When it comes to networking as a freelancer, gone are the days of only going to events with a name badge to see who you can hand your business card to.

Now, we are able to network online and, again, when once it was only LinkedIn, now there are myriad facebook groups to join.

For many, the Facebook group for a freelancer is a double-edged sword. Specialised groups in journalism range from female-only (I am a co-admin of a group for women in the media) to groups on payments (one focuses on bad payers, and how to chase late fees) and groups that are for finding case studies.

I’m also a member of two very useful podcaster groups, and even local networking groups where you can find out about everything from a new shop opening to someone’s lost oyster card via the right window cleaner or builder!

It’s all great when it’s for something personal, but can a Facebook group really have a positive impact on your business?

While I know some will struggle with the etiquette and comments, I believe there is a real power to Facebook groups for freelancers. Where once self-employment was a truly isolated option for many, you can now be sat out in the middle of the countryside but with the right broadband, connected to thousands of like-minded souls offering advice, comfort, support or a laugh. The options are endless, though, and it’s easy to go down a rabbit hole of joining them then seeing your feed filled with endless questions that don’t relate to what you’re doing.

And joining a group can be arguably as daunting as entering a networking day. Sure, there are no name badges to pin on, but there are still the ‘regulars’, the ones who’ve been there a while and often comment, and those who lurk and don’t talk. You perhaps worry you’ll be a lurker yourself. And that’s fine!

But I’ve found that just like an IRL networking event, the key to using Facebook groups to your professional advantage is to join in. Slowly, at first, if you need to – perhaps like a few comments, or click ‘agree’ with someone. 

There are some groups that I really rely on as a freelancer – Freelance Heroes is pertinent because it’s ‘all’ freelancers not just journalists. So I get a slice of freelance life that I don’t get from media-type contacts. I hear about people who are virtual assistants, SEO gurus, accountants and so on. It’s amazing, because you realise that there at your fingertips are thousands of people to collaborate with, to offer business to, and to learn from and with.

Gearing up to making a post can feel daunting, too, but I can assure you from personal experience that it’s very much a ‘once you do one, it feels easier the next time’ feeling. 

There’s a unique camaraderie to Facebook groups for freelancers. What we do is so unique in many ways, and there online you can find a band of people who are in the same headspace, the same zone.

I feel a sense of community and belonging that I don’t always get from face-to-face networking, and a reassurance, some days, that I am far from alone, even if I’m sat at my desk by myself. Asking a question can be really liberating – as can sharing some work you’ve done. If someone in a group helps you, thanking them gives them a buzz and tells others they’re available and reliable, too. It’s a total win-win-win. 

Another thing I’ve learned to do is spend time reading some threads. Searching for a keyword and then focusing on the advice people give. Don’t see a freelance facebook group as a scroll-through, but more of a discussion board. See it as a virtual coffee meet up with people in your line of work, and allocate some time to read their advice. One person I know commented recently that a thread in a freelance group was better than watching lots of you tube tutorials. It’s true – you are essentially tapping in to hundreds if not thousands of experienced experts in self-employed life. Imagine what that would cost – but it’s all free.

Of course I know people can have negative experiences on facebook groups. I have done myself, and have left some groups. I’ve been removed from another for not being an active enough commenter. Those moments – or someone making a comment on a thread you’ve ‘dared’ to post – can make things hard. They can make you want to leave the group, and leave a bad taste. 

My thoughts on that are to keep looking. It sounds like for some reason that might not be the group for you, and I would wager there are others out there that might be more suited to you and what you’re trying to get out of it.

Remember that the group you join needs to fulfil your needs – it’s not just about what you bring to them, but what the group brings to you and your freelance life. If you’ve joined one but feel it’s overwhelming your feed, my advice is to snooze it for 30 days before you decide whether to leave.

Personally, the power of the Facebook group has gone beyond what I learn from the comment feeds. When you hear of people doing business through a facebook group, of securing a client or a new contact, it turns them from ‘chat forum’ to business tool – and that’s the real power, I think.