Web Work 101: Preparing for a Career Online

working_onlineYou may come to web work through no choice of your own, either because you’ve been moved into a remote working position at your current job, or because your current gig is ending and finding a replacement full-time salaried job isn’t the easiest thing to do in this economic climate. If it is your choice, though, there are steps you can take well in advance to make your chosen path that much easier to follow.

It wasn’t that long ago that I was working full-time at a consulting firm, dressing in a suit and going in to a physical office five or six days a week. I knew about two months in advance that I would be leaving for sure to pursue working remotely from home as a freelancer. Unlike when you make the transition from one regular job to another, leaving to work for yourself actually requires a lot of preparation.

Test the Waters

Planning to work online from home is all well and good, but if you don’t actually have any work lined up, then you won’t really be doing much besides full-time web browsing.

Having an idea of what type of work you want to do when you start is a good beginning, but it isn’t enough. Because working remotely from home generally allows you considerable flexibility with your working hours, it’s a good idea to actually start before you take the plunge and go for it full-time.

Doing so will not only set you up with work for when you actually do start web working as a career, but it should also let you find out if you’re making the right move. In most cases, when you leave a day job, there aren’t any takebacks. Web work is one of the few situations where you can actually organize a trial period. Take advantage of that.

Pave the Way

Working online as a freelancer has a lot to do with the quality of your work, but it’s also half, or maybe even two-thirds self-promotion. That means significant attention must be paid to identity management, or personal branding, or whatever you want to call it.

Laying down that groundwork well ahead of time means you won’t be started with a blank slate once you hit the open waters of the web, a situation comparable to entering the job market fresh out of school.

That groundwork can consist of well-developed and complete social networking profiles, clips and publications at outlets, including your own personal blog, and relevant conference attendance and participation. If you’ve dabbled in online work part-time, something I mentioned was a good idea above, you’ll also be well prepared to show what you’ve done.

Evaluate Your Finances and Lifestyle

Transitioning to online work can be a lot like starting your own business, because in many ways, that’s exactly what you’re doing. Part of that means expecting and preparing for an unprofitable period while you get your footing. Even if you do line things up and you actually don’t experience any lag time between your old job and your new career, having the peace of mind that comes with making sure your finances can take a hit will help during dry spells.

You should also take a good look at your lifestyle and think about your goals in pursuing a remote career. If you want to do it to make your schedule more flexible and balanced, take some time off work and see if flexibility and balance is actually something you value. It may be that routine suits you best, which might change the type of web work you target.

Also beware the lure of distraction. I found it best to actually minimize the number of things that might cause my attention to stray during the day by keeping the video game consoles in the closet and eschewing a cable subscription altogether.

As with most things, with web working preparation is the key to success. It may be tempting to jump headfirst into something that seems new and exciting, but if you put it off for as long as possible and concentrate on getting your ducks in a row, you’ll be richly rewarded in your new life.

If you’re thinking about taking the plunge into web work, what steps are you taking to prepare yourself?

Photo credit: gill wildman