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5 Tips I’ve Learned About Being A Successful Freelancer

5 Tips I’ve Learned About Being A Successful Freelancer

For much of the past year, I’ve spent my time juggling multiple professional balls as a teacher, tutor, and freelancer. When I left graduate school in 2014, I had only mildly entertained the idea of freelance work, usually on days when my dissertation resembled an unmanageable toddler and I would have to step away from my desk and seriously consider my alternative options. During my job search, I stumbled across a page created by the Chronicle of Higher Education called “The Alt Academic” and realized that my struggles were hardly unique. Many of my fellow academics, meeting with frustration and failure in the search for employment, were desperately seeking ways to earn an income beyond hunting in the sofa cushions for spare change.

In a job market increasingly saturated with graduate degree holders, job seekers have been trying to find innovative ways to market their skills, and freelancing,with its DIY flexibility, lends itself well to such creative endeavors. According to Robert Guthrie:

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“Independent contractors have always been a big part of the U.S economy, but the rise of modern corporations led to a decline in the number of farmers, shop owners, and craftsmen, with salaried, full-time employment becoming the norm. The 21st century, however, has brought with it the ability for employers to connect with employees as never before, new remote technologies, and social change, all of which are driving more Americans to freelance and contract work. Current estimates suggest that 53 million Americans are involved in some sort of freelance work.”

While my training in the Humanities admittedly didn’t give me a particularly sound head for business, I decided that, armed with my skill set, I could learn the rest as I went along. Here are five tips I’ve learned that anyone considering taking the plunge into freelance work should consider.

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1. Know your skill set

Before you do anything else, sit down and make a list of your skills and abilities; more often than not, you can lift this information directly from your resume or Curriculum Vitae. When I began branching out into freelancing, I first made a list of my skills and spent time thinking about how I could market my writing, teaching, and research background in a wider field. The simple truth is that you can’t start selling your stuff if you haven’t got a clue what you have to offer.

2. Conduct interviews

As an academic, my impulse response to this new venture was to gather information, because when in doubt, I conduct research. In this case, I spoke with colleagues who had gone the same route, as well as several friends who’ve been working successfully as freelancers for a number of years. Find someone in your chosen field who can sit down with you and discuss the nuances of self-employment, from setting up a website, to marketing, to book-keeping. You’ll never realize just how many questions you have until someone gives you the opportunity to start asking them.

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3. Know what you’re worth

If you’re going to sell your skills, you need to know what they’re worth. When I decided to venture into freelance writing and editing, I spent time researching current market rates and trends with the help of sites like the Editorial Freelancers Association and the National Writers Union. Finding out the market rate for your talent is important, not only to ensure that you’re giving clients a fair price, but also to ensure that you don’t short-change yourself. Your work and your time are billable, and let’s face it, you have to earn a living. Under-selling yourself does you no favors both in terms of your self-confidence and the size of your bank account.

4. Pro Bono= no-no

I should preface this with the statement that I in no way turn up my nose at volunteer work. Giving your time and your talent to good causes that you believe in is personally rewarding and professionally important as well, because service to the community is an admirable character trait in a world where everyone is increasingly self-absorbed.

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However, as I mentioned above, your time and talent are valuable, and your off-the-clock time cannot all be spent doing on-the-clock work. Find a cause that can use and appreciate your talents. If you’re an artist, and your church needs someone to design the posters for the fall carnival, certainly volunteer your time, but never overextend yourself to such an extent that other areas of your life, including the work you’re paid to do, begin to suffer.

5. Set boundaries

Yes, you have skills; yes, people pay you for those skills, but no one owns you. The freelancer/client relationship doesn’t resemble Karl Marx’s proverbial capitalistic vampire that sucks the labor out of you. Many freelancers have unpredictable schedules. There might come a Saturday night when your friends are out on the town while you’re sitting at home in yoga pants and a Hello Kitty T-shirt, rushing to finish a last-minute project that just came up. (I’m currently editing this article after a full day of grading and teaching, wishing I could pour myself a glass of wine and catch the new episode of the latest incarnation of The Muppets on ABC, but I digress.)

That said, you deserve to set boundaries and carve out certain times that you devote to certain projects, and abide by the self-imposed rule never to work outside those constraints. This is easier said than done because of the often unpredictable nature of freelance work, but it’s a practice that, when implemented as a rule of thumb, lends itself to creating a healthy work-life balance.

Featured photo credit: Laptop, Woman, coffee via pixabay.com

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Published on September 18, 2018

17 Proven Tactics for Motivating Employees and Building a Stronger Team

17 Proven Tactics for Motivating Employees and Building a Stronger Team

Have there been instances when you noted a drop in your team’s productivity or observed a behavioral change in someone who used to be an excellent performer?

Before you blame the team for not being motivated enough or worse still, choose to ignore these warning signs, look inwards and ask yourself if YOU are doing enough to keep your team motivated in the first place.

Motivating employees is extremely crucial. As the leader of the pack, it is your responsibility to ensure each and every member of your team feels valued, driven and motivated.

After all, you cannot expect a bunch of disengaged and demotivated people to deliver results and grow your business, can you?

Here are 17 surefire tactics for motivating your employees and building a productive team:

1. Show your appreciation

In the whole race to achieve external business goals, leaders often forget to value their most important assets — their employees.

The least you can do to boost performance and morale is to appreciate your employees, recognize their efforts and give them credit when it is due.

Whether it’s sending a personalized note, recognizing achievements publicly during team huddles or even rewarding top performers at the end of every month, you will be surprised to see how these small acts of appreciation can go a long way.

2. Communicate effectively

Effective communication can do wonders in motivating employees. Who is a strong communicator? Someone who knows what they are talking about and are able to convey their message accurately.

Communication is a lot more than just language and talking. Factors such as eye contact, active listening, hand gestures and postures also say a lot about a person’s communication skills.

3. Be open to dialogue

Gone are the days when leading through fear and putting on the tough, distant leader act would work.

New age leadership is all about instilling trust by being accessible and encouraging discussions. Your team needs to feel comfortable speaking to you and you need to set the tone for such a camaraderie.

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In spite of having a busy schedule, you can still show you care through simple, effective acts.

For instance, having an open door policy, showing genuine interest while interacting with your employees or even greeting your team members helps breaking barriers and projects you as an accessible leader.

4. Provide constructive criticism

Giving negative feedback is always tricky — you don’t want to hurt feelings nor do you want the feedback to be taken lightly.

So, what do you do? The idea is to offer criticism such that it inspires change and delivers results.

Firstly, take criticism behind closed doors because nothing breaks self esteem the way calling out employees in public does.

Have a one-on-one discussion with the concerned person and make your feedback very specific. Be clear about your expectations and offer guidance on how they can improve.

Most importantly, give them the chance to explain their side of the story too instead of jumping to conclusions.

5. Conduct one-on-ones

Yes, you conduct weekly meetings with the team but how well do you know them on a personal level?

While you may think this isn’t an important practice to follow, it is one of the best ways to engage with your employees and identify what drives them.

Conduct a one-one-one session every month and use it to understand how your employees are doing and if they are facing any roadblocks.

More than reviewing performances, consider this as a relationship building tool to ensure you are aligned with your team and are working towards a shared, common goal.

6. Build training programs

In this ever-changing business landscape, it is important to ensure your employees are updated with the latest, relevant skills that can help boost productivity and performance.

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From imparting technical and soft skills to offering mentoring programs – investing in training and development significantly helps in motivating employees and keeps the learning going.

While conducting training programs, remember to keep them engaging and interactive. They need to ultimately drive value and reinforce learnings.

7. Offer growth opportunities

Every employee envisions a different career path for themselves and demotivation strikes the day they feel they have reached stagnation. As a leader, you need to first be aligned with their goals and offer ample growth opportunities that constantly keeps them engaged and motivated.

Growth opportunities go beyond just financial growth. While money is a huge driving factor, what makes most people tick is making progress in the company and going up the career ladder.

Being faced with new challenges and responsibilities lets them push the envelope and broaden their knowledge and skills.

8. Reward them

Go beyond verbal recognition and reward employees for their notable work. You can start an incentive program and reward top performers. This ensures increased productivity and brings out the best in them.

If you don’t have enough budgets for that, you can also reward top performers with movie tickets, a paid vacation or something as simple as giving them the option to work from home.

Rewarding employees promotes healthy competition and motivates them while meeting business goals.

9. Encourage team outings

Employee motivation also stems from how connected the team is. Invest time in team building because a team that works collaboratively is likely to deliver better results.

From bowling nights to hosting team dinners – team outings are a great way to get to know each other and bond. Assign someone from your team to be in charge of organizing these monthly outings and make sure you join them too!

10. Involve them

Involve your employees in decision making because when they are involved, they feel more valued and part of a larger cause.

Seek your team’s opinion and encourage healthy debates within the team. This boosts employee morale and challenges them to work harder as they know they are in a position to make an impact and will be taken seriously.

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11. Set meaningful goals

In the beginning of the financial year, make sure you sit down with each employee to set meaningful and realistic goals. The goal-setting conversation is an extremely crucial one and needs to be a two-way street.

Whether your employee feels burdened or doesn’t feel inspired enough by the assigned goals – this is the time to come to a consensus and assign goals derived from business objectives that foster individual development while keeping in mind their strengths and weaknesses.

12. Empower them

You cannot expect employees to be motivated for long if you micro manage the team and do all the talking.

Trust your employees and empower them to take decisions. Mistakes will happen but that is the only way they will learn.

Be open to discussions, delegate effectively, set your expectations and give your team the freedom to do it their way.

13. Deal with conflict

A conducive work environment is one wherein there is open communication and trust, but every once in a while, you do encounter people in the team who indulge in office politics and spread negativity.

How much ever fulfilled an employee feels with their work, gossiping co-workers are bound to ruin it for them. Workplace gossip if not tackled hampers productivity and soils working relations.

As a responsible leader, you need to maintain a conducive work environment and act as a mediator in such cases. Don’t be the leader who is locked up in his/her cabin and is unaware of what is brewing within the team.

14. Implement a flexible work culture

Flexible work cultures are a growing trend and are here to stay.

Whether it is offering flexible working hours or allowing employees to work from home once in a month – a flexible work culture promotes work-life balance and aids in employee satisfaction.

It shows that the management is sensitive to employees’ schedules and is thereby highly appreciated.

15. Host engaging activities

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy and we cannot agree more! So, why not devote one day of the week to employee engagement activities?

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From hosting baking competitions to introducing wellness programs in the office – let your team have some fun beyond work. This keeps the environment engaging, light-hearted and interesting, giving them all the more reason to look forward to coming to work.

16. Maintain a positive work space

Your employees spend more than half their day at work and in order to keep them energized and motivated, it is important to maintain a positive and inspiring work space.

Have a recreation center where employees can unwind after a hard day’s work, offer free snacks and beverages and invest in an open office design that promotes socializing and conversations.

These are simple yet effective ways to create a space your employees will love coming to.

17. Avoid discrimination

Any kind of discrimination, be it due to age, gender, religion or race hugely impacts employee motivation and performance.

In order to avoid such cases, you must lay down rules against discrimination and take strict action against accused employees. Lead by example and make sure no one in the team is a victim of bias and discrimination.

The bottom line

Don’t underestimate the power of motivating employees. Understand that the more engaged and motivated they are, the better their performance will be.

It is also a good idea to send out a survey and get feedback from your employees on the company culture, work environment and their motivation levels.

This will help you be more aligned with their expectations and further improve your efforts in building a stronger, engaged team.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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