Freelancing & Your Identity

If you’re new to freelancing (or maybe even if you aren’t), you may be concerned about putting too much of your personal information online.

I can totally relate to these fears, because when I started out as a freelancer I had them too.

Of course, the worries are not completely without merit. There are some really good reasons to be concerned. There are scammers online and organizations that are just phishing for your personally identifiable information.

But, at the end of the day, if you’re a freelancer, you’ve probably found it necessary have some sort of online identity in order to get clients.

In this post, we’ll discuss some concerns about having an online identity and also identify some solutions.

A Name Is Just a Name, Or Is It?

One of the first things that many beginning freelancers hesitate about is using their real name online. Usually this is just due to a desire for privacy or a fear of identity theft, but I’ve heard of a few cases where a freelancer is fleeing from an abusive past and does not want the abuser to find them.

Now, we are told that transparency is usually the best policy, and I believe it is. When someone is purchasing a service, they typically want to know who will be providing that service. This is certainly reasonable.

But I also believe that individuals have a right (and in some cases, a need) to privacy. Privacy should not keep someone from being able to work as a freelancer.

The way many freelancers get around the issue is to adopt a pen name for their online work. Others go so far as to create a complete online persona. While I don’t necessarily recommend creating a persona, I understand why it is sometimes done.

One caution in this area is that in some locations, it is not legal to sign a contract using your pen name or persona name. Reviews the laws in your own locale carefully if you plan on using anything other than your legal name to do business.

Your Online Image

Another identity issue for freelancers is the publication of your photo on your website and in social media profiles. Using a real photo makes many people uncomfortable. This could be because they don’t wish to make their identity public, or they may simply be unhappy with how they photograph.

Of course, many freelancers get around this by using an avatar (a small image) or other design to represent themselves online. But, in some cases doing so may actually be detrimental to your freelancing business. Study after study has shown that customers like to do business with people. A photo yourself may actually attract more business.

One thing to remember is that you can determine which images represent your freelancing business, at least in your own profiles and on your own websites. Some freelancers have taken the time to get professional photos made especially for the Internet and I think that this can pay off.

Other Personal Information

There are many other personal details that can cause freelancers some anxiety, including:

  • Your phone number–I always recommend that a freelancer get a separate phone number from their private line for business purposes.
  • Your actual locationApplications like Gowalla, Foursquare, and Facebook Places have made it popular to share location, but is it safe?
  • Your Facebook–There’s an ongoing debate about whether or not to connect with clients and prospects on Facebook.

Whatever you decide, it’s important to think carefully about your choices.

When and What (Not) to Share

It’s important to screen prospective clients carefully. Go to their website. Google their personal and business name. If something feels wrong about a “prospect,” it probably is wrong. You’re better off safe than sorry.

Clients should be mostly interested in information that pertains to their project, not personal information about you. Also, they should be willing to pay an deposit upfront before starting a project. Failure in either of these areas could be a red flag.

PayPal and similar services make it totally unnecessary to give a client your bank account number, although I understand that this is common practice in England and some other countries.

In most cases, you will be working as an independent contractor for your client. It is true that in the U.S. a client is required to report total annual payments of $600 and above to a single individual on Form 1099-Misc . The client will need your social security number to do that, but one-time clients who only pay a few hundred dollars and never give you work again have no need of it.

U.S. freelancers may be able to avoid giving out their social security number by registering for and using an Employer ID Number (EIN) for their freelancing business.

When a graphic designer is hired by an organization to build a website, they are expected to not only create a site that is visually appealing, but a site that is in compliance with industry regulations which should be tested for security problems. A penetration test is a component of Cyber-security best practices to defend your organization. Since the majority of information today is communicated over the Internet, taking the proper precautions in regards to protecting confidential information can mean keeping that information out of the wrong hands.

Your Turn

Have you had fears about revealing too much information online? What precautions do you take?

Image by LollyKnit