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Top 10 Mistakes You Should Avoid

Rob Einaudi writes for www.ework.com – a Ms.Money partner.

When you are just starting out as an independent professional, there are a number of pitfalls you’ll want to avoid. You may do the same type of work as you did before, but many aspects of your work environment and business practices will change. Here's a list of some of the more common mistakes, along with strategies to avoid them.

1. Letting your resume get out of date

As an independent professional, you'll probably have many different contracts with a wide variety of clients. Along the way, you'll learn new skills and take on new challenges. You might get so caught up doing other things that you forget to update your resume to reflect all of those changes. But when a new, exciting opportunity comes up, you need to be able to act fast. So be sure to review and update your resume at least once a month.

2. Failing to network 24/7

Don't be modest, and don't be shy. As an independent professional, you have to learn to be confident and promote yourself. Don't be afraid to mention to everyone and anyone what you do. So whether it's your uncle at the family picnic, or a stranger on a cross-country flight, be sure to tell them a bit about your profession and how good you are at it. Opportunities will often pop up when you least expect them.

3. Making Assumptions

Some independent professionals think that asking questions somehow reveals their ignorance. If you're working offsite, it's easy to make assumptions — even if just for the sake of convenience. But nothing will make you less popular with your client than assuming you know what you're doing, and then doing something wrong. So when in doubt, ask questions. It shows that you're interested, and more importantly, that you care.

4. Keeping too small a focus

Finding a niche is important, but don't limit yourself, either. If you're an editor, look into writing. If you're a graphic artist, consider Web design. You should always be learning — new skills can only improve and enhance your old skills. Often those new skills will open up a whole new world of opportunity.

5. Sending sloppy e-mail

Hardly anyone spends much time composing or proofing e-mail. But when sending e-mail to a client, nothing looks more unprofessional than typos or misspelled words. So take a little extra time to get your e-mail messages just right. Thoughtful, well-written, grammatically correct e-mail messages can really pay off.

6. Getting too comfortable

If you have steady work with one company, it's easy to get too comfortable. But if your long-term projects were to dry up tomorrow, what would you do? Always be on the lookout for new opportunities. Be aware of the latest trends, browse the current job listings, and read up on industry news. Otherwise, you may find yourself left behind.

7. Budgeting your time poorly

Time flies when you're having fun. And if you work at home, it's easy to get distracted. If you're not careful, you'll find yourself working late into the night, or on weekends. So you need to learn to budget your time. Everyone is different, but you should create a schedule that works for you, and get into a routine. When you do, you'll find that you're less stressed and more productive, and you'll have more time for the other things in your life.

8. Working too hard

One downside of being self-employed is that you no longer get a paid vacation. Many independent professionals end up taking less time off than they would if they were working "full time." Work and money are great, but you need to give yourself a break from time to time, if only to recharge your batteries. Besides, there's nothing like an ocean breeze or a little mountain air to get your creative juices flowing again. (See "Get Away from It All" for more ideas.)

9. Failing to re-evaluate your situation

Take stock of your situation from time to time. How could you be more efficient? Are you charging enough for your services? Is it time to learn some new skills? Do you need better equipment? Just as large corporations hire outside consultants, you should consult with your other self-employed friends — an outside perspective is always useful.

10. Too much work, not enough fun

If it always feels like work, you're probably doing something wrong. The best jobs are those that don't feel like work. You didn't go solo to be miserable. Remember, you're the boss. So if you don't like something, change it.

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