Before you enter the freelance world, make sure you take steps to avoid these common pitfalls — all of which I've experienced as a freelancer — that can send you running right back to Cubicleland.
You’ve sent in your applications, gone on all the interviews you can stand and nudged every network connection to the point of annoyance, but you’re still looking for work. Perhaps by now you’re thinking it’s time to set out on your own and follow many a working stiff’s dream: to work from home.
Sure, it sounds comforting and stress-free. Plus, you have a one-minute commute to the “office,” and you get to work in your jammies. But before you enter the freelance world, make sure you take steps to avoid these common pitfalls — all of which I’ve experienced as a freelancer — that can send you running right back to Cubicleland.
1. Eliminate distractions. That presentation is due by the end of the week and it’s time to buckle down, but — one more pot of coffee won’t hurt, right? And oh, the cat’s now in your lap, and isn’t she sweet? And hey, isn’t “The Price Is Right” on? You haven’t seen that since high school, when you were home sick …
You get the picture. In every household, there are a thousand ways you can be distracted. Make sure you set up a comfortable, quiet workstation in your home that is as separate as possible from the rest of your home, preferably in a room without a TV.
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2. Set some time boundaries. Freelancers, how many times have you heard the following monologue in your head? “OK, it’s getting dark, but I just need to finish this one report and then I’ll be all done. Oh, wait, there’s that email I was waiting for; better respond to that right now. And then I just need to proof that marketing brochure one more time. Holy crap — is it really 9 p.m. already?”
With no supervisors keeping track of your time, it’s easy for your work life to bleed into your personal life until each day becomes one big zombie-like blur. Exercise the freedom in your schedule when you need it, but establish definitive start and stop times. Pick some times each day when, no matter what, you drop everything and go for a walk.
3. Get an ironclad web connection. If an internet connection goes down at a professional office, there’s usually an IT person on staff, or maybe a hotline to a 24/7 help desk. But at home, if the dust-covered, 10-year-old modem in your den decides to croak when you’re on deadline, you’re on your own.
I vividly recall more than one occasion where I had to sprint down to the nearest coffeehouse and endure the terrible soundtrack and inane conversations around me just so I could find a reliable Wi-Fi connection. Make sure that your home office has an industrial-strength high-speed internet connection.
4. Take a sick day when you need to. It’s tempting to try to power through a full work day when you can surround your flu-ridden body in a cocoon of pillows, cough medicine and tissues. But trust me, your work will suffer as a result.
Sick days are not just for preventing the spread of germs in an office; they also exist so that you can rest and recuperate as quickly as possible. You need that whether you work in an outside office or a home office.
5. Keep tabs on the outside world. Nothing produces tunnel vision faster that a worker alone in a room with a laptop. The more isolated you become, the more you feel you have to solve every crisis by yourself, which may not always be the most efficient use of your time.
Whether it’s an instant-message check-in, a Skype chat or an in-person meeting over coffee, take some time in the day to interact with other human beings and let them know about your daily or weekly accomplishments.