Freelancing has plenty of upsides, but one thing you might sometimes feel like you miss out on is the career development you get in a permanent job. Working on your own means you don’t have a company training pot to draw on, an annual review to track your progress, or day-to-day knowledge sharing with your peers. With few role models and more senior professionals around to learn from, it’s only natural to worry that your skills growth will suffer as a result.
But freelancing doesn’t have to mean that your skills and expertise remain stagnant. Here are a few strategies to ensure you don’t fall behind when it comes to training, development, and keeping up to date with the latest thinking in marketing and comms:
Ask clients for feedback
Freelancers don’t always get regular feedback from clients - unless something is wrong, of course. But there is no reason why you can’t take the initiative and ask your clients about their experiences of working with you and whether there are any areas where they think you can improve or expand your skills. You can either raise it in one of your regular catch ups or, if you feel more comfortable, drop them an email with a few questions. It shows that you care about doing a good job and helps you to pinpoint development areas that you might not have considered.
Set yourself goals
Anybody who has worked in a permanent job will remember the career goals that you’re encouraged to set during your annual or six-monthly reviews. These help you address gaps in your skills or experience or activities that you would like to do more of in the future. But how many of us continue this practice when we become a freelancer? While you don’t have a manager to sit down with on a regular basis, you can still run your own ‘review’ process, by dedicating time to thinking about what career goals you would like to work towards in the next few months or year, and then reviewing these on a monthly basis to ensure you stay on track.
Give yourself a training budget
We admit, it’s probably tougher to get motivated when the company isn’t paying for your development but setting aside a small pot for training is a great way to boost your skills. There are loads of training courses, workshops and industry conferences around, and many of them aren’t that expensive. Expanding your expertise in this way gives you a route into offering new services and even upping your rates at the same time. When choosing courses, don’t just think about vertical career development – although that is one option - as lateral progression can be just as valuable. For example, if you’re a media relations specialist, could you do a course on running social media or influencer campaigns? And remember, any work-related training you do is deductible from your tax bill at the end of the year.
Going freelance can be particularly challenging for more junior marketing and comms professionals, who will usually have more development requirements. But, with high demand for talented account manager level freelancers, there is a career path for those who are willing to take the plunge. One way to ensure you don’t miss out on those development opportunities is to ‘buddy up’ with a more experienced freelancer, working together on projects while you learn the ropes. This is also beneficial for clients who get more of an agency style team to service their account. Buddying up is also an option for more experienced freelancers, who can join forces with somebody with complementary skills, providing an opportunity to learn new skills that way.
Consider fixed-term contracts
Another way that more junior professionals can make the transition to freelancing without losing all of their development opportunities is to start off by working fixed-term contracts within larger firms. These provide variety and the chance to experience different agency cultures and ways of doing things, which are invaluable for when you forge out on your own. One thing to bear in mind, however, is the upcoming IR35 legislation, which will make it harder for agencies to hire freelancers on these contracts. So be sure you fall outside the rules, or you may be transferred onto the payroll for the length of the project.
Try a new sector
Freelancers often benefit from specialising in a certain sector, as it gives you the chance to become really knowledgeable in one area, build up a solid reputation and a strong network of focused contacts. However, if you’re looking for a new challenge and a way to push yourself out of your comfort zone, then trying out a new industry could be a good way of doing it. Plus, some sectors are known to be more freelancer-friendly than others, with more opportunities to take on a variety of projects - the tech sector is a good example. However, you don’t have to switch to a sector that is completely different to what you do now. Consider how you can try something that is complementary to your current experience, but different enough to expand your knowledge. For example, if you primarily work with travel brands, can you apply this experience to hospitality? Or if you’ve done a lot in insurance, could you pursue projects in financial services?
As with everything in freelancing, responsibility for training and development falls on you. But, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Taking control of your own development means you can focus on those areas that you’re really interested in and that will really take your career in the direction you want. After all, that’s what freelancing is all about.
Looking for a career buddy? The Work Crowd’s freelance community it the perfect place to find other freelancers to team up with on projects, offering complementary skills and learning opportunities. Simply post your request and you’ll be connected with the professionals that best match your needs.