Six Reasons to Dress for Success When Working from Home

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A growing number of people are working remotely these days, whether it’s from a co-working space or a home office. How dressed up should you be when you work from home? How much does your wardrobe affect your attitude or productivity?

Certainly one of the benefits of working remotely is being able to dress more casually than if you worked in a formal office environment. But just because you can “dress down” doesn’t mean you should.

Home Business magazine cites several research studies that show the psychological impact of clothing. Their conclusions? What you wear definitely can affect your mood, your ability to think creatively and solve problems, and how you present yourself to other people. While it’s tempting to stay in your pajamas and sweat pants all day, research shows that dressing more professionally when working from home has numerous advantages.

1. Professional business dress puts you in a work mindset. Numerous studies show that business casual attire increases creative and strategic thinking as well as increase alertness and attention. People who dress more professionally when working at home report feeling more authoritative, competent and trustworthy. When you feel more confident and authoritative, that attitude comes across in your performance too. Still not convinced? Check out this remote worker’s experiment to dress in business attire for one week.

2. People respond to you more positively. When you meet with clients, colleagues and bosses for meetings dressed in business attire, they are more likely to treat you with respect. You are perceived as someone who takes their job seriously despite working remotely. You are more trustworthy. If given the option between working with someone who dresses professionally and someone who dresses “down,”, most people are likely to choose the well-dressed colleague.

3. Clients take you more seriously when you dress professionally. Despite the fact that you work from home, there may be times when you need to meet with colleagues or clients in person. Those in person face-to-face meetings tend to have better outcomes when you dress for success. It sends a message to clients that you not only take your job seriously, you take their business seriously.

4. Professional attire helps you prepare for interviews. When you prepare for a telephone or video interview, dressing in professional attire shows you are taking the interview seriously. Professional attire gives you confidence, and that confident attitude is likely to come through the telephone or laptop screen. Be sure to dress all the way down to your shoes too. You never know when you may need to stand up or move around during a video conference call. You don’t want bosses or clients to see you in pajamas.

5. Business attire shows that you don’t have to give up comfort. It’s still possible to be relaxed and professional at the same time. Just because you can dress down for work doesn’t mean you should. You get to define what comfort means to you. If that means staying in your slippers or wearing flip flops as you work, so be it. If you insist on wearing your favorite T-shirt, make sure it’s clean and add a nice blazer over it to dress it up. If in doubt about what to wear when working from home, you can never go wrong with adopting the same dress code as your company or client has. Follow their leads.

6. Business attire can break up your day. By putting on dress clothes before you start your day and then changing out of them at say, five o’clock signals that your work day has ended. A shift in your schedule also shifts your mindset to one of work to one of relaxation. As the remote worker who experimented with business attire for one week discovered, without the changes of clothes, it may feel like the lines between work and play blur to the point that you feel you are always in work mode.

Here’s a great tip from Flexjobs. After you’ve started working from home, hang onto your business casual clothes and find other uses for them. Don’t donate them just yet. Add the business jacket to your weekend attire for date night, for example. Or combine items in different ways that you had not thought of. Be creative. Design your own dress code that allows you to mix and match and create a style that is all your own.

Working from home has its advantages. Dressing casually is one of them. Just remember that when you are on the clock, you are in business mode. And your dress should reflect that.

Building Your Network: Tips for Self-employed Writers

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Image courtesy of Hubspot

Writing may be a solo activity, but that doesn’t mean you have to operate in a vacuum. When you work from home, it’s important to build a supportive community of like-minded souls because, frankly sometimes you want to get away from your home office and mingle, seek out new environments and meet new people. Or maybe you just want to get reacquainted with people you used to work with.

Networking is important for self-employed writers for several reasons. Meeting new people can inspire you to experiment with new ideas or learn best (or better) practices than the ones you’ve been using. Networking can broaden your sphere of friends and business contacts who can lend you a hand when you are overloaded with deadlines or provide moral support during difficult stretches.

Networking provides a change of scenery too, a chance to check out the new restaurant or office space that you heard so much about. A change of scenery and seeing new faces can reset your brain and open it up to new experiences and new possibilities. Most important, networking saves your sanity, so you don’t go stir crazy staring at a computer screen all day, or worse, staring at four walls.

So where can you go to build your network? Who should be part of your community, your support system, and a source of potential business? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Start with your family and closest friends. They know you best and understand your career goals. Ask them for business advice or introductions to managers at their place of work.

2. Reach out to past clients, employers and co-workers. If you left previous employers on good terms, reach out to them. When they move on to other businesses, stay in touch. They may be just the contact person you need to gain an introduction to the right manager and the right opportunity at their new company.

3. Attend workshops and classes. Pay attention to your professional development. Not only will you keep up with the latest trends and practices for your industry, you get to meet professionals from other companies and other parts of the country to add to your contact list. Be sure to follow up with them after the class and every few months, even if it’s just to say hello. Invite them to connect with you on LinkedIn.

4. Consider joining social groups. Sites like Meetup.com or other local social organizations can help you connect with like-minded individuals. Whether you have an interest in skiing, dining out or book clubs, participating in social clubs helps you to reach out to people beyond your industry. What brings you together as a common interest could result in a valuable business connection.

5. Volunteer for a cause close to your heart. When you become involved with a charitable cause, you not only show off your softer side, but you also showcase your leadership and creative thinking skills. Like the social networks, volunteering draws people from different backgrounds to a common cause. Use that common bond to build a strong relationship with fellow volunteers.

6. Seek out role models. These are experienced professionals in your industry who have risen in the ranks and gained industry respect. Because of their stature in the field, you value their opinion and would like to connect with them more closely. They can be someone you have worked with previously or someone you know through an online community. For example, if you’re an aspiring writer, you may want to connect with a published author whose work you have always admired.

Once you’ve connected with these individuals, experts suggest the following tips for maintaining relationships with them.

Tip #1: Remember personal stuff about your connection, such as birthdays and work anniversaries. Offer congratulations for their promotions or new jobs. Those little notes, whether handwritten, text or social media, can make people feel special. They will remember the fact that you remembered them.

Tip #2: Offer your expertise. Remember building a network isn’t about what you get from your connections but what you give to them, suggests experts at the Enterprisers Project. Act as a sounding board for colleagues on work projects. Offer suggestions or advice if colleagues are feeling discouraged or need support. Offering your expertise helps you form stronger bonds with colleagues and team members.

Tip #3: Remember to follow up. If you’ve met someone for coffee and chatted with them at a conference, be sure to send them a note of thanks. The experts at Flexjobs say that this advice is especially helpful if you are applying for a freelance gig. After you’ve met with the potential client, be sure to follow up on a timely basis. You will want to stand out against the competition. Following up shows your attention to detail and that you pay attention to small stuff. That can be important in a growing business relationship.

Keep these tips in mind and know that you have plenty of sources to draw from to build your network. Networking can be a challenge, especially for the shy stay-at-home types, but it’s a necessary evil if you want to stay in business for yourself.

Is a Co-Working Space Right for You?

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Whether you work as a freelancer or a remote employee, sometimes working at home or at a coffee shop just doesn’t fit the bill. What other options are there?

For many, co-working spaces – where for a fee you can reserve a desk or private office – is the ideal solution. Co-working spaces have become a BIG thing these days. A new one seems to open up each week.

As more and more individuals gravitate toward freelancing and working remotely, co-working spaces provide a place to work away from home without the long-term commitment or cost of a permanent office. But just like anything else, co-working spaces have their pros and cons.

Amenities
Pro: Co-working spaces offer numerous amenities, similar to what you might find in a typical office environment. You’ll find open desks, wi-fi, complimentary refreshments, and meeting rooms. Some larger co-working places may offer support services, workshops and networking events to help you with your business. If you want to treat your business as a business, not as a temporary hobby, working in a co-working space can put you in the proper mindset.

Con: There may be a limited number of private offices available for use, and usually at a higher cost than an open desk. Because of the limited supply of offices, they may not always be available when you need them. Open desks are usually available on a first-come, first-served basis, which means you take your chances that one will be available when you show up. It also means sharing those desks with other people, and transporting your own materials back and forth.

Cost:
Pro:  Co-working spaces offer a range of cost options, depending on how much you plan to use the space and in what capacity – from monthly fees to hourly rates and packages. Co-working spaces are more affordable than renting a commercial office. If you’re established in your business or if your employer is willing to pay for part or all of your rental expense, a co-working space may be a solid choice.

Con: Even at the lowest price range, co-working spaces can still be costly, especially if you don’t have a steady income or you’re just starting your business. Which is why many freelancers and remote workers opt for the local coffee shop or library.

Commuting:
Pro: Many co-working spaces are becoming more localized. Because so many are popping up within local neighborhoods, there may be one close to your home, accessible by walking or biking.

Con: Commuting distance may have been one of the reasons you left your former job in the first place, so commuting to a co-working space may not hold much appeal. You have to allow for travel time, traffic and the cost of transportation.

Community/Networking:
Pro: Many remote workers seek out co-working spaces for its networking potential, to connect with other remote professionals. You never know who you might meet there – a graphic designer to help you redesign your client’s logo, for instance. Many members of co-working spaces appreciate the sense of community that the space brings.

Con: While co-working spaces are great for building your network, they may not provide a lot of privacy. Since you are surrounded by other workers, the lack of privacy may be detrimental to your work.

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Working Around Others:

Pro: It can be difficult to work alone at home without anyone to talk to. Many freelancers and remote workers claim that the one thing they miss is the camaraderie of the office environment. Co-working spaces replicate the traditional office environment in that respect. Many remote workers prefer working in public places like coffee shops and co-working spaces because they like having people around while they work. They claim it helps them be more productive. If you want to break up the monotony of work, there is usually someone around to chat with.

Con: Along with the occasional productive conversations in a public office space, there’s also the potential for loud talkers and chatty, gossipy co-workers. It can be tempting to get caught up in lengthy conversations with other workers, distracting you from your work. You might overhear conversations that you prefer would be kept private. Regular users of co-working spaces suggest bringing a set of headphones to block out the noise and let people know you are too busy to converse with them.

Schedule:
Pro: Many co-working spaces operate nine to five, offering the same set schedule of operations as a typical office environment. So if you’re used to working a nine-to-five job, you can work a similar schedule in a co-working space.

Con: If you work at odd hours, are on a tight deadline or are part of a start-up, the traditional nine-to-five office schedule may not benefit you.

Business attitude:
Pro: A co-working space may put you in a stronger business mindset. Knowing you have a place to go once a week or more frequently helps you treat your business as a business and not as an interim hobby until a real job comes along. Because the co-working space provides meeting space, it’s a more professional setting to meet with clients than a coffee shop or your home.

Con: Even in a co-working setting, you may still be faced with the same temptations – daydreaming, staring out the window, browsing your favorite websites, reading your horoscope. As long as there is no one looking over your shoulder or checking in on you, there will always be the temptation to take lots of little breaks to get through your day. You need self-discipline to accomplish your daily tasks, no matter where you work.

As the population of remote workers and freelancers continues to grow, expect to see more co-working spaces open up to accommodate them. But co-working spaces are not for everyone. Know the pros and cons before you decide to invest in one.

Relevant Articles
6 Pros and Cons of Joining a Co-Working Space
Before You Commit to That Coworking Space, Know the Pros and Cons
Pros and Cons of Coworking Spaces

Two Surveys Give Differing Perspectives of Freelancing

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What is it really like to work as a freelance professional? It seems many Americans are gravitating toward that kind of work lifestyle these days. According to the 2018 Freelancing in America survey by Upwork, nearly 57 million Americans worked as a contractor or freelancer in 2018, making up roughly 35 percent of the workforce. That percentage is expected to grow to 50 percent by 2027.

In Upwork’s survey, a majority of freelance workers work independently by choice, not out of necessity. While many freelancers surveyed admit they earn less money, they also enjoy better work-life balance (77 percent).

With so many freelance professionals flooding the workforce, it might be helpful to learn more about this independent work arrangement. What is so appealing about working  freelance? What are the pros and cons? What type of work do they do? How do they find clients? What are the benefits and challenges?

A survey by Flexjobs.com of 1,000 flex workers and freelancers provides some valuable insights, including some that are surprising and unexpected.

According to Flexjobs, the typical worker whose freelance work is their sole source of income is a female, generation Xer working in the marketing, editing, writing and creative career fields, primarily for small companies and individuals and juggling two to three clients at one time. She has been freelancing for at least three years and plans to continue freelancing for the long-term.

Interestingly, that conflicts with the Upwork survey, which indicates that Millennials and Generation Z workers are the driving force behind freelance work. I suspect that many of Upwork’s estimated 12 million site users fall into those demographics, while Flexjobs’ users are older, more experienced professionals.

Flexjobs reports that while 45 percent of respondents have been freelancing at least three years, 38 percent have been doing so for less than one year. That’s an awful lot of newbies in the market. Interestingly, that percentage dips to 18 percent for one to two years. My guess is the drop off occurs because the newcomers have decided to return to full-time work or that the first year of freelance was to test the waters.

While most freelancers work in multiple fields, the highest percentage are writers (29 percent) followed by customer service professionals (23 percent) and administrative professionals (21 percent). While writing is still considered a valued skill by employers, it seems they’d rather hire them out on a project basis than full-time.

Roughly 24 percent report that their work is a combination of freelance and employee jobs while 45 percent choose to freelance full-time. While 39 percent of freelancers work between 21 and 40 hours per week, 35 percent work less than 20 hours a week. I suspect those working fewer hours are new to freelancing and have yet to build up a steady client base. Or perhaps they choose to work freelance on a part-time basis.

More than half of respondents said they found gigs through networking (56 percent) and from job sites (47 percent). While you would think large companies would be the source of most assignments, that isn’t the case. Instead, most freelancers work for other individuals (56 percent) followed by small companies (46 percent), and mid-sized companies (30 percent). Freelancers worked for large companies only 17 percent of the time. The takeaway from this is if you want to find work, the best sources will be other professionals or small businesses.

Another surprising tidbit: Three-fourths of freelancers do not have a website to support their freelance business. If your work is good and you perform client assignments well, word gets around. Clients will find you. Don’t underestimate the power of a strong referral. A website may not be as necessary for your long-term freelance success as you might believe.

The biggest benefits of being a freelancer are flexible schedule (84 percent), work-life balance (66 percent), freedom to work where they choose (61 percent) and no commuting (60 percent). The desire to be your own boss was cited the least (49 percent)

The biggest challenges for many freelancers are finding clients, cited by 65 percent, and having a steady income, cited by 64 percent. That’s nothing new. Despite the romanticized view of freelancing, often by traditional employees working 60-hour work weeks, freelancing is hard work. One critic of the Upwork survey and the rosy picture it painted of the freelance industry said this: “People who don’t have to freelance love to romanticize freelancing – the actual truth is that making a living as a freelancer is harder than hard and sucks a ton of the time.”

Bottom line: Not everyone is cut out to be a freelancer or entrepreneur.

Despite the challenges, two-thirds of freelancers in the Flexjobs survey reported a better overall quality of life. Sixty percent said freelancing helped them become healthier, 66 percent are less stressed than when they worked in a traditional job and 59 percent are less financially stressed.

Anyone considering freelancing needs to consider the good, bad and the ugly side of the business. For all its outward glamour, the freelancing lifestyle still requires a lot of hard work just to make half of what you earned in a steady gig. Upwork may boast 12 million freelancers using the site, but only 400,000 of them actually earned money in 2018, says Stephane Kasriel, Upwork’s founder.

“Like any business to be successful, specific competencies are required, and our most successful freelancers are painstakingly aware of what they need to do to remain successful. That means having and investing in the right technical skills. But it also means having the right entrepreneurial skills, the ability to sell, deliver, evolve your skills and keep improving over time,” says Kasriel in a Forbes interview.

Which might explain why so many freelancers and small businesses struggle within the first year. Freelancers don’t think about the extra time and work involved to evolve their skills or to sell their services when they set up shop. It’s important to think about these factors when considering joining the freelance movement.

Tips for Creating Work-Life Balance as a Freelancer

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When you work as a freelancer or independent contractor, you are your own boss. You can set your own schedule, goals and priorities. You can take time off when you want to. You have more freedom. 

Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it?

But the fantasy rarely lives up to reality. More often than not, that self-imposed schedule and responsibility can get out of hand if you’re not careful. While it doesn’t happen often, freelance work can result in forty-hour plus workweeks. For many freelancers, the opposite is true. There isn’t enough work and they’re scrambling to find new clients. Constant fear and worry can nag at you about making ends meet or getting clients to pay on a timely basis.

When you work for yourself, it’s easy to focus more on your clients than your own family. Even more than your own well-being. It’s easy to lose track of your schedule. It’s easy to forget that you have a social life.

But take heart. There is hope for all freelancers. According to the 2018 freelancer survey by Upwork, 77 percent of full-time freelancers reported having a better work-life balance since becoming self-employed. It is possible to achieve that balance. But like everything else, you have to work at it, and you have to plan for it.

Having work-life balance is critical for your well-being for several reasons. It helps prevent burnout so you won’t feel overwhelmed by all your responsibilities. It helps you feel more energized and refreshed so you can face each new challenge. It helps clear your head so you can think more clearly.

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Once you decide to begin working for yourself, it’s important to establish work-life balance early on in your freelance career. When you shift from a full-time job with a fairly set schedule to not having a set schedule at all, it can be easy to lose your sense of balance. As your own boss, it’s up to you set create that balance. Make it a part of your business planning. But how do you do it?

Here are a few ideas to help you create more work-life balance in your freelance career:

1. Set a regular work schedule. Establish consistent work hours and stick to them. If you worked a nine-to-five job previously, establish a similar type of schedule when you first start out. Make sure you give yourself two days off each week. Setting up a regular schedule with two off days keeps you in a routine that you can sustain.

2. Stay connected with family and friends. When you work for yourself, it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing you are alone. That’s not true. No matter how busy you are setting up your business and pursuing new clients, don’t forget about your family and friends. They are your support system, and they can give you proper perspective when business gets too hectic or if things don’t go as smoothly as you planned.

3. Don’t be afraid to say no. No to assignments that would be a waste of your talents, no to outside obligations until you meet your deadline, no to clients who don’t pay on time or change their requirements. Know your limits. Know when you’ve had too much on your plate. Pass on the assignment or refer to another professional.

4. Keep your calendar organized. Keep all appointments in one place, both personal and professional so you don’t accidentally overbook yourself. Also set clear goals and priorities and list them in your calendar as a quick reminder of your obligations.

5. Detach and disconnect from devices. Information comes at us 24/7 via our devices, social media, computers and TV screens. It can be difficult to shut it out. It’s up to you to do that. Set aside a day or a weekend to do a digital detox. It might be helpful to put those detox dates in your calendar.

6. Set up a “fun” account. Small Business Trends, an online publication about small business practices, suggests setting up a separate bank account to be used solely for fun activities. As you get paid from clients, set aside a set amount into this fun account so you have money to splurge on that weekend spa getaway or ski trip you’ve had your eye on.

7. Practice self-care. To be your best for clients, you need to live healthily, suggests experts at FilterGrade.com. Eat properly, get proper sleep, practice meditation and yoga, or take long walks. Do anything you can to clear your mind and center yourself.

8. Keep up with personal interests. Maintain your hobbies, whether that’s playing tennis, reading the latest best-seller or attending concerts. Volunteer with your favorite cause. Sometimes when you spend time with those less fortunate, it puts your own troubles into perspective.

Whether you’ve been freelancing for for some time or are just starting on your journey, setting aside time for yourself is as critical to your success as helping your clients. When you work for yourself, it’s up to you to make work-life balance a priority.

Related Articles
7 Strategies for a Better Work-Life Balance in the Freelance Economy, Forbes
Here’s Why the Freelance Economy is On The Rise, Fast Company

Employers Value Good Writing, But Good Writers Are Hard to Find

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Many years ago when I worked for a property manager, I frequently drafted the manager’s correspondence to customers and residents. One day as she prepared to head out of town for business meetings, I happily volunteered to write a speech and a magazine article that she was obligated to write for a local association she belonged to. When she returned, she had two rough drafts on her desk to review. Needless to say, she was impressed. Not only had I saved her valuable time, but I showed that I brought added value to her management team. In fact, she was so impressed by my writing, she gave me more opportunities for writing beyond drafting her usual correspondence to the residents.

That’s just one example of how valuable writing skills are in the workplace. Even with the added emphasis of visual content, websites, podcasts and social media in today’s business environment, good writing still counts – a lot. If you can come to the table with strong writing and communication skills – skills frequently requested by employers – you can increase your value to bosses exponentially.

Despite the demands for strong writing skills, however, employers reportedly are having a difficult time finding qualified candidates with those skills.

In a recent study by Burning Glass Technologies, which provides job analytics to employers, employers reported have difficulty finding candidates with basic soft skills, such as writing, communications, customer service and organizational skills. According to their 2015 study of employer job postings, one in every three skills requested by employers is a soft skill. Even in highly technical jobs, like engineering and information technology, 25 percent of skills requested in job ads are baseline skills.

In another survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, employers were asked to prioritize the skills they sought most from college graduates. Some 82 percent of employers cited written communication, which ranked third behind speaking skills (85 percent) and teamwork (83 percent). Also high on the list of priorities are critical thinking and analytical reasoning (81 percent) and innovation and creativity (65 percent).

Why is good writing important for business? Writing is the fundamental basis for communicating with employees, customers, vendors, colleagues, and fans of your product. It’s a way of expressing thoughts and transporting messages, writes Jeff Bradford, President and CEO of the Bradford Group in Forbes magazine. “Good writing is good thinking that follows a logical path and is easy for someone to follow. Writing out what you want to communicate forces you to organize your thoughts.”

This is good news for professional writers everywhere. There’s still a place for us in the business environment despite recent technologies and growing emphasis on visual communications that seem to undermine good writing. Before you develop your visual presentation, website or podcast, you need good writing first.

Whether you describe yourself as a good writer or aspire to be one, here’s what good writers bring to the business environment, according to Business World magazine.

1. Good writers can make a positive first impression. When readers receive messages that are well-organized, well-thought out and grammatically correct, they form a positive opinion of the writer, and by extension, the organization the writer represents. In contrast, a message that is poorly written with misspelled words and grammatical errors gives the impression that the writer is disorganized, unintelligent and unprofessional.

2. Good writers demonstrate courtesy. They keep the writer’s information needs in mind as they draft their message. By paying attention to the tone of the message, writers show respect for readers.

3. Good writers have more credibility. Employers and clients view good writers as being more reliable and trustworthy. A well-organized and researched message also shows that the writer is knowledgeable and takes the time to plan their message rather than rushing to send it out to readers.

4. Good writers are more influential. There can be a persuasive quality to their writing. They know how to present messages in a way that influences people to take action, whether it’s to donate to a cause, join a membership organization, elect a political candidate, or purchase a product.

5. Good writers are sought-out for their writing expertise. Once word gets around what a word hound they are, co-workers and colleagues may ask for their assistance in editing their pieces or helping them write it. Good writers can gain more responsibility and recognition for their achievements.

6. Good writers understand that an online presence starts with good writing. With so much information on the Internet, good writing is needed to tell clients and customers about business goals, the company’s brand and products. Presentation matters, and it begins with good writing.

7. Good writers make good team players. People with strong writing skills are able to share ideas, give clearer explanations, and coordinate projects easily. Work partners value the clarity of their ideas and explanations. It makes working with them more enjoyable.

8. Good writers gain professional confidence. With each successful writing project, whether it is the launch of a website or a business proposal that wins a new client, good writers gain confidence in their abilities and are inspired to pursue new writing opportunities.

Not every employee has good writing skills. That’s why they are so highly valued in the workplace. If your writing skills are lacking, there are several things you can do to improve them. Take a few classes at a community college or grab a book and read about writing techniques. Most important, practice, practice, practice.

If you are a business owner or manager who doesn’t have good writing skills and doesn’t have time to do some self-study, look for someone who can help you. Hire a freelance writer, an administrative assistant, or editor who can help you formulate your messages and make you look your best in writing.

No matter what field you work in, the ability to write simply, clearly and concisely will help you become a valued member of the team.