Understatement of the century: We’re living through very uncertain times right now. With a global pandemic that shows no signs of letting up, an economy that increasingly seems split between the haves and the have-nots, and political uncertainty throughout the world, it’s a tough year to be in business for oneself.
And because no one knows what the future will hold, no one can say for sure that this isn’t merely the beginning of a very difficult decade for freelancers, small business owners, and professionals with income-producing side projects.
Unfortunately, there’s not much any individual can do about the current state of affairs. We can’t eliminate uncertainty in the things we can’t control. We’ll continue to be at the mercy of external events, for better or worse.
However — and this is a big however — there’s much we can do to reassert control over our own lives. In so doing, we can ensure, or at least increase the odds, that we’ll weather whatever storms may come: financial, emotional, medical.
What can each of us do, right now, to build resilience amid such uncertainty? More than many of us realize. This list includes 20 steps every freelancer and small business owner should take to fortify their professional and personal lives (and strengthen their finances simultaneously).
Perhaps you’ve done a few already. If not, there’s still time. But you must be willing to put in the effort. Read on for the information you need to get started (or keep going).
Keep Your Digital Footprint Safe, Secure, and Resilient
Take these seven measures to secure your digital footprint against threats known and unknown, to increase your resilience in the face of such threats, and protect what’s rightfully yours.
Invest in Disaster Recovery As a Service (DRAAS), No Matter How Secure You Feel
Do you have a plan to recover from a digital disaster, be it a ransomware attack, infrastructure compromise, or software error?
If not, start with a comprehensive Disaster Recovery As a Service (DRaaS) solution. DRaaS “enables businesses to quickly recover critical data and applications by leveraging a third party cloud provider’s infrastructure [and] delivers instant recovery services by running systems in an off-site data center,” according to Acronis, a leading DRaaS provider.
DRaaS isn’t just to aid in recovery from natural disasters. It’s useful in a variety of scenarios, including power outages, network failures, software or IT system errors, and malware attacks. It’s quite literally the least you can do to protect your digital presence from known and unknown threats.
Protect Your Computer Hardware From Malware
DRaaS is a critical component of your disaster recovery plan. It’s also a key factor in any comprehensive anti-malware plan. However, on its own, it can’t prevent malware attacks, which can come through a growing variety of vectors.
For this, you’ll need an effective anti-malware solution, preferably not the off-the-shelf software that comes preinstalled on your device. And be ready to pay more for higher-quality protection. You’ll be grateful when it parries attacks that less effective programs miss.
Shield Your Devices From Prying Eyes
Three words: virtual private network. A VPN is the best way to protect your devices from “bad guys” who’d like to know what you’re up to online. By encrypting the data your devices send over the Internet, a VPN prevents snoopers from seeing sensitive information like credit card numbers and trade secrets. It can also mask your physical location, which is important if you do business internationally. You must use a VPN when working on open WiFi networks in public places.
Learn How to Spot a Ransomware Attack (And What to Do About It)
Ransomware is one of the most destructive and least appreciated types of malware. As the name suggests, it works by holding your device hostage (technically, by encrypting the data and locking you out) until you pay a ransom. It’s a nefarious tool that raises untold millions for cybercriminal networks each year. This comprehensive article from ZDnet has more about ransomware and what to do about it.
Understand the Dangers of Email and SMS Scams and Attacks
Ransomware isn’t the only digital threat that could disrupt your business activities. Email and SMS is an extremely common vector for malware and other digital threats (such as phishing and spearphishing). Many email-based attacks are not sophisticated, but that’s very different from saying they don’t work. To protect yourself, you must know how to spot and avoid them.
Don’t Mess With Your Computer’s Firewall
Unless you know what you’re doing, of course. But you probably don’t. Your computer’s firewall exists for a reason: to protect your system.
Make Sure Your Mobile Device Is Every Bit As Secure As Your Laptop
Several points above allude to this, but let’s make it explicit: It’s vital that you protect your mobile device to the same extent (if not greater) than your laptop and desktop devices. This is the case regardless of your mobile device’s make and model; all mobiles are susceptible to malware and compromise to greater or lesser degrees.
Secure Your Income in an Uncertain Time
So much has changed this year, including (for many of us) our economic fortunes. Act now to secure your income in the face of continued uncertainty by taking these seven steps.
Block Off Several Hours Per Week to Work on Your Online Presence
The quality of your online presence directly correlates with your attractiveness to potential employers, clients, customers — whatever you call them. Don’t allow it to slip. Instead, set aside several hours per week to work on it in ways such as:
- Updating your personal or professional blog
- Reaching out to new connections and potential clients on LinkedIn
- Improving your professional website
- Sharing high-quality professional content on social media, especially Twitter
- Sending pitches or emails to current and potential clients (if this is standard in your line of work)
- Investing in digital advertising for your services (unless your income comes entirely through referrals and organic traffic)
Spend Some Time Each Week Looking for New Income Opportunities
Likewise, devote some time each week to finding new income opportunities. By “new income opportunities,” we mostly mean new streams of income that align with your existing talents and capabilities — new clients, for example. But this can also mean creating entirely new income streams, including passive opportunities that require little day-to-day management.
Review Older Contracts and Consider Renegotiating (In Your Favor)
It’s never a bad time to review contracts and renegotiate any that no longer work in your favor. Approach this process with care and you’re unlikely to alienate clients with whom you have a good relationship. And if you do need to cut off any existing relationships, perhaps that’s a good thing. If it means lower average quality, too much work isn’t always better than just enough.
Create Operating Leverage by Outsourcing Repetitive Tasks to Contractors
Outsource, outsource, outsource. Yes, it’ll cost you more upfront, but you know what they say: time is money. Plan carefully and your decision to outsource rote tasks like newsletters, inbox management, and even social media posts will free up more of your time to do value-producing work.
Work on Your Real-World Image Too
Don’t neglect your real-world image. Business cards still have a place in an increasingly digital world.
Make Sure Your Enterprise Is on the Legal Up and Up
Are you confident that your professional life is protected from legal challenge? Many freelancers overlook this imperative; they think lawsuits and the like are for big businesses. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. If it’s advisable that professionals in your line of work obtain malpractice insurance or its equivalent, for example, you’d best obtain malpractice insurance.
Don’t Overextend Yourself
Yes, one can do too much work. Overwork can creep up slowly, too, such that you might not become aware that you’ve been burning the candle at both ends until your work and relationships begin to suffer. Which brings us to our final area of concern for freelancers and small business owners increasing their resilience this year —
Take Care of Yourself and Others
Money isn’t everything. Nor is professional prominence, sweet as it is. Without a reasonable work-life balance, success is elusive. Make sure to take care of these six self-care items, no matter how hard you choose work when you’re “on the clock.”
Create and Stick to a Set Working Schedule
This arguably comes before everything else in the self-care column. Without a set working schedule that has clear “on” and “off” periods, you can’t organize your day effectively or tend to the non-professional things in your life that need tending to. Your schedule needn’t follow the traditional 8- or 9-to-5, but it needs to be regular and predictable — for your sake.
Try to Do the Same Tasks at About the Same Time Each Week
Another point about scheduling is this: You’ll work more efficiently and predictably when you try (if not succeed) to complete the same tasks at about the same time each week (or within whatever period you choose to measure these things). Predictability is an underappreciated asset for freelancers and small business owners.
Schedule Meetings or Calls at the Beginning or End of Your Workday, If Possible
Try to group scheduled meetings and calls into a single block at the beginning or end of your workday, to the extent that the others involved permit it. This reduces the number of interruptions you’ll experience during the workday and allows you to work productively (or, should we say, with limited interruption) most of the time.
Do at Least One Big Thing For Yourself Every Month
Treat yourself! “Big” doesn’t have to mean “earth-shattering,” but it should mean “significant and out of the ordinary.” The important thing is that you recognize your own hard work and let your subconscious know that you’ve earned a reward.
Stick to a Regular Sleep Schedule (When Possible)
Sleep is important for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with one’s professional life. People who sleep well tend to be healthier (and live longer) than those who don’t. From a professional perspective, sleep is important because it helps us perform at our very best throughout the entire day, not only when we’re heavily caffeinated. And a regular sleep schedule is key.
Take Care of Your Body (And Pay Attention to It)
Finally, take care of your physical health by doing all the things your doctor recommends: exercising, eating right, avoiding unhealthy habits, and, yes, sleeping well. Pay attention to your body too. If it’s clear that you need a break from the daily grind, take it. The health consequences of powering through flashing warning lights could be severe.
Uncertainty Is in the Air. Whatever Comes Next, Ensure You’re Not Caught By Surprise.
It bears repeating: This is a very uncertain time. For most of us, 2020 has been the most disorienting and unsettling year in memory. And it’s not guaranteed that 2021 will be any better; the opposite could be the case, in fact.
So, what can we do as individuals and professionals to ensure that we’re not over-exposed to the massive unknowns swirling about us right now? The 20 items on the list above certainly bear attention.
But there’s more to be done, as well. One thing all of us can do immediately is reset our expectations. At this point, we all know that the future will remain uncertain for quite some time to come, and it’s no use pretending otherwise. We owe it to ourselves and those who depend on us to plan for the current state of affairs, or something like it, to continue for months or even years longer.
This attitude shift isn’t especially easy or pleasant to endure. Unfortunately, it’s not really optional any longer. Continuing on as if nothing had changed is just not a sensible approach any longer, even if conditions feel more or less like business as usual in your field.
Whatever happens in the new year, let’s all resolve to acknowledge what’s plain and work toward creating a brighter, more prosperous, more fair future together. It’s the least we can do after the year we just had.