I’ve written here and there about my old corporate gig, and the circumstances that motivated me to leave it behind and go out on my own. If you’re new to the blog, you can check out a piece of that story in my one-month recap — but today, I’d like to focus on the many ways in which those experiences have proven so valuable in my new work.

My low point this last summer was only one piece of my journey in corporate America. Regardless of the frustrations I experienced at my company more recently, it wouldn’t be fair for me to leave out the part where getting hired there almost five years ago was hitting the ultimate jackpot. As a lifelong book lover, I could hardly believe that I would be working right in the middle of the publishing industry. It was an incredible opportunity then, and I am still so grateful for so much of the experience.

The industry was a lot more Corporate (with a capital “C”) than I predicted. When I was in college, I used to declare that I would never end up working for The Man, and ultimately, that’s exactly where I landed. While the corporate environment proved one of the biggest factors in my decision to leave the company, it also gave me a valuable set of professional tools that I firmly believe have given me a leg up in the first few months of my freelance life. I’m sure there are many people that become successful freelancers or who become self-employed without corporate experience, but for me, those five years in a more traditional work environment have been key to my transition.

My corporate ID badge. This photo was taken on my first day at the office in January 2012 – I was so proud of my new blazer!

Check out this list of lessons from corporate America that have helped me since I’ve been out on my own. I have some great bosses to thank for these, and I hope I can pay it forward myself someday.

  • Follow-up. In my corporate jobs, I learned to make a habit of scheduling out follow-up to all e-mails and phone calls. Most of the time, I would make a note to check back in one week after the original outreach. I’ve continued this practice. I find that editorial contacts are really impressed when I proactively check in about a pitch or question that I’ve submitted. It’s an indication to them that this is my JOB and that I take it seriously.
  • Project tracking. My creative little brain had trouble adjusting to my previous company’s obsession with all things grids and Excel when I first started, but by the time I put in my notice, they had become second nature. I learned that it’s possible to organize pretty much ANYTHING in a grid or chart, and I’ve taken those skills with me. If you’d have told me in college that I would become a writer and rely so heavily on these kinds of systems, I wouldn’t have believed you, but here I am, with my handy little Excel spreadsheet constantly open on my desktop.  It’s really helpful for keeping track of project progress, publication and payment.
  • The art of writing an e-mail. I learned pretty early about the importance of presenting yourself in a highly professional, positive way via e-mail. It was no longer enough to dash off the more casual notes of my college days and hit “send” — I realized that writing a good e-mail was worth a little extra time and care. Now that I call myself a writer, it’s especially critical that my e-mails make a good impression, because they are a piece of my work like anything else.
  • Routine, routine, routine. I’ve found that keeping some level of a routine has been really helpful in transitioning to the working-from-home lifestyle. Since I spent five years in a highly-structured corporate job, I already KNEW how to keep myself to a schedule, and I was ready to keep up with it on Day One of freelancing.

Have you learned anything from your jobs — corporate or otherwise — that you think would help me moving forward? I’d love to keep learning from you, so please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below!

***Don’t forget that TODAY is the LAST DAY to enter the November giveaway and get a chance to win the earrings pictured below from The Shine Project. All you have to do to be eligible is post a comment (any comment!) to the giveaway entry here.***