Now, we all know that things are a bit … weird … right now.
But, rather than sitting, crying into their Chardonnay while binge-watching their box set of choice, some people are using their time to catch up on CPD (that’s Continuing Professional Development).
Don’t get me wrong – I’ve already done the binge-watching thing.
With everything moving online at the moment, there’s a HUGE amount of professional development to be had.
You might pick one course (but which one do you pick?), or you might decide to choose a few.
It’s a problem that can hit us at any time, not just during these plague days.
So, I thought I’d help you to break it all down, and help you prioritise your professional development.
Here’s what you need to look at:
If you have the time, then great, crack on. But what if you have little or no time? Can you carve enough time out of your day or week to get the work done? Be honest with yourself. If you don’t have the time, no amount of time-management strategies are going to help you.
Many courses have a set pathway and a time limit. If the course, for example, runs for 6 weeks every Monday night, will you be able to fit it in? If it runs during the day, can you find the time in your schedule? It’s highly unlikely that you’ll be going on holiday any time soon, but if you have other responsibilities you’ll have to make sure that you have time to complete the course.
If the course has a hefty discount, or is limited to a small number of people, or only runs a few times a year, then you may not want to wait. But only go for it if, when your course starts, you have the time set aside to get it done. There may be a lot of juggling ahead.
This one’s for courses that allow you to work at your own pace. If you go ahead and book, will you be so busy that you forget all about it? It’s a real risk that you’ll pay for a course you’ll never get around to doing.
Be honest. Do your homework. If your profession expects a certain type of Continuing Professional Development, don’t stray from it if you expect your peers to accept your training. If you should be spending time attaining a recognised qualification try not to stray from the path – you could be wasting your time and money.
Even if the training doesn’t lead to a qualification it can be valid, but is it accepted? Look at recommended CPD – some training is better than others and you should be able to pick out what is valid with a quick bit of research (talk to more knowledgeable colleagues if in doubt).
Not all training leads to qualifications, but it should increase your knowledge. It should either build on what you know, or expand your knowledge into new areas. To be useful professional development it should help you professionally. Don’t be distracted by the shiney things!
Be honest with yourself – are you wanting to do the training to genuinely help your development, or are you doing it to impress yourself or others? If it’s just a vanity project, to say you’ve done the training, is it likely to be of any use to you in the long run?
If there are expected pathways to continuing your professional development, before justifying the training, think about if it will help you now or further down the road. Have you got the framework in place to move logically from one step to the other. If the training won’t help you now, will it really help you in the future or will it be outdated by the time you get to it?
Perhaps it’s a silly question, but you must ask yourself this. If you just fancy doing the course because you fancy doing the course, and it’s not really useful for your business or career path, can you really justify it as CPD?
It’s always been the same, but with online learning being more prolific it means that anyone can set themselves up as an expert and give you training. Do you know who is doing the training? Are they reputable? What qualifies them to teach you?
There are all sorts of training opportunities out there. There’s face to face (when we finally get back to it) or distance learning training. You can learn via one-to-one, or group training, or classroom-based workshops. There’s training through social media groups, dedicated online classrooms, ebooks, university courses, influencer programmes. There are so many ways of learning it would take an ebook to cover them all. Is the way the course delivered a good way for you to learn?
Reviews by people who know the value of the training is probably more valuable than if it’s given by total newbies who might not know if they’re being trained properly or not. Look for trusted reviews, ask your peers or colleagues. Find out everything you can about the content and value of the training.
Quality training can cost good money. Of course, not all training costs a huge amount, but the higher the qualification or value of the training, the more it is likely to cost. Don’t rush into the training if you can’t afford the outlay. Look around for education grants if it’s something you are likely to need.
Is the training really teaching you something new? It’s worth looking at the training / course content and making sure you’re not going over old ground (unless it’s a refresher course).
Not all free courses are bad, just like not all paid-for courses are good. But again, it’s wise to look at the course content. It might be a reputable company giving away courses as a route to paid study further down the road. For example, FutureLearn is a brilliant platform with many universities using courses as samples of what’s to come if you study with them. But it might be someone with a fancy business name looking to make a quick buck.
So, once you’ve looked at the points above, you might have decided that you’ve got the time, the training is recognised by your profession, it’s by a reputable trainer and it’s value for money.
But you might have a number of courses that you want to do.
You’re like a kid in a sweet shop, you want the lollipop, but you also want the chocolate bar and the gummi bears.
If you’ll be learning something that will give you an immediate benefit, then this is the course to do first.
If there’s a discount, and you have time to do it now, then this should probably also take priority.
If there’s a discount on offer, and there is no limit to the amount of time you have to do the course, for example, if it’s a bit of distance learning that you do at your own pace, then this should come next. Pay now, do later.
If there’s something you know you’ll need to do, but it’s not imminent, then this should be a bit further down the list.
The course that will help you move forward, but is not a priority, will come last.
So, say you’re looking at three courses and you can’t decide whether to sign up for just one, or all three:
It would go something like this …
Course 1: There’s one that you’ve been dying to do, and it has a discount right now, but the discount stops at the end of the month.
Course 2: You’ve got another that you know will help with a current project.
Course 3: And there’s another that you really just fancy doing, because you’ve always wanted to learn how to code / design / make great cocktails. It’ll impress the boss or your client.
When looking at all the information, you realise that …
Course 1: The one you’ve been dying to do isn’t high priority. But the discount is too good to ignore, it’s self-paced distance learning, and you have the time to do it, setting aside a few hours a couple of times a week. It’s also by a reputable trainer and will be great CPD.
Course 2: The one that will help with the current project is an ongoing course, lasting around a month, but will help get that project done. You can learn as you go, and might help complete the project quickly and with a higher efficiency. Also, there’s funding available via a workplace / freelance bursary.
Course 3: The one that you really fancy doing is by a recognised leader in their field, it runs every couple of months and is taught in a local commerce workspace. It requires a block of dedicated time, outside of working hours.
So you prioritise like this …
Course 2: Is the one to do first. Apply for the bursary, show it’s great CPD and will benefit both you and your company. If you don’t get the funding it’s still worthwhile as it will add to your expertise.
Course 1: That discount, and the fact that it’s reputable and self-paced distance learning is too good to miss. If the discount ends at the end of the month, even by doing the first course you should be able to comfortably fit it in. You can afford it, but as long as there’s no cap on the amount of students, apply nearer the cut-off date to save your pennies in the meantime.
Course 3: You really want to do it, but it runs all the time and even doing it outside of working hours would be too much right now. Keep a note of it, jot down the details in your diary, and go back to it when you have more time and your workload is more manageable.
Once you’ve decided on the points above, you can go ahead and book your courses. You’re set and ready to continue your professional development in a structured, educated way that will help you move forward and learn.
There’s an image of a freelancer. You’ll have seen the one. A happy-go-lucky, tousle-haired professional, steaming drink by their side as they type into a laptop in the window of a coffee shop. They’re smiling.
Oh, and there’s the one sitting in their kitchen, cup by their side, sleeping dog at their feet as they look at their phone. There may be a pile of papers nearby, or a pad and pen for when inspiration strikes.
Or the one as they cross a street in an exotic location, messenger bag slung jauntily across their shoulder as they dodge traffic, laughing because they’re on their way to the next six-figure job meeting.
Or, perhaps, the one where they’re sitting on a sofa, one dog sleeping at their feet, another on the sofa next to them as they type into their laptop while drinking builder’s tea and eating homemade bread for breakfast.
Oh, hang on, strike that last one. It’s me right now.
You see the popular image of a freelancer is usually one of those.
What you don’t often see is the image of the freelancer tearing their hair out when a client fails to deliver material on time, or gets snarky, or adds new items to the brief or changes the deadline without warning (or talking money), or lies to them, or simply disappears (sometimes without paying). You don’t see the frustration and anger, the being treated as an employee rather than a businessperson, and the huge pile of shit that can often descend just when you thought the job was a good one.
You also don’t see the dishevelled house when deadline looms, the family and friends talking about your ‘job’ as if it’s a hobby and the stress caused by constantly searching for work.
Don’t get me wrong – being an independent businessperson can be the best thing and the worst thing in the world, but most of us wouldn’t change it for anything.
If you’re a freelancer you need a freelance support network.
Being a member of a professional society or two, which usually have wonderful, valuable forums for support and encouragement, is a no-brainer. You will meet people in your profession who will understand what you are going through in your niche.
A support network made up of people outside your expertise can be extremely valuable.
A non-exclusive network can help you understand what other freelancers are going through, talk to experts in fields you might not come across in your normal working life, and can be a sanity lifeline.
It’s the freelance equivalent of getting out more!
There are networks that meet virtually as well as in-person, and they appear for all kinds of freelancers. Sure, there are groups that meet in LinkedIn or on Facebook, but the best ones are those that dive across social networks and become a true tribe.
I’m a member of three, and they all provide help, support and encouragement in equal measure. You might find your own, but to show how a support network can stop you being isolated, I’ll mention them here.
Being Freelance started in 2015 with Steve Folland’s podcast. He started his vlog in 2016 and opened up the Being Freelance Community on Facebook in 2019. Steve is an audio and video creator and his infectious personality, in just over a year, has helped create a group of 1,700 like-minded members. I’m one of the very first members, and have to say I love it.
We’re called BFFs, love biscuits (mine’s a fig roll, thanks), and help each other out. We chat about anything and everything, from picking the collective community brain to having a giggle over silly things that only freelancers would understand. We also celebrate our wins.
Early on Steve started the Non-Employee of the Week Awards, where he celebrates members of the community (I’m proud owner of number 9) and announces the winner from the ‘car park of dreams’. It really is a special moment.
We now have a virtual book club too, where we collectively pick a book, read it then meet up on Zoom to talk about it. Hey, we did this before Zoom became a ‘thing’ during the pandemic.
The Being Freelance Podcast is one of the best around for freelancers, with guests talking through all aspects of freelance life. They’re not boring, or salesy, or corporate – you just get good, honest chats with fellow freelancers to make you feel a little less alone.
Founded in 2016 by Ed Goodman (a freelance social media trainer) and Annie Browne (a virtual assistant), the Freelance Heroes Facebook group has grown to a whopping 9,500 members. The group exists to allow freelancers to chat and share tips in a safe, comfortable environment, and has a real-life meetup in the autumn in Wolverhampton (but like everything else in this plague time, it’s had to be postponed this year until November).
There’s a Freelance Heroes Day every year, which is today, May 16th, so get on over to your social media of choice, look for the #FreelanceHeroesDay hashtag and get sharing with other freelancers. The aim is to pay tribute to the 2 million UK freelancers, build their network and expand knowledge of the freelance industry. It’s huge.
You can also join the community via the Freelance Heroes website and become a paid up member if you fancy (with some extras that the Facebook group doesn’t have access to).
Atomic is run by Andrew and Pete, and is a paid platform to help small business owners and entrepreneurs grow their business in a smarter, more sustainable way. They, too, have a Facebook group for members and is a small, exclusive group that packs a punch.
Atomic is for freelancers seriously wanting to up their game, and has the largest amount of training I’ve seen in one place, covering all aspects of business. From tips and tricks for getting new business, to how to set up a mailing list and becoming more confident, if there’s something you want to know, it will be here. And if you do find something that isn’t there, tell the team and they’ll be on it.
There are tailored all-day training pathways, masterclasses and quick bits of training to fit in while you have a coffee. The training is great for everyone.
Every year they have a real-life meet up in Atomicon in Newcastle, which had to quickly move online this year (wonder if you can figure out why?). But next year is set to be epic.
The community is supportive and knowledgeable and even impressed me, a Yorkshire lass who isn’t easily impressed. There are regular Zoom meetups for some virtual contact, to pick Peter and Andrew’s brains, meet members and generally talk through the ups and downs of freelance life.
You can join Atomic at the moment (16 May 2020) for only £1 , get all the details here, and tell them I sent you if you join up, we’d love to see you over there!
There are other networks out there, but I’ve highlighted the three that I love (and I wouldn’t recommend something I didn’t love). In these really weird times, freelancers now more than ever need to help each other out.
As a freelancer, joining a network: