If you're a freelancer or business owner/operator providing scribing or editing services to the public, it's important to have some strategies in place to keep you personally safe at work. These might include 1) OH&S rules for physical safety, 2) safe strategies for meeting clients at appropriate times and venues, and 3) being a good judge of character and relying on your intuition.
Many freelancers or business owners who work from home-based offices don't place any importance on having a formal Occupational Health and Safety policy or even making sure they maintain a safe workplace. But whether you work in an external office or work alone in a home-based office, it's important to have a set of rules about OH&S and stick to them to make sure you maintain safety in your workplace; e.g. for a scribe or editor that OH&S policy might include having:
Adjustable chair, footrest; computer screens at correct height; suitable lighting and natural light
Rules about regular breaks from work (e.g. a break every 2 hours)
Floor clear of obstructions including leads and cords
Desks/tables not overloaded with equipment or cluttered
Storage cupboards or shelves that are safe to access; use step ladders if necessary
If you meet clients in your office: enough space for extra chair/s; direct route from doorway to client's chair
Electricity outlets and powerboards to be used safely (no overloading); no mobile/iphone or other chargers left plugged in; when appliances not in use, switch off at powerboards/wall sockets.
If you're freelancer or home-based business operator who provides services to the public you'll sometimes need to meet clients face to face; e.g. if you're an editor you'll need to consult with them about editing their manuscript, or if you're a scribe you may need to scribe a client's dictation.
But have you decided where and when it's safe and appropriate meet your clients and whether you should take extra precautions when arranging to meet some clients? Should you meet in your office? Their office? If they don't have an office, their home? Or would it be more appropriate, and safer, to meet them in a public place such as a library or quiet cafe?
Are you, the freelancer or business-owner, male or female? Is your client male or female? Does it matter?
We would love to live in a world where women were just as safe as men; where a woman could safely invite a strange man into her home-based office to talk about editing, or meet a male client in his home, or at a pub in the evening. But in the real world, if you're a woman and you invite a man whom you don't know to your home-based office, and there's no one else in your house to back you up, and you're not proficient in physical self-defence, you may be putting yourself at risk. Whereas if you were a man, you could invite any number of strange men to your home-based office or meet them at any time of day or night, anywhere, anyhow, without putting yourself at great risk.
If you're a female freelancer or owner/operator working from home, and you need to meet or consult with a male client who has a formal office in town and/or works for a large business or company, it's usually safe and appropriate for you to meet him in his office.
If you're a female freelancer or owner/operator, don't invite a male client to meet you in your home-based office unless:
you are a good judge of character and have met the client before (in another location) and feel confident it is safe to meet them in your office, or
the client runs a business and has a formal office and/or works for a well-known business or company and your telephone communications with him have convinced you he is professional, or
you have an adult, capable of being your 'back-up' in the house while you're meeting a client; or a large, well-trained watchdog capable of defending you if required; or
you have a good neighbour, capable of being your 'back-up' person to keep an eye on how you're going, while you're meeting a client; e.g. arrange for the neighbour to knock on your door not long after the client has arrived, to let the client know they're keeping an eye on things and so you have their back-up if you don't feel comfortable or safe.
If you need to do some work for a male client either in their home or in an office based within their home, suggest an initial meeting with them in a public place so you can have a chat with them and assess how safe they are before deciding to take that next step of meeting them in their home. Never visit a male client in his house unless you've already met him elsewhere and are very confident it is safe to meet him in his home.
If you're an owner/operator or freelancer working from home, don't advertise your office address unless you have to. That way, a new or potential client can't drop into your home-based office unannounced.
Whether you're male or female, before telling a client your address or inviting them to your home-based office, you should have communicated with them via telephone and spoken to them for long enough to gauge whether they're the sort of person you want to invite into your office which, for the home-based business operator, is also your home and part of your life.
Not everyone who needs scribing or editing services is going to be safe for you to meet in your home. Some highly stressed or eccentric people sometimes need those services. If you wish to assist or work with people who may be unbalanced, it would be wise to meet and consult with them in a public place rather than in your office or in their home. How balanced they need to be for you to assess them as 'safe enough' to invite into your office depends on 1) your experience in dealing with people with varying degrees of mental health, 2) whether you're male or female, and 3) whether you have 'back-up' at home.
Regardless of your client's gender or issues, the safest place for a freelancer to meet a new client is in their office (if it is not within their home) or a public place. Most libraries have alcoves and private meeting rooms available. Depending on the type of job and client and what you want to work on during your meeting, a quiet cafe might also be an appropriate place to meet. Once you know them well enough to be sure they are 'safe' you can arrange to meet them in your office.
Whether you're male or female, how well do you need to know your client before inviting them to your home-based office?
If you've met the client before in another location and feel you know them reasonably well, and that they're safe to meet alone in your office, and you are a good judge of character, then it's probably safe to invite them.
If you've been talking to the client via telephone and online and feel you know them pretty well, and there have been no red flags raised by their comments or manner, you may want to meet them in your home-based office and if you have suitable 'back-up' support in your house (as discussed above) then it's probably okay.
If you've been talking to your client online only (via emails), make sure you speak to them via telephone before inviting them to your office. Only by talking to them verbally will you be able to gauge their personality and assess how balanced and reasonable they are and whether they're the sort of person you want to invite.
Note: if you think you 'know' your client simply because they've been referred to you by a mutual colleague, think again. how do you know your colleague is a good judge of character? You don't know a person until you've met them personally and checked them out yourself.
Regardless of whether you're male or female, you shouldn't be meeting clients alone anywhere unless you have good intuition and have enough life experience to be a good judge of character. If you're alone with a client and intuitively doubt their integrity, honesty or mental health:
if you're alone with the client in your own office when you have those doubts, ask your 'back-up' person (or dog) to hover nearby and make sure the client is aware they're there. Then, if you feel comfortable and safe, continue your meeting. If you don't feel comfortable or safe, ask them to leave, knowing you have your 'back-up' for support.
if you're in the client's home or office and your intuition tells you something just doesn't feel 'right' about the client, make an excuse and leave; and make sure that next time you meet the client, you do so in a public place. If you're in their home or office and your intuition tells you you're in danger, rely on your instincts and leave immediately.
if you're in a public place and something doesn't feel 'right' about the client, but you are sure you are safe because you're in public, use your own judgement about whether to stay or leave; although in my experience, if something doesn't feel 'right' about a client, it's always best to advise them you can't work for them. If your intuition tells you you're in danger, rely on your instincts and leave immediately.
For tips about meeting the challenges of working from home go to:
For information about how to be better prepared emergencies (family, illness): A fresh look at coping with emergencies
This article is based on my own experiences since starting On Time Typing, a scribing and editing business, in 2002. On Time Typing provides scribing, writing, editing, proofreading and assisted self-publishing services across Australia.