How to embrace community to build your freelance business

Jenny Stallard, speaker at this year’s NFD, on why daring to comment, post or join in can lead to new clients, more confidence and a growing business.

When it comes to building your freelance business, one of the biggest pieces of advice I often share and see shared is to join communities. Post! Share! Comment! That’s what we all tell you. And, well, I stand by that advice.

However, it’s not always so simple, especially if you are lacking confidence or are new to the group or community where you’re thinking of posting. I know that for many freelancers, the confidence to post, join in, comment and ‘sell’ yourself and your business can give you a lot of ‘icky’ feelings!

Freelancer typing on laptop

From Facebook Groups to LinkedIn threads, saying something in reply, or posting about yourself can feel truly daunting. And then come the ‘feels’ – from thinking we’re ‘not good enough’ to share our news or information, to wondering if people might judge us or ignore us.

There’s no avoiding the fact that freelance communities can boost not just our workload and client base, but our mental health, too. As we join in, we find support and even friendships that can last our whole career.

When it comes to embracing community as a freelancer, the business benefits are manyfold, so I do encourage you to give it a try. This isn’t an overnight action, but something you can work on, and build up to. So, don’t panic – freelance communities aren’t built in a day, and your contribution doesn’t have to go from 0 to 100 straight away.

Find the place where you feel comfortable

The first step is to make sure it’s the right community for you. There are myriad groups, slack channels and even what’s app groups which you might be invited to join or request to join. Finding out if it’s right for you will involve some trial and error. Joining, and seeing what the conversations are like. Do you feel like they’re ‘your’ people? Is the theme of the group in line with what you do and the kind of freelance world you want to connect with?

For example, there are some wider freelance communities – IPSE, Freelance Heroes, Being Freelance, Self Employed Club, Leapers – and then there will be groups in your niche. I co-admin a Facebook group called No1 Freelance Media Women, for example.

Many will have membership questions, and I urge you to fill these out carefully – as admins, we’re trying to avoid spam as well as helping those who want to join make sure they’re in the right place.

Making your first post

So, you’ve joined, you feel like they’re the right people for you – now what? Start posting away about what you do? Not yet.. hold off a minute. Time to see what the group rules are and if there are certain times where you can post.

Have a look for any special days or threads where you can share your work. Some groups have a thread where they introduce new members, while others have a dedicated day, such as the ‘Midweek Selfie’ from Freelance Heroes.

Avoiding being ‘spammy’

Your next step is to think not just about how the community can help you build your business, but how you can help others in the same place. It’s not just about saying what you do all the time! Be careful not to come across as ‘spammy’, and often sending a DM to someone who has posted in the group is a ‘no-no’ in group rules.

I find as a rule of thumb that if you feel super-spammy, it’s possible you are being spammy! Take a step back – does the person need you to give all the information about yourself, right there and then? Communities are about building relationships as well as closing those sales.

‘Daring’ to post

It’s the right day, the right time – the thread to post about yourself is open. What now?! One of the biggest pieces of advice I can share is to write out your post somewhere else before you post it. I often do this on a word document. Make sure it’s been spell-checked, and that you are including a relevant link if needed. Does your post cover everything you want to cover? If you’re making an offer to other members, is that clear? Then cut and paste it to the thread. That way, if the post disappears for some reason, such as a glitch, you’ve got the words written down, too.

Joining in

Not all posts will – or should be – about you and your business. The biggest way you can build your business through community is to be a ‘member’ not a ‘poster’. Share your advice, share links to other people and tag them if they’re also a member. Invite freelance friends, or share about the group you’re in on your own social media.

Keep at it!

And finally, don’t make this a once-a-week activity. I find that the best discussions come up when I am in freelance groups more often. Take time to see what people are asking and how they word their posts, for inspiration and guidance on how to write your own.

Communities are there to help, and being part of them is something that should, I believe, run alongside your every day work.

Try it – you never know where it might lead!

Jenny Stallard is an ACC accredited coach and runs Freelance Feels: Coaching and Community for the self-employed.

Register for National Freelancers Day taking place on 16 June, 2022 to join Jenny's session: Building a community through your business.

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Jenny Stallard