I feel like I see a carousel of listicles about freelancing that include precautions about taxes, health insurance, slow or no-paying clients. These are valid challenges to address. However, freelancers also face dangers that are less financial and administrative, ones that could compromise their well-being and safety.
Aside from investigative freelance journalism, or assignments that take a writer into hostile territory, your average domestic run-of-the-mill freelancer might face a few threats in their own community–or even in their home. The risks I catalog below are all related to location. Here are a few dangers burgeoning and long-time freelancers should consider, plus a few real-life anecdotes:
- Business address. Depending on the focus of one’s freelance work, just about anyone could be a potential client. This sounds full of possibility, no? Well, think of DMV visits. Or search People of Walmart. Anyone from any walk of life might contact you. I’ve had my fair share of crazies over the years! One time a potential client scheduled a meeting with me at a local restaurant. The meeting was a few days away. A few hours after we scheduled our lunch meeting, he called me back – I thought to reschedule. No, he just wanted to tell me he was thinking about me. TIP: This is one obvious example why it is important to have a post office box mailing address for one’s freelance business!
- In-person meetings. A public (Well-lit, highly populated!) space is generally a good place to meet. For business purposes, phone meetings or meeting in a public space are the norm for me. Starbucks, Panera, or a local equivalent are common simple places to meet. But does every project warrant an in-person meeting? No. Depending on the location and scope of the work, I leave it up to the client if they want to schedule an initial in-person meeting or work exclusively by phone. I had a small project arise from a potential client; the individual needed the work completed ASAP but did not want to pay a rush fee. At the time my schedule was very tight and I didn’t have time to meet for over a week. I encouraged the prospect to schedule a call with me instead. They insisted about meeting. I explained a call would expedite the project and eliminate unnecessary travel time. They insisted on meeting. After a series of cancellations and strange persistence to meet in person, I declined the project. TIP: Don’t let a prospective client tell you how and where to run your business. Most freelancers work can be done from anywhere – stay in a safe place for it.
- Using your home. If you don’t want the hassle of sitting in traffic, have a quiet space in your home for meetings or writing groups, and like hosting guests – inviting a prospective client or existing client to your home for a meeting might seem convenient. Some members of my writing group enjoy hosting critiques in their home. In most cases–especially public groups–it’s best to keep your personal home private. I highly encourage members of my writing group to avoid at-home meetings. There are plenty of spaces to meet outside the home. On the other side of the coin, some clients might run small at-home businesses themselves and ask to have meetings in their own home. As a general practice, I do not meet clients in their homes – however, I have made a few exceptions over the years to accommodate an individual’s disability or child care schedule. But I knew these individuals for some time and made it a point to tell family exactly where I was going and when. TIP: Be selective with who you meet (See #2!) and avoid using your home or meeting in a client’s home whenever possible.
Perhaps these dangers are more of a concern for women who freelance, but I know some men who have faced a lady stalker or two. No matter your gender identity – be vigilant, private, and aware. As a freelancer, you have the freedom to work from anywhere. Enjoy that safely.