How to Manage Professional Development as a Freelancer

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One of the advantages of a full-time gig (aside from the steady pay check, of course) is the opportunity to get feedback on your work and plan for your professional development. But as freelancers, we’re often working in a silo. Even if the pay checks are rolling in (let’s hope!), there isn’t necessarily someone beside you encouraging you to go for that promotion or think about using your skills in a new way.

And that means it can be easy to fall into a bit of a rut. When you’re busy cranking on deadlines, drumming up new projects and managing your own accounting, professional development can quickly fall by the wayside.

 But it shouldn’t.

 With a bit of planning ahead, you’ll feel motivated to reach your goals rather than feeling stagnant or stuck.

Three tips for managing your professional development as a freelancer

  1. Set regular goals and schedule a time when you’ll review them.

I know, it’s easier said than done. But if you set aside the time now, you’ll thank yourself later. Determine your own review period – quarterly is a good place to start – and put a meeting in your calendar so you’ll hold yourself accountable.

Just as you would when meeting with a manager in an in-house role, identify tangible, measurable goals for yourself. For instance, do you need to diversify your client base? Then determine two or three sectors you aim to break into. Setting specific goals will enable you to create an effective action plan to meet them.

UC Berkeley’s career development page suggests that you:

  • Express your goals positively
  • Be precise
  • Set priorities
  • Write your goals down
  • Break down your goals into small, achievable tasks
  • Set realistic goals.

You can take the fourth suggestion one step farther and write your goals down somewhere that’s visible to you every day. It could simply be a Post-it note on your computer screen or a scribble on your chalkboard. Just keep those goals in view as a constant reminder and check on your own progress!

  1. Ask for feedback.

 Another challenge with freelancing as opposed to an in-house position is that your work can seem to fall into a black hole. You meet the deadline, ship it off and then … silence. The job is ticked off the list but you’re left wondering did they love it? Could I have improved? Did it garner the results the client hoped for?

 The only way to answer those questions is to ask. Whether you’re working with a project manager or directly with the client, don’t be afraid to request input so that you can continue to improve your craft (and the bottom line for your client too).    

  1. Take advantage of online courses and tutorials, especially free ones.

Especially in today’s digitally-driven landscape, there’s always something new to learn. As part of your goal setting, you probably identified some new skills you want to add to your toolkit. Perhaps you want to expand your social media prowess to offer more inclusive services to your clients (and market yourself, to boot). Or maybe you want to up-level your accounting skills to make tax time a bit less stressful. 

Identify the new skills you want to learn (and, similar to tip number one, set yourself a time limit). Then, see what’s available for free, whether online or in-person. With the growing prevalence of MOOCs (massive open online courses), you aren’t limited by geography or your bank balance. Countless prestigious colleges and universities worldwide now offer many courses online for free (of course there are usually paid options too). Both Coursera and edEx are popular MOOC providers offering courses from worldwide institutions such as Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Melbourne and more.  

Another great resource for online learning is Lynda.com, which offers online tutorials related to business, software, technology and creative skills. While there is a monthly cost for signing up, a free trial is available.  

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About

Kendall Richmond is a California native who now calls Melbourne, Australia, home. Kendall writes for higher education institutions, non-profit organisations and a host of businesses, large and small.

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