Because of the nature of their work, many online freelancers see no need to connect with others in the “real” world. Here's why you need those in-person interactions.
When I first started as an online freelancer 10 years ago, I relished the thought of not having to deal with people in person. I struggle with social interactions (although I do enjoy spending time with people I like), so it was a relief to be separated by geographic distance from anyone I worked with. After a few years, though, I realized that it is important to develop connections with the people you work with. Online freelancers are no exception, and here's why:
1. Sometimes You Need to Talk Shop
My relatives and the people I know in the “real” world don't “get” what I do. Sometimes it's nice to talk shop with people whose eyes don't glaze over when I talk about professional blogging, or social media, or any of the other myriad topics related to life in online freelancing.
Getting together with those who understand you can be helpful. Sometimes you just need to talk shop, and there is nothing like doing it in person. Not only that, but you can get pointers, and learn valuable lessons from those in your field. I know that I always come away enriched when I can talk with other online freelancers.
2. Nothing Beats In-Person Connections
Even though I have relationships with people in cyberspace, it's amazing the difference it makes when you actually meet someone in person. Attending the first FinCon in 2011 taught me that lesson. Everyone I met at FinCon was someone I had “known” for years online. However, meeting in person made them seem more “real” to me, and it deepened those connections.
I'm not sure I would have decided to start a business partnership with Tom Drake if I hadn't been able to shake his hand and look him in the eye. Even in our digital world, there is something about physical presence that makes relationships more meaningful. You might be surprised to find that you work better with others after meeting them in person.
3. It's a Good Idea to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
You don't grow when you stay in your comfort zone. Whether you are looking for new opportunities or trying to develop as a person, you need to get out of your comfort zone. Online freelancers are often more comfortable behind the computer. However, once you get out from behind the computer, new and interesting things can happen. Meet people in real life, even if you aren't completely comfortable. You'll grow as a person and as a writer.
4. We all Need Social Interaction
Introverts get lonely too. Even those of us who are on the introvert part of the social continuum need contact with other humans. Yes, I like to be alone sometimes. I even go to the movies by myself. At a meetup during a recent conference in Las Vegas, I sat a table with my drink by myself for 30 minutes, just to recharge after so much social interaction — and to prepare for more of it.
Even though I need to be by myself sometimes, I also need to be with others. Online freelancers can feel isolated. Being able to battle that isolation and connect with others in person is an important part of maintaining your emotional health.
Plus, for some of us, this is the only time we have to be with friends. Many of my friends come from the realm of people I've met online. Without seeing them a couple times of the year, I'm in a kind of sad state.
5. New Ventures and Ideas Can Spark from In-Person Conversation
Finally, it's the conversations late at night that spark new ideas and new business ventures. The in-person interactions you have with others serve to help you get the creative juices flowing. Brainstorming in an environment when you are removed from each other isn't as effective. It's one of the reasons that many of the mastermind groups I know of make it a point to get together in person at least once or twice a year. Nothing beats sitting around, shooting the breeze, and seeing what comes out of it.
Online freelancers need to be able to branch out. As I've learned in the past year and a half, sometimes writing isn't enough — even though I used to think it was. In-person interactions can make a big difference in your ability to do your job, and in your ability to move on to the next level.