Freelancing casts off the shackles of the office grind. You’re unbound, unchained. No cubicle can contain you. Yours is the chance to ride the waves of destiny, gently nudged between opportunities when you’re not simply lying back and relaxing. From your lofty position atop the seas, you can look down upon the poor saps moored and directionless upon tiny islands.

But while it’s good to keep that chilled-out vibe when you’re ducking burnout, you still have to watch your footing. If you don’t, you might escape a fated nudge and crash against the rocks of self-sabotage.

In other words, absent the metaphors, you need to be professional. You need to approach your career with appropriate dedication and optimise your work.

This is significant in many areas of daily working life, but the one we’re going to focus on here is cybersecurity. Working a conventional job for an employer mostly takes security out of your hands — if something goes wrong, you’re not the one who has to deal with the consequences. But when you’re the one in charge of the operation, the responsibility is yours. Here are some tips for protecting your business finances online:

Invest in a good VPN (and use it)

A VPN, or virtual private network, is the key to encrypting everything you do online. It routes all your internet activity through a protected tunnel so no one without permission can observe the sites you’re visiting or the data you’re transferring.

This is obviously important when you’re using online banking, or when you’re using a public Wi-Fi network of unknown security — two things that freelancers are reasonably likely to do on occasion.

The good thing about this is that a decent VPN isn’t particularly expensive. You can easily afford to pay for one and have it running all the time in the background without significantly reducing your browsing speed or causing any general issues. Something like ExpressVPN or NordVPN should be more than enough, so choose one to try and see how you fare.

Stick to best login practices

Companies often have password requirements, forcing their employees to adhere to certain standards, but it’s easy for freelancers to forget about taking such precautions. With so many services to log into and so little time, they can start to reuse passwords.

This is a bad idea, of course. With so many services using the same email address and having the same security reset details, it only takes one to be hacked for the whole house of cards to collapse.

You need only choose strong passwords, change them semi-frequently, and protect your personal details as best you can (anything that might be used to get through your account recovery questions, at least). This isn’t difficult at this point. Google Chrome, for instance, will generate and remember strong passwords whenever needed, and you can freely take advantage of that provided you have a strong password for your Google account.

Use trustworthy cloud services

Doing business as a freelancer racks up the documentation no matter what you do. Invoices, statements of work, receipts, negotiations… It’s all important, and it all pertains to your finances in key ways. Losing a vital invoice could lead to major problems, and then there’s the prospect of the details contained within those documents being used to gain access to your account.

Due to this, you must lean on tried-and-tested services from reputable brands for everything from file storage to accounting. And yes, you do need to be using cloud services rather than local software, because otherwise it would be disastrous if your computer broke down or got stolen. The cloud allows freelancers to be even more flexible — it only needs to be used safely.

Carefully screen for phishing

Phishing is the process of trying to steal and abuse private data, and it’s hugely effective in the online era because personal details can be used to access accounts and make money through blackmail. With the tips we’ve already covered, you should be fairly well shielded from scammers, but you still need to screen your emails and messages quite carefully.

Why? Because an active and flourishing freelancer will forge a lot of professional connections, and that will lead to a lot of messages. Some will just be chat requests, but others will be about arranging or making payments — and a scammer paying attention to your work could plausibly devise such an email that you’d initially see as legitimate. So no matter how busy you get, don’t just breeze through your emails. Pore over them to ensure legitimacy.

These steps shouldn’t seem like much because they’re not particularly difficult or expensive. It’s actually not that hard to stay safe online these days. Online banking services feature strong protections (often including multi-factor authentication) that make your life easier. Do what you can, and try not to worry!