Working in a field like web development has some pretty awesome perks. By far one of the best benefits of working as a freelance web developer is that you have the freedom and flexibility to work for whoever you want, whenever you want, and wherever you want. Right?
Technically, yes, but…
But it’s not that simple. From the outside looking in, life as a digital nomad probably seems amazing. Wake up when you want. Pick and choose clients you want to work with. Travel as frequently as your bank account will allow. As The Oatmeal has wisely shown, though, working from your laptop isn’t always aces.
If you’ve decided that the “location independent” work life is for you, then there are some things you should know in order to properly navigate it. While it will likely seem like a lot of fun at first, it can slowly turn sour if you don’t manage your time, resources, or relationships properly.
Tips for Running Your Business from Your Laptop
There are many annoying things about working in the corporate world. There’s the commute that could realistically add an hour or two to the time spent away from your non-work life. There are the office politics that are never a pleasant experience trying to navigate.
And, oh yeah, there’s the whole “I need it right now” mentality that every single one of your coworkers seems to have and is always directed at you at the most inconvenient of times.
Once you get a taste of what it can be like to work from your laptop—the empowerment, the freedom, the sense of control—you’re not going to want to let that go.
But don’t let the increasing sense of relaxation and comfort from working for yourself get in the way of your business succeeding (which can happen). Sure, you own your time, control your resources, and plan your workflow however you want. But just because you don’t have to pay for that much overhead, doesn’t mean you can afford to slack.
Here are 21 tips on how you can successfully run your WordPress business from your laptop.
General Business Tips
Tip #1: Dress the part
You may not be reporting to anyone but yourself, but that doesn’t mean you should treat your work hours any differently than you would if you went into an office every day. Time is money and all that jazz, right? No one’s saying you have to wear a three-piece suit or heels, but busting out of those pajamas when you sit down to your laptop will help put you in the right frame of mind for work.
Tip #2: Create a professional workspace
Again, this is about training your mind and body to work even if you’re in a comfortable setting like your home or a distracting one like the local coffee shop. The key is to create a professional workspace, one that inspires you to stay productive as you work throughout the day.
Rafat Ali, the CEO and founder of Skift, says: “Working on a startup means working all the time, it consumes all of you. It is not a part-time game, it is not even a full-time game, it is an every-fiber-of-your-being-wedded-to-it game. But that doesn’t mean you lose yourself and what defines you. How and where you choose to work defines you as much as the work itself.”
Tip #3: Get a good desk
There are some digital nomads like Richard Branson who work remotely but opt for non-traditional work setups (he prefers to sit in a hammock). For those of us who aren’t taking calls and writing emails all day, however, a good desk and chair that support proper posture, lumbar support, and eye-to-laptop levels is important.
Tip #4: Get a business line
There will come a time when you land a client who abuses the relationship you have with them and starts calling or texting you outside of work hours. This is why I suggest every freelancer sign up for a separate phone number and email for their business. It’ll be much easier to block out those unwanted distractions from your personal life.
Tip #5: Invest in a good computer
You’re going to spend a lot of time on your laptop. Make sure you have a reliable one to work from.
Tip #6: Set work hours
You’re running a business. Unless you’re hoping to become the 7-Eleven of web developers, there’s absolutely no need for you to be available 24 hours a day. Be sure to define your work hours ahead of time and communicate them to everyone, both professional and personal contacts.
Tip #7: Switch off distractions
Probably the worst thing about working from your laptop is how easy it is to find distractions within it. Of all the distraction blocking tools I’ve seen, I think Freedom is perhaps the most comprehensive solution for phones and computers.
Tip #8: Use a scheduling tool
You can make as many promises to yourself that you’ll stick within that pre-defined daily schedule, but how well will you actually stick to it when left to your own devices? Don’t try and do it on your own. Use a scheduling tool like Asana for time management.
Tip #9: Work when you’re most productive
Chris Guillebeau ditched the traditional corporate life in lieu of one in which he had more control. Now he teaches people to do the same. One of the most recent tips he gave? Work when you’re most productive: “The answer isn’t only ‘work hard all the time’, because of course you can work hard all the time on the wrong things. But I don’t think the answer is to coast either. It’s more like: find the right thing, then give it all you’ve got.”
Tip #10: Create deadlines for everything
While it’s always nice when you meet clients who are lax about deadlines, that’s not always ideal for freelance work because you can keep pushing it off. If you want to keep order over your schedule, create a deadline for everything and stick to it.
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Tip #11: Minimize travel the first year
Your first year in business is going to take some getting used to. That’s why you should minimize (or avoid) travel as much as possible. It’s really a tough balancing act to work while you’re on the road and is something you most definitely won’t be able to do until you understand your business’s natural ebb and flow. Once you do get the hang of it, you can totally pull a James Hamilton, an engineer at Amazon, who works most of the time from his boat, whether he’s in Seattle or sailing down to Hawaii.
Tip #12: Move to the cloud
The cloud just makes more sense. It’ll increase security, provide you with a built-in backup, and will also save you time in sending files and communications to other people.
Tip #13: Get a business management tool
There are a number of things you’re going to need to keep tabs on as a freelance web developer, most of which pertain to your workflow. However, there are other things you need to be mindful of in order to keep your business afloat. Until you’re able to hire someone to do this for you, get a comprehensive business and finance tool like Zoho. Or, if you want to save money, just invest in QuickBooks to streamline your finances.
Tip #14: Get a project management tool
If you work with a team or if you have a decent amount of clients (say, more than 5), you’ll want to get a project management tool like Trello or Basecamp in order to keep everything straight—projects, client contacts, communications, files, job progress, etc.
Tip #15: Get a scheduling tool
Scheduling calls with clients or meetings with teams can get complicated when you never meet face-to-face with any of them. Scheduling tools like Doodle will cut down on the confusion of differing time zones, limited availability, and having to play phone tag.
Tip #16: Don’t be afraid of video chat
Sure, video chat can be intimidating, but it beats the possible confusion and crossed lines that come with using email. Just because you work at home doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still speak to clients in real time—especially if you have a new website to show them. Bill Gates is a proponent of video chat technology: “If you’ve got development centers all over the world, you’ve got a sales force out with the customers, the fact that tools like Skype [and] digital collaboration are letting people work better at a distance—that is a wonderful thing.”
Tip #17: Have quick communication tools, too
For quick chats with team members and clients, tools like Slack are a great supplement to your communications toolset.
Tip #18: Give yourself time to breathe
Don’t work seven days a week if you don’t have to or want to. Burnout sucks and could hurt your business. If that means it’s time to scale your business and start outsourcing, then so be it.
Tip #19: Get outside at least once a day
Jeff Weiner, the CEO at LinkedIn, doesn’t work from home, but he does take time to get out every day. “I started doing walking meetings early last year at the suggestion of a colleague who used them as a means to reduce meeting room scheduling issues while getting some exercise at the same time.” (I’d suggest not taking your work outside with you though.)
Tip #20: Make new connections
Freelancing is a solitary existence. Even if you talk to team members or clients every day, it’s still pretty much just you sitting in front of your laptop alone. Take some time to explore local communities and meet up with other location-independent professionals, ideally ones in a related field.
Tip #21: Create clear divisions between work and life
Perhaps the biggest problem in working from your laptop is the lack of respect or understanding that others have about it. They think that because you’re physically at home that you can watch the kids for an hour. Or they think that you can be called on over the weekend to take care of this one “quick” task. This is your business so it’s up to you to establish clear boundaries between where and when work starts and ends—physically, mentally, and digitally. This isn’t just for family, friends, clients, and coworkers. This is for you, too.
Remember that freelancing is just as much of a business as any other. You may not have the four walls of a huge corporate structure surrounding you, but you can still build an environment—physical or digital—that mimics that same level of professionalism, security, and control.
The key to running your web development business from a laptop and continuing to kill it day in and day out is to make your work fit around your life, but never lose sight of the fact that there is still work to be done… and done well. Basically, it’s all about finding the right balance in all things.
Like Andrew Wilkinson of MetaLab (the makers of Slack) says: “You don’t have to make yourself miserable to be successful. It’s natural to look back and mythologize the long nights and manic moments of genius, but success isn’t about working hard, it’s about working smart.”