Contributed by Info Guru Lindsay Shugerman
More and more people are leaving behind the 9-5 routine and striking out on their own as freelancers. It’s not for everyone, but for many it has become the best (and only) way to work.
But working for yourself isn’t just a matter of opening the computer at home instead of in an office. As a freelance worker, you’re responsible for your own supplies, your own schedule and your own record keeping. That means you’ll need a few things to make it work. If you’re new to the freelance world, here are ten tips for freelancers to keep you sane, productive and legal.
10. Portable computer
Whether you do your freelance work mostly on a computer, or mostly with tools or other people, you are going to need a portable computer. There will always be networking events, conferences and other events where a computer means getting the most from the opportunity and just hanging out there.
If you do a lot of computer work, look for a durable, lightweight laptop with good battery life. If you only use a computer for meetings and record keeping, a tablet, notebook computer or convertible model might be enough for you.
9. Tax records
The IRS loves freelancers. No, it’s not because they want us to get rich. It’s because our income is subject to extra taxes. And the complexity of record keeping for freelancers means we’re more likely to make mistakes or overlook legitimate deductions. Either way, that means more revenue for them in penalties or excess taxes paid.
Having a good tax plan, with a reliable business record-keeping software package can help you keep more of your very hard earned money, and spend less time talking with the people at the IRS. Buy it, install it, use it religiously!
8. A plan
Yes, I am sure there are a few freelancers who quit their jobs and immediately fell into an incredibly profitable opportunity doing exactly what they love. And I am happy for them. But for most of us, a successful freelance lifestyle requires planning and research and goal setting. Decide what you want to do, learn about the opportunity (and roadblocks), and plan your strategy.
Whether you use a mind map (my favorite), a personal planner book, scribbles on a whiteboard or a detailed business plan, figure out what you want, where you need to go, and how you’re going to get there. Your business depends on it.
7. Ergonomic space
I don’t know if anyone has told you, but when you work for yourself, there is no workers’ comp. So if curling up in that chair to write day after day messes up your back or your wrists, there is no one to pay to bills until you get better.
That’s why it’s so important to make sure you set up (and use!) an ergonomic work space. Invest in healthy, ergonomic seating and a table or desk that allows your computer to sit at the right height. Use wrist supports to protect them from pressure and make sure you have the right glasses (if you need them) for your work.
6. A schedule
When you freelance, make sure you don’t allow your work to take over your life. Without an external start and stop time, it’s so easy to forget to get up and walk around, put away your work or head out to spend time with friends. How many times have you found yourself still working when the sun has gone down or it was long past time to have a meal?
Of course, you don’t need to work from 9-5. That’s the beauty of our lifestyle. But you do need a schedule, whether it’s from 10-3 or midnight to 5 am. Find out what works for you, write it down on a white board or wall calendar, then stick to it as much as possible. Schedule fun and family time and downtime, too. Your life…and your work…will benefit.
5. Dedicated storage
When you had an office at work, chances are you had a designated space for your materials and supplies. Freelancers need that, too. But all too often we waste precious time looking for this reference book or that folder or those pens.
Get a desk with drawers, a file cabinet or even just a small bookshelf and then only use it for your work materials. You’ll be amazed how much more efficient you’ll become!
4. Co-working options
There comes a time for most freelancers when spending all day with the dog and cat or the television on in the background just isn’t enough. That’s where co-working comes in. Co-working is a when a group of freelancers gather together in a coffee house or cafe or a designated co-working space to work side by side. Everyone is working on different projects, different goals, but when frustration strikes or you get stuck on a problem, there are others around to help out and offer ideas.
Most cities have co-working groups, so check your area for gatherings or co-working spaces you can join. Sometimes, it’s just nice to not be alone.
Food? Really? Yes, it’s true, freelancers need to eat just like everyone else does. But we are notoriously bad at remembering to do it. We will jump into a project before breakfast (which never happens), forget to eat lunch, and finally look up to realize that suppertime has come and gone. Or perhaps even work, we’ll snack on whatever is at hand and requires no preparation (think chips, candy or soft drinks.)
Set an alarm on your computer or phone or watch and make yourself get up and get some healthy food now and then. Not only will you be healthier, you’ll work more efficiently. If cooking is out of the question during a particularly high-pressure project, have meals sent in or stock your fridge and freezer with ready-to-heat healthy meals.
Along with healthy food, one of the most neglected parts of a freelancers’ life is exercise. And no, typing on your computer and staring off into space do not count! But we need to move to stay healthy and alert and productive.
If you can’t find time in your schedule to go to the gym or head out for a run, bring the exercise home to you. Invest in a walking desk, a treadmill to use while you read documents or a home gym to use throughout the day.
Unless you have a steady stream of work landing on your desk, you’re going to need publicity to make it work. But without corporate rules to hold you back, you can get creative. Design that business card you always wanted. Make a website that says everything you want prospects to know (without having to run it by the boss!) Make brochures or flyers or give potential customers your information on a jar of honey, a package of cookies or a box of nails. Don’t just think outside of the box, forget all about that box.
You need business. Make your PR say something about you.
It’s wonderful (and sometimes awful) working for yourself. But with a good support network, a commitment to make it work and access to information like tips for freelancers, you can make this lifestyle everything you imagine. Welcome to to the club!