Boost Your Efficiency: Seven tips for freelancers and those working on a SOHO basis

There is a compelling reason for this post and it is perhaps best exemplified by a Google Images search for ‘working from home’. Just two pics on the first results page (excluding the illustrations) feature men in it! The rest are all women in various stages of undress, juggling a child or two and a laptop or more innocuously, keying into a laptop while relaxing on a bed.

In my three-plus years of freelancing, I’ve actually had associates call me up to discuss work and then playfully say ‘Now you can go back to sleep’ before hanging up. Was that supposed to be a joke? Well, I am still pondering the punchline three years hence. It’s just that people tend to assume that since you work from home, you are
a) generally whiling away your time and pausing to work once in a while
b) cooking/bathing your kids/sleeping/other random activity while talking on phone to clients
c) always available for shopping sessions, lunches and other non-work activities at any time of the day

And in my experience, this sort of negative bias applies more to women than to men. Agreed that most women take a break from their careers to manage home better and freelancing fits right in with flexible working options. But to automatically assume a freelancer is less professional than her employed peer is to assume the worst. I personally feel a freelancer brings that extra bit of professionalism, commitment and dedication to work simply because, even the smallest error reflects badly on her, as opposed to the organisation one works for (in case of employees).

All of my clients were happy with my decision to launch DropCap and get a ‘proper office’. This, despite the fact that there was going to be no tangible difference in the services I offer them! So I guess it’s not just enough to be professional but essential to also be perceived as being professional. Of course, getting an office is not a solution for everyone.

So here are some useful tips for freelancers and those working from home to boost productivity and maintain professionalism in all aspects. These tips are slightly tilted to suit women but men are free to take away a lesson or two.

  • Change out of your PJs and get into something that spells smart-casual. No, you needn’t doll up in a sari but do wear something half-way decent. A tee and jeans are perfectly acceptable. This helps you shift your mental gear to work mode; plus, you don’t have to run to change every time the courier comes, thus saving precious time. Rule of thumb: Choose something that you wouldn’t mind wearing to make an emergency trip to your bank.
  • If your home has a room isolated from the rest by design, choose that for your office. Saves you from many a distraction.
  • Have to work from a corner of the bedroom? Close the door, tell your maid not to disturb you unless it’s important. Keeping your child out of the room is even more difficult, and kids have the knack of materialising at your elbow and yelling away just when you are on a call with your most important client. If you are going to make a call, lock the door. Kids banging on the door? Escape to the bathroom! Essentially, do whatever it takes to maintain that degree of professionalism.
  • Decide how much time you are willing to work and stick by it! Can do only two hours a day? Draw up a schedule, incorporating the time slots that you are willing to work and just do it! Even if you don’t have actual work that day, find an exercise you can do or use that time for professional networking or catching up on industry news. This is also an exercise in instilling self-discipline, a quality the freelancer needs in huge dollops.
  • Keep learning! The freelance professional has to always be one step ahead of her employed peers when it comes to knowledge base and expertise. Give clients a reason to hire you and not the competition!
  • Associate with others in the same field by joining professional groups in your area and attending group meetings and get-togethers. Helps you gather leads, make new associates and keeps you updated on what is happening around you. It also gives you a chance at peer interaction, which is vital for someone working alone most of the time.
  • Get a mentor. Find someone whom you respect and would like to emulate. Keep in touch with that person on a regular basis for valuable tips, ideas and advice.

Word of caution: these tips are only applicable to those who are serious about freelancing. If you are undecided or unsure about freelancing as a career option, weigh your options before you plunge in. Believe me, halfheartedness shows up clearly in your work, and it is not a pretty sight.

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