Essential Tools for Your Freelance Home Office
As a freelance nurse writer, you have special expertise and skills, and you need a few specialized tools for your home office if you plan to go into health, medical or science writing. Let’s look at the basics of setting up a home office and then examine the few ‘extras’ you can put to use as a nurse-writer.
Get the best office chair you can afford
You’re going to be spending a lot of time in that chair, so don’t skimp. If you don’t have $1,000 to buy a high-end ergonomic chair, that’s OK. Don’t go into unnecessary debt to start your freelance career. At the same time, you’ve spent a career trying not to wreck your back in nursing; don’t wreck your back as a writer in a poor office chair.
Cheap out on a desk
My desk consists of a butcher-block style top purchased at Ikea for about $40 plus four Ikea legs for about $100 more. My husband put them all together and then cut the legs off to suit my custom desktop height requirements (because I’m picky like that). And $140 isn’t bad for a desk, but before that I didn’t even have a proper desk. I used a built-in orange laminate countertop from the 1970s in a spare bedroom of my house in Albuquerque. You can’t get any cheaper than free.
Your freelance writing desk only functions as a monitor holder, in most respects. Sure, you’ll want to keep a few pens handy, and some paper. Maybe paperclips. But you definitely don’t need an expensive, executive desk to launch your freelance career. (Heck, as I write this I’m sitting on the sofa in my game room, using my laptop on my…lap.) Let’s face it: one of the great aspects of freelancing is you can start your business on a nickel.
Laptop versus desktop
I haven’t owned a desktop computer for almost a decade, so I’m a poor choice to debate the merits of desktop versus laptop. My main point is you need a computer. You don’t need an expensive or fancy one. Just a regular old computer of the brand or style you like will do fine.
Despite the fact I never submit anything to editors or clients on paper, I still have a printer. Why? Because sometimes I like to print out complicated journal articles so I can mark them up while I read. Also, a good multifunction printer comes in handy when people ask for your W-9 form. You can just scan it in and email it. Ditto for contracts.
Yes, a real one. Not your cell phone, which will crap out in the middle of an important interview. Get a broadband phone and use it only for business purposes.
Phone conversation recorder
These can take many forms, from a digital recorder that connects to your phone to a software program that records Skype calls. I don’t record many interviews anymore, but when I did I used a Sony digital recorder and it worked fine.
Good external computer speakers
For listening to webinars or Skype calls with clarity. As an alternative, you can get good headphones or earbuds.
If you plan to do a lot of videoconferencing. Otherwise, skip it.
Yep, you definitely need one of those. I keep files labeled:
- Current projects
- Finished projects
- Tax returns
- Special projects
You’ll want those files, too, at a bare minimum. Again, you don’t need anything fancy. Check out your local Habitat for Humanity ReStore to see what they might have available.
At a minimum, I recommend you have:
- Microsoft Office
- Time-tracking software (I use and recommend OfficeTime, but TraxTime and Toggl are useful alternatives)
- Client relations management software (I use and recommend ContactMe, but freelance friends use Capsule and Highrise too)
- Online accounting program (my accountant recommended Xero, so that’s what I use; other freelancers use QuickBooks or Freshbooks)
- Photo manipulation software (I use Picasa, which isn’t an ideal solution)
Some of those are free. Others are paid. Make the investment. Remember, it’s tax-deductible.
You’ll want a good dictionary (yes, I know you can look up everything online, but there’s something nice about a writer’s office containing a paper dictionary), thesaurus and copy of Strunk & White’s Elements of Style. If you’re going into health, medical or science writing, you also might want:
- A good medical dictionary
- Good anatomy book or flashcards
- The Science Writers’ Handbook
My own reference shelf also holds Biology and Chemistry for Dummies (because sometimes I like to double-check facts in my stories before submitting them), various nursing texts (especially pathophysiology) and One Bird, One Stone by my friend Sean Murphy, which is not a reference book but which I keep there because you can never incorporate too much Zen into your writing office.
Office supplies to your heart’s delight
Personally, I geek out over pens. Despite the fact 95% of my ‘writing’ is done by keyboard, I use pens for note taking, scheduling on my calendar and more. I’m currently in a love affair with the turquoise color Frixion erasable gel pens.
Don’t go into a ton of debt building your freelance office, but do feel free to indulge in some of the office supplies that make you feel swoony. On rejection days, a good pen may be all it takes to make you feel better.
I just don’t feel a home office is complete without a philodendron or some other type of live greenery to bring in a sense of the outdoors. Perhaps it’s because I spend long hours indoors, at the keyboard. I hope you do, too, because that means you’re making money.
What’s in your home freelance writing office? Share your fave office tools and toys in the comments thread!
Wishing you well!
Image via Peter Kaminski