Negotiating the rapids on the self-employment river part 2: Keeping connected when self-employed

Advances in technology make it possible for more self-employed folks to work from home. At first, it’s novel. Multitaskers can create marketing campaigns while doing laundry. Number crunchers can sit in “numbers” too sparse for “office casual.” Schedules are fluid; coffee and lunch breaks are self-scheduled, and with wifi, a laptop, and a smart phone, connectivity has never been easier or more convenient.

After a while, those working at home realize that they miss face time with colleagues and clients. A feeling of isolation sets in. An instant message or Facebook chat or phone call isn’t quite the same as a coffee break room or watercooler chat.

How do you stay connected? We asked some solo practitioners to share their secrets.

For Hilda Mitrani, principal of Multilingual Media & Marketing in Miami, not working from home wasn’t an option. “I’m a single mother with an autistic teen, and I need a certain amount of flexibility in my schedule. I find networking opportunities and face time at Chamber of Commerce events and my volunteerism with local charities. I’m one of those people who places a value on face time, so I make an attempt to meet with my clients regularly.”

Mitrani, for a change of pace, used to take her laptop and cell phone to a nearby Borders Books Cafe, but found it distracting. “So now, I make coffee dates and lunch appointments to stay in touch.”

Writer George Lenker, who lives in Northampton, MA, has a fluid schedule. He covers entertainment, lifestyle, and sports topics. “I was used to the newsroom atmosphere with its noise level and distractions, so I’ve easily adapted to new routines. With netbook and cell phone, I can set up shop anywhere.” So Lenker is often spotted in a number of area coffee shops. “I miss the camaraderie of being with other writers and being able to talk about writing with other writers though,” he says.

Kathy Crowe, the Berkshires-based owner of Kathy Crowe Design, moved to the rural Berkshires after having been located in Charlotte, NC. “My clients are all across the country, and I don’t get to see them or other colleagues like I did in the city. So, when I need to recharge, I either take a short nap, or walk outside, where I’m immediately immersed in nature. I also connect through dialogue with other designers on message boards, Facebook, and other social media.”

As for me, I’m a social animal. I schedule client meetings over coffee, and some days, for a change of scene, I pack up the portable office and head to one of my favorite “branch offices”…I have a list up and down the Pioneer Valley. When my schedule’s more frenetic, I schedule a late morning coffee run to break up the day, and make sure I chat up the regulars at the local Starbucks. I think client face time is important, so I meet up for coffee or lunch a couple of times a year, whether there’s an agenda or not. It keeps me connected.

Some innovators launched a program in Western Massachusetts called “Don’t Eat Lunch Alone.” Participants are invited to meet for lunch at a variety of restaurants in the region (or brown bag it to other sites) for a two-hour chat with other self-employed and entrepreneurs to discuss business items of common interest. You can find a schedule of upcoming lunch meetings and locations here.

Bottom Line: Build some time for face-to-face connections, networking, and interactions into your schedule.

See part 1 of this series for my thoughts on the necessity of having a contingency plan in place for situations like illness when you’re self-employed.

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Mark G. Auerbach is principal at Mark G. Auerbach Public Relations, a Springfield, MA, based marketing, public relations, development and events consultancy. You can find more information about Mark at Facebook and LinkedIn.

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