Francesca Geens runs Digital Dragonfly, a company that helps independent professionals find and use the best technology for their needs.
She's just written The ultimate guide to technology for independent professionals, a really comprehensive ebook that's packed with useful advice and information for independent professionals.
If you work for yourself as a consultant, writer, lawyer, accountant or other type of independent professional, it's really worth you hopping over to the Digital Dragonfly site and downloading this book.
At the very least it'll give you lots of ideas about how you can be smarter about how you use technology. And you might even find it saves you money next time you're looking to make an IT investment.
Of course, we have lots of information on IT Donut for independent professionals too. Don't forget to check out the three online tools every freelancer should try and this first-hand advice from a freelance writer and editor.
It’s easy to get carried away with technology when you’re a new freelancer. A trip to the Apple Store or PC World can leave you laden with boxes and your credit card labouring under the weight of new debts.
Has going freelance changed how you see technology?
“Not particularly. The key things are cost and functionality: does it let me do the things I need to do, and can I do it for next to nothing?”
“I’m using a netbook and laptop, both of which I had before I went freelance. I have invested in a new phone, because I think that’s essential to pick up emails and stay in touch. I’m keen to learn more about smartphone apps that can help me, too.”
Has email replaced your mobile, or is it the other way round?
“It doesn’t work like that. A smartphone is simply another device that allows you to access email, social networks and the web. What is interesting, though, is the sheer number of messaging platforms and the different ways to use them.”
“You can move between them almost seamlessly. An exchange on Twitter becomes a text message or an email, then shifts back to Twitter again. But I think it’s important to settle on three or four platforms that work for you. For me, it’s Twitter, LinkedIn, text messages and email.”
Are you tempted by an iPad, or is it just a toy?
“I simply can’t justify an investment like that. I can see it might be useful for certain people – like designers, who need a good tool to illustrate their work. But for now my laptop, netbook and smartphone are fine.”
We’ve recommended cloud computing tools for freelancers before. Do you use any?
“Absolutely – cloud computing is essential, because I need to access files from multiple locations. I use Dropbox and I’m looking into cloud accounting services too.”
Working as a freelancer from home, you don’t benefit from the economies of scale that a bigger business can offer. How do you manage your costs?
“The key is to keep your IT usage to a minimum, log your expenditure each month and to make sure you claim everything you reasonably can when you fill out your self assessment. That means calculating roughly how much of your IT use is for work purposes and how much is personal use – that’s one reason to have a separate phone for work, for example.”
“I’d also say don’t invest in anything you don’t actually need – you’ll use it once and never again. My essentials are: notebook, pen, laptop, phone and an internet connection. With these, I can do my job from anywhere. Add a desk, storage for files and somewhere to plug in my laptop and phone, and that’s everything I need.”
Maybe not the best place to find freelancers (Image: lhourahane on Flickr)
The reaction to the post was interesting. I had a number of people contacting me via Twitter, both to agree and strongly disagree with my point of view.
The most interesting comments were from people who are considering moving into the contract world, which surprised me. It seems 2011 really is the year of the self-employed. However, based on those comments it's clear moving into the freelance world isn't quite as easy as it seems.
Someone who has just made the move tells me the key is organisation and learning the difficult skill of keeping existing customers happy while lining up new projects. It's a balancing act that many get wrong, leading to feast or famine scenarios which are both stressful.
So what tools are available to help businesses which are looking for help with an IT project connect with suitable freelancers? In my original post I mentioned Freelancer.com as a great place for businesses and freelancers to connect, but there are others I’ve tried:
As someone who has hired multiple freelancers, the first piece of advice for anyone in the freelance world is to remember why you made the move. 99% of the time it’s to focus on something you're either highly skilled in, or passionate about. However, setting up and running your own business often requires you to do a fair amount of the mundane, creating business processes and doing admin.
The good news is IT can really solve this riddle. There are a number of tools and services available online that can take the pressure off. I’ll go into those in my next blog. Meanwhile, if you have some favourite sites to find work or hire good techies, then let us all know in the comments.
Ben Dyer is the Director of product development at SellerDeck