How freelancers can build a virtual support network

Authored by Emma Cossey.
5 min read
While there are definitely benefits to working on your own, there are times when every freelancer can feel lonely or lost. Find out how to start building a support network to help you through those tough times.

In the film About A Boy, Hugh Grant ends the film with the following line: “Every man is an island. And I stand by that. But clearly, some men are part of island chains. Below the surface of the ocean they’re actually connected.”

While Hugh was referring to being a no-strings-attached bachelor living off his jingle royalties, this quote could quite easily be applied to freelancers.

We may be a self-employed, independent bunch, many of whom work from home, but often we have a strong network of contacts that support us through the more tricky times of being a sole trader.

Which is a good thing really, considering the amount of financial, legal and emotional support needed when you’re responsible for looking after all areas of your business. While there are definitely benefits to working on your own, there are times when every freelancer can feel lonely or lost.

If you’re new to freelancing and not sure where to start in building a support network, read on for your guide to finding the right people to help you through those tough times.

Personal support

While having a network of professionals who can help you is important, it’s also important to have people in your personal life who support you. This won’t necessarily be everyone in your life, but if you have someone you can talk to after a tough day, or someone who has been down a similar career path, it can help.

It’s also useful to seek out a mentor to support your growth. You can either do this by asking someone you meet at networking events that you admire, or using services like Mentor Me (external link). SMARTA also has a good guide to finding a mentor.

Social media support

Social media has opened up the number of work opportunities open to freelancers, and given us an easy way to keep in touch with plenty of other like-minded people. Twitter in particular is a great place to find other freelancers you can chat to about any questions you might have.

Obviously you should be a little cautious about what you share – for example it’s best to avoid being negative about a client, but for general information the Twitter hive can be a goldmine. There are plenty of Twitter chats for different industries too.

There are also a number of Facebook groups that can be useful for more private conversations.

Some of the groups have rules regarding self-promotion, and the stricter ones tend to be better for discussion as there is less spam to search through. Have a look at The No1 Freelance Ladies’ Buddy Agency (external link), The Freelance To Freedom Project (external link) and The Freelance Lifestylers (external link).

LinkedIn is another option, although the conversations tend to be slower so you won’t necessarily get a response straight away.

Professional advice and support

For professional advice and support in the self-employed arena, it’s worth getting acquainted with IPSE. The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE for short) is a not-for-profit organisation that supports and promotes the rights of freelancers and contractors.

In fact, they recently produced a manifesto outlining what needs to be done to better support freelancers in the UK, including having a minister for the self-employed, improving maternity and paternity rights and promoting the option of running your own business to young people.

Along with the support and some great networking events across the UK, they also offer lots of benefits for their members, including tax and legal helplines, IR35 support, and compensation for illness/injury. Additionally, they’re hosting this year’s National Freelancers Day on Wednesday 19th November, designed to celebrate freelancers and our role in the economy.

Admin support

Doing your Self-Assessment Tax Return is one of the most time-consuming and tricky parts of freelancing. For many freelancers starting out, it can be a very confusing, scary process.

Several invoice and accounting services online now offer advice for completing your tax return, with FreeAgent (external link) and FreshBooks (external link) having plenty of advice on the topic, while Easy Accountancy have contributed several infographics to this blog answering some of the more common tax questions from the self-employed.

FreeAgent has a weekly Google+ Q&A Hangout for any questions about this area. Another service, Crunch (external link), combines online invoicing software with accounting services so you have everything in one place (for a slightly higher price).

As part of your freelance insurance poilicy you should find yourself covered with professional indemnity or PI insurance to make sure you have support and coverage if anything goes wrong. If you’re reliant on one or two clients for the majority of your work, it adds a level of peace of mind if there’s a dispute over payment or the work you’ve delivered.

Every freelancer is an island…

…Which definitely has its benefits. Freedom to work in a way that works for you, with interesting clients, anywhere in the world. But thanks to the world of social media, and the development of lots of services designed to cater for us, we can now choose to be independent AND be part of an island chain.

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At Hiscox, we want to help your small business thrive. Our blog has many articles you may find relevant and useful as your business grows. But these articles aren’t professional advice. So, to find out more on a subject we cover here, please seek professional assistance.

Emma Cossey

Frustrated by the lack of clear, actionable information available to freelancers, Emma Cossey started The Freelance Lifestyle blog. She has created a community to enourage and support those starting off on their freelance careers. Cossey is based in Bracknell, where she provides freelance business coaching and, social media consultancy. Her passion is helping freelancers and entrepreneurs up their social media game, when time is limited. If you're interested, check out her YouTube Channel or take one of her Freelance's Teabreak podcasts with you.