FieldYesterday, in an article about the benefits of hiring independent contractors, I copped to my particular bugbear regarding independent contractor situations: I believe they can easily lead to employee exploitation.

Lisa Zeeveld, CFO of eaHELP, knows this sort of thing can happen — which is why she and eaHELP make it their business to help their virtual assistants and other independent contractors protect themselves and find the best work opportunities out there.

Today, I want to share Zeeveld’s tips for making a solid living as an independent contractor. They’re all quite interesting, and I’d highly recommend every independent contractor take them to heart and share them with their friends and colleagues.

There’s a good chance that independent contractors may one day become the “new normal,” replacing full-time employees in the same way that chronic job hopping has replaced the “employer for life” situations of yore. If and when that day comes, I’d like to see independent contractors who are empowered — independent contractors who will shut down any employer that tries to take advantage of them.

1. Do Your Research

“Think about how much work you would put into buying a new car or a new pair of shoes,” Zeeveld says. “People spend weeks researching which brand of coffee maker to buy!”

Zeeveld says independent contractors should take the same care when exploring employment opportunities. They should seek feedback from peers, friends, and family members. They should spend time reading about potential business partners online.

When it comes to conducting research, Zeeveld recommends that independent contractors start with company websites.

“What does your potential partner’s website say about them? Research their culture, mission, and values,” Zeeveld says. “Do they line up with yours?”

Zeeveld also says independent contractors should pay attention to what their potential partners are saying on company blogs.

“What do they actually blog about? Is it all just fun and games?” Zeeveld explains. “You really want to partner with someone who talks about business and the exceptional service they provide — not about the new foosball table they just bought.”

Just because a company seems to have a lot of fun, Zeeveld says, that doesn’t mean it’s a profitable business that an independent contractor should partner with.

“Make sure there’s some meat on the bone before you jump in,” Zeeveld cautions.

2. Remember: You’re Running a Business

DandelionSpeaking of “business partners” and “profitable companies,” Zeeveld reminds independent contractors that they are, in fact, independent business people. They need to think of themselves as “people running their own businesses.” When conducting business transactions, independent contractors should see themselves not as employees, but as entrepreneurs — and they need to do what is best for themselves, their brands, and their businesses.

3. Check With Your Network

Zeeveld says it’s important to reach out to other independent contractors who have worked for or are currently working with any company with which you are considering a partnership.

“Just send them a message like, ‘Hey, I’m thinking about partnering with this company; what has your experience been like?’” says Zeeveld.

Zeeveld also recommends reaching out to clients of the company to hear their feedback.

4. Read Your Contract

Some independent contractors present their own contracts to companies — in which case, they know what’s in their contracts, so they need not worry too much.

On the other hand, some independent contractors sign company-generated contracts, and these people need to be especially careful about signing anything.

“If you are asked to sign a contract, make sure you have read it and understand it,” Zeeveld says. “Know what your obligations are.”

Independent contractors who are unsure of a contract they are being asked to sign may want to consult with an attorney before partnering with an organization.

5. Keep Your Options Open

“Have multiple partnerships,” Zeeveld says. “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”

After all, that’s what the sharing economy is all about: people building and growing their own small-scale, personal, flexible businesses. When independent contractors diversify their partnerships, they protect themselves from economic uncertainty.

“That way, in the wake of a company closing or restructuring, you can still pay your rent or buy groceries,” says Zeeveld.

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