Whether you’re self-employed or you telecommute, working from home brings with it a host of benefits, but it also poses a serious challenge. Absent a formal work-environment and a roster of close colleagues, it can be easy to lapse into the complacency of routine and forget the crucial extracurricular components like gaining experience and building connections. Keeping your resume alive and your career moving forward while working from home requires you go out of your way to aggressively pursue professional growth. In this article we’ll explore some strategies for how to do just that:
To grow anything requires a foundation from which to do it. Likewise, while advancing your career, you need a base of stability to start from. This is your bread and butter — the core skill or duty that brings in income. Establish what this is and cement your reputation for doing it well. Then, you can develop a good idea of where and how you can branch out and grow from there.
Want to know one easy way to the unemployment line? Stagnating in a steady job. When you’ve gained the ability to work from home, sometimes just getting there was a battle. The temptation to “be content with what you have” can be overwhelming. Don’t just be content — that can lead to stagnation. Instead, aim to thrive. If you’re making $20 an hour now, aim to make $30 by the end of the year. If you’re the smallest fish in a big pond, aim to be a medium-sized fish three months from now. Set concrete goals and do your best to wildly exceed them.
In the workplace, so-called “lateral promotions” are often cause for scorn. A lateral promotion usually means you’re taking on new, different and probably greater responsibilities — for the same amount of money. In a work-from-home setting, however, lateral growth takes on a whole new meaning. It can signify the introduction of a new kind of business, a new schedule, new colleagues, new clients or a new way of life. When seeking to advance your career, this type of growth is important because it establishes a narrative of upward trajectory — no different than a sequence of promotions at a non-work-from-home job. It lets you say to future prospective employers: “I started at X, and I worked up to Y.”
Without the steady yoke of a boss over your shoulder, it’s up to you to keep you skills sharp and current. It’s up to you to learn new technologies, study advancements in the field and keep up-to-date with industry news and events. If you’re disciplined enough to do so on your own, then more power to you. If you’re not, that’s okay — but it’s important to recognize it and take steps to set yourself up to succeed. Fortunately, there are many ways you can do this. Take a free class. Attend a lecture in your area. If you really want to invest in success, do what many office-based professionals do: formally pursue continuing education credits, at an institution specializing in your field.
For telecommuting employees, it’s easy to simply float on a sea of names and let coworkers be mentally reduced to the Cc line of an email. For freelance workers, it can likewise be tempting to slide into the “gigging” mindset of: “It doesn’t matter who I’m working for, as long as I get paid.” Resist this temptation. Get names. Collect business cards. Built rapport. Connect on LinkedIn. Establish connections with the people you work with, and it may lead to more work in the future.
Quick: Name the top 10 professional fiction ghostwriters off the top of your head. You know, the people who make a living penning novels for big-name authors like Tom Clancy and James Patterson? I’ll bet you drew a blank. Why? Because all work-from-home gigs exists on a spectrum, situated somewhere between confidential work-for-hire and attributed volunteer work. As a result, if you’re earning a steady living, it can be easy to gradually fall off the grid, taking private projects or doing work for private clients. But when your work dries up or those clients blow away, what will you have to show for it? Instead, try to turn every job into a long-term career gain, in addition to a short-term financial one. Gather testimonials. Ask for LinkedIn recommendations. Accrue references. Build yourself a nest-egg of credibility so it’s there to cash in when you need it.
If you work from home, and especially if you’re self-employed, then no matter what you do, you are automatically an authority. Your knowledge is in hot demand. Every day, people who want to do what you do ask the oracle at Google to impart your wisdom upon them. Capitalize on that. Talk about what you do, and how. Establish yourself as a source of knowledge in your field — and future clients or employers will start to see you as such.
When It Comes to Your Career, Hope for the Best and Plan for the Worst
As a general rule of thumb, no matter what job you do, it’s probably best to assume you won’t be doing it five years from now. The natural tendency of a work-from-home job, however, is to gravitate toward a resume black hole: a period of work which has little public product and few closely-forged relationships to contribute anything in the long run. It’s up to you to resist that pressure, steer clear of the black hole and continue growing your career — especially when there’s no one forcing you to do so.