How to Obtain and Excel at an Online Career
You’d be surprised by just how many people are completely baffled by the concept of me earning a full-time, successful career on the Internet. While there are those more in tune with the world of online professions (and thank God for those people), there are many more who simply just don’t get it. The idea of a human making money out of anywhere other than in an office (outside of my own personal office in my home, of course), on a construction site or in a retailer is otherworldly for what appears to be an alarming majority of people who I’ve spoken to, even those who are otherwise well aware of the online world.
Though it’s a little frustrating to have to explain the inner workings of my job to many people I meet (a project manager probably doesn’t have to regularly contend with the question “but how does your job make money?”), and I’ve found that people are far less likely to engage in the “so, how’s work?” line of idle conversation with me due to my profession being particularly unrelatable, it’s still a tremendous job to have and one that many would like to do.
After working online for a variety of different companies, be it full-time, part-time, freelance or contributory, since I was 17, I’d like to think that I have some useful advice when it comes to obtaining an online-based career and then being pretty darn good at it. Here’s my advice to those looking to secure themselves a job in the information age:
Don’t be afraid of contributory work, but do be cautious of it.
I have worked for no money in the past for companies that have said that doing so would help me “get my foot in the door.” This is rarely the case. Know that when you’re signing up for contributory work for a company that doesn’t want to give you any money from the outset, they’re unlikely to ever pay you in the future. This can be incredibly frustrating, but it can also be relatively useful – among the companies I worked for were some that were relatively big names in the world of online entertainment journalism, and though my work went unpaid, adding them to my résumé proved to be helpful in the long run.
However, make sure that you only agree to do contributory work in the field that you’re looking to advance in. For instance, once I found myself reviewing tents for a camping website. I had no interest in tents, nor did I really give a damn about camping, but for a month or so I routinely found myself setting one up in my back garden that had been delivered to me by the site, before sitting in it and carefully eyeing up its stitching in order to determine whether or not it’d be able to withstand torrential rain.
Considering I had no intention of ever writing about tents or tent paraphernalia in the future, I have no idea why I agreed to this, but I think one of the more common missteps in first trying to forge an online career for yourself is that you’ll readily accept whatever work comes your way, even if that work is unpaid and will not help further your career in any way. If a site agrees to let you contribute with your work, be it journalism or otherwise, in a field that you’re interested in, then by all means go for it. If not, walk away.
Don’t sacrifice paid work for unpaid work.
Some websites won’t to see a commitment from you even if you’re producing unpaid contributory work for them. This is fine if you don’t have much else going on and can fit it into your schedule (and hey, it might even be fun), but if you do manage to eventually secure yourself some paid work, no matter how small that payment may be, be sure to put it straight at the top of your list of priorities.
It may sound obvious, but some people choose to stay loyal to the company that isn’t paying them over the company that is going to pay them, either because they’ve been producing contributory work for them for a while, or they’ve been strung along to believe that there’s going to be some big pay-off for their hard work just around the corner. However, the company that has the budget to pay its freelance workers right out of the gate is always going to be the one that is most likely to eventually increase their payment over time, so make sure you choose your loyalties carefully.
Don’t be lazy.
This applies to any career, but when you’re telecommuting it’s even more crucial that you don’t fall into a downward spiral of laziness and procrastination. I’ve witnessed multiple freelancers over the years come and go because they haven’t submitted their work on time, or have produced lacklustre work just for the sake of hitting deadlines. You need to differentiate yourself from these people, and by proving yourself to be a hard worker, you’ll increase the confidence of your employers in no time.
A company will always be more willing to hand over work to someone who will get the job done efficiently and on time, and by doing so you’ll eventually prove yourself to be indispensable. If you’re already working part-time or full-time for another company but you’re looking to snag yourself a telecommuting job, then be sure to adjust your schedule accordingly to allow for time to work on your various projects.
Though telecommuting sounds like it’d be a slacker’s dream, in actuality (in my experience at least) it’s a demanding job that requires you to work at all hours if you’re going to get the job done. As most of these roles are creative, sometimes you’ll find yourself experiencing a drop in productivity as you struggle for inspiration, while other times you may be given so much work to complete that you’ll find yourself working late and getting up early. It’s not as easy as an outsider may think, and if you’re looking to enter into a telecommuting role simply because you feel it may be less stressful than your typical 9-to-5, then you should prepare to be disappointed.
Build a relationship with your co-workers.
If you work for an online company and you don’t hold steady communication with your co-workers, management and other employees, then you’re essentially just a faceless human who submits work for them every now and again. Though they may enjoy your work, to them you’ll be almost entirely anonymous, and maintaining anonymity within any company isn’t exactly recommended.
Get to know others working for your company on a personal level, whether it be through online communication if you’re working in different cities/countries, or through arranging meet-ups if you live within the vicinity of one another. There’s no chance of you climbing up the ladder if your employers know nothing about you.
Step out of your comfort zone.
With most jobs in the creative industry you’ll likely be required to do some legwork and be a “lone ranger” representing your company. Whereas jobs which see you work in an office may require you to attend the odd company meeting or go on training courses in another city with your colleagues, as you’re working alone telecommuting roles in the creative sector may see you being asked to go out there and stand on your own two feet in situations that may seem a little daunting initially.
During my time working with online companies I’ve been thrust out of my comfort zone various times, from being asked to travel to different cities in order to conduct interviews or attend various shows for coverage, to travel solo to business meetings with very little information as to what said meeting will be about. I’ve been called in for what has been positioned to me as a routine business get-together with co-workers in various cities only to find myself sitting at the head of a table with all eyes on me, and I’ve had interview opportunities thrust upon me with only twenty minutes to prepare. Not only does saying “yes” to these kinds of opportunities build character, but it also shows that you’re willing to go out and there and represent the organization you’re working for no matter the circumstances.
Even though these sorts of activities may not represent your typical day-to-day work, proving yourself to be willing and able to do them will prove to be a hugely positive thing for your career in the long run. Approach these opportunities head-on, even if they make you feel uncomfortable. At the risk of sounding like a quote you’d see plastered on the Facebook wall of a particularly insufferable acquaintance, you won’t succeed if you aren’t willing to take risks.
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