Whether you decided to go freelance because you were sick of the corporate world, made redundant or simply wanted a change of pace, you may have been unprepared for one of the big challenges – dealing with the isolation that self-employment brings from time to time.
When you’re used to being part of a wider team, it can be a shock to suddenly discover that you don’t have anyone to bounce ideas off or talk things through with if you’ve had a draining day. It can also be a stark reminder that you’re going it alone if you don’t have anyone to hold the fort if you’re suddenly ill or have to take time off to deal with a personal emergency.
The great news is that there are solutions. In my experience, isolation can be a force for change. Yes, you may not have a corporate team around you anymore but, beyond the walls of your home office, there is a new support network just waiting to be discovered.
Recognise the potential of your training sessions
As a trainer, connecting with other people is vital to your career and probably equally as vital to your personal fulfilment. Your training sessions with put you in contact with people, from potential clients to course attendees.
Try to have mechanisms in place to invite and collect feedback to create a dialogue with people who attend your courses. What challenges are they facing right now? What did they find helpful? What would they like to have covered more? Was there anything that you can improve? What elements of your training did they love?
This feedback will help you shape and develop your future training provision based on real feedback rather than guesswork on your part – this can be a great confidence booster that will help you feel less isolated.
Don’t be shy about asking for testimonials. On days when you feel a sense of isolation, these will remind you of how strong your connections with other people are. Testimonials are also a great marketing tool, of course.
Use social media
For the days when you are office bound, social media offers a fantastic avenue for engagement that just wasn’t available to freelance trainers as little as ten years ago. Whether you want to connect with potential clients or bounce ideas around with fellow trainers, there are active, welcoming communities on many of the main social media platforms.
The important message is that social media needs to be used strategically, otherwise it’s all too easy to waste hours watching cat videos or reading the latest news stories. Before you log on to your platform of choice, identify what you want to achieve and be active with that goal in mind.
Attend a networking event
For many people, say the word ‘networking’ and they go into a cold sweat. Even as trainers – people who thrive on connecting with others – networking can be a challenge for us. Will we be put on the spot? Will we have to tell everyone what we do? Will it be all about handshakes and exchanging business cards?
Good networking events are less about the hard sell and lots of formal presentations, and more about people talking and listening to one another in a relaxed but business-focused environment.
Networking can be a fantastic way of building contacts, not only with potential clients or other trainers, but with other small business owners and freelancers who face the same challenges around admin, overwhelm and isolation that you are dealing with on a daily basis.
I run Trainer Talk Live sessions throughout the year to give trainers a chance to come together, connect and learn. I love the buzz of these networking sessions because, as they’re all aimed at trainers, we all share a great deal of common ground. Knowing that you’re part of a vibrant and active freelance training community can be a great way to banish isolation.
Get a mentor
I’m a huge fan of mentoring. A mentor will usually be someone who understands your industry and your role but who is independent of your clients and can give you an objective perspective. When you work with a mentor, it’s a relationship-driven connection that looks at your long-term development, both personally and within a professional context.
You can discuss your ideas with a mentor, talk through challenges, explore new directions for your training career, and create a thriving business much quicker than if you continue to work alone.
A mentor is also the perfect antidote to isolation as they are someone you can check in with regularly and they’ll keep you on track when you’re feeling overwhelmed or you lose focus.
If you’re not ready for one-to-one mentoring, another option is to join a small group mentoring programme. For example, I run Success Shapers Group Mentoring sessions where I work with four like-minded freelance trainers over a period of six months. We meet via Google Hangouts and there’s also a Buddy System within the group where you’ll be paired with another freelance trainer and check in with them at regular intervals so you can encourage each other and talk about your progress for 30 minutes each week.
Connect with other trainers
It’s all too easy to view other trainers as the competition and go out of your way to avoid them. I actually believe that other trainers are an invaluable part of your support network. Who else can better understand the challenges you face? Who else can celebrate your successes?
It’s a good idea to ask a trusted fellow trainer whether they would be available to step in for you if you’re ever poorly or need time off work for any reason. You could also agree to step in for them if your schedule allows it. Knowing you have someone as a back-up trainer is great for peace of mind and means you wouldn’t have to let a client down in the event of a personal emergency.
As a freelance trainer there will be times when you work long hours. I know from personal experience that it’s all too easy to put your personal needs last when, in fact, this can make your sense of isolation worse.
Self-care is essential so, if you’re feeling lonely, step away from your desk and ask a friend whether you can visit for a quick chat and a cuppa. If that isn’t possible, just a walk in the park or a trip to the local shops will remind you that there’s a whole world outside your office and you are an essential part of it.
Do you ever feel lonely as a freelance trainer? How do you deal with feelings of isolation? Are you part of a networking group or even social media group that keeps you connected with others? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the Comments below.