Work from Home Ethics & Etiquette

be professional

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Ethics

  1. Abide by city, state, and federal laws because a law suit is really the last thing that you want or need to deal with when it comes to business. For instance, did you know that in some towns you can’t run certain types of businesses from your home? Some cities or states may require you to have a certain type of license to run a specific kind of business. It doesn’t matter whether you think the law is stupid.
  2. Respect client confidentiality. You may or may not sign an NDA with your client. Even if you don’t, remember the golden rule and treat others how you want to be treated. If you’d like to share something related to their project, get the permission of the client.
  3. Be honest and upfront with clients and potential clients. No one likes a liar.
  4. Be respectful with your words and actions toward your clients and prospective clients. Not everyone is going to be a good fit. You can part ways amicably. Remember that the entire world is watching you on social media. Everything you say and do even on your personal accounts is subject to scrutiny. You’re free to say what you want, but you won’t be free of the consequences.
  5. Be honest in your advertising or description of services.
  6. Stay away from slang words and misleading phrases.
  7. Deliver on time, every time. The only exception is delivering early.
  8. Clear, concise, and professional communication with clients, potential clients, former clients, and other providers.
  9. Use contracts that are fair to everyone involved.
  10. Stay committed to education.
  11. Stay committed to excellence.
  12. Uphold your promises and agreements.

Etiquette

  1. Act like a professional. I realize we live in the information age and people want everything now. That’s no excuse for being unprofessional. That’s no excuse for treating people poorly. Remember that others who work from home are your colleagues. You may need a reference or you may want people to send you overflow work. That’s not going to happen if you’re unprofessional. Don’t act in a demeaning way toward clients or potential clients…or anyone else. Not only is it rude, it can also affect your business in the long run.
  2. Be courteous. Basic courtesy can go a long way in growing your business.
  3. Don’t talk down to anyone. Clients have a choice. They can find another provider.
  4. Keep semi-regular hours. I know that part of the draw to working from home is flexibility. I know I appreciate being able to set my own hours. Remember that many of your clients already keep regular hours and they need to know when they can talk to you.
  5. Be honest about your policies. If you plan to act as a middle man and outsource all your projects to others, make sure that clients know and that they are okay with this. Otherwise, you could hurt your reputation.
  6. Respect the time of others. Your day is no more or no less important than that of anyone else. While long-term clients may be very understanding of a day where your child is sick, it’s really not the problem of your clients and I’d bet a nickel that you could have avoided missing a deadline by better time management earlier during the project. One of the ways you can respect the time of others (and your own time) is by setting up a schedule and sticking to it. When school is in session, my work hours are 9 am to 3 pm. That’s six hours of uninterrupted time. During the summer, I get up before anyone else and work. I also work throughout the day.
  7. Stay on top of your email and reply where necessary. Triage and trash. Triage your email to determine if you need to respond or put it on a to-do list. Trash what you don’t need. Clients and others you work with shouldn’t have to wait days or weeks to hear back from you because you lost an email.
  8. Understand what your responsibilities are and uphold them. If a client or other work from home professional sends you a project, you get on the same page about the requirements. You ask questions where necessary. You adhere to what they say they need done. If they say no outsourcing, then you do it yourself. Anything less than upholding your responsibilities is a form of dishonesty.

 

How to Take the Headache Out of Work / Life Balance

work schedule

Most people who want to work from home have two general goals:

  1. They want to get out of the traditional workplace and have “freedom.”
  2. They want to spend more time living life.

Those are the two things I hear the most…and they both really say the same thing: they don’t want anyone making decisions for them as it relates to work or their personal lives.

Work / Life Balance Isn’t So Cut and Dry When You Work from Home

In theory, work / life balance can be perfectly achieved when you work from home. You don’t have a boss standing over your shoulder or demanding that you follow a certain process that makes a task of some sort last two hours longer than it should. If you want to wake up at 10 am, go for a run, and take a shower before you start your work day, you have the theoretical option of doing those things. If you want to stop and take a bubble bath in the middle of the day (a personal favorite of mine), get after it and don’t forget the rubber duckie. If you want to volunteer for a field trip for you child’s class, okay.

Seems like fun, huh? In theory, you get to do what you want, when you want. Except….work / life balance isn’t so cut and dry when you work from home. One of the main differences between working in a traditional environment and working from home is that most people have a clear distinction between their work life and their home life. You go home at the end of your shift and you do your best to put all that behind you. You make dinner. You help with homework. Maybe you take a kid to sports practice. Whatever.

Working from home? There is absolutely zero distinction between your work and your life…even if you have an area that you use separately as an office. Why? Because when you’re working, you’ll feel guilty that you’re not spending more time with your family or pursuing your interests…because that extra time…that freedom is what you signed up for when you took the plunge.

Okay, so what if you take extra time each day when you should be working and spend it with your family or enjoy your personal interests? More guilt. When you’re hanging out with the kids, it’s likely that you’ll have thoughts about what you could be finishing. If you’re not working, you’re not generating money. If you’re sitting on the couch in the afternoon and cross stitching (guilty!), you may beat yourself up because you have a level of freedom that others don’t have.

I am a firm believer that all of us work from home folks experience this at least for a little while. Hell, I am writing this non-paid blog post and what am I thinking about besides this? Well, the little one is sitting here by me while eating his breakfast…and my brain is on the “If you were working now, you’ll be done earlier” tangent. The catch-22 mindset becomes a giant fucking headache at times.

Why Get into the Lifestyle if You Feel Guilty about Living Life?

I am a legit class A worrier. I do the best I can to plan for the future…not just for responsibilities and super happy fun time around the house, but also with my business. Although I do a damn fine job keeping a smile on my face, I worked really hard to get here.

I’ve worked full time as a freelancer for about four years…maybe 3.5. Initially, my thought was less stress (read: I felt safer in my own home than working out of the house because I was being actively stalked), more job stability (because would you really fucking fire yourself), and extra time with my family. I had spent the previous 10+ years in a really, really bad marriage. I was diagnosed with C-PTSD. I wanted to figure out how to live the rest of my life in a way that made me content. I didn’t even focus on happy – I was alright with just being content.

I had grand ideas about public speaking, volunteering, more time with the children, going to the gym, and the likes. I didn’t have anything hardwired into my brain – I just knew that I wanted the freedom that came with the lifestyle.

And the first couple of years were hard. So hard. I dealt with the mindset I explained above. It led me to 12+ hour days, crankiness, and putting all of my self-worth into what I could accomplish. The plus side is that I’ve accomplished every professional goal I’ve ever set for myself before the age of 40. The down side? I hated myself.

I was using some very powerful business tactics that made the business successful. But…what good is a lifestyle if you have no life? I’ve always been devoted to my work. Working from home meant even more devotion. I felt guilty any time I wanted to take extra time to do anything.

So, I had to ask myself the question: can a successful home business include work / life balance?

There’s No Such Thing as Equal Balance

If I’ve learned anything over the past few years, but more so over the last few months, is that there is no such thing as equal balance. Working from home will never be truly balanced. You work where you live, eat, and sleep. Anyone who tells you how easy it is to walk away from their work or not check their email (if they work from home) is a fucking liar.

You must be able to accept that there is no such thing as equal balance. Your life will be as balanced as you want it to be. You are the only one responsible for that. It’s an extremely powerful position. I have the option to make myself miserable, schedule in down time (plus a little extra because we still have one little one and he has Autism; we have therapy and school and lots of time “life schooling” together), or don’t schedule enough work and wonder how the business will continue to exist.

All of that is on me. It’s not on my clients. It’s not on anyone other than me.

Removing the Headache of Work / Life Balance

Unless you’re a class A type (like me), you’re not going to really appreciate my approach to remove the headache of work / life balance when you’re self-employed. However, I implore you to try it for three months. It takes more than one month to develop a new habit. While you may see some positive results right away, you’ll still experience a little period where you feel like you should be getting more done. Make sure that you assess where you are and go back through and tweak your version of the following work / life balance guidelines:

Assess Your Goals

Why did you choose to work from home? Remind yourself of your goals. Was it to spend more time with your kid? Trust me, they grow up faster than you think. I have one legal adult, an almost legal adult, and one who just turned 8. Time fucking flies. It may not seem like it on some days when the kid and the dog both vomit on the couch and you have a conference call, but you’ll eventually laugh (that actually happened to me two years ago).

You should assess your goals often. Most people won’t always have a child at home. Some special need parents will. Yet, needs and goals will continue to change for everyone. So, make a plan to reassess your business and personal goals every three months.

Get a Day Planner of Some Kind

You could also use a Google calendar, Apple calendar, or whatever. Whatever method you choose, you must actually use it. My husband, when we met, would not put anything onto his phone calendar. He said he would remember and that he would ignore notifications. I’m not his mother…but after he would miss certain appointments of his own, he quickly began using a phone calendar (or he would text me and I would put it on mine). Even if you’re a fly by the seat of your pants type of person, a day planner or calendar will help you achieve balance.

First, put in any and all dates where you absolutely will not work. This could be holidays, birthdays, special interest days, religious holidays…whatever. I love taking off on pagan holidays, but it doesn’t always happen for me. This will be helpful when you’re scheduling your client load.

Second, if you have children, schedule in things that are important to them (if you know them in advance – I know how kids work…they love that night before nonsense). Could be sports games, dance recitals, school field trips, whatever…

Third, what about you? I know…if you’re a mom, you’re default response is “What about me? I don’t have time for me.” When you work at home, you better make time or you will burn out. Schedule in that morning gym trip. Schedule in that sitting in the backyard drinking coffee. Schedule in whatever. It doesn’t even need to be a lot of time.

Schedule Client Work When You Are Most Productive

I am Schroedinger’s morning person. I am and am not a morning person, at the same time. I am ridiculously fucking productive between the hours of 6 AM (provided I get up by 5:30 AM) and noon. In fact, around 2 PM every day, regardless of when I start my work, my brain is just fucking done. The circus monkeys start their show and all thoughts of productivity go out the window….but since the kid gets out of school around 3:20, that’s alright. Oh, and I hate mornings. I’ve narrowed down why I used to hate mornings: no matter when I woke up, I always felt rushed. Now, I just hate mornings like a normal person.

Find the part of the day that you are most productive and do your client work then. Write those projects down in your day planner. You don’t necessarily have to put times on them (I don’t). I write mine in the order that I plan to work on them.

Change Your Thoughts

I still have pangs of guilt when I’m sitting on my couch in the early afternoon working on a cross stitch project or when I’m crocheting or working on a dollhouse. Part of me still feels like it is too early in the day to be done. So, I remind myself: what good is a lifestyle if I have no life? People would kill to do what I do. It’s time to enjoy it. It’s time for you to enjoy it, too.

Being a Star in Your Industry Is a Matter of Professionalism

professionalism

The other day, we talked about professionalism and commitment on Black Moth Radio. Frankly, those two items are the absolute keys to success in any industry. Here are my top four tips about professionalism (and make sure that you go over to Black Moth Radio and listen in…and subscribe – most shows are free).

Keep Your Word

I don’t care if it’s a promise to return a phone call or email…or if it’s meeting a deadline, just keep your word. If you’re dealing with a full plate, think long and hard before you make any promises to anyone…about anything. There’s a philosophy about saying yes to everything and figuring it out as you go along…that’s fine if you have enough time to figure it out, but don’t put your business and your reputation into a predicament.

Give yourself the time you need to do the job well. I have a motto to underpromise and overdeliver. What does this mean? I know how long it takes for me to write pages of web content. I also know that life happens. I know my own schedule. I know my responsibilities to my business and my family. So, I make sure that I am on the same page with clients. I may tell someone a project will take me a week or that I can’t start on something until the following week because of my current obligations. Why? Because I want to make sure that I have a cushion in the event that something happens. I want to make sure that I am able to keep my word. Usually, it doesn’t take me as long as I’ve quoted. Then, the client is pleasantly surprised because their project is finished before the deadline. To them, that’s me overdelivering. (In addition to the fact that they know they’re working with a reasonably priced professional).

Be Professional

This section has the potential to be long. So, I’ll do my best to summarize. I do recommend that you go and listen to the full podcast. You should present yourself as a professional on all of your:

  • Social media accounts
  • Email
  • Blog posts
  • Websites

What does that mean? Does that mean that you have to be stiff and have no personality? No. What it means is that you shouldn’t say anything to alienate your audience or potentially damage your business. I know that some people write about politics or write opinion pieces for a living and that’s fine. You should still be careful with how you treat others who have a differing view even if they’re ugly toward you. That’s something that I spoke about on Black Moth Radio a couple of weeks ago.

When it comes to being professional in your email, this means that you respond to emails in a timely manner, you don’t use jargon, and you double-check your writing for typos.

Blog posts and websites…they can have plenty of personality. What it shouldn’t have is a patronizing attitude. Your blog(s) and your website(s) shouldn’t portray you in a negative light. If you have something controversial that you’d like to promote, get yourself a pen name. I’m not saying that because I’m some sort of prude who thinks one should live a virtuous lifestyle. I’m saying that because I’m pragmatic and I know how people think. Even as a freelancer or entrepreneur, the first thing others will do is look for you online. They want to make sure that if someone were to find out you contract with them, that you’re a good unofficial spokesperson.

Don’t shoot the messenger. That’s just life.

Solve Differences Like an Adult

I don’t care what your area of expertise is as a business. Even if someone pays you, that person is under no obligation to take what you say as gospel. Of course, if they’re paying you as an expert, they should take what you say seriously. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve consulted and people come back to me saying they didn’t get results. And upon interviewing them, it turns out that they either didn’t implement my suggestions or they decided to change up my suggestions. The fact remains that they didn’t get results because they chose not to use the advice that they paid to receive.

If you have a difference of opinion with clients or other freelancers / entrepreneurs, act like an adult. Sometimes you have to agree to disagree. Sometimes you have to compromise. Sometimes you give others their way (because it ends up being the best medicine for them). What you don’t do is attack people or their personal preferences. Constructive criticism should be limited to ideas and products. When you begin to attack others on a personal level, you’ve lost the war. It means you don’t know as much as you think that you do.

Be Ethical

Ethics are subjective. What we find ethical in the U.S. isn’t necessarily ethical in other parts of the world. So, let me explain ethics in this way:

  1. Tell the truth.
  2. Make sure you’re on the same page.
  3. Tell the truth.
  4. Don’t sub-contract without talking to your client and gaining their permission.

That last one is important. They hired you. So, unless you’re an agency or they know that you’re just an account manager and someone else will do the work, you do the work. Otherwise, you could end up with a giant mess and your client could go elsewhere.

 

The Ugly Truth about Self-Indulgent Titles

“I’m an alpha.”

“I’m a guru.”

Can we just, I dunno, stop it with self-indulgent titles? The ugly truth about self-indulgent titles is this: if you have to tell someone that you are an ‘alpha,’ an ‘expert,’ or a ‘guru,’ you are not one. Your behavior, your attitude, your knowledge, your work, and how you treat others will define what you are. 

Self-indulgent titles are worthless. They may be good (occasionally) for a quick sale. “Trust me, I know what I’m doing. I’m an expert legal writer.” However, what stands out more than me saying that? The fact that I can give them legitimate proof of my expertise.

The Use of the Word Alpha Is Ridiculous

If you have to run around spouting that you’re an alpha, you’re not. Your worth ethic and abilities would show that you are. Your calmness under pressure would show that you are. Your ability to make good decisions under stress would show that you are. How you treat others and help them become better people would show that you are. Alpha…yeah, okay, so you’re the beginning. Big. Fucking. Deal. All beginnings come to an end.

If you really want to be an “alpha,” stop talking and get to work on whatever it is that you do. Don’t talk about it – be about it.

Guru Is Code for “I Don’t Fucking Know Shit”

I’m not the only one who thinks that way. Tony Robbins says “I am not your guru.” When it comes to business, marketing, social media, etc., there is no such thing as a guru. Remember when SEO gurus were a ‘thing?’ I got kicked out of I can’t tell you how many forums and Facebook groups for calling them on their bluffs because they knew they were wrong.

If you are new to business, do not call yourself a guru. If you are looking for a freelancer for anything, if they call themselves a guru, run the other fucking way.

Prove It

If you’re as good as you say you are, you don’t need some ridiculous self-indulgent title outside of for SEO purposes. Then, you still stick to shit people would actually search for like ‘expert.’ You don’t need to run around on social media or in person acting like a bad ass because you have evidence that you know your shit.

Too many people are too busy trying to build an image that they can’t live up to in the real world. Back in the 90s, we had a word for that: poser.

From Zero to Hero: Stepping Up the Work from Home Game

zero to hero

Working from home isn’t easy. It’s not always easy to get started…and once you’ve gotten your feet wet, it’s not always easy to keep up your momentum. I’d wager a guess that at some point, all of us who work from home have questioned why we do it and why we are at least momentarily envious of our friends who earn a living in a more traditional environment.

Even if you’re getting everything done in a day, it’s still easy to feel like a total zero. Here’s how to step up your work from home game and go from feeling like a zero to a total hero.

Examine Your Schedule

When you work from home, you get the “opportunity” to set your own schedule (most of the time – I know some people contract with places like call centers and end up with set hours…and that’s okay, too). The thing is, the schedule that works for you during the school year may be a giant no during the summer or on school breaks. Planning to work while your baby naps is all well and good until you realize just how freaking tired you are or the little darling gives up naps. Your day is not designed by Ron Popeil. When you work from home, there is no set it and forget it. It’s more like set it, use it, tweak it, and change it if and when necessary. Schedule your most mind-power consuming tasks for when you have the most energy and focus. I don’t care if that is 5 am before anyone else wakes up (bonus: you’re done with all your work by like…noon) or 11:32 pm. When you work on the most energy consuming work tasks first, the rest of the time you work will make you feel a million times more productive.

So, make it a habit to examine your schedule and change it when necessary.

Stop Being a Conformist

It can be just as easy to fall into the habit of comparing yourself, your work habits, and your entire life to other work from home enthusiasts. You don’t have to work like they do. You don’t have to have the same decision making process. While it is good to network with others and glean what you can use, don’t ever think that you’re doing it “wrong.” If your house isn’t burning down, the kids don’t have you hog tied and living on the roof during a lightening storm, and your clients are happy, you’re fine. Sure, try new ideas if you want…but don’t do it because you think you’re wrong or because there is a certain why you must work from home. No. Working from home is individualized. It is your business.

Take Some Time to Enjoy Working from Home

Doing the dishes doesn’t count…unless maybe you’re planning an awesome dinner party or just looove to clean. Take some time every day to enjoy the fact that you work from home. Sometimes, I take a hot bath in the middle of the day. Why? Because I fucking can, that’s why. Sometimes I go and sit at the lake and work while Red Bull fishes. Why? Because I fucking can, that’s why. I’d love to say sometimes I take a nap in the middle of the day…but I don’t because I am a chronic insomniac who can’t even sleep during the day…and on the off chance I do, I’m likely quite sick. Every day during the summer, Baby Bull and I wander toward our neighborhood park. There’s a splash pad there. We stay for close to an hour (he sunburns easily even with sunscreen). We go whenever we want. Why? Because I fucking can, that’s why.

So, go to the library. Go on a walk. Take the children somewhere fun. Go stand on your head in the corner. I don’t care what you do as long as it is legal and moral. You will never feel like a work from hero until you learn to enjoy your life.

Be Consistent Even on Shitty Days

Some days, life is just a big steaming pile of dog shit. The kids and the dogs are vomiting on the carpet. Your sweet little pumpkin decides to grab a permanent marker and draw you a picture….on the wall. Clients change their plans at the last minute. Your hypochondriac mother won’t leave you alone and you decide to take up drinking. Some days just suck. While there is an occasional day where you should just take a break and throw in the towel, it is extremely important to be consistent even on shitty days. The needs of your clients don’t go away because your day sucks. Your electric company still charges you. You still need money to pay your bills.

Persevering through shitty days does you two favors. First, it reminds you that you have a purpose. Total strangers still need you. Second, it teaches you and your spawn a valuable lesson. Life doesn’t stop. When things get hard, we do not quit. Sure, we may re-assess and need a new plan, but we do not quit. It teaches YOU that you are capable and strong. You may feel like a zero that day, but in a few days when you look back, you’ll feel like a total fucking hero because you rocked that day like no other.

T Is for Time Management

Zeros have the same 24 hours in a day as total heroes. The difference is in how that time is managed. I know that tomorrow will suck for me because it will be busy. So, one thing I am doing today to prepare for tomorrow is to handle some of tomorrow’s work. That will be one less thing for me to do.

Failing to plan is planning to fail. Learn to manage your time. Plan things. You don’t have to have a start and stop time for things. I don’t. I do know roughly how much time I will need to devote to each client on any given day. And I work in my fun time.

Cut Yourself Some Slack

Seriously. No is perfect. I know it can be hard to give yourself a break. I struggle with it, too. “I could do more. I should do more. I must do more.” Yet, our self-worth shouldn’t ever be totally tied up in our work. You are not a slave. You are a person. You are a person with needs. You are a person with responsibilities outside of work…and that make you a hero.

Comment below how you make your work from home experience better (and click Confessional to tell us your anonymous secrets.)