The Way We Work
December 31, 2009 by Tamara Rice

2010 Yellow Warning Sign - IsolatedAnother year ends today, another year begins tomorrow. As your New Year's resolutions begin to form, don't forget how much nearly every decision affects your career as a work-from-home, self-employed, freelancing, independent contractor.

Take a look at some bad habits and poor decisions you might have made in 2009 to help you determine the tone for 2010 ...

  • Not Increasing Your Rate. Maybe the recession had you thinking no one can afford to pay you what you are worth. It's a noble thought, but a wise freelancer will raise his rate at least a little bit--a few percent--each year. Fifty cents to a dollar more a year will be easier for your clients to swallow than a $5 increase five years down the road when you realize you can't live without it.
  • Charging Too Much. For every freelancer who doesn't charge enough, there is probably one who is charging too much. How do you know if you are charging too much? You might find yourself with less-than-stellar feedback, clients who don't ask you to work on subsequent projects, or no clients at all.
  • Not Meeting Deadlines. Ouch. Some of us are chronically late. If you work better under pressure, it's a hard habit to break. But it doesn't mean you shouldn't try! Maybe set your personal deadline 24 hours before the client's deadline - this can give you the wiggle room to review/edit/procrastinate if you really need to.
  • Not Engaging Clients in Relationships. No, we don't mean asking them out on a date. But as you begin to work together for months on end, a certain familiarity with daily lives should form. It's good for your spirit--we all need friends--and it's good for your job security. Do: Start with small talk. Don't: Share your personal journal.
  • Losing Professional Boundaries With Clients. If you are text messaging your last night's date details to your client at midnight, you probably need to ditch them as a client and keep them as a friend. While you may enjoy getting to know your clients, remember that you provide a service and it's important that they see you as a professional in your field.
  • Working in Front of the TV. We've all done it. But it's a bad habit. Let your "off" time be downtime and your "on" time be work time. Mixing them up can be problematic to your health and your work quality.
  • Not Having Work Hours.If you live with other people (roommate, boyfriend, kids, spouse, etc.) then they should know when they can't bother you. Your productivity will go up if you have expressly communicated boundaries. With kids this can be difficult, but if you don't figure out a system your work and relationships may suffer.
  • Not Having a Paper Trail. One of these days you might want to do your taxes, or maybe update your resume. It will be easier if you don't have to dig through your bank statements and e-mail inbox to figure out when you worked for whom, what you did for them and how much you made for that work. Keep a simple folder with notes about projects, clients and the amount you were paid - and keep it handy and up-to-date!
  • Not Using Your Phone. If you have clients across the ocean, you might prefer instant messaging, but for long-term work try to make voice-to-voice contact once in a while. A lot of communication is lost in e-mails and texts. The phone can be very enlightening, and a 1-on-1 call once a month can help clarify expectations, goals and deadlines in a conversational way that written communication lacks.
  • Not Having a Savings Account. Yes, you should be saving for your wedding, your house or your daughter's college fund. However, this particular account is for the equipment you must have for your income. Don't find yourself stranded when your laptop dies - have a savings account set up for repairs and upgrading to new and improved models. Even if you can only put aside a few dollars at a time, it will make a difference in making sure your connection to your work is up-and-running when you need it the most.
  • Not Backing Up Your Computer. There's no excuse, but we all drag our feet on this one. Back up your work on a weekly (if not daily) basis. And hope you never have a reason to need it!

the future exit sign

What about you? Did we miss one of your bad freelancing habits you'd like to break in 2010? Tell us about it!

Tamara Rice

Freelance Writer and Editor

Tamara Rice is one of several freelance writers on the oDesk Blog team. She joined the oDesk marketplace in 2009, after more than six years on staff at an award-winning national magazine.