by Ashley Morrison.
One of the perks of being a freelancer is the ability to work from home. I love it. No arduous daily commute (and related expenses, obviously), no noisy work colleagues, and seriously good coffee on tap when I want it. But in order to make it work, I've had to adjust my working environment so that I feel as though I am at work, and not just stumbling from the bedroom to the "office" in my jimjams - tempting though that might be. When your business is in your home, you need to make an effort to feel businesslike.
So here are some tips on how to make your home office/workspace more work-friendly, based purely on what I've done. Doubtless other freelancers will have other ideas, but these work for me.
For me, my office is my spare bedroom. When I first started out, I sat at the dining table, but it didn't feel businesslike enough. Plus it's very helpful to be able to draw a very clear line in your home between work rooms and relaxation rooms. At the end of your working day, it's good to be able to close the door and leave the office. So with my spare bedroom as my dedicated office, I can achieve that. Apart from containing a wardrobe with coats and shoes in it, with the odd suitcase on top, its primary function is all about work, work, work.
If you have a family - especially one with small children - rules should apply about who can enter and when. Door closed: "do not disturb". Door open: "I'm bored - come and entertain me. And bring tea with chocolate biscuits".
Roald Dahl told his children that wolves lived in his shed-cum-office at the bottom of the garden!
The desk itself isn't so important, as long as it's tidy, your computer is at the right height, and it contains clearly marked filing trays for current and past projects, invoices and so on. If you have a separate filing cabinet, that's even better. It's not necessarily true that an untidy desk represents a disorganised mind, but it sure makes it more difficult to keep track of things.
The main bit of kit in your office is your chair. If you're going to be sitting in it for eight hours a day (or more when a deadline is looming), you're going to want to make sure it's a decent one. The right height, comfortable, and with proper support.
Your technical kit
It's my understanding that designers prefer Macs. I personally use a high-spec desktop PC and also a MacBook Pro for when I'm out and about. Many are the occasions when I've been in town and wanted to pop to Costa before meeting a client to do a spot more work while taking advantage of their free wifi. It doesn't matter which you use as long as it suits your purpose.
But the key thing here, people, is to BACK UP YOUR WORK as regularly as possible. These days, it's dead easy. An external hard drive the size of a smartphone can hold 1TB worth of data and can be set to back up everything as soon as it's plugged in to your computer. I've heard horror stories of fellow copywriters losing everything they've ever written when their regular hard drive goes bananas.
One other option is to use a cloud-based backup system. I use Dropbox, personally. So whenever I save a piece of work in my PC's dropbox, it magically appears on my laptop as well. And on my smartphone, in fact. No more emailing files to yourself.
Your email address
As obvious as this may sound, you need a professional-sounding email address. email@example.com just isn't going to send out the right message. I'm in the process of building my own website, which will have its own dedicated email address -“ so something like firstname.lastname@example.org. Till then, I'll hold my hands up and admit that I'm simply using my regular email address at the bottom of this blog post because it sounds fairly normal, but it's good to have a designated business email address, leaving your personal one entirely personal.
There's a school of thought which suggests that prospective clients trust landlines more than mobile numbers. In which case, consider getting a designated business landline installed. That being said, almost 100% of my enquiries arrive via email, so I'm yet to set up a business landline.
Speaking of phones, answering it properly is a must. "Hello?" is not a good way to go if you don't recognise the number; it could be your best ever prospective client calling. Answering assertively with your company name is ideal - or at least with your full name. You could maybe add,"how can I help you?" if you like, unless you think that makes you feel too much like a customer services adviser.
Getting business cards to match your website is a great idea. But I will warn you off designing them yourself unless you're a designer by trade. If you aren't, it'll look exactly as if you've designed them yourself. Pay for a designer to come up with the logo and then, if you really want to save some money, you can upload that logo to one of the plethora of business card websites and fill in the rest of the details yourself.
There are obvious things you'll want on there: company name/your name, contact number, email address, website address, strapline, etc. But one thing you should definitely consider is this: when you're handed a card, what's the first thing you do? Well, I'll tell you what I automatically do: I turn it over. It's like when you receive a direct mailing. You tend to read the first paragraph, then skim read the next few and then you will ALWAYS read the PS at the bottom. That's why one of the most important messages is there (eg: "Remember, you can save 25% off your first order by clicking here!"). The same principle applies to business cards. The PS is the turning over. Get your money's worth and use the BACK of the card too - even if it's just with your logo and a snappy strapline.
Any other tips?
If you have any tips you'd like to share about how to work from home more effectively, we'd love to hear them. Add them to the comments section below.
Ashley Morrison is a blogger, copywriter and editor.