiverr or UpWork.
Talent spreads evenly, but the opportunity does not.
When you work on your own, even in a coworking space, it feels like this.
You are stuck on a project; the tech is letting you down; you still don’t understand WordPress after ten years of working with it.
Impostor syndrome is biting you hard; you don’t know if to network online, go to a networking group.
How come ‘sales’ looks so easy for that girl?
Where is my next job going to come from?
Do you pay for childcare?
Or not pay for childcare and work from home?
You could get a job in a restaurant, that looks like safer money than this hell hole you have dug for yourself.
The help and connection you need are around you.
But the cruel part is you have to know what to look for from where you are.
If you ask most people who have been working independently for around the ten-year mark or more, they will draw you a timeline full of changes, and indecision.
They will tell you their story of always trying to work it out, going to different groups, never finding the right work or gelling with the people.
Push them a little more, and they might share how angry they are at the wasted time, how depressed they got at some points.
A great book to help you here is Range by David Epstein.
Here Epstein describes research and stories about how people with a different beginning and journey end up being very highly skilled later in their career as a result of many experiences combined.
Freelancing is a different kind of effort and mindset to what you could call a ‘traditional job’.
For me, the main difference is you have to be responsible for doing everything yourself.
Being responsible for doing everything yourself does not mean you DO EVERYTHING yourself.
The hard part is working out which part you have to do and which part you have to ask for help with, you will hear many people say things took off when they got help, hired a virtual assistant or partnered up.
Knowing what point to do this is way harder than people make it out to be, so having an ecosystem is helpful if only to talk through how you work to look for the cracks.
Pay attention to what is going on around you will help you see and understand the places you can find support, connection and collaboration.
The only bad news is you have to be prepared to put the effort in when you find it.
When I say ‘pay attention to what is going on around you’ I don’t mean hanging out on social media all day, poking the box hoping a busload of new customers will suddenly appear.
Of course, it is good to connect on social media, spraying yourself there every day is unelegant.
And if you are always online people will think you have not got any work to do and will become suspicious.
Where ever you live you will need to do some work to connect to people and communities, you don’t need to wait for a big shiny coworking space to open in your town or area.
For example, I know libraries that are major community hubs on every level and leave the local coworking space look like a joke.
And I know libraries so out of touch with things they think a freelancer is someone in a play about King Arthur.
In this post is a list of all the places you could seek out where you live and online, this list could go on forever, and I am keen to point out there is no right or wrong way.
To many people, including me, sit around waiting for the perfect combination of workspace, client, workshop and coffee before taking any action.
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