Do Software Freelancers Need Insurance?

According to a 2017 survey by Upwork.com, 57 million Americans (36%) are now working as freelancers. Almost 80% of freelancers said they view freelancing as better than working at a traditional job. Half of them said they wouldn’t return to traditional employment no matter how much they were paid.

This shift in employment will likely continue as more people look for ways to better balance family life with work. While many feel that going freelance is all smooth sailing, it should be noted that in leaving a company, one also leaves the protection that company provides. For instance, a company has checks and balances to prevent things such as inadvertently copying another entity’s work, releasing software where a loophole or “backdoor” exists, or to protect them in the event that consulting advice goes awry. Then, in the event that something does happen, they have insurance and lawyers to protect them – and you.

Risks of Not Having Freelancer Insurance

Perhaps one of the most frightening phrases to the self-employed individual is, “Our company is taking you to court.” Whether stated in this manner, or the forms of “being sued”, “considering litigation” or “we will be talking to our lawyer”, just the thought of legal action is enough to make most of us sweat. It is especially in those moments that having freelancer’s business insurance is worth every cent!

What? You don’t have business insurance? Did you think it was an unnecessary expense? Perhaps you believe that being an LLC and having a contract is enough. But, should you ever find yourself in a sticky legal situation, that contract is rarely enough. The better your business insurance, the more protection you, your family and your company will have.

While any sole-proprietorship should have at least a basic insurance plan, those in the tech field – IT, consulting, web design, software engineering, etc. – would be remiss to ignore it. To go without means risks such as –

  • Being sued by a client, despite there having been a contract because there was a failure to communicate; hence, they are totally unimpressed with the end result.
  • A dissatisfied or unscrupulous client decides that you did something wrong or perhaps did not do something they thought you should have, so they will try sue you for supposed damages.
  • If the consulting advice you give proves to be erroneous or faulty, that company can threaten to sue you for their loss of revenue or growth.
  • We all depend on technology to get work done. If your equipment breaks, the computer crashes or even gets stolen, and you are unable to work, then you can be held liable and penalized for not hitting your deadline.
  • If you take your equipment to a client site and they spill something, or damage your equipment, then having freelancer’s insurance will help cover the replacement cost.
  • Conversely, if you damage equipment at a client’s location, they can require remittance. Without insurance, you will be paying that out of pocket, or perhaps find yourself in small claims court.

Types of Insurance for Freelancers

As you contemplate the insurance options available, it is important to carefully consider the type of work you do, any equipment you may use, and potential scenarios in which an extra layer of protection would be beneficial. Then, talk to someone well versed in the types of insurance available. Some of the most common types of business insurance for freelancers include the following:

General Liability

General Liability Insurance is highly recommended because it can protect you from several of the most common liability issues such as third-party injuries, property damage, slander, and third-party medical bills. Another aspect that a General Liability policy will cover is copyright infringement. With so many blog posts, new products, apps, gaming software and other cyber elements being created and released daily it can be a challenge to ensure you did not plagiarize copyrighted material. In fact, there are times that companies have done their due diligence on a specific project or product only to discover via a legal notice that they are being sued for the use of copyrighted images, verbiage, or designs. A General Liability policy can help with court fees and other related expenses.

Errors and Omissions

E&O insurance, also known as Professional Liability Insurance, protects you against things like cyber security breaches – even if you are a third-party to said loss of data. This policy also covers you should you be commissioned to write code for a project, and while you thought you understood the desired end result and delivered on schedule, you find that what was delivered was not what was requested. Sadly, you can be sued for not delivering on time and for not providing what was wanted.

Worker’s Compensation

If you have others working for you, you don’t want to get sued should they trip over a box in the hall or develop carpal tunnel. Worker’s Comp is there to pay for work-related injuries and illnesses. Each state has its own Workers’ Compensation laws, so be sure to check the requirements of your state. You can take a look at Insureon’s resource here to look up the laws in your state.

Employment Practices Liability Insurance

This policy is designed to protect you against being sued by a disgruntled former employee.

 

*If you are looking for a free quote on General Liability or Errors and Omissions insurance, check out TechInsurance. They specialize in providing insurance to freelancers in the tech industry. We have partnered with them, so check out this link to get your free quote.

The Top Four Books for Remote Developers

picture of book

Distributed software development is here to stay and it is growing rapidly. Companies of all shapes and sizes are embracing new ways of working in order to attract the best talent. Historically there has been a lack of great resources available to help companies get started. However, that appears to be changing. In 2014 the Lean Startup team held the inaugural conference for distributed teams called Office Optional. Lullabot has begun hosting an annual invitation-only conference for fully distributed companies called Yonder. Additionally there are some prominent blogs that consistently publish great content for remote developers such as Remotive, Buffer, and Zapier. And there is a growing list of job boards that are focused exclusively on remote positions.

But what about books? With every great movement there seems to be a book that helps to be the catalyst to pave the way. I don’t know if such a book has been written yet, but I would say the closest one would be the first book in my list below.

Remote by Jason Fried and DHH of Basecamp
Remote was released in the Fall of 2013 after being announced earlier in the year. I was anticipating the book for months. Remote makes a great case for rethinking the traditional office centric model. It is a very quick and easy read, which makes it a great resource to pass along to leaders and key team members who are still on the fence. From my experience, the leadership team must be completely committed to building a great distributed culture in order to make it work.

The Year Without Pants by Scott Berkun
Scott spent a year working for Automattic as a Team Lead building new features for WordPress.com. Automattic has played a crucial role in demonstrating how to build a fully distributed company. A Year Without Pants is a light-hearted but insightful read that reveals the inner workings of Automattic, a rapidly growing and fully distributed company.

The Ultimate Guide to Remote Work by Wade Foster and the Zapier team
This ebook began as a compilation of blog posts by the team at Zapier. Zapier has been a fully distributed company since they launched in 2011. This is a very practical and helpful guide written by a team that has experimented with a lot of techniques and tools. If you are looking for advice on building a great culture, hiring, running effective meetings, organizing company retreats or other very practical topics, then you will find this little book to be very helpful. You can also download it for free on your Kindle here.

The Remote Worker’s Guide to Excellence by Eryck Dzotsi
The first two books essentially make the case for remote working, which is crucial. What I love about this book is it provides some practical guidance for the remote worker to become excellent at working remotely. Let’s face it, this really is a new paradigm, and it is worth the investment to take some time upfront to set yourself up for success. There certainly are some traps that must be avoided if you hope to be able to enjoy the benefits of working from home.

I hope these recommendations have been helpful. I would love to hear from you. What books have you read that you would recommend to someone considering remote work?

4 Productivity Tips for Working from Home

Companies are quickly embracing a distributed work environment. Telecommuting has grown by 103% over the past 10 years and continues to increase annually. At HomeCoders, we are big advocates for remote work, and the numerous benefits that come from it both for the employee and the employer. Many great software developers thrive in an environment where they can get into the zone and really focus on solving the problem they are working on. That’s one of the reasons why many developers are so productive after 10pm because they finally don’t have any distractions to deal with. Working in an office environment can be a lot of fun, but it can also be tremendously distracting. If set up properly, working from a home office has the potential to be an environment of supreme productivity. Here are four great tips from long-time remote workers.

1. Establish a Routine

Whether we like it or not, we are creatures of habit. The right habits can be tremendously beneficial because once they are established, they can help us set the tone for the day without consuming energy or our limited decision making resources for trivial decisions. The most productive remote workers almost unanimously agree that establishing a morning routine is critical to their success. It can be as simple as taking a shower and making a cup of coffee. Or it can involve things like morning exercise, prayer and reading. But what is clear is that it is important to help yourself prepare to get into work mode. Rolling out of bed and firing up your MacBook in your pajamas isn’t a recipe for success. Find a routine that replaces the commute as your method of preparation for the day. Commutes can be brutal, so what a blessing to be able to replace a stress-filled activity with something that you truly enjoy!

2. Create a Productive Workspace

Having a dedicated work area is crucial to being productive. One of the great benefits of working remotely is it gives you the liberty to create a work environment that is optimized for you. It is worth the time, effort and investment to get it right. And take an agile approach to it; keep tweaking and making adjustments as needed. If you aren’t feeling productive, figure out what is holding you back and fix it.

In most cases it is ideal to have a home office where you can close the door. Even if no one else is home, it can help you to focus by closing the door. In my case, my wife and children are home during the day because we homeschool (which is awesome by the way). I not only have my door closed, but I also need white noise to drown out any ambient sounds. I previously used a fan, but I decided to switch to an air purifier, which has worked great. Another option for white noise or other background noise such as a coffee shop are apps such as Noiz.io or Noisli.

3. Set Expectations

One of the most significant blessings of working from home is the increased opportunity to interact with loved ones. Life is short and spending more time with those that you love is invaluable. However, it is extremely important to set the appropriate boundaries and expectations when transitioning to working from home. I highly recommend creating a schedule for your work day so your family will know when they shouldn’t disturb you. For instance, I have lunch scheduled for 12:30pm, so my wife knows that I will be available from 12:30pm until 1:00pm to eat lunch with the family. Sticking to this type of schedule also helps your co-workers know when you are available.

I also recommend establishing a protocol for interruptions with your family. Your family will be really excited to have you at home and they might feel like they have unlimited access to you, but unfortunately that isn’t the case. Interruptions at home are potentially even more distracting than interruptions in the office, so you need to come up with a plan and stick to it. I am on the phone a lot during the day, so my wife knows that if she needs to communicate something urgent with me, she can send me a text. As things come to her mind, she is tempted to talk to me about them immediately, but she understands that if it’s not an emergency, she can wait until lunch time or the end of the work day to talk to me about them.

4. Commitment to Communication

Working from home is an absolute pleasure in many ways, however, there is a very important burden that can’t be underestimated. That is the burden to over-communicate. Anyone who is truly successful as a remote worker takes this responsibility very seriously and makes their presence known by communicating frequently and clearly. One of the biggest challenges of working remotely is establishing presence. As the old saying goes, “out of sight, out of mind”. There are some great tools that have been developed for establishing presence for remote teams such as Slack, Speak, Sococo and others, but no matter what tools you use, you still need to take the extra effort to make sure your team members know you are there. This also means that you will probably need to be more verbose in your code reviews, chat tools, project management tools and email. But thousands of remote workers would all agree, it is well worth the extra effort to enjoy the freedom and flexibility of working remotely!

Dad is Coming Home

We just celebrated Father’s Day on Sunday. For some, Father’s Day is a wonderful opportunity to gather as a family, but for many it can be a day of sadness and regret. 90% of American parents agree that there is a fatherhood crisis in America. Sadly 1 out of 3 children in the US will go to bed tonight without their biological father living in the home. And for many other children, their father may be physically present but mostly disengaged from their life. Thankfully, at least in certain segments of the culture, there appears to be a resurgence of dad’s who are passionate about fatherhood and are committed to deeply engaging in the lives of their children. Many of my friends are homeschool dads, and I have been greatly encouraged to see their involvement in their children’s lives.

For decades dads have felt like they had to prioritize their career over their families. The old American dream of working for one or two employers for 40 years and then retiring is gone. Young fathers are no longer satisfied with waiting to enjoy life when they are 65; they are looking for meaningful work that will allow them to experience the joy of life and investing in their children now. A career as a software developer can be an excellent way for a dad to have a rewarding career while also remaining engaged in family life. One of the main reasons I started HomeCoders was to try to help dads reconnect with their families. By simply cutting out a 45 minute daily commute, a dad could spend an additional 7.5 hours per week with his family. That is a very significant amount considering the average dad in the US only spends 7.3 hours per week with his kids.

There are an increasing number of companies embracing remote software development for a variety of reasons. One of the primary reasons is that allowing telecommuting enables companies to find the best talent no matter where they live. This enables highly talented developers to work from home and spend more time with their family without sacrificing their career. As the owner of a recruiting firm, I am encouraged when I talked to dads who are excited about the possibility of working from home so they can repurpose their commuting time and spend more time with their family.

There was a time not too long ago when the home was the center of the family economy and fathers worked on the family farm prior to the Industrial Revolution. Now technology has made it possible to come full circle and allow families to be reunited once again. The kids of this nation desperately need to have engaged fathers – the statistics are overwhelming. I am hopeful that we will see a generation of engaged fathers rise up and make their children a top priority.

The Cost of a Daily Commute

Long commutes seem to be deeply ingrained into the American culture. Commuting is a uniquely American phenomenon that emerged as a result of the suburban sprawl following World War II. Road warriors have been willing to put up with the brutal traffic in order to live where they want to live. Unfortunately not many have taken the time to deeply analyze the true cost of that commute. If you are currently stuck with a long commute, my goal in this blog post is to provide you with some resources and tools to help you understand the true cost of your commute.

A simple calculation to start with is purely the cost of gas. Here is a link to a simple calculator that will help you determine your daily, monthly, and yearly fuel costs from your commute. As an example, if you have a 20 mile one-way commute, in a car that gets 20 mpg, with an average gas price at $3.00, it would cost over $2,200 per year in gas alone.

Of course, the true cost of commuting is far greater than the cost of fuel. As of January, 2015, the IRS allows you to deduct your business driving at 57.5 cents per mile, and don’t think the IRS is being generous. 57.5 cents is based on very realistic costs of owning and maintaining a vehicle. You can lower the average cost by driving a smaller and more reliable car, but the true cost is always much higher than just the price of fuel. In the example above, if you have a 40 mile round-trip commute, you would commute approximately 10,560 miles per year, costing you $6,072 based on the IRS rate of 57.5 center per mile. Think about how that adds up over a ten year period and over an entire career.

I would encourage you to take a look at the infographic that was posted on LifeHacker in 2011. Even though the numbers are a little outdated, it still includes some very valuable insight into the true cost of commuting. In the article it cites Mr. Money Mustache who says that each mile you live from work costs $795 in commuting expenses per year (assuming a conservative driving cost of 34 cents per mile and factoring time lost with a salary of $25 per hour). He states that you could literally buy a house worth $15,900 more for every mile closer to the office. Just think of the house you could buy if you didn’t commute at all!

Here are some additional resources for your reference.

1. Here is a link to a calculator that includes the cost of maintenance, insurance, financing and depreciation.
2. Here is the link to Mr. Money Mustache’s 2011 article about the cost of commuting.

Commute infographic

Top 10 Tips for Launching a Distributed Team

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]More and more software companies are embracing remote development. Startups that embrace a distributed culture from the beginning have a real advantage because changing established practices can be very difficult for companies with co-located teams. However, there is hope for co-located teams to begin to make the transition. Here are some tips that will help to make the change a smooth one.

  1. Have everyone work remotely some of the time. It is absolutely critical for everyone, especially leadership to experience what its like working remotely. This will help to quickly identify pain points, and the leaders will be much more motivated to solve any problems if they are experiencing the pain themselves.
  2. Put together a task force or an individual to identify the tools and best practices that will be implemented. There are a plethora of tools available and the number is growing constantly. It is important to make the best decision possible and then thoroughly implement the tools that have been selected.
  3. Have everyone use the same tools whether co-located or remote. Jason Zimdars of Basecamp has a great quote. “There are no advantages for people who come into the office, no disadvantages to staying home to get your work done.”  It is very important that your remote team members feel just as important and valued as team members in the office. Additionally, they need to stay in the loop on key company information, so it is critical to use tools that will allow them to stay informed.
  4. Establish clear communication protocol. It is very critical to set clear guidelines and expectations for communicating with remote team members. It can be frustrating if you can’t get in touch with someone in an urgent situation, so plan for that accordingly.  We also recommend requiring basic communication etiquette such as saying “hello” and “goodbye” whenever someone signs in and out for the day.
  5. Invest in good equipment. Good headsets, mics and webcams are critical. It can be annoying and distracting if its difficult to hear the other person or if there is a lot of background noise. Find some good equipment and make sure that everyone on the team is well equipped.
  6. Schedule retreats to bring everyone together. Running a distributed company can be a lot of fun and very rewarding. However, you simply can’t put a price tag on having at least some face-to-face interaction. Make sure to bring the entire team together at least one time per year.
  7. Schedule calls with remote team members. Whoever is managing the remote team members needs to schedule regular calls (ideally video) with them to stay in touch. Make sure to take some time for personal discussion as well and pay close attention to how they are doing. When a team member is working remotely you can miss some of the subtle clues that something is wrong that would easily be noticeable in the office.
  8. Create a virtual water cooler.  One of the highly touted benefits of working in an office is the water cooler discussions. These serendipitous discussions are very valuable, but the great news is that with the right tools and a little encouragement, you can foster a culture of sharing that will be tremendously valuable. For instance, if you use Slack, set up a slack channel specifically for this purpose.
  9. Schedule a company-wide hangout when a new person joins. Even if your company is growing rapidly, it is important to make sure that everyone on the team gets to know the new team member. This also makes the new team member feel welcomed. Even if it is just a quick introduction at the beginning of a company-wide staff meeting, it is important to warmly welcome each new employee.
  10. Set up persistent links to an online meeting. Google Hangouts and GoToMeeting are some great tools for online meetings, but it can be annoying to have to schedule a meeting every time you want to hold a meeting. You can set up persistent links to each of them that will allow you to quickly start your meeting each time.

I hope you find these tips to be helpful. By implementing them you can avoid some of the painful mistakes other companies have made when seeking to add their first remote team member. Please share any additional tips that you think would be valuable for companies that are considering a distributed development model.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Tools for Distributed Software Teams

An increasing number of development teams are choosing to work in a distributed environment. Many wise entrepreneurs are building their startups with a remote culture from the outset so they can attract the best talent to join their team. Telecommuting certainly isn’t a new concept, but thankfully the tools available continue to improve all of the time. Here is a list of tools that we highly recommend for remote software teams.

Project Management:
Trello
Basecamp
Pivotal Labs
Blossom – for agile software teams

Synchronous Communication:
Sqwiggle – stay connected to your team
ScreenHero – great pair programming tool
Google Hangouts
GoToMeeting

Asynchronous Communication:
Slack – the new chat tool of choice for many software teams
HipChat
Gitter – chat, for GitHub
Flowdock

Customer Service:
HelpScout – great help desk tool
Zendesk

Other:
Every Timezone – great visual time zone page
Double Robotics – telepresence robot for telecommuters
15Five – employee feedback tool for large teams
iDoneThis – daily team update summaries
Sococo – a virtual office space for your company

Check out our list of recommended products on Product Hunt.