Freshly Freelance: My Top Ten Tips For Working Online 

You’ve made it! Finally, you’re at the point in your career where you can quit your office job and work from the comfort of your couch. Just don’t get too excited— Much to my disdain, I’ve learned that transitioning to online work is not as easy as swapping khakis for my favorite pair of pajama pants.

Here are my top ten tips that I wish I knew as a budding freelancer to help you navigate the wild world of remote work. With a little patience, tenacity, and discipline, you’ll be a self-employed superstar in no time at all.

1. Keep Yourself On Track

One of the most difficult parts of transitioning to remote work is becoming your own boss. No one is around to nag you to get off of Facebook, but that just means you have to do it for yourself.

If you’re having trouble staying on task in your first weeks of remote work, I recommend spending a week or so regularly tracking everything you do during your working hours. At the end of the week, tally your results and you’ll be shocked at just how much time you’re wasting away.

For me, seeing exactly how many hours I was wasting per week on my phone was the perfect motivation I needed to stay on task. Like any job, taking mental breaks is vital, but it’s certainly a lot easier to goof off when you’re on your own time.

You can also try using your phone timer to schedule controlled breaks for yourself. This way, you’ll have a mental break to look forward to, but you can spend the rest of your time fully-focused.

Procrastinating is the enemy of freelance work, so be as honest as possible and call yourself out whenever most appropriate.

2. Know When To Upgrade

It’s likely that when you first start out in the world of remote or freelance work that you’ll have to take lower-paying gigs to compensate for your lack of a portfolio.This is all part of the process, but once you have a few solid gigs behind your belt, don’t forget to upgrade.

It’s up to you to negotiate a higher hourly rate or larger contract, so learn to do so unapologetically. This is notably much easier said than done, and it’s something that I still struggle with today.

On the flip side, if you and a client aren’t clicking for any reason, learn to let them go. No amount of money is worth having unreasonable clients. The twisted thing is, most of the entry-level or cheaper clients tend to have more demanding expectations.

Trust me, great clients who respect you and your work do exist, you just have to be willing to go out and find them.

3. See Your Friends

One of the biggest downsides of working remotely is the lack of social interaction. Workplace environments offer a built-in friend group, and although office banter may seem largely unimportant, you may find yourself missing it.

When you’re not working crazy hours, try to set aside some time to interact with people outside of your computer screen. If you don’t have time to go meet up with an old friend downtown, call your mom and check in on her.

If you’re not an extrovert like I am, this might not be as important to you, but as communal creatures, we can all benefit from regular social interaction.

I also find it equally important to set boundaries for myself. I have a hard deadline to finish work around 5 pm or so with few exceptions in order to protect my mental and physical health. When work is over, I make sure to do things I like, like watching Netflix, playing my guitar, etc.

Not only is this a great way to stay happy as a remote worker, but you’ll also feel more recharged and more engaged in your work during your allotted hours.

4. Get Out If You Can

Don’t get me wrong— working out of your bedroom can be great and all, but after a couple of hours, I start to get cabin fever. Not to mention, it’s a lot easier to get off task when there aren’t a ton of people around you to make you feel more accountable.

I’ve found that investing in a coworking space has been great as it’s full of remote workers like myself who help me to stay focused. There’s also usually a hot pot of tea and small snacks included with my membership that doesn’t hurt either.

However, switching up your environment doesn’t have to be expensive. During months where I can’t afford that luxury, I’m happy to utilize the local library for my remote work. If you live in a city, there’s usually some sort of freelance resources and spaces available through local community organizations, so scour the internet for those as well.

Opting for a small cafe with Wifi and outlets is always a great choice, but paying for a pastry and coffee every day can really add up if you’re not careful. I also find it extremely useful to take short walks whenever I feel I’ve been sitting at a desk for too long.

Regardless, don’t be afraid to get up and get some blood pumping so that you can be extra focused and alert while you work.

5. Budgets Are Essential

Unlike most of the world, most remote and freelance workers have little regularity when it comes to what we take in every month. In this case, your new best friend is your budget.

To keep myself sane, I like to have at least 3 to 5 months’ worth of savings available in my bank account just in case I have an extremely dry spell. While it’s unlikely I won’t do any work during a 3-month dry period, having that security to fall back onto is worth the peace of mind alone.

I’ve learned to understand that dry periods are somewhat normal, but they shouldn’t be used as an excuse to work less hard. Whenever I’m making less money, I try and write out the difference between that and what I should be making and earn it back later to replenish my savings.

I have other friends who prefer to structure their budget on a set monthly schedule so that if they work overtime one week, they can have a more relaxed week later. It all depends on what works for you.

As a remote worker, you’re also probably going to have to pay taxes quarterly, which is all the more incentive to know exactly where your money is going. Budgeting takes time and learned discipline, but all in all, it’s an essential online worker survival skill.

6. Set Your Limits

Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries! One of the best parts of being an online worker is learning to communicate effectively through text. If you’re not going to protect and advocate for yourself, no one else will.

This step certainly takes some time, but try your best to set realistic boundaries for both yourself and your client. For example, if I’m pretty sure I can finish a project by Wednesday, I’ll let my client know I’ll have it turned in by E.O.D Thursday at the latest.

Giving yourself padding room while negotiating contracts will make for a happier relationship for both you and your client. Moreover, if you don’t think you can get a task done in the requested amount of time, be upfront about it! A client would much rather know your limitations going into a project than being left with unfinished or lower quality work when the deadline comes around.

It’s always okay to ask for more clarification. I don’t know why people associate asking questions as unprofessional, but nothing is more appealing from a client’s perspective than a worker who wants to get things right the first time.

Remember, if you don’t want to work late nights or on weekends, you don’t have to; that’s one of the greatest perks of being a remote worker. Just know that it is your responsibility alone to advocate and establish those boundaries.

7. A Poor Review Is Not the End of the World

Every once in a while, you’ll have a client who will leave a poor review for whatever reason. This can certainly be discouraging, but don’t freak out! While it can definitely affect your ability to get jobs in the short term, it certainly won’t forever.

If you feel comfortable, you could ask your dissatisfied client what you could’ve done better and apologize for any genuine shortcomings. This may give you valuable insight as to how you can improve in the long run, plus your client may reconsider your review or the severity of it as an added bonus.

Regardless, recognize that any experienced freelancer is sure to have a less than 100% satisfied client at some point. When you get your next assignment, make sure you put in everything you got to help counteract the previous job.

You are a valuable asset to the online community or you wouldn’t be here. Keep on keeping on, and shoot to show off your best self with every job assignment.

8. Be Honest With Your Skill Set

If a client asks you if you know how to do something, be honest. It’s okay to not know everything, and your candor will save your client valuable time and energy. Best of all, you can turn this interaction into a learning opportunity with a response like, “I’m not familiar with X currently, but I’d love to learn if you could point me in the right direction”.

As an online worker, you can also dip your toes into multiple disciplines by evaluating your skill set honestly. For example, I work primarily as a content writer but I also pick up audio engineering/audio production jobs here and there.

By balancing the two disciplines, I’m able to achieve steady income and stay engaged with my work since it is rapidly evolving. I’ll even get crossover gigs like writing for a music production blog, which allows me to access both areas of expertise at once.

Anything that took time and effort to master is probably a marketable skill. Make sure you don’t pigeon hole yourself as a remote worker.

9. Give Yourself More Time Than You Think

When working hourly gigs, clients often ask the estimated time it will take me to complete a certain task. This is a great thing to think about before getting on a client call or stepping into a meeting (trust me, it is not fun being put on the spot).

While calculating your rate, make sure you make revisions and edits into account. Would you rather these be extra or should these be included in your fixed rate? It’s good practice to negotiate above what you think is feasible so that you have room to negotiate lower if your client pushes back.

In terms of hourly work, always add on an extra 2 hours or so of how long you realistically think a task will take. Worst case scenario, you use those extra 2 hours and your client still has accurate expectations. Best case scenario, you look like a superstar getting your work turned in earlier than expected.

It’s always better to over budget than under budget when it comes to working with others remotely. Be generous with your estimates to protect yourself and your reputation.

10. Apply Yourself

Being your own boss can be extremely rewarding. Like any job, the effort you put in is likely proportionate to the benefits you get out. Always put your best foot forward, because at the end of the day, you are your own brand.

On a more literal note, remote work requires you to constantly apply to new job opportunities. This process can feel unnatural, and discouraging at times even, but think of it more as a numbers game.

Statistically speaking, you’re much more likely to get a job you like if you send out 100 proposals instead of one.

At the same time, be mindful of your mental health and mindset. I try to reserve application scouting at proposal submissions to a set hour every day when I need it. That way, I’m not constantly refreshing job board sites distracted from the work I have on hand.

You’ve Got This!

Remote work isn’t for everyone, but it can certainly be an extremely rewarding experience that allows you to live anywhere and potentially free up time for other life commitments. Adjusting to this unique lifestyle takes some time, but once you’ve found your groove, it’ll feel like second nature.

Above all, work hard, make smart financial decisions, and don’t give up— you can do this! 

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