Freelancers often leave their full-time jobs for the promise of more freedom, flexibility and a better quality of life. But besides the lack of traditional benefits, freelancers also miss out on the opportunity to get company sponsored professional development. That doesn’t mean that freelancers should lose focus of expanding their skills. Because although getting an education can be pricey, there are plenty of advantages to finding ways to develop your capabilities.
Increase your demand
By mastering new skills, you won’t just keep yourself mentally stimulated, but you’ll learn valuable information that could help you charge higher rates in the future. Taking classes or professional development courses is also a great add-on to your resume, showing potential clients that you’re always working to better yourself, and that you’ll have the latest ideas to bring to the table.
Plus, it will help you keep up with the market. According to the 2017 “Freelancing in America” survey, 65% of freelancers are actively updating their skills as their jobs evolve. Another added perk? You’ll get lots of opportunity to network and grow your contact list.
Professional Development: Where to Start
To figure out what sort of professional development would best benefit you, give yourself a performance review. Take a moment to figure out any weaknesses you have. Perhaps there’s new software or technology that you’re not well versed in, or maybe advancements in social media have left your skillset in the digital dust. Even the most talented, smart freelancer can identify an area where they could get better.
Once you’ve identified an area where you want to improve, think about the best way to address it. Is it a skill that you merely need to practice each day? Or should you enroll in a class or course, seek out a mentor or find a book that will enrich your mind with valuable new information? There are plenty of ways to improve your craft, and it doesn’t always have a big price tag attached. Here are a few ideas:
Take a class
Whether you sign up for a class at a local community college or enroll in an online course, a class is the most obvious way to broaden your skills. Many of these courses offer flexible scheduling, making it easy to fit them into your schedule. Look into places like Codecademy, General Assembly, lynda.com or Masterclass to see if there are any relevant courses to help you learn new things.
Practice skills on your own time
This seems like the most obvious advice of all, but if there’s something you want to get better at, you need to put in the hours. If you want to learn blogging, start your own blog where you can see which kinds of posts work, and which ones don’t. If you are a photographer and want to learn to use new editing software, start practicing on it a little bit every day. You can read up on something as much as you want, but until you start actually doing, it’s going to be hard to build up your skills.
Attend a conference
Another great way to learn new things, especially about emerging trends in your field, is by going to a conference. These are a fun mix of work and play, giving you plenty of time to learn from panels and presentations, plus schmooze with potential collaborators and clients at mixers and events. You also might be able to write off travel and admission costs as a work expense, which is a win-win for future you.
Stretch your skills on current projects
Another way to learn new skills is by throwing yourself into the fire. If you’re working for an existing client who wants you to take on more responsibility in an area where you’re looking to improve, it’s a great chance to gain valuable experience in a real world setting. Just be sure that you can deliver great results for your client, even if it means putting in extra time and effort.
Check out some TED Talks relevant to your field
If you want to expand your skills but don’t want to break the bank, consider searching the large database of TED Talks available online today. Their site currently has over 2,900 talks from experts, thought leaders, creatives and more—which means you’ll most likely be able to find a talk that you find interesting and that will help push your work forward. And if you find a talk that really resonates with a specific project, you can send the presentation along to your clients to check out for extra bonus points.
These are just a few ways to get started on the route to professional development. If you want to keep going down the path of continuing education, check out volunteer opportunities, professional groups or meet-ups, certifications, mentorship or good old fashioned research. Just remember, as with anything else in life, you’ll get out as much as you put in! So take those online courses seriously. And be careful—you might just learn something.
Once you've decided what professional development you're interested in working towards check out our blog on How to Set Goals at Work which has templates for getting you started.