The computer fundamentals listed in this article are absolute musts if you want to establish a decent (and profitable) home working career.
If you want to make it as a home-based freelancer, you need to know your way around technology and have the right tools for the job.
This is a subject close to my heart, as my main “trade” is that of an IT consultant. I spent many years fixing PCs and teaching computer fundamentals to business owners and other individuals. It was my primary full-time business and how I paid the bills. While I’m glad I no longer do it all the time, I do still enjoy helping some select clients with their day-to-day technology needs.
Many business people and freelancers get their businesses off the ground without being able to tick off all the “computer fundamentals” that form this list. However, they make life difficult for themselves and often come across as rather unprofessional in the process.
That’s why I’ve put this article together. Having spent years seeing people get these things wrong, I’m sharing what I’ve seen (free of charge, by the way!) to help readers get them right.
In some cases, establishing your computer fundamentals could cost a little money. If you don’t already have basic things like backup drives and legal software, then you need to buy them. There’s no way to sugarcoat this – but thankfully you can save some money by choosing the right products and services.
Just before we start, there’s a reasonable argument that some home working jobs don’t require quite so much in the way of computer equipment and expertise as others. If you’re marketing Avon products or selling on eBay you could perhaps manage with less. But we live in the modern world. Someone with good computer skills will be able to do their work far more efficiently than someone who’s struggling – and therefore make far more money every hour they’re working.
Computer Fundamentals for Home Working: The Master List!
1. A reliable computer
Yes, we do begin with something that seems like stating the obvious. But you wouldn’t believe how many people seem to think that an old laptop that takes ten minutes to start up (and is also used for gaming by the children in the house) is a sensible foundation for a home based business.
It’s not – and it’s as simple as that. If you’re serious about home working you need the tools for the job, and in the vast majority of cases your computer is the most important tool of all. Would you start a taxi service with an unreliable old car, or a catering company with a camping stove?
Of course not! But setting up as a home worker without a decent computer is just as daft – so you need to do whatever it takes to get something you can rely on. And it should be a computer that’s dedicated to your business.
(Editors note: I’m aware this section sounds like a bit of a rant, but this is SO important, and I’ve seen SO many people ignore it and come badly unstuck as a result).
Here’s not the place for me to get into recommending specific computers – even the Mac vs Windows debate warrants a post of its own, and everyone’s budget will vary considerably.
That said, try to find a machine with a Solid State Disc (SSD) instead of a hard drive. For most day-to-day tasks for typical freelancers, this alone will provide more of a performance boost that you’ll notice from a faster processor. If you work in technical or creative freelancing then you probably know far more than me about the kind of computer you want and need!
2. Solid knowledge of your operating system and software
If you plan to make money online, your ability to do so will massively depend on how quickly you can navigate around your computer.
For example, do you know how to:
- Copy and paste text and images between different applications?
- Organise your files into folders?
- Securely keep track of all your logins and passwords?
- Set up new email accounts?
- Perform basic calculations using spreadsheet software?
If you don’t know how to do all these things, it’s time for some brutal honesty: You’re not going to make much success of working from home until you learn these computer fundamentals. Yes, you may be able to function and start to bring some money in, but you’ll be constantly slowed down by your lack of knowledge.
Courses are another option here. udemy is a good place to look, with in-depth courses typically costing just $/£20 or 30.
Some are even free or sometimes on offer.
Here’s an example of a Windows 10 course which covers all the necessary basics.
While we were looking around, we also found an interesting course for people switching to Mac for the first time.
3. Legal, paid-for Office software
When people talk about Office software, they generally mean Microsoft Office, which is the suite of programs that includes Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook.
If you don’t know the difference between your operating system (Windows or macOS) and your Office software, please go back and buy one of the books or courses recommended above, or your lack of computer fundamentals knowledge is going to prove a problem for you.
Prior to 2011, the only way to acquire Microsoft Office was to pay for it outright or obtain an illegal copy on a DVD (which, sadly, plenty of people did).
Thankfully Microsoft Office is now available on a subscription basis for small monthly fee via the Office365 program, so it’s not a huge outlay to have a legal copy that’s completely up to date.
Subscribe to Microsoft Office365 and do everything legitimately and above board. It’s inexpensive, and if you buy the Business Premium package or above, you get hosted Microsoft Exchange email as well.
People have been known to complain about Microsoft (and other companies) switching to a subscription model for their software, but it’s actually a good thing for home workers, who can now have the kind of IT system only huge companies could once afford for no more money than the cost of a few Starbucks coffees each month.
NOTE: Mac users have the option to use Pages, Numbers and Keynote – Apple’s own office applications. While these are free with Macs and pleasurable to use, for compatibility with clients, Microsoft Office is the only sensible option.
4. A reliable backup system
Backing up your data (which will also include your client’s data) is absolutely essential.
Putting on my IT consultant hat, I’d urge you to have more than one backup at all times.
Buy a USB hard drive (£50 or so from Amazon or any computer store) and configure regular local backups of all your data (using Windows Backup and Restore, or Apple’s Time Machine).
Then, subscribe to an online backup service like iDrive and keep another copy of your most vital data in the cloud. Many of these services offer a free tier for a certain amount of data.
5. The ability to scan and print
While the need to actually print anything on paper these days is fairly rare, it’s not unusual to need to sign contracts and scan them. When there’s a requirement to do this for a new client, you don’t want to be looking amateurish and saying “I don’t have a scanner.” They won’t care. But thankfully there’s a way around it.
Buy a cheap printer to handle your old-school paper-based requirements, then look at also adding a scanner app to your smartphone instead of struggling with a traditional scanner.
I use a very cheap app called Scanner Pro for all my scanning requirements, and never need to go near the scanner any more – I do it all on my phone.
6. A rock-solid Internet connection
In the course of my freelance life, I’ve recruited and managed plenty of home workers as well as been one myself.
As such, I can tell you one of the quickest ways to irritate your clients: Try to work using an unreliable Internet connection.
If a client wants to meet you face to face on Skype, or have you join a conference call, you don’t want to be the person who nobody can hear. Nor do you want to be the person who doesn’t reply to messages because they had “Internet problems.”
Make sure you have an Internet connection you can rely on.
This doesn’t mean Wi-Fi from the coffeeshop or neighbours next door, or mobile broadband that cuts in and out and slows down unpredictably. Similarly, you should always have a working webcam and microphone so you can communicate reliably at all times.
7. A PROPER email account
Using a free web-based email account is the mark of an amateur business.
Think about it – would you have more trust in email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org ?
While we acknowledge that there are some work from home jobs you could do with a free email account, if you’re trying to provide a professional service, register a suitable domain and get proper email set up for it.
8. A smartphone with mobile connectivity
Love them or hate them, smartphones are a wonderful thing for freelancers. They can make “working from home” mean “working from the pub” or “working from the beach” sometimes too!
As the saying goes, “there’s an app for that,” and there are indeed apps for almost everything you could imagine – from running your eBay business to managing timesheets and invoices.
Ensure you have a reliable smartphone, and (just as importantly) a mobile data connection that works all the time. Mobile connectivity is really inexpensive if you shop around. Clients don’t want to hear that “you didn’t have any data and there wasn’t any decent WiFi.” It’s not their problem.
If you’re in the UK, I personally recommend taking a look at GiffGaff. They have monthly “goody bags” with no contract that include 2GB or more of data from as little as £10 per month.
9. A way to create invoices
How many invoices you need to create will depend on how many clients you have – but presumably the aim is “lots?!”
To begin with, you’ll be fine creating invoices with something like Word or Excel (see point three above). However, once your freelance business starts to thrive, having a proper invoicing and accounting system is definitely something that should be on your list of computer fundamentals.
Set up invoice templates in Word or Excel to begin with, but move towards a proper invoicing system as soon as you can justify it.
We’re big fans of QuickBooks online at HomeWorkingClub, and use it to generate all our invoices.
10. A way to organise your workflow
The last item in our list of computer fundamentals for people home working is the one that ties everything together – establishing your workflow.
Doing this takes time, and it’s unique to everyone. It’s about putting together all the technology you’ve invested time and money in and making it work for YOU.
If I think about the things that make up my workflow, I think of everything from the layout of my desktop icons and my Internet bookmarks, to the programs I use to keep track of passwords, process my emails, and manage my upcoming jobs and tasks.
Take your time set up your computer so that it works exactly how you want it.
If something is lacking, find out how to fix it. Spending half an hour Googling something to find out why it doesn’t work the way you’d prefer and changing it is WAY less time consuming (and irritating) than spending years working around the issue time after time.
A quick (and slightly dull) example: I like to have a single-screen view of my calendar AND my to-do list items. When I switched from Windows to Mac, I found that Microsoft Outlook didn’t offer this view on my new Mac. I glance at these things dozens of times per day, so instead of being frustrated time after time, I tried out multiple calendar apps until I found one that worked the way I wanted. (For those interested, it’s called BusyCal and shown in the image below).
It took me at least half a day of trying out apps that didn’t make the grade before I found this, but has saved me FAR more time by working the way I want it to.
Computer Fundamentals: In Conclusion
I hope the pointers above help you to get your technology ready to form the foundations of a thriving home working business.
Now it’s time to hear from you – and I’m after some honesty! How many of these do you actually have ticked off, and how many are lacking? Let us know in the comments below. We promise not to be judgemental!
AFFILIATE DISCLAIMER: I am the member of affiliate schemes for some (not all) of the products recommended above, so may receive a small commission if you purchase them. My opinion is not for sale, however, so they are genuine recommendations you can rely on.
Founder of HomeWorkingClub.com – Ben has worked freelance for nearly 20 years. As well as being a freelance writer and blogger, he is also a technical consultant with Microsoft and Apple certifications. He loves supporting new home workers but is prone to outbursts of bluntness and realism.