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Importance of online community for freelancers of color

My personal default is always to do solo. To do things on my own, figure things out on my own, and navigate through new situations on my own. You get the picture… Some might see this as courageous. But in my experience, what’s more courageous is having the guts to ask for help. To be part of a community that pushes you and inspires you. To admit you failed and ask your people what’s the next best step.

After so many years of flying solo as a freelancer, I’m not big on building my own community. I’m not saying it should be big—mine isn’t. What I’m saying is, as a person of color, as an Asian freelance writer, I’ve experienced firsthand the feel-good effects of being surrounded by people like me.

The challenges of building your community and finding your people

So, where do we go from here?

Well, we find pre-existing communities, show up and engage. Wethos has a humble Slack group full of creatives. There are tons of Facebook groups for pretty much any and all kinds of freelancers. These are two good places to start.

But it’s not easy, especially as a freelancer of color. Back then, one of my specs when finding an online community is that there are lots of fellow Asians there. Better if it’s exclusive to Asian freelancers. I thought that was enough.

Red flags of a toxic online community

Turns out, such specs don’t guarantee zero toxicity. Here are some of the red flags to pay attention to. When you notice these happening, I’d advise you to leave and find another online community.

  • People pull each other down rather than celebrate each other’s wins

Can I just say, I hate it when this happens. And I don’t understand why some people have to be that way… I used to be a part of various Facebook groups where, when you share your situation and ask for advice, people would focus on the things you did wrong. And when you share a win, people would see it as bragging and then they’d share how their wins are better than yours.

  • People are not transparent enough

I’m big on transparency, especially when I started advocating setting higher rates. But there are some groups where transparency doesn’t seem important. They only focus on the good stuff like, they got published in this publication or they got to work with that brand. But when others ask for insider information like the editor’s direct work email or how much a brand pays– crickets. When it comes to groups like this, it’s a thanks but no thanks.

  • People talk to you as someone less than rather than help and give advice

Believe it or not, this is quite common, in both Asian-exclusive groups and international groups and communities. I’ve seen it so many times where when someone struggles with their freelance business and asks for advice, people would focus on your missteps. People would point out the things you did wrong and make it seem like it’s your fault why you’re struggling. Don’t get me wrong, having my mistake pointed out is helpful. What’s not helpful is when I get blamed for my own struggle, as if there’s no such thing as “learn as you go.”

Benefits of having an online community

Needless to say, having a solid online community is having a space where you belong. This is why even though there are quite a lot of toxic online groups, as a queer-identifying Asian, I still encourage people to go out and find a group that feels safe. Find people that make them feel heard and valued.

  • You’ll have people who can relate to your struggles

I guess one of my favorite parts of belonging to a group is relatability. It’s such a great feeling when you share the things that are stressing you out and things you can’t seem to figure out and someone says “I feel you” or “I can totally relate.” This makes me feel less alone and reminds me I’m not the only struggling Asian freelancer. I’m not the only one who cannot figure some things out just yet.

  • The priceless shared experiences with people like you

Aside from relatability, finding people who share your experiences is also an important reason why we must cultivate positive online communities for freelancers of color. 

  • You’ll find a sense of belonging

Belonging is a word that’s been thrown around too much these past years. But who doesn’t want to belong? If there’s one thing we want in common, it is to belong. To be part of a community—online or in person—that sees us and shares our experiences. I’m part of quite a lot of international groups and online communities and I love the vibes. But there’s something about being part of an Asian-focused online community that makes me feel more like me.

Wrap-up

Self-care is not a solo-flight thing. Sometimes, self-care means surrounding yourself with the right people. As a freelancer and creative entrepreneur, I don’t think I’d be able to function well if not for fellow freelancers of color who remind me to be kind to myself. Who remind me that it is not my fault some people don’t see Asians, Blacks, and Caucasians equally. Online communities matter, but what matters more is finding the community that is right for you.

Tammy Danan
Tammy Danan

Tammy Danan is a storyteller who reports on environmental and social issues. She also covers productivity, creative pursuits, and the future of work. Her words have appeared in VICE, Audubon.org, ZEKE Magazine, Shutterstock, Toggl, among others. You may find her on Instagram @SlowFreelancing.