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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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Last Updated on June 18, 2019

5 Types of Leadership Styles (And Which Is Best for You)

5 Types of Leadership Styles (And Which Is Best for You)

It takes great leadership skills to build great teams.

The best leaders have distinctive leadership styles and are not afraid to make the difficult decisions. They course-correct when mistakes happen, manage the egos of team members and set performance standards that are constantly being met and improved upon.

With a population of more than 327 million, there are literally scores of leadership styles in the world today. In this article, I will talk about the most common leadership styles and how you can determine which works best for you.

5 Types of Leadership Styles

I will focus on 5 common styles that I’ve encountered in my career: democratic, autocratic, transformational, transactional and laissez-faire leadership.

The Democratic Style

The democratic style seeks collaboration and consensus. Team members are a part of decision-making processes and communication flows up, down and across the organizational chart.

The democratic style is collaborative. Author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek is an example of a leader who appears to have a democratic leadership style.

    The Autocratic Style

    The autocratic style, on the other hand, centers the preferences, comfort and direction of the organization’s leader. In many instances, the leader makes decisions without soliciting agreement or input from their team.

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    The autocratic style is not appropriate in all situations at all times, but it can be especially useful in certain careers, such as military service, and in certain instances, such as times of crisis. Steve Jobs was said to have had an autocratic leadership style.

    While the democratic style seeks consensus, the autocratic style is less interested in consensus and more interested in adherence to orders. The latter advises what needs to be done and expects close adherence to orders.

      The Transformational Style

      Transformational leaders drive change. They are either brought into organizations to turn things around, restore profitability or improve the culture.

      Alternatively, transformational leaders may have a vision for what customers, stakeholders or constituents may need in the future and work to achieve those goals. They are change agents who are focused on the future.

      Examples of transformational leader are Oprah and Robert C. Smith, the billionaire hedge fund manager who has offered to pay off the student loan debt of the entire 2019 graduating class of Morehouse College.

        The Transactional Style

        Transactional leaders further the immediate agenda. They are concerned about accomplishing a task and doing what they’ve said they’d do. They are less interested in changing the status quo and more focused on ensuring that people do the specific task they have been hired to do.

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        The transactional leadership style is centered on short-term planning. This style can stifle creativity and keep employees stuck in their present roles.

        The Laissez-Faire Style

        The fifth common leadership style is laissez-faire, where team members are invited to help lead the organization.

        In companies with a laissez-faire leadership style, the management structure tends to be flat, meaning it lacks hierarchy. With laissez-faire leadership, team members might wonder who the final decision maker is or can complain about a lack of leadership, which can translate to lack of direction.

        Which Leadership Style do You Practice?

        You can learn a lot about your leadership style by observing your family of origin and your formative working experiences.

        Whether you realize it, from the time you were born up until the time you went to school, you were receiving information on how to lead yourself and others. From the way your parents and siblings interacted with one another, to unspoken and spoken communication norms, you were a sponge for learning what constitutes leadership.

        The same is true of our formative work experiences. When I started my communications career, I worked for a faith-based organization and then a labor union. The style of communication varied from one organization to the other. The leadership required to be successful in each organization was also miles apart. At Lutheran social services, we used language such as “supporting people in need.” At the labor union, we used language such as “supporting the leadership of workers” as they fought for what they needed.

        Many in the media were more than happy to accept my pitch calls when I worked for the faith-based organization, but the same was not true when I worked for a labor union. The quest for media attention that was fair and balanced became more difficult and my approach and style changed from being light-hearted to being more direct with the labor union.

        I didn’t realize the impact those experiences had on how I thought about my leadership until much later in my career.

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        In my early experience, it was not uncommon for team members to have direct, brash and tough conversations with one another as a matter of course. It was the norm, not the exception. I learned to challenge people, boldly state my desires and preferences, and give tough feedback, but I didn’t account for the actions of others fit for me, as a black woman. I didn’t account for gender biases and racial biases.

        What worked well for my white male bosses, did not work well for me as an African American woman. People experienced my directness as being rude and insensitive. While I needed to be more forceful in advancing the organization’s agenda when I worked for labor, that style did not bode well for faith-based social justice organizations who wanted to use the love of Christ to challenge injustice.

        Whereas I received feedback that I needed to develop more gravitas in the workplace when I worked for labor, when I worked for other organizations after the labor union, I was often told to dial it back. This taught me two important lessons about leadership:

        1. Context Matters

        Your leadership style must adjust to each workplace you are employed. The challenges and norms of an organization will shape your leadership style significantly.

        2. Not All Leadership Styles Are Appropriate for the Teams You’re Leading

        When I worked on political campaigns, we worked nonstop. We started at dawn and worked late into the evening. I couldn’t expect that level of round-the-clock work for people at the average nonprofit. Not only couldn’t I expect it, it was actually unhealthy. My habit of consistently waking up at 4 am to work was profoundly unhealthy for me and harmful for the teams I was leading.

        As life coach and spiritual healer Iyanla Vanzant has said,

        “We learn a lot from what is seen, sensed and shared.”

        The message I was sending to my team was ‘I will value you if you work the way that I work, and if you respond to my 4 am, 5 am and 6 am emails.’ I was essentially telling my employees that I expect you to follow my process and practice.

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        As I advanced in my career and began managing more people, I questioned everything I thought I knew about leadership. It was tough. What worked for me in one professional setting did not work in other settings. What worked at one phase of my life didn’t necessarily serve me at later stages.

        When I began managing millennials, I learned that while committed to the work, they had active interests and passions outside of the office. They were not willing to abandon their lives and happiness for the work, regardless of how fulfilling it might have been.

        The Way Forward

        To be an effective leader, you must know yourself incredibly well. You must be self-reflective and also receptive to feedback.

        As fellow Lifehack contributor Mike Bundrant wrote in the article 10 Essential Leadership Qualities That Make a Great Leader:

        “Those who lead must understand human nature, and they start by fully understanding themselves…They know their strengths, and are equally aware of their weaknesses and thus understand the need for team work and the sharing of responsibility.”

        The way to determine your leadership style is to get to know yourself and to be mindful of the feedback you receive from others. Think about the leadership lessons that were seen, sensed and shared in your family of origin. Then think about what feels right for you. Where do you gravitate and what do you tend to avoid in the context of leadership styles?

        If you are really stuck, think about using a personality assessment to shed light on your work patterns and preferences.

        Finally, the path for determining your leadership style is to think about not only what you need, or what your company values, but also what your team needs. They will give you cues on what works for them and you need to respond accordingly.

        Leadership requires flexibility and attentiveness. Contrary to unrealistic notions of leadership, being a leader is less about being served and more about being of service.

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        Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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