The opportunity of working remotely has given a lot of people—who may not have had a chance to work otherwise—a shot at earning a living from just about anywhere. Students, stay-at-home moms, and even those with disabilities can now work from the comfort of their homes, sometimes with nothing more than a single computer.
Working remotely also gives people the freedom to work while traveling, making it a great option for frequent travelers or those who simply prefer to work outside of their home (over coffee perhaps?). The flexibility of freelancing has opened up new doors for many companies and internet users as well.
It has given business owners the opportunity to expand their businesses without paying for the extra overhead required to open and maintain an additional storefront or office. It’s often a win-win situation for everyone involved—at least when the terms are defined in advance and both parties make a great team.
However, sometimes it can be difficult to stay productive while working remotely, and freelancers can be a common target for scammers. But no need to worry; just keep these five tips in mind when working remotely and you shouldn’t run into any issues.
Watch Out for Scams
Freelancer or not, you’re likely to come across a scam online at least once. If you’re job hunting on freelancing sites though, you may run into more than just a couple scams. There are many fake jobs posted on websites such as Upwork or Guru.
Sometimes all they’re looking for are freelancers to work for free (by persuading many users to complete a sample of their work without any intention of hiring anyone), but you may also come across the occasional malicious hyperlink or fake interview.
My worst personal experience was an “instant message interview”, where I was told the company would mail me a check to purchase “required supplies.” The scam was suspicious from the beginning because most interviews are not conducted via instant message (especially not on Yahoo Messenger!).
Warning bells should always sound when a job posting offers to send you a check before you’ve actually done any work. Fraudulent checks are a common scam; job postings with email addresses listed in the information section will frequently lead to this type of scam.
Beware of employers that don’t have a history of payments or varied reviews. It isn’t that hard to hire yourself and leave a review from a fake account either, so be sure to read the reviews whenever possible.
Whether you work for someone or for yourself, chances are you’ll still be in charge of keeping you and your equipment safe, and it’s always important to maintain a good reputation as a freelancer (a data breach can affect both you and your employer). The easiest and most efficient way to do that is by downloading and installing good security software and services. You should make sure you have both main types installed:
- Anti-virus software
- Virtual Private Network (VPN) service
Anti-virus software can be obtained for free from a variety of providers, depending on your device and needs. Some of the most common free services are Avast, AVG, and Panda, while paid services tend to be from McAfee or Symantec (usually recognized by their flagship product, Norton).
It isn’t necessary to have a paid anti-virus service, although the free software has that option if you need additional protection. Only consider going for the paid subscriptions if your work evolves to become a larger commercial business.
The other service you should have is a VPN. These services act as a protective tunnel to the internet, shielding you from hackers trying to steal or alter your data and keeping your location private. The best VPNs are all paid services, but the investment is worth it to protect yourself from more common problems such as identity theft or malware injection.
Use Time Management Tools
When you’re working remotely, time management skills are essential. If you don’t always have a schedule to adhere to, time can fly by in an instant. It can be easy to get preoccupied with non-work-related tasks, so you may want to consider using some tools to help you stay productive.
Time tracking is especially important; with it, you can see how much time you’re spending on each task and get a better understanding of what you need to focus more of your time on. It can also help you remember how many hours to bill your employer for (if you are not yet using a time tracker).
If you’re working with a team, you might consider using the time management tool Timeneye. Unlike other services, it allows you to keep tabs on who’s spending time working on what and how you can better optimize productivity. Team members aren’t always assigned jobs that best utilize their talents, and this is a great way to handle it, especially since you can’t physically be there to see them work.
Another good way to save time is to use backups. Saving your data is essential to any form of digital work, but there are times when something goes wrong. Anything from a power surge to new malware (one that has yet to be “cured”) can lead to a sudden wipe of your data. Equipment fails with time, and the last thing you need is to lose work or client data to something beyond your control.
There are a few different ways to back up your work. Backup programs allow you to select what you want to have backed up and will create files for you to save on a secondary PC or hard drive. These programs are great because they tend to be cheap and only require a single purchase.
Services are a tad different because unlike standalone programs, they back up your data automatically on a schedule. Usually, they involve saving your work online where it can be safe from physical failures.
The old-fashioned way is to create copies of your work on a regular basis. Save your things online with a service such as Google Drive or Dropbox, or save it on extra physical media such as a flash drive. While less thorough than using a backup program, backing up your data manually sometimes can be more specific, and it doesn’t cost you anything.
Strengthen Your Passwords
Safeguarding your data with backups is one thing, but keeping your accounts safe is entirely another. Even if you’re keeping backups of your work, you can still wind up in a heap of trouble if someone manages to crack your password (either by guessing or stealing it).
Since we’ve already dealt with how to avoid having your password stolen (security software, avoiding scams), we need to cover how to make one someone else won’t guess. In general, a strong password is a minimum of eight characters long, contains a mixture of uppercase and lowercase letters and also incorporates numbers and symbols.
Words from the dictionary can be a real problem too, just as much as personal information such as birthdays, anniversaries or anything else that can be easily looked up online. Keep your passwords unique to each account and be sure to change them semi-annually at the minimum.
Bring It Together
Individually these tips can only help so much. If you’re serious about doing quality work for your clients remotely (and there’s no doubt you are), all of these suggestions should be things you consider on a regular basis.
There is no single path to success. Only by working hard and using all the tools available can you hope for great results. If you’d like to share some of your own tips or feel like there’s something we missed, please leave a comment.