I was speaking to another self-employed person yesterday and she voiced a common problem:
I don't have any colleagues. I've tried web bulletin boards, but there's mostly a lot of gossiping there.
If you're a sole proprietor, you may be feeling this way, too. As self-employed people interested in growing our knowledge and expertise in our field, we need to have other professional people against whom to bounce our thoughts. In an office, you can swivel over to the person in the next cube and ask their opinion. We don't have that.
But we can.
I have created a web of support for myself that looks like this:
--Every day, I call a friend (not self-employed and not in my field, but similarly interested in increasing her income) and report what's challenging me and what I've accomplished.
--Twice a week, I meet with two people in my field. On one day, we get together at a coffee shop and just work. On the second day, we debrief.
--Once a month, I meet with two friends who are self-employed (though not in my field) to talk about my financial goals and to craft the next steps to help me achieve them.
--Once a month, I'm starting to attend a writers' group set up by someone else. We get together and talk about our blocks to marketing.
What this means is that every day, at any given time, I know I have someone to call or meet with to help me tackle the hardest things on my to-do list, or with whom to debrief after I've done them. It helps me keep my center when I start ruminating over things I can't control. And the constant opportunity to be honest about what's getting to me--there's a huge learning curve in becoming self-employed, after all--helps clear out the clutter so it doesn't affect my sleep.
It also relieves me of the loneliness I can feel when I'm working at home. After all, I'm a social person. I also like a lot of support.
Finding people you trust can be harder. Here are my tips:
* Talk to everyone.
Just like networking, finding a good support system requires you to meet and talk to a lot of people about what you need. Tell people what you do for a living, go to networking events in your field and say that you're looking for a work buddy.
* Check your gut.
Like my friend said, some people are just not right for the job of support. So ask yourself:
--Is this person negative?
--Do they complain?
--Are they judgmental or gossipy about others?
--Are they honest about how their work affects them or do they hide the truth behind a list of accomplishments?
Once you answer these questions, you'll know if you want to spend two days a week with this person. You've gotta feel safe in order to really feel supported.
* Wait a day.
Don't commit to anything when you first meet someone. Whether you are immediately attracted to their charm or wit or whatever, give yourself a day to think about it. Let it settle in.
If after all that, the person seems right to you, arrange times and figure out what you want to get out of the group.
* Set an intention for the group.
My intention is always to keep myself sane. It's not to become best friends (though of course I appreciate them and am grateful to them in a very deep way) with my colleagues. It's not to make the most money I possibly can. It's to learn how to keep my center as things change and to make my freelancing sustainable by increasing my income.