Three Security Tips for Freelancers

This is a guest post written by Cassie Phillips, a blogger with Secure Thoughts, an Internet security company.

Maintaining a successful freelance career can be difficult. Oftentimes, the biggest difficulty is finding clients who are in need of your services and willing to pay a reasonable price. There’s another difficulty that is sometimes overlooked: staying secure on the Internet.

With money being moved between multiple accounts and contact with numerous clients, continual daily access to the Internet can be dangerous if certain security procedures are not put in place. To protect yourself against hackers, identity thieves, and other online threats, here are a few security tips for freelancers that can help protect you and your money.

1. Protecting Private Data (and Money) with a VPN

Woman working on LaptopUnlike traditional jobs, freelancers cannot expect to earn a steady income. There is no single employer who is going to regularly deposit money into your bank account. On the contrary, freelancers are likely to earn money from a myriad number of sources, processed through a variety of accounts. From private bank accounts to PayPal to Google Wallet, a freelancer’s money is always flowing from one account into another. Protecting the flow of your money and any associated data is of utmost importance.

Remember that securing your finances on the Internet is not as easy as making a few clicks. If this is all you do, then you remain in an unsafe position where a hacker could see your financial information, hack into your computer or accounts, and steal your identity or just simply empty whatever accounts he can get his hands on. A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is the key to preventing this from happening.

A VPN creates a tunnel between your computer and a third-party server elsewhere. When you access the Internet using a VPN, your data is encrypted and your IP address is hidden. When it comes out of the third-party server, it will appear as if your computer is accessing the Internet from that origin point.

In other words, your server and your connection point remain invisible so you can remain anonymous. However, not all VPNs are created equally. Some have different price tags; others offer different speeds, and others still host various numbers of third-party servers. Do your research to ensure you’re selected the best of the best.

2. Using Trusted and Secure Freelance Contracting Services

In addition to securing your Internet connection, you need to ensure that you are working with trustworthy individuals and companies and secure websites. There are many freelance contracting services available on the Internet serving different types of freelancers. No matter which one you choose, however, you should always make sure that is a reputable service that has not been hacked. There are several ways to do this:

Use Trustworthy Services: If you’ve been freelancing for even a short while, you may be familiar with some of the larger and more trustworthy freelancing services on the Internet, such as Upwork, Elance, Guru and Freelancer. If you stick with the large and trusted services, you will be safer than looking for fringe sites that are unknown and possibly dangerous.

Check for HTTPS: Because freelancing services are responsible for collecting personal data for freelancer’s profiles, facilitating private communications, and shipping money, you need to make sure that the site is secure. One simple way to do this is to look at the URL and make sure that it begins with “HTTPS” rather than “HTTP.” The “S” stands for secure and means that there are layers of encryption being used to protect users on the site compared to the unsecure alternative. Take a look at the address bar in the screenshot for UpWork’s home page and notice the “https” in green:

UpWork's Home Page https

Note the https in the address bar. That means this site is secure. (credit: UpWork’s front page screenshot)

Use Google: If a freelance site is using “HTTP” rather than “HTTPS,” double check its trustworthiness and reputability. You can do this with a simple Google search. Simply type in the name of the service followed by words like “review,” “spam,” “scam” or “hack” to see if anything alarming pops up. For example, if there are numerous reviewers claiming that the site has been hacked or is vulnerable to a hack, avoid that service.

3. Maintaining a Secure Virtual Workspace

There are a few more things you can do to maintain security as a freelancer such as adding a few more layers of protection to your virtual workspace. A firewall will alert you when intruders are trying to access your computer or when your computer is trying to do things without being asked. Anti-spyware or anti-virus software will scan your computer regularly to watch for malware. And a password vault, like 1Password can let you create complex passwords, but store them so you don’t have to remember them all.

These are only a few of things that you need to do to ensure you remain safe and secure as a freelancer. There are certainly other ways to protect yourself. What do you do to keep yourself safe as a freelancer?

As a freelancer, Cassie learned quickly that internet security is a must. She enjoys sharing her knowledge with others because, let’s face it, freelancers don’t make much money and they need to protect their equipment as much as possible!

Photo credit: Moleshko (Pixabay, Creative Commons)

Tax Deductions You May Miss as a Freelancer or Entrepreneur

If you’re a freelancer or small business owner, and you’re only using the 1040 form to do your taxes, you’re doing it all wrong.

You’re missing out on some very valuable deductions and expenses you could take, and if you’re not using a professional, you’re leaving money on the table. If you find you owe taxes each year, you’re definitely not doing it right.

My advice: find a tax professional you can trust and talk to them about using a Schedule C with your 1040.

Income Tax Monopoly SquareThe general rule of thumb is, if an activity costs you money to do the thing you make money at, you can deduct it. For example, I make a few bucks as a travel writer for the state of Indiana. This means I can deduct any expenses related to my travel-writing trips, such as mileage and hotels. A writer friend makes money from, and is taxed for, his book sales. This means he can take deductions for any readings and book signings he drives to, especially if they’re overnighters.

You’re going to be taxed on your income already, so you might as well reduce the amount the government takes by declaring each and every expense related to it.

Here are four important deductions you may be missing as a freelancer, independent professional, entrepreneur, or small business owner.

1. Mileage Related to Work

If you drive to client meetings, conferences, or other work-related events, you can deduct the mileage. However, this doesn’t include mileage driving to and from your regular work; you can only count special trips. Keep track of all your meetings in a calendar, and then list all the meetings and mileage in a spreadsheet. Turn all that in to your accountant and they can take care of the rest.

Erik, how exactly do you think I do this? —Cary, your accountant

Cary, I don’t know. Voodoo or physics or something? I’m a writer, I don’t pay attention to this stuff. This is why I depend on you. —Erik

I use Google Calendar and Google Drive, and I use Zapier to export all my appointments to a Google Drive spreadsheet. From there, I can clean it up, delete all personal/non-paying appointments, and then pop in the mileage for each appointment. This saves me roughly three hours from trying to do it all by hand.

Note: You can also take the mileage out of the company as non-taxable expenses. But once you do that, you can’t take it as a deduction on your personal return because it will be deducted on the business return. If you drive 400 miles to and from a conference, that’s roughly $200 in expenses. You can take the $200 in cash, or you can deduct it on your taxes. Ask your accountant which would work better in your favor. And if you pay for your gas with the company card, you can’t deduct your mileage either.

2. Cable and Mobile Phone

If you work from home, and you rely on the Internet to do your work (and who doesn’t?), you can deduct your cable/Internet costs. The same is true for your mobile phone. If you have a mobile number for clients to call, that’s another business-related expense, which means you can declare it. And if you keep a work-only landline, that’s also tax deductible.

(However, you can also keep your phone costs down if you use Skype as your primary means of communication. This also lets you keep a personal-only phone, and not have to worry about that second phone, or trying to total up the number of work minutes versus personal minutes.)

Remember, you’re not allowed to deduct costs if you’re reimbursed for them in any way. For example, if you work as a remote employee, and your employer pays your cable bill, you can’t turn around and declare it yourself.

3. Office Space

I found a low-cost office to rent, and it’s something I recommend, if it’s available where you live. In Indianapolis, we also have the Speakeasy, which is a shared co-working space. Other cities like Fort Wayne and Evansville also have co-working spaces. If you pay a membership fee or rent to be able to use that facility, that’s considered a deductible business expense. (Working every day from a coffee shop is not considered a business expense, however.)

If you work from home, it is possible to declare your home workspace on your taxes, but it can be rather tricky. There are formulas, and if you use part of a room to work, you need to measure the workspace, and there’s a formula to apply and more of that voodoo physics stuff Cary knows about.

It’s a bit easier if you dedicate one room, like a basement office, to your workspace. But if it’s the desk in a corner of the family room, that’s a bit more problematic. Talk to your accountant, but be prepared to justify it to the IRS, because this often raises flags with them.

4. Food and Entertainment

This is a tricky one. It’s not like the old days when you worked for a company, and you could expense big fancy meals with important clients. Deducting food costs on your taxes can be a problem if you’re not careful.

For one thing, says Cary, you shouldn’t buy food for “working lunches” on the company account. (My wife says the same thing, so this may not be a tax rule so much as a Toni-and-Cary-are-conspiring-against-me ploy.)

One reason is that you can’t deduct the whole meal, only your half. You can’t just take people out to lunch and deduct the entire meal on your taxes. It can also raise red flags at the IRS if they see a lot of entertainment expense deductions on your taxes. So keep this kind of spending to a minimum, lest you feel the cold, probing fingers of an audit.

The problem with doing your taxes yourself is that you may not know the latest rules about deductions and expenses. Basically, if you find that you owe money when you file your taxes, you need to speak with a professional. While you’ll have to pay the accountant, if you’re making a full-time living as a freelancer or entrepreneur, you could find your tax return is much bigger than what you could get doing it on your own.

Special thanks to my own accountant, Cary Hudson of Ashworth Accounting Services for helping with this blog post (and my business!). Cary is a CPA who lives and works in Carmel, IN. He specializes in working with small businesses for their tax and bookkeeping needs, and he’s saved me from hours of headaches for the last six years.

Photo credit: Alan Cleaver (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Louisville Digital Association’s 6th Annual Digital Media Summit Schedule

I’m very proud to be one of the speakers at the 6th annual Digital Media Summit in Louisville on October 16. it’s a single day event held in Frazier Hall at Bellarmine University, and it’s sponsored by the fine fols at Brown-Forman and Bellarmine University’s School of Communication. You can get tickets here.

With the tagline, Improve your business and marketing through technology, several of us will be talking about how to do social media marketing better, including my two co-authors, Jason Falls and Kyle Lacy.

2014 Louisville Digital Media Summit

Tentative Agenda for Louisville Digital Media Summit

8 – 8:30 a.m. Networking, Breakfast, Setup

8:30 a.m. Introductions Jason Falls

8:40 a.m. Opening Keynote A Decade of Chasing What’s Next
Rick Murray, former president of Edelman Digital

9:30 a.m. 10 Professional Writing Secrets
Erik Deckers, Pro Blog Service

10:10 a.m. Break

10:20 a.m. The Mobile Commerce Revolution
Tim Hayden & Tom Webster, Edison Research

11:10 a.m. Paid Advertising In Facebook, How PPC Ninja’s Really Work Founder
Jason Brown, SERPWoo

12:00 p.m. Lunch

1:00 p.m. Bellarmine School of Communication
Dr. Lara Needham, Bellarmine University

1:20 p.m. 5 Technology Trends Disrupting Behavior
Kyle Lacy, Exact Target Marketing Cloud

2:10 p.m. Communicating at the right time, right channel and right situation in a crisis
Dr. Karen Freberg, University of Louisville

3:00 p.m. Break

3:10 p.m. Your Brand, Your Brain
Julia Roy, CoFounder, Workhacks

4:00 p.m. What Didn’t We Learn? Speaker Panel
Jason Falls, Moderator

4:30 p.m. Closing

You can register for the event here. By the way, if you’re interested in going, I’ve got a special discount code you can use. Just email me — erik at problogservice dot com — and I’ll give it to you.

Ain’t No Party Like a PERQ Launch Party

If you’re involved in the Indianapolis tech startup scene, you already know about Verge, the startup community made up of entrepreneurs, programmers, and investors. We come together once a month, hear a few pitches from some exciting new startups, drink beer, eat pizza, and network with new people (and old friends).

Tonight was an especially huge night for Verge, because we were being hosted by PERQ, the new company formerly known as CIK Enterprises. They were hosting us because they were launching their new corporate identity and look. This was a mega launch party, the size of which I have not seen in Indianapolis in my nearly six years of doing social media and tech stuff.

PERQ was created when CIK consolidated several different companies they owned, and created this new enterprise. The previous three companies served clients in the newspaper, automotive, and retail industries. Because of this consolidation, they’re combining all forces to create a new marketing technology solution — FATWIN — to offer “business-branded games, contests, and sweepstakes with direct mail, email and advertising campaigns to attract in-store and online traffic.”

I first became acquainted with CIK and one of their companies, Tri-Auto Enterprises, when I worked at a local direct mail company years ago. In fact, I bumped into my old boss on the shuttle ride over from the parking lot, who was there for the PERQ launch. He hadn’t heard of Verge, so I was able to fill him in on what it was all about.

Employee in PERQ collaboration space

See? At first glance, you probably thought it was a real bookshelf too.

Not only were they launching a new company with new branding, they had a new look to their office. Everyone who attended got the grand tour of the office, including the conference rooms (complete with Legos for brainstorming, or at least looking creative), the open concept desks, the giant warehouse space turned meeting and collaboration space, the gym and weight room, and even the video broadcast booth. The whole building is so big, they even have Razor scooters for people to ride, like some sort of inter-office scooter share program. TKO Graphics created several of the wall decorations, including a gigantic bookshelf wall that I kept mistaking for a real bookshelf when I saw it from the corner of my eye.

All in all, it’s a gorgeous new space, and I kept wishing I worked there just because it looked so awesome. I might even be able to, because according to their press release, the company plans on hiring 30 new employees to deal with all their new growth and to help promote their new FATWIN technology.

FATWIN is an interesting new product that lets people enter promotional contests held by different companies using the service. From what I can tell, I can either join a company’s FATWIN promotion, or I can join FATWIN and join different companies’ promotions from there. My data is used only by the companies whose promotions I join, and they don’t sell it to third parties. From a data privacy standpoint, I appreciate this approach, because I can give my data only to the companies of my choosing, and not have to worry that some fly-by-night company is going to start spamming me two weeks later.

According to the FATWIN website:

FATWIN is a resource for people who love to win. It’s for people who love to play games, love to enter promotions, and hate to sign up for free stuff over and over again. Our goal is to be as transparent as possible — and for you to have a great experience while winning great prizes and discounts from your favorite brands.

For more information on PERQ, you can visit the website at . You can also follow them on Twitter at @perqmarketing.

Photo credit: PERQ

Is the Forbes Top 50 Social Media List Flawed?

If you made the Forbes Top 50 Social Media Influencers list, you’re generally regarded as being pretty hot stuff. The Top 50 have a lot of influence, are extremely knowledgeable, and are connected to tens of thousands of people in their various networks.

If you didn’t make the list, you can tell yourself you were #51, or just try harder next year.

This year’s list was compiled by Haydn Shaughnessy using a “Pull Report” from

There are also some basic criteria for involvement – experts must be creating their own content, and it has to be about social media. See more on the criteria here.

On the scoring, Peek Analytics gives people a score called Pull. If an individual has a Pull of 10x, that means that the audience the individual can reach is at least ten times greater than what the average social media user can reach.

Sounds pretty straightforward: if you’re a rockstar, you’ll be on the list.

Except it’s missing several notable names.

Jason Falls, Jay Baer, Chris Baggott

Seriously, these guys didn’t make the list? Jason Falls (l), Jay Baer, Chris Baggott (standing)

According to Judith Gotwald on Social Media Today (25 Social Media Influencers Forbes Ignored (And Why)), the Forbes list has snubbed a lot of pretty influential people, including several who were on last year’s list: Jay Baer, Jason Falls, Gini Dietrich, Charlene Li, Brian Solis, C.C. Chapman (Forbes did include his Content Rules co-author, Ann Handley), and even Mitch Joel.

Of course, Forbes does include some of the names you would expect: Mari Smith, Chris Brogan (but not his Trust Agents co-author Julien Smith), Liz Strauss, Jeff Bullas, Scott Stratten, and Dan Schawbel (disclosure: I write for Dan’s Personal Branding blog).

So what’s up? What happened to the names you would normally expect to see? Did Shaughnessy forget them? Did the non-Forbes people drop off on their Pull? Was PeekAnalytics having a bad day?

Admittedly, many names on both lists are names you expect to see year after year on a Top 50 or Top 100 list, but many of these missing names are glaring in their omission.

I’d like to see some better explanations for the list, and who did and didn’t make it, and why/how. I’d love to hear some of that “inside baseball” talk to explain how he went about determining who to measure, and who not to. How did he come up with the names to check? Is Pull based entirely on followers and reach, or is more like Klout, which could give a person with a very small following a high score because they the followers interact frequently? Or did Shaughnessy want to give some new people a shot at being on the Forbes Top 50? That’s admirable if it’s true, but then the list isn’t accurate or reflective.

It’s not that I’m suspicious of Forbes’ list, or will reject it out of hand, like it’s some partisan wing-nut website. It’s just that the exclusion of several noted social media experts is, well, eyebrow-raising, to say the least.

At the very least, Forbes’ list will be seen as problematic, which can be fixed with some basic explanations. At the worst, it’s a flawed list that is seriously lacking in its execution. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Mobile Phones Are Dying!

Yesterday’s blog post on LinkedIn by Martin Varsavsky, CEO of Fon, says that mobile phones are killing the laptop, and people will eventually quit using them simply because of the rise of mobile-only apps like Foursquare and Instagram. Also, laptops are $1,000 – $2,000, and smartphones are nearly free, and therefore people would rather buy phones than laptops.


Varsavsky’s reasoning reminds me of the old philosophy joke, “All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore, all men are Socrates.”

So people will no longer buy laptops to write blog posts, create spreadsheets, create websites, design magazine ads and logos? They’ll just whip out their handy-dandy iPhone and everything will be just as powerful and fast as a laptop?

Technology Adoption Lifecycle bell curve

The Technology Adoption Lifecycle shows the number of people who will adopt new technology, like smartphones and tablets

I don’t know what kinds of phones Varsavsky is using, but until I can use mine to tell my transporter chief to beam me aboard, there is absolutely no way a mobile phone is going to replace the laptop.

Besides, haven’t you heard, mobile phones are dying. At least, the technology experts are predicting that tablets like the iPad will outsell mobile phones in 2013.

Clearly — clearly! — this spells the mobile phone’s demise, right? Because with a tablet, I have a bigger screen than a phone. I can play games, watch Netflix without straining my eyes, and they’re faster and more robust, which means they’re better, right?

At least that’s what Varsavsky’s logic means, right? That our ringtones are slowly changing to death rattles?

If we follow his reasoning, the only reason tablets are outselling mobile phones is because the phone eco-system is dying.

And it has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that everyone already owns a mobile phone and that sales plateaued, but tablets are still new enough that people are constantly buying them. Also, Varsavsky is hoping you won’t realize that many people already own laptops, which is why their sales have plateaued, while smartphones are just reaching the Late Majority adoption phase of technology, and people are still buying them.

While the sky may be falling in Varsavsky’s world, the millions of us who use laptops and desktop computers to actually produce the things the mobile phone users consume will continue on our way, doing the actual work on computers big enough and powerful enough to create it.

To say one technology is dying just because another starts to outsell it does not mean the death of that first technology. That’s like saying the 2nd place Indy 500 finisher is a failure. Specious arguments like that — as well as the one about mobile phones replacing laptops — deserve to be laughed at.

Photo credit: Wikipedia, Creative Commons

Erik Deckers to Speak at Revenue North Indy on March 21st, Free Passes Available

I’ll be speaking at the Revenue North Indianapolis conference on March 21, 2013 at the Wyndham Indianapolis West Hotel. It starts at 8:00 am and runs until 5:00 pm, and they’re expecting close to 1000 people.

Erik Deckers speaking in public

I might even wear this shirt when I speak.

Passes are normally $99 for individuals and $299 for companies sending up to 5 people. But if you use my special promo code, A28LG7, you can get the individual pass for FREE.

You can see the full conference schedule here. Some of the speakers will include Doug Karr speaking about the Dangers of SEO; Kyle Lacy’s dad Dan speaking on Transforming Your Business; networking specialist Jamar Cobb-Denard will tell you to Stop Wasting Time Networking; my mentor Lorraine Ball of Roundpeg will tell you Why People Hate Your Website; and, I’m speaking about your 10 Professional Branding Secrets.

There are nearly 100 breakout sessions throughout the day, so you’re going to get your head crammed with a lot of great information.