One of the challenges of being an independent web worker is offering all of the services that your clients want. You can start working for yourself as soon as you have someone willing to pay for your design or development skills, but what happens when they want something done that’s outside of your area of expertise? How do you handle it when you need to deliver a large project, but you can’t do all the work in the time that the customer has allotted? Assuming that you don’t want to just turn down the work (always a painful thing for the independent contractor), the answer is simple: you need to team up with other web workers.
Partnering with other web workers has many benefits. Besides being able to tackle larger jobs than you can handle alone, you can offer potential customers a better rounded package of skills. It’s also useful to have someone to call when you get stuck on a problem (“hey, can you see what’s wrong with this darned CSS?”) or to just remind you why you gave up the security of corporate life in the first place. But how do you build up a network of people to work with, particularly if your work is entirely virtual? Here are five ways to find those potential partners:
1. Work your Social Networks. Yes, there’s actually a reason you joined Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and all the rest. If you put out the word that you’re in need of help with HTML design or Rails programming or anything else, it’s likely that the network will get you to the right person eventually.
2. Try out Coworking. Got a coworking facility in your area? Drop in and use it! If you’re really lucky, someone there the same day will turn out to be the web worker you need to know. Even if they’re not, the connections you make there may well lead you to the partner you’ve been looking for.
3. Blog your Way to Success. Every independent web worker should have a blog, both for personal branding and for marketing. Thanks to search engines, that blog gives you more reach than you might think. When you need something, use that reach. But be careful how you word things, because your clients (current and potential) are reading your blog too – remember to talk in terms of opportunities rather than problems.
4. Attend Conferences. Whether you speak or listen, it’s vital to get out to the conferences, user group meetings, and other get-togethers in your field. Don’t underestimate the serendipity factor of overhearing someone at lunch or in the exhibition hall who turns out to be just the person you were looking for. Some of my most enduring partnerships have come out of just such chance meetings.
5. Pay it Forward. – “Paying it forward” is the opposite of “paying it back”: doing a good deed now with the expectation that the universe will make it up to you later. There are lots of ways to do this: answering questions on forums, helping out with open source projects, bringing the pizza to user group meetings, writing “how to” articles for publication. Whether you believe it’s the positive karma you pile up, or just the result of increased connectivity to other people, my long-term experience has been that the more involved with your community you are the easier it is to find willing partners when you need them.
Independent web workers are in a unique situation: many of us work in physically isolated settings at least part of the time, and yet (thanks to the web) we can be connected to more people than ever. Figuring out how to leverage these connections – and when you need to resort to off-web connections – can make the difference between a marginal business existence and one that becomes rewarding and fulfilling.