Limitations of a lone wolf

The pitfalls of going it alone and how to find quality people to build a powerful pack

Whether you are working in an office environment surrounded by a team of your peers or a digital nomad working out of your camper van overlooking some scenic vista, most will agree that there is little room for lone wolves in the workforce. While team, trusted advisors, or circles of trust come in all shapes and sizes depending on the needs of the individual, few would argue that we are flat out better off on our own. As a freelance or remote worker, you must fight off the natural tendency to go it alone. Instead, you need to focus your energy on growing your pack.

Photo by Michael Mazzone on Unsplash

Humans are social creatures. We might deny that we need others to do our best work — freelancers and remote workers I’m looking at you — but the reality is it goes against our nature to go completely solo. In an article written for Scientific American by Gareth Cook, he interviews renowned psychologist and scientist Matthew Lieberman who has written extensively on the subject. According to Lieberman, “Different cultures have different beliefs about how important social connection and interdependence are to our lives. In the West, we like to think of ourselves as relatively immune to sway of those around us while we each pursue our personal destiny. But I think this is a story we like to tell ourselves rather than what really happens.”

In Lieberman’s book, Social, he goes on to argue “that our need to reach out to and connect with others is a primary driver behind our behavior. We believe that pain and pleasure alone guide our actions.” However, new research conducted by Lieberman and his UCLA lab has been able to show that our brains react to social pleasure and pain in much the same way as they respond to the physical manifestations of each.

Despite a remote worker’s so-called freedom and independence—according to SCIENCE! Or Lieberman anyway—the reality is that we do better work with other people around. For in-house or traditional employees, it’s relatively easy to scratch that itch for connection. However, for a teammate apart, it is a little more challenging to find a “team.” Sure, you have Jerry and Linda from the office on Slack or that one guy you bump into at coffee on the reg. Still, there is a pretty stark difference between fully digital or incidental relationships and having a built-in crew to support you.

Benefits of building your pack

It goes without saying that acting like a lone wolf in an office or team environment can quickly result in a swift kick in the butt out the door. However, for remote workers, it’s very common to develop an “I can do it on my own” mentality. Hell, most of the time, you are on your own. So maybe you’re right. Right? But let me tell you, doing so can have you leaving your emotional well being—and that ever-important cash—on the table.

In the classic book Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, he has this to say about networking, “You can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed.” Sage advice from one of the best-selling authors in the space. I think innately, we all know that we need to network to become known and drive new business; however, for the lone-wolf-types, they are missing out on the benefits of a healthy community.

According to Derek Gehl of FreelancerAlliance.com, the benefits of building a network—or a pack in this metaphor—are many. He cites the following as methods for making quality connections:

Client Referrals Back to that idea of leaving money on the table, asking for client referrals is maybe some of the lowest hanging fruit in your freelance operation. If you aren’t taking advantage of the goodwill created for your clients by a job well done and sharing their sentiment with prospective buyers, then you are missing out. Versus a cold call or a first meeting, a client referral is the closest thing to a shortcut in the new business cycle. A personal introduction will shake many layers of guarded defense most prospects bring to meetings and put you way ahead of the competition. If you have clients—and you’ve been good to them—ask them for referrals. Most will be happy to offer them.

Complimentary FreelancersThis is kind of a no-brainer. Yet, so many lone wolves don’t think to look around and foster relationships with remote workers who offer skills and services that complement their own. Augmenting your abilities with those of others not only improves your offering but its a two-way street. Much like client referrals discussed above, references between freelancers can be a fantastic way to build your operation. You bring on Joe copywriter to help you solve your client’s writing dilemma, and Joe will return the favor in kind when he’s got a client that needs a little design love. Easy peasy.

Competitive Freelancers What’s that you say? Competitive freelancers? Yes, that’s right. Competitors don’t have to be your enemy. In fact, they can be your biggest allies. On occasion, competitors, typically those doing a higher volume of work, or more of the type of work you want to do, can be great resources for finding new projects. When they hit bandwidth limits—and they do regularly—who better than you to pick up the scraps? Developing positive relationships with your competitors and sub-contracting for them can rapidly become a great source of revenue for your remote working operation.

But where do I find these fools?

There are gazillions of resources online, and just as many happening in the real world. Here are a few stones to turn over, with any luck it won’t be long before you find a serious pack of your own.

Social Media Now more than ever, there are niche groups for just about everything on just about every social platform online. Via hashtags, forums, groups, or following the content of individuals, you can quickly begin building a sounding board to air questions, find help, find work, and foster relationships with peeps the world over.

MeetupsThis a great way to meet real people in real life. So many of us gravitate to online-only social clubs for reasons of introversion or convenience. But we’ve got to get outside of our comfort zone every now and again! Nothing moves a relationship along more quickly than spending actual time with an actual person. Watch the bulletin boards at all your local haunts for opportunities to gather. Of course, there are also online tools for finding what’s the haps in your town. Either way, events like these are a great way to build rapport with complementary and competitive workers and at the same time, establish a reputation among your peers and engaging in the community.

Associations For purveyors in just about any trade, you can imagine there are likely many related associations to which you could belong. Trade associations usually consist of people who do what you do and have similar needs. Membership in these groups—free or otherwise—is a great way to stay up on related news and keep a finger on the pulse of the work being done in the industry. Its also a great place to meet those so-called competitive freelancers we talked about above.

Conferences Last on this list, but certainly not least are conferences and trade events. More than an opportunity to ditch the family and get hammered for a few days with like-minded professionals, conferences can be a career one-two punch to get to the next level. Typically, these events are chock full of great speakers, events, breakout sessions, networking events, and more all built around a theme. Just about every major trade—and even a bunch of lesser-known activities—have conferences of varying quality that have popped up around them. A simple google search, and you’re ready to go!

There are a few things to consider when setting your conference calendar that you should be aware of:

  1. Not all conferences are created equal. Conferences come in all shapes and sizes, from dozens to thousands of dollars to attend. Check the websites, look for reviews, and peruse speaking rosters and breakout schedules for proper fit before pulling the trigger.
  2. Get paid to attend. That’s right, some employers and companies will pay for or reimburse you for visiting these kinds of events and upping your game. This used to be a perk reserved for the in-house full-timers among us, but now more and more offers are being made to remote staff as well. Most significant conferences offer form letters and other documentation for you to share with your boss to help justify the associated costs by breaking down potential ROI for attending. Keep an eye out for those tools and ask super nice, and you might get to go on the company’s dime instead of your own.
  3. Who goes to these things anyway? Well, you do. But besides you, who else might be hanging around whatever conference you choose to attend. Sometimes the people showing up at the conference are as crucial as the people who are there to present. A good crowd made up of folks that suit your agenda—personal growth, leveling up skills, networking, and so on—can make or break your conference experience. So be selective and know what you want ahead of time.
  4. Location, location, location. The last topic I want to discuss here is the importance of location in conference selection. Like most things, its different strokes for different folks, but generally speaking, look for very accessible places. If you have to travel in from out of town, excellent transportation options—from airports to ubers—can make your experience sing. Places that are hard to get to, or aren’t worth it when you arrive, can be real bummers. Consider the weather and possible delays, then plan accordingly. Think about lodging. Is it adjacent to the facility, or will you need to commute? Is there parking nearby, or do I need to take the bus? Once you have a handle on the logistics, the rest of your conference should be a breeze.

The moral of the story is that it doesn’t pay to go solo. Of course, you can work for yourself, build your own business, be your own man/woman, but you should always work to craft a finely tuned pack—or circle of people—with which to surround yourself. It’s a little cliché at this point, but it’s true what the immortal Jim Rhon had to say on the subject. “We are the average of the five people we spend the most time with.” To that end, work to build a pack of good character to surround yourself with, you’ll be better for it. Not to mention the good you’ll do for those you fraternize with in return. In the end, all we have are people and relationships. The rest comes naturally.

Are you the lone wolf in the office? Are your local baristas the only peeps you consort with on any given workday? Stories of success finding a pack of your own? Let’s talk about it! Please share your thoughts here in the comments below or find me on the socials. Let’s continue this conversation wherever the audience most suited to hear it can get involved - I am @ryanroghaar on Medium, Twitter, and Instagram