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Summary:

The economy being what it is, more folks than ever are hanging out their shingles as web workers. Whether this is the fulfillment of a long-held dream, or the result of a corporate downsizing, I’m seeing an upswing of people asking for advice on how to […]

The economy being what it is, more folks than ever are hanging out their shingles as web workers. Whether this is the fulfillment of a long-held dream, or the result of a corporate downsizing, I’m seeing an upswing of people asking for advice on how to get started as an independent. We’ve done an extensive set of Web Worker 101 articles with good advice. But now, let’s take a look at some of the things that can go wrong.

Certainly there are a lot of paths away from success as an independent web worker. But if you keep your eye on what you’re trying to do – build a career that lets you make a decent living by connecting with people over the web – you should be able to avoid them. Here’s a top five list of problems I’ve spotted in other people’s attempts.1. Ignore Your Tax Liability. If this is your first time not having a paycheck with deductions, don’t make the mistake of assuming that all of the money you’re making is yours to keep. Come April 15, the US government is going to want a big chunk of it – and depending on your circumstances, you owe quarterly payments before that. You need to plan in advance to have the money available when it’s needed, or face a few months of eating ramen after the bill hits. Remember, a lawyer and an accountant are two of your most important support people.

2. Hire Too Soon. It’s tempting to look at the various Web success stories out there and conclude that you need to be a big company to succeed. Or else you may think that a secretary is required to let you concentrate on your own work. The problem with this theory is that it’s all too easy to let employee expenses (which includes not just salaries but taxes and benefits) get ahead of your at-first-uncertain income. Hiring only after you have a clear need that you can’t fill with current staff is one good rule of thumb. Before you hire, look at outsourcing chores or getting a virtual assistant.

3. Assume Clients Will Find You. The web is not a “build it and they will come” sort of place. You need to build your personal brand, and you need to make it easy for potential clients to find you – or go out hunting for them. Waiting at home for the email to come in without doing anything to encourage it is a sure way to fail at web work. We’ve asked our readers for help in finding web work, too.

4. Give Work a Zero Priority. We’re fans of making life a priority and figuring out the appropriate balance for work. But just because work isn’t your first priority doesn’t mean that you can ignore it. It’s easy to move from realizing that you can work any time and anywhere to not ever finding the right time and place. Meanwhile, you aren’t satisfying your clients or making any money. If the lack of a schedule is too seductive for you, set yourself regular hours until you get used to the new pace of life.

5. Believe Everyone Works Like You Do. Just because you’re comfortable with social media and instant messages and even email does not mean that all of your clients are. Be alert for resistance to relying exclusively on the web for communication. It won’t kill you to pick up the phone or even (gasp) attend a meeting in person if that’s what you need to keep the client happy.

What other mistakes would you counsel new web workers to avoid?

  1. #6 – not having a support team.

    You touched on the importance of working with a trusted accountant and attorney.

    I would add a competent tech person and a board of advisers.

    Having a cofounder/partner is extremely useful for bouncing ideas around. Getting that second opinion keeps our perspectives honest.

    If you don’t have a cofounder/partner, or an official (paid) board of advisers, make sure you have trusted internet friends/mentors.

    It really sucks when your vision doesn’t match reality… and you don’t find out until you’ve already launched your product or service.

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