Working as your own boss is infinitely rewarding.
It offers work/life flexibility, supplemental income, and control that you rarely find in the corporate world. But this kind of independence can come with the reputation--often undeserved--of being isolating and lonely.
Self-employed workers love the ability to control their schedules. My team at Intuit did a survey last year with Emergent Research and found that 91 percent of the roughly 5,000 on-demand workers surveyed like the fact that the on-demand economy gives them control over where, when and how they work.
But, virtually no one says they choose self-employment so they can eat lunch alone every day, and that mindset can turn people off to the idea of on-demand work or other forms of self-employment before they ever start.
It's easy to understand why this reputation exists. When you're self-employed, you likely spend most of your time by yourself.
Whether you work at home or in a public space, even if you're surrounded by other people, you aren't working with these people toward a shared goal. They aren't teammates in the way that the occupants of a traditional office building usually are.
But all the conventional wisdom about self-employment being isolating and lonely is often not accurate. In truth, self-employed people often tend to feel a greater sense of community and connection than those who are working in traditional careers.
Here's what I mean:
The Self-Employed Are More Reliant on Community
People always want what they can't (or don't) have, and they invariably take steps to fill that void.
A traditional career in the corporate world comes pre-loaded with a community. Those working in corporate jobs have quick access to people all the time, whether they take advantage of it or not.
But are these true connections that will withstand the test of time? After all, it's easy to become complacent about nurturing lasting relationships when you already have a built-in community at your fingertips.
Self-employed people can leverage the same flexibility that they enjoy in directing their work to truly develop their community into something more meaningful. Rather than being shackled to the guy in the cubicle next door, you find yourself free to develop a community of like-minded people.
Relationships can be built based on something meaningful rather than simple proximity: their vision, their personalities, and their ability to become a true partner in business.
Because self-employed people don't have a prefab community to leverage, they (consciously or otherwise) feel compelled to seek one out and build their own--and, in fact, become reliant on this community for the success of their business.
In a recent Emergent Research survey on co-working spaces, 82 percent of independent workers said they use their co-working space as an opportunity to expand their professional networks. 64 percent said these networks are an important source of how they find work.
This cultivation of community is not limited to specific types of independent work. Individuals with part-time, less formal endeavors build strong communities. For example, the online marketplace Etsy runs meetups around the world where buyers and sellers can get together to network, make like-minded friends, and build their sales.
Even ride sharing jobs in the on-demand economy--in which the driver is literally isolated outside of the customers who climb into their vehicles--have active and enthusiastic worker communities. Lyft, for example, lets its drivers join or host meetups to get tips from one another and develop a real-life social network. Lyft also hosts standing social gatherings at dozens of locations around the country, every week.
It Takes a Village
If you're new to the world of self-employment, be proactive about cultivating your community from Day One.
Set a goal to have one networking coffee or lunch meeting per week, to seek the input of others who do similar work and build relationships with potential clients and partners.
Actively manage your social media presence. LinkedIn, for example, is an excellent channel to not only market your services, but to make connections with others in your field.
If physical proximity to others is important to you, take advantage of the co-working spaces available to you as these can provide invaluable networking opportunities.
Step outside your comfort zone and ask for a business card. Attend a meetup, go to an industry conference or introduce yourself the next time you come across someone you'd like to add to your professional community.
You may surprise yourself with how easy it feels.
Because the success of your business rides on it, networking will just feel like a natural extension of your work. And while it won't resemble the rows of cubicles or shared worktables to which millions of Americans have become accustomed, you may find that your network runs far deeper and has far greater importance than you could ever have imagined.