Tips to Help You as a Self-Employed Professional
Some handy tips to help you make a better success of your career as a self-employed professional.
10 Ways to Stay Safe & Legal as a Self-Employed Professional
Over the years I have acquired an extensive knowledge base that I consistently draw from to ensure that my students, clients and myself stay safe and legal in our business operations. This includes many aspects that are useful to control students and clients, to ensure that my business is profitable and that my reputation maintains the status that I have worked so hard to achieve. As self-employed professionals, especially in the early days, it can be hard to say no to a student or a client, but this leads to heartbreak and distress and for many even losing their business.
If you would like a really detailed video of how to get into freelancing then check out Paul Wilsons video here, I’m not one to reinvent the wheel, as Paul does a really great job in this video. (What You Need To Become a Freelancer Instructional Designer).
So, let’s have a look at some tips to get you on your way.
1. Scope Creep
Scope Creep is where your client tries to add in extras that were not part of the original agreement. Now you may want to do these just to keep the client, but this is a major mistake that new professionals make. As you will find out if you go ahead, the client will get greedier and keep adding and changing the project. You could end up out of pocket for a couple of hours or a couple of weeks of work.
So, how do you overcome this? Simple, ensure that your project contract and scope of works is solid and outlines what work will be covered and what work won’t be covered. For example, you agree to cover a project that will have a slide deck of 40 slides, a 10-minute video, narration for the slides, etc, then outline what you won’t cover. Its impossible to list everything that you won’t cover so to simplify it would go like this:
Not covered in the project scope of works:
- Hosting of the finished project
- Support after 30 Days
- Amendments outside the original scope of works
- Training employees/management
- Re-edits in excess of the agreed allowance
- Cost of Images/video contents
- Cost of any licence to manage the project
Stand firm with your clients they will respect you for it, that is once you deliver the agreed project to the standards that you and they set out in the agreement.
2. Image & Content Theft
This is a very contentious area, as, many professionals steal from the web to supply their business clients. This is a big “NO NO” for all professionals. Let’s imagine for a moment that instead of being a digital professional, you were a grocer, now let’s imagine that each image is represented by a product in our store and the price varies from €5 to €999. How happy would you be if customers just strolled into your store and put these products in their basket and walked out? Not very happy at all!
Now understand the position of the Digital Professional like yourself that has spent hours composing, taking and editing that image. This is his work, he is the legal copyright holder of this work and yet many professionals think that because it is on the internet that it is creative commons image for all to use. The simple answer here is it is not ok to take what you haven’t paid for and are making a profit from your client in the process. If you a Gettys image (which are digitally tracked), you will end up with a hefty bill for using it and with their might, you will end up paying their price and their legal costs if they take you to court.
So again don’t steal images or cont for your projects (your client needs to pay for this if he wants to use them in their projects). If you want free images there are a tone of sites such as unsplash.com that offers free images that you can use, they may not be exactly what you want, but they will keep you honest and legally safe.
3. Free Work for Large Charities
Many professionals believe that it is right to do pro-bono work for charities and I agree, but with a caveat. You should only do free work for small local charities that can’t afford to pay a professional for the work completed. So, who should you not do pro-bono work for? The big charities. Why? These charities have deep pockets, don’t be fooled by the pour mouth speech, the adverts or the work they do. And here is the reason. All of the big charities send less than 50% of the money donated by the public and corporate sectors are sent to the actual needy people of the world. You may be surprised to know that of the top 10 world charities, each of the CEO’s are on in excess or one and a half million dollars in salary payments. If the CEO can have a salary like this then they can pay for all projects to be completed.
So, help your little charity and don’t be fooled by the big charities.
4. Income & Tax Records
Many professionals in the digital sector are not very business savvy and can neglect their book-keeping. Neglecting this can lead to you losing your business, home and evening ending up behind bars. So, how do you stay safe and keep your books balanced and legal?
Start off on the right foot, invest in a software package that can track your payments and expenses and income form clients. There is a fantastic free online software that is a full-blown accounts package and its free (you only have to pay for extra employees if you have any) that software is from bullethq.com.
Remember this that it is your responsibility to pay your taxes and you will have to account for these. The best way to do this is to have a separate bank account and to lodge your taxes into this account. You can ask your bank to only allow payments to the revenue from this account. Ignorance is no excuse when it comes to tax revenue, they are ruthless and will take you down in the blink of an eye.
Worth noting is that even if you have an accountant and he messes up your accounts and revenue has not been paid, the responsibility rests on your shoulders, not your accountants, regardless of how big their firm is. Also, when you have outstanding taxes to be paid and you ignore them, the penalties mount up very quickly and you could go fro owing €500 to owing €3500 in a short period of time as the revenue add interest daily to outstanding balances.
4. Separate Bank Accounts
When you are starting out on your journey as self-employed professional you may feel that you can just use your personal bank account to manage both our personal and business commitments. This is a big mistake that many professional make and it lands them in hot water sooner or later. The best way to keep your business and personal finances in order is to open a business trading account with your bank. From a business standpoint, this s the best alternative and you will be able to see what money belongs to you personally and what belongs to the business.
Also, it may be embarrassing if you only have a personal account and need to provide bank statements for other reasons, as you may have private transactions there that you would not want anyone else seeing.
5. Setting Reasonable Working Hours
If like many professionals in the digital sector you will probably be working from home as this is the most-effective option. However, this can lead to health issues as you may be working too many hours in the week. This happens because we tend to keep going because the work is in the dining room or spare bedroom and we just want to do another 30 minutes, this leads to four hours later and burning the candle at both ends.
It is important to set limitations on long you working day will be, for me it 7 hours, no more, no less and I do have the benefit of having a purpose-built design studio at the back of my home and I can walk out lock the door and forget about it till the next day. But that was not always the case, like most I started out with a spare bedroom, working all hours. This all lead to problems with my wife and children because I was so lost in my work. Why? because I sat right next to it so there were no boundaries.
So, make sure that you have a set of reasonable working hours and that you stick to them (work to live, not live to work).
6. Looking After Your Diet
Looking after your diet is an important step when you become a self-employed professional that works from home. This is because temptation is there, another coffee or energy drink, and, really you can’t have a coffee, tea or drink without a nibble or two and it just happens that there is a fully stocked refrigerator in the kitchen, and because we are lost in our work working long hours, exercise has gone out the door. Before long we have gone from 14 stone to 15,16,17,18 stone.
So, again this comes down to discipline and self-motivation. For me, I walk 5k every morning and evening with the assistance of my dog Bryson (nothing like a dog to make you walk). I also ensure that I don’t stock junk in my mini fridge and I never go into the house for lunch, every lunchtime I meet a friend and we have lunch and a chat. And if you think I’m kidding about the weight, at the age of forty I was weighing in at twenty-three stone, I now at fifteen stone.
One of the most overlooked concerns as a self-employed professional is that of “Depression”. Working alone is a very hard job, you can become oblivious to everyday things like general conversations, your personal appearance and your body hygiene. It creeps up on you and then hits like a tone of bricks, wham, you never saw it coming!
So, what can you do to ensure you don’t end up with depression from your work? The best way is to ensure that you can interact with as many people as possible, get out of the house whenever possible. Meet client at their office or in a neutral location such as a Starbucks (many of my long distance appointments with clients happen half-way between our two locations and most often in Starbucks). Take walks every day, preferably where there are other people. Wash and dress every day as if you are going to the most important meeting of your life.
Also, play uplifting music, not classical as this will eventually bring your mood down.
8. Your Partner
If you have a partner and you are both working or living at home, this will lead to conflict (its the human thing) and you will need to handle this. You and your partner need to have an understanding of how you will work together in the same space. Remember that this is not like spending the weekend with your partner, you are together for quite a long time. This leads to frustration and resentment. But, the good news is that it is fixable once it happens. You need to set ground rules, each of you will need your own space.
When I first started working from home, I got under my wife’s feet so much, that one day she just exploded, I assumed that she enjoyed having me there all day and giving her advice about how to clean, cook handle the kids, most of which was wrong, but back then I did not know that. Today and for the past fifteen years, we have been fine because we set down our guidelines for how we would go forward.
You can’t go interfering on their schedules, their coffee mornings or when their friends are over, this is their personal time and they must have this if your relationship is to remain strong. So, remember that your partner is your partner, and they need space, as much as they love you and want you around, they need their own space. Make sure that you talk to your partner and agree on what will make it easy and successful for you both to be in the same space at the same time.
9. Social Media
Social media, you can’t live with it and you can’t live without it! Social media is a big part of our lives. When we become self-employed professionals and we work from home and in the early stages we find that building the business is slow we can get hooked on social media, even on youtube. This can lead to most of your day is taken up by useless viewing and replying to comments on issues that don’t really matter to you or your business.
So set a schedule to turn off social media during working hours. Have your fix at coffee break or lunch break. But rest assured if you get hooked on social media it a hard habit to break. Social media should enhance your business and personal life, not control it. Also, make sure that you are sure about what you are posting and replying to as this can come back to bite you on the behind. Keep all posts professional, don’t slag off other companies or belittle employees as you may need these people some day.
And, remember once you put it out there, its there for good. there is no taking it back, it spreads like wildfire.
10. Fun, Fun, & More Fun
Its great to want to change the world and make loads of cash in the process, but remember this:
No one ever said on their death bed, “I wished I spend some more time at the office”.
Life is short, life is also sweet, your family are precious and kids grow up so fast. Take the time to enjoy all of this, have fun, spend quality time with the ones you love. The past is but a memory, the future unknown, the present is here and now, so make the best of it.
In simple terms have fun as you build your career, and bring that fun to others along the way.
I hope this article has helped you in some small way and hasn’t scared you away from becoming a self-employed professional. But I want you to benefit from my years of experience and my mistakes because with the list above I messed each of them up, but with the help of my wife and kids, we pulled it all back to create an environment that we could all work within.
Thanks for reading.