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How To Develop New Skills For Freelancers


How To Develop New Skills For Freelancers

When you are your own boss, no one is in charge of your training but yourself. As a freelancer, staying up to date on the latest trends in your industry is crucial if you plan to remain relevant and beat out the competition. And, if you know how to develop new skills on your own, then you’ll always be able to expand the range of services you offer.

But self-directed learning isn’t always easy. You’re a freelancer, though. You proved that you have the spirit to lead yourself when you set out on this journey. In this post, we’ll offer a straightforward run down of how you can teach yourself just about any new skill.

1. Set Concrete Goals

The first step in how to develop new skills is to set a target for yourself. You don’t learn to code by saying “I want to learn to code”. You start with something like “I want to make a video game”, or “I want to add a custom app to my website”. Goals can be even narrower than this. And the more concrete you make them, the more realistic your chances of achieving them.

Experts recommend setting what are known as SMART goals:

Specific – The goal targets a particular, discrete skill.

Measurable – You can easily determine whether or not you’ve achieved the goal.

Achievable – You have a realistic chance of achieving the goal.

Relevant – The goal matters to you and fits within your current situation.

Time-bound – You have a specific date by which you plan to achieve the goal.

Picking up on the previous example, a freelancer who is skilled in basic web design but wants to get into custom app development might set this SMART goal:

To get started on my aim of offering custom web app development, I plan to first build a small app for my own site (specific). I’ll know I’ve achieved this goal simply based on whether or not the app functions correctly (measurable). I’ve taught myself some basic coding in the past, so this seems to be something I can do if I approach it correctly (achievable). If I learn to do this, it stands to be a very lucrative upsell that I can offer to current and future clients (relevant). My target date for launching the app is 2 months from now (time-bound).

We strongly recommend writing down your goals and sharing them with others. One study out of Dominican University found that only 43% of participants who thought about their goals made significant progress in them compared to 62% who wrote their goals down and told a friend about them. Success was pushed all the way to 76% for the people who went the extra mile and sent a progress report to a friend every week.

2. Find Your Resources

Once you’ve set a goal or two (or ten!), the next step is to figure out exactly how you are going to start learning the skills you desire. Just because this is self-directed learning, doesn’t mean you have to do it all alone. A good place to start is lurking or asking around online groups devoted to your profession. Your peers and superiors should be able to direct you to resources like the following:

  • Online courses
  • Free video tutorials
  • In-person professional development workshops
  • Books
  • Training manuals
  • And more

What matters most when it comes to how to develop new skills is finding learning resources that both match your preferences and fit the skill you’re trying to learn. Some people prefer reading over watching videos, for example. But it’s also probably a lot easier to learn to play guitar by actually watching someone do it.

3. Develop a Learning Plan

If you set your SMART goals, then you’ve already got an end date in mind for learning your new skill (or at least some small piece of it). But what are you going to do between now and then? That’s where your learning plan comes in.

The most bare bones learning plan is simply a study and practice schedule. For example, imagine you gave yourself two months to learn a new skill and are planning to take an online course that consists of 16 video lessons. You could schedule completing two lessons per week, and specifically set aside two hours every Monday and Wednesday to work on them.

Your learning plan is obviously going to be very personalized to you. It will look different depending on your timeline and the resources that you are using to learn your new skill.

4. Learn By Doing

As you put together your learning plan, keep in mind this old adage…

I hear and I forget,

I see and I remember,

I do and I understand.

While the scientific validity of these claims might be up for debate, most people can agree that the more they actually do something, the better they’ll be at doing it. If you are reading a book about writing sales copy, for example, all the knowledge will become real for you once you start to do some copywriting.

In other words, make time to actually do the skills you are trying to learn. Avoid the misconception that you can’t start doing something until you’ve learned how to do it. Instead, keep in mind that you learn how to do something by doing it.

5. Put Your Skills To Profit

You’re a freelancer, right? You’re learning new skills for the sake of your business, right?

So get out there and start making money off of them. Once you’ve mastered a new skill, find a way to turn it to your profit. Add a new service on Legiit. Or, find a way to work it into an existing service as an upsell. Having trouble getting enough sales on a particular service? You can always work in your new skill as part of the regular package in order to add value that your competitors aren’t adding.

There’s no point learning how to develop new skills as a freelancer if you aren’t going to put them to work for you.

6. Never Stop Learning

Do-it-yourself learning is addictive. Once you’ve mastered one technique that was originally out of your reach, you’ll want to learn more. Our advice is to never stop learning. Not only is it an integral part of being a freelancer, but it will also contribute to a happy, inspired life overall.

About the Author


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My name's Ish--college English professor by day, interstellar copywriter by night.

The written word is my one true love (don't tell my wife!). I've been a writer at heart since as early as I can remember, I've been teaching writing for nearly a decade, and I've been content manager of a blog for the college that I teach at for about five years. What's more, I was the lead writer and editor for a table top roleplaying game that raised more than $100,000 on Kickstarter (just Google "Open Legend RPG" and you'll see what I'm talking about).

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