We've been involved in several recent studies that show the importance networks play for freelancers and other independent workers (independent consultants, contractors, self-employed, etc.).
The chart below is from the Freelancers Union report How to Live the Freelance Life. It shows how freelancers turn to their network to find work, collaborate on projects, meet new people and stay on top of their industry.
Most of this was not a surprise to us.
But we were surprised that over half of the respondents listed "help me stay sane" as being an important or extremely important role their networks play.
Upon reflection - and with the help of a few follow-up interviews - we realized this makes perfectly good sense. There's a lot stress associated with being a freelancer. Turning to network members, and especially other freelancers, for support, advice and encouragement is a logical way to deal with this stress - and stay sane.
Another recent study - The Successful Independent Contractor: A Workforce Trend for the Future - by the Career Advisory Board and MBO Partners also shows the importance of networks to freelancers. The respondents to this study were successful freelancers who had an average income of $87,000 and had worked as a freelancer for an average of 9 years.
This group listed "networking skills" as the 3rd most important attribute for freelancing success, just below professional expertise and personal attributes.
What was really interesting is "networking skills" scored much higher than "sales/marketing skills" in terms of importance. Follow-up interviews led to an interesting explanation.
The folks we interviewed explained that networking has replaced sales and marketing as their key source of work. This is reflected by the fact that 82% of the survey's respondents listed "work of mouth" as their top source of work. Because of this, they identify networking instead of sales and marketing as their key method of generating business.
One other interesting finding in these studies is a fairly large percentage of freelancers (in the 30%-40% range) feel they have weak, poor or even no networks. Given the importance of networks, this is a big problem.
We'll have more on this topic in the coming months.