The Accidental Freelancer's Survival Kit

In January, Daily Beast editor-in-chief Tina Brown dubbed the current rotten job market the "Gig Economy," where both high earners and low earners increasingly find themselves cobbling together paychecks from a menagerie of freelance, contract and part-time work.

Suddenly media outlets from CNN to Newsweek followed suit, telling the freshly unemployed what those of us who've been freelancing and consulting for years already know: if you have skills to hawk, you can make a decent living hopping from project to project.

But merely welcoming this army of accidental freelancers to the self-employment club won't groom anyone for the challenges of running their own show.

Looking for career advice? Click here to send Michelle your questions and they might end up as a topic for her next column.

If you, too, have found yourself cast in the role of accidental freelancer -- presumably because you've had better luck finding project work than a staff job -- take heart. As someone who's been a full-time freelancer and contractor since 1992 (by design, not accident), I assure you that there is a method to this self-employed madness.

It doesn't matter if you're a writer, designer, programmer, marketer, builder, bookkeeper, recruiter or project manager; the principles of staying afloat as an independent worker are the same. Herewith, my top pointers for surviving your first freelance year:

Your Bed Is Not an Office

I realize that as a newly minted freelancer, you're probably in that starry-eyed, "I heart my 10-second commute!" honeymoon phase. But unless you aspire to lead a very unbalanced life, find someplace to work other than your sleeping quarters (or, if you live in a studio, other than your bed).

Instead, set up a desk that's yours and yours alone and isn't visible from your bed or couch. Use a curtain if you have to. The point is to establish a bit of separation between work and play. Otherwise, the working from home thing gets old fast -- for you and anyone you live with.

Your Alarm Clock Is Your Friend

When you work from home, the temptation to sleep until noon can be overwhelming at first. Don't give in. Adopt a regular work schedule (at the desk by 9 a.m. is my vote), preferably one that meshes with the clients you work for. If your clients can't reach you at least four or five hours each business day, they won't be your clients for long.

Do something, anything, before sauntering over to your desk each morning -- brew some coffee, play with the dog, watch the news, change into your "work" pajamas. Again, it's all about that elusive work/life balance.

Your Toothbrush Is Also Your Friend

Ditto for your hairbrush and deodorant. If you look and smell a mess, you'll start to feel like a science experiment gone horribly wrong and you'll have a harder time taking your professional self seriously. Besides, you never know when a neighbor or UPS delivery person might stop by.

And that brings up another important point: Build a couple of errands or meetings with clients into each work week. Unless you're chummy with your UPS delivery person, if you're relying on them for your weekly dose of human contact, you need to get out of the house more.

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