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How to Protect Your Intellectual Property as an Online Freelancer

How to Protect Your Intellectual Property as an Online Freelancer

One of my favorite quotes about financial freedom states that you are only as rich as your will power (Wayne Chirisa). Online freelancing is built on the same premise. It isn’t enough to have access to the best resources and tools to hack your freelancing success. You need inner motivation, a trigger that allows you take on the challenge of getting yourself out there among millions of other experts. Freelancing is just the beginning to how far you can go: financial freedom, full control over your own life and availability, the chance to build an international personal brand, constant growth, opportunities and more can be available to you.

However, take note that with great power (and freedom is power) comes great responsibility. This means risks will be waiting just around the corner and it’s never too early to learn how to protect yourself and your work. Your rights as freelancer include protecting your intellectual property. This article will show you how to do it without endangering your online success and the relationship with your clients.

Step 1: Know Your Own Worth and What Work Falls Under Intellectual Property

While there are laws in place that protect the content you create or develop as a freelancer, not everything is considered “intellectual property”. For example, anything under ghostwriting or “ghost” performed tasks implies you are not to assume any intellectual rights. Be aware and stay away from “intermediate” clients who request your services and assume full ownership over it.

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Ideally, do business directly with clients, agencies and agency representatives whose identity you can verify. One way to do it is to connect on LinkedIn. Not only it will help you learn more about their backgrounds, but it is also a great opportunity to ask for a recommendation once the project ends.  A recommendation means the client recognizes your efforts and intellectual property in public, apart from the fat check you receive.

Don’t Be Afraid to Leave Your (Water)Mark

Being an online freelancer means tapping into every possible way to showcase your services and expertise. However, take note on online platforms, portfolio websites and any online forums/communities where you can build a profile and upload files. It is easy to get your hard work stolen on these platforms unless you opt for watermarks and creative ways to prevent intellectual property theft.

Developers can protect themselves by creating a “code riddle” or reversing lines of their code. This way, nobody can actually steal and use the work for their own benefit. Designers and visual artists can upload an updated version of their work, and add a watermark or signature to protect their work against thieves. Writers and authors can protect their work by uploading only excerpts and drafted versions as opposed to the full original work. Another option is to upload PDF excerpts which are password protected. Don’t be afraid to protect yourself in any possible way!

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Encourage Your Clients to Sign an NDA

Non-disclosure agreements are a great way to protect your intellectual property. While clients are more inclined to suggest an NDA agreement, there is no issue with freelancers doing the same. It is never too early to have a signed legal document at hand. Non disclosure agreements prevent both parties to disclose any information about the project before it is completed or even after. Moreover, an NDA can be extremely valuable and useful in cases of theft.

Ideally, the NDA should be not only in English, but in your own and your client’s native languages as well if these differ. Ask a local lawyer’s advice and understand how the document can be used. If you are worried about logistics, a lawyer can help you to understand the ways these contracts can be sent without losing value or authenticity.

Traditional Snail Mail

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One way is to write in hand or type the NDA, sign it and send it through traditional mail, retaining one physical copy. Then wait for the client to return the document signed by them as well. This takes time and honestly speaking, can seem a bit old-fashioned.

Scan and Print via Email

The NDA is typed in Word and emailed to the client for signing. Ideally, the NDA should be in PDF format. Once both parties sign the NDA, the document can be converted into a PDF using a desktop or online app. While most online PDF apps are in limited or paid versions, there are free options out there such as this PDF converter from Icecream Apps.

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Browser and Mobile Apps

A multifaceted signature app that allows you not only to integrate your official signature into Gmail but also obtain digital signatures on your phone or tablet is Hello Sign. The app makes sure your documents are safe by using an encrypting service. RightSignature is a browser app and works great if you need to obtain a signature online. The service used to be free and now offers a trial version.

Freelancers can opt for a cloud storage system to facilitate the document signing exchange and prevent email loses. This not only makes it faster but provides the necessary insurance that the intellectual property is protected and the freelancer can focus on project deliverables.

In The End, Mind Your Head…

It’s best to protect your work beforehand than to have to go through all the stress of feeling double-crossed. Remember: never showcase the original work on websites or online portfolio services and always encourage new or reoccurring clients to sign NDAs.

Featured photo credit: Markus Spiske via flickr.com

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Published on October 8, 2019

How to Advance Your Career (and the Big Mistakes You May be Making)

How to Advance Your Career (and the Big Mistakes You May be Making)

The late writer William S. Burroughs once said that “When you stop growing, you start dying.” It might have a morbid undertone, but it’s one hundred percent true in terms of one’s career.

The days of finding a job with one company that you can stick with for 30 years, and simply relax as you move up its company escalator are few and far between in today’s world. This isn’t necessarily bad news. On the contrary, it means that you’re the one in charge of shaping your career advancement.

By putting these principles and behaviors into practice, you’ll begin to see how to advance your career quickly. Ready? Let’s get started…

1. Define What Success Is for You

There’s no right or wrong definition of what success in your career looks like. The important thing is to figure out what success looks like for YOU. It might, and probably will, change along the way, but if you don’t have some sort of milestone on the horizon, then you won’t know which direction to go in.

Think about success in your career in terms of one year, five years, and 10 years. Once you have that, it’s time to lace up your boots and get to work.

2. Learn How to Develop and Follow a Plan

Nobody just stumbles upon success accidentally. Sure, they may stumble upon breakthroughs or new methods accidentally, but all success stories have one thing in common — a plan.

Establish a timeline for the things that you want to achieve in your career in the next year, five years, 10 years, and so on. Consider the skills that you’ll need to learn to make these things happen and work on acquiring them.

3. Surround Yourself With Those Better Than You

It’s a rule of thumb among musicians that if you want to get better, then you need to get out of the bedroom and play with people who are better than you.

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By surrounding yourself with people who are better than you and where you want to be, you’ll not only see how these people climbed to where they are in their respective fields, but you’ll learn from them and naturally want to push yourself to be better in your own job as well.

4. Seek Out a Mentor(s)

A mentor will not only be able to help you refine and reach your career goals, but will be invaluable in landing promotions and finding unadvertised job openings.

One unique approach is to work on fostering a relationship with a mentor both within and outside of your company. This will help in giving you different perspectives as you rise up through the ranks in your company and career overall.

5. Stop Wasting Your Mornings

You may not think you’re a morning person, but if you can learn to be one, you’ll thank yourself 10 years down the road.

Prepare a to-do list of tasks that you want to accomplish the day before and work on knocking them out for at least one hour before you respond to morning emails. The problem with responding to emails first, is you’re giving your attention to somebody else’s agenda, instead of plotting your own course for the day.

6. Arrange or Attend a Networking Party

If you’re attending networking events simply because you might get a few free drinks, you’re doing them wrong. These events are great for meeting new people and forming relationships. Your goal shouldn’t be to get hired by the end of the night, but to simply make a good impression by being friendly and authentic. So what’s next?

Reach out a few days later via email or on social media to follow up and connect!

7. Pick Up Some New Skills

Nobody wants to be the old dog that can’t learn any new tricks. To move up in your career, you’re going to likely need to pick up new skills along the way. Maybe your company offers on-the-job training or you have the option of taking online classes at night.

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By learning new skills, you’ll not only be able to expand upon what you can already do, but you’ll make yourself more valuable to your employer and future employers.

8. Exploit the Benefits Already at Your Disposal

Remember what we just said about the possibility of your company providing on-the-job training? Take advantage of these sorts of benefits!

If you’re working for a company that allows you to job shadow other employees or has company mixers, you should attend these. They not only allow you to develop your skills within the company, but show seasoned executives within your field that you’re interested in more than just clocking in for a paycheck.

9. Make Yourself Indispensable

Good help is hard to find and employers want to retain outstanding employees. If you can learn to make yourself indispensable to your company, you’ll not only communicate that you’re successful, but will have a lot more job security. What’s this entail though?

It’s actually not all that difficult. By being reliable, adapting to new challenges, and holding your own work and performance to a high standard, you’ll stand out among your peers and others will take notice. Easy enough, right?

10. Get Off the Fence

People who advance in their careers are those who don’t shy away from voicing their opinion and stand up with authority when the opportunity arises.

If a problem arises in your company and you think you might have a solution or are willing to work to find one, then let others know. Employers value and promote problem solvers. Start off with something small and work your way up towards tackling more difficult tasks and projects.

11. Don’t Wait for More Responsibility, Ask for It

If you want more responsibility in your job, then be open about it with your manager. Your manager may be so busy with their own work that they weren’t aware you were looking for more challenges.

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Just make sure you can handle it and that you already show strong performance in your current duties. And if your manager doesn’t seem supportive about offering you more responsibility, well, then it could be time to look for new employment.

12. Stop Wasting Time on What You Don’t Want

If your career goals start with “I should do this…” there could be a problem. This kind of language in referring to goals can doom them to failure because the want isn’t there.

Consider using the RUMBA method (Reasonable, Understandable, Measurable, Behavioral and Agreed) when setting your goals. That “agreed” part should really be “want.” By going after career goals that you actually want to accomplish, you’re much more likely to achieve them.

13. Seek Out Feedback and Apply It

Simply doing your job might not always push you up in your career advancement. Too often, employees just assume that their bosses will notice their performance strides and reach out when the time is right to advance.

Don’t be afraid to regularly seek out feedback and ask for constructive criticism. It not only shows that you value your manager’s opinion but demonstrates that you care about your job and want to become better in your chosen field.

14. Pick Your Bosses Wisely

Advancing in your career can move a lot quicker if you’re working for the right people. If your boss isn’t any good at their job or doesn’t value you, then moving up could become difficult.

A great boss though, will be able to help you capitalize on your strengths and be an advocate for your success. If there aren’t any strong developers of talent in your management chain already, then look around for some and seek them out as mentors.

15. Learn to Develop Your Sense of Timing

The odds of asking for a promotion or raise are in your favor with over 70 percent of respondents to a survey from PayScale reporting some success. One thing to keep in mind that can make all the difference is when you ask.

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Some corporate cultures may prefer that employees reach out about advancement during their annual review, but maybe you work for a more free-spirited startup. The best approach may be to take note of when others advance and ask about how the organization handles employee development.

16. Work Hard and Promote Yourself

Working hard and delivering a solid job performance are the keys to advancing in your career no matter what field you’re in. This doesn’t mean you need to be completely humble about your accomplishments either.

Keep a record of your positive impact within the organization and let others both within your company and your field know that you’re enthusiastic about your role and work.

17. Don’t Just Build Your Network… Cultivate It

It’s way too easy to add new people to your LinkedIn network and then forget about them for all eternity. Rather than just collecting business cards or social media contacts, you should be cultivating relationships with the ones you already have.

Follow up with people that you haven’t spoken to in a while, offer to connect them with somebody you know in their field, or ask about a new job title they may have taken on. Doing so could be the spark that leads to a potential job referral.

18. Join a Professional Organization

The National Association of (insert your industry here) and other professional organizations can still offer a great wealth of advantages from networking to industry insights, and skill development.

Even outside of professional organizations dedicated to particular job fields, civic organizations can also be fantastic for making new contacts. After all, so much about career advancement is who you know, and you never know who you’ll meet who knows somebody else who is looking for someone with your skills and experience.

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Featured photo credit: JESHOOTS.COM via unsplash.com

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