Did you know that around 54 million Americans are freelancing?
Yep, it’s a fairly large (and growing) pool of possibilities, meaning most of us can’t afford to simply sit back, confident that our current skills and talents will keep the customers rolling in.
How to stay (or reach) the top of your game is a question many freelancers ask. We’d all much rather be one of those freelancers who never, ever seem to be hurting for work, you know, those ones who spend a lot of time in hammocks, sipping cocktails, which, by the way, is quite impractical if you’ve ever tried it!
One way to stay on top is by ensuring that you upskill. Here’s how and why we think all freelancers should be looking at it:
If there is one thing for certain, it’s that technology and the way we do things is always changing. If you were an admin person who didn’t move off the typewriter, you would have a hard time in today’s offices. As a freelancer, you need to fit time into their schedules to stay up to date with the latest tools and skills to avoid working yourself into an obsolete corner.
The evolution of freelance writing work is a good example. Those who were around in the pre-Internet (or pre-online content) days reminisce about a time when they wrote letters, received checks and maybe cranked out hard copies using an early version of Word.
If those people hadn’t upskilled to become familiar with online communication and payments, they’d be left behind while those who had learned the quicker forms of communication swooped in.
Technology is not only affecting how we do our work, it’s creating new demand for skills that clients need to hire for. For example, yesterday’s “marketing consultant” may have evolved into today’s “social media manager”, while new tools and apps are being developed all the time, creating new sets of specialist skills that are needed (think about apps like Salesforce or Infusionsoft, for example).
So, a big part of upskilling is ensuring that you remain relevant in a world that’s always changing.
Changing Priorities or Goals
Sometimes, the need to upskill is less about customers or what everyone else is doing, and more about addressing your own changing goals or priorities.
In fact, it is always a good idea to regularly take stock. When was the last time you sat down and considered where it is you’d like to see yourself over the next couple of years or longer? Are you keeping a close eye on developments in the industry?
Don’t assume any changes won’t affect you and that you’ll be safe with the skills you already have. “Employability” is a term used to refer to the skillsets of company employees, so perhaps “hireability” is appropriate for freelancers. Many recruiters will say that if you’re wondering what skills you need to be looking at, look at the skillsets of younger employees. The same could be said for freelancers.
Shift in Customer Demand
This is a key consideration. If freelance writers had firmly stuck with printed publications, they would have missed the huge customer demand for online content creation.
Copywriters may have missed opportunities for email writing and graphic designers would have lost out on the huge opportunity for graphics to go along with that web content.
Jobs, such as Content Strategist, Infographic Designer or Social Media Manager, were unheard of as recently as a decade ago, but technology developments have seen shifts in customer demand.
Where many of your customers may have still mostly operated offline in the past, their businesses are now more usually online and this is often how they are getting the majority of their customers.
Move Away from “Money for Time”
This is another great reason for freelancers to upskill and is actually a topic Steve Roller discusses often in Cafe Writer. As a freelancer, you’re usually either trading money for time (hourly rates) or for a particular set of work. Either way, there is only so much you can do because we all have the same number of hours in a day.
Many freelancers are now looking for ways they can boost their income without having to work more hours or take on more projects. The answer often comes in the form of some kind of scaleable business, one where you can still make money, even if you’re asleep or not doing the work yourself.
Running this type of business involves a new set of skills for setting up and growing your business. If you’ve got aspirations to move away from “feast or famine” or to build something more scaleable, then upskilling so that you’re in a better position for success is a good idea.
Fire Up Your Passion
We all go through periods of time when we’re not feeling so creatively inspired. Sometimes, one of the best things you can do is take a new class or course to fire up your passion for your work again.
This is not just a chance to upskill, it’s a chance to meet new people, change your setting for a bit and feed the mind. It’s difficult to remain inspired when we do the same things, following the same routine day after day; upskilling offers a routine break and the chance to perhaps see your work in a new light.
If I focus solely on blog writing but find that tomorrow, either no one is hiring or suddenly, no one is willing to pay the money I need, it would be a good thing if I were able to pivot to another skill that people are hiring and paying for, right?
Many freelancers now gather a suite of various digital skills so that they are able to make that pivot when necessary. The broader your skill base, the more likely it is that you can switch to something else.
Be The Best
… or the best version of you that you can be. Everyone tends to know the names of the “experts” in their field, but the secrets to becoming one is being dedicated to your craft, a thirst for learning the ins and outs, commitment to keeping up with new developments and, of course, consistently turning out a high level of work.
The best of the best are always upskilling. They always have a comment for an interview about X or Y industry development because they’ve been keeping up with what’s going on. If you want to be in that league, then keeping yourself upskilled is just part of being an expert.
Part of achieving success as a freelancer is being willing and able to develop a broad set of skills. You don’t want to paint yourself into a corner and suddenly find that new developments have rendered you obsolete.
Upskilling gives you options. You can decide to pivot to a new skill or change your business model to something that is more scalable. You can fire up your creative juices and you can set yourself up as a true expert in your field.
Make goals for yourself and keep abreast of developments in your industry. This way you can set yourself up so that you’re always in work.