Web Worker 101: 7 Business Basics

So, you’re out on your own and you’ve lined up your first couple of web design, programming, or creative jobs. Your home office is all set up, the coffee is brewing in the kitchen, and you’re enjoying your new-found freedom. You’re ready to get to work!

Not so fast. Like it or not, when you hang out a shingle and start taking work from clients, you become a business. And in today’s society, that means paying attention to some basic business realities. While I’m not a lawyer, I’ve been freelancing for more than 15 years now, and I’ve hired a succession of lawyers to keep me out of trouble. So far they’ve been successful, so I feel reasonably confident passing on these seven rules of thumb for new independent web workers:

  1. Hire the best attorney you can afford – and listen to them.
  2. Do business as a business (corporation, LLC, or LLP) to limit your liability. Make sure to follow the rules when you set up your business.
  3. Don’t start work without a signed contract that was reviewed by your lawyer.
  4. Use your contract rather than your client’s contract whenever possible.
  5. Specify binding arbitration rather than lawsuit in case of contract disputes.
  6. Walk away from any work that doesn’t smell right. If you don’t trust the client, or the job seems shady, find something else to do. Legal expenses will wipe out any profit you might make.
  7. Be honest and up-front with your clients. Don’t hide issues or think they’ll go away.

Sadly, there’s nothing you can do that will absolutely prevent all problems. But following these seven rules will, in my experience, minimize your chance of trouble down the line. It’s worth putting a bit of effort into a good business foundation so that you can concentrate your energies on the work that you really want to do.

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