How to prioritise your CPD

how to prioritise your CPD

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.

cool stuff

But how on earth do you prioritise?

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.

How to prioritise your professional development.

Here’s what you need to look at:

time, clocks, rush job

Make sure you have effective time-management strategies in place.

  • Do you have the time right now?

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.

  • Will you have the time to complete the course if it’s time dependent?

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 you don’t have the time right now, but it’s a limited offer, should you wait?

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.

  • If you don’t have the time right now, but it’s self-paced, will you forget about the course?

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.

Does your profession have recognised CPD pathways?

  • Are you looking at something that’s a recognised qualification?

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.

  • Is the training an accepted one for your profession?

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).

  • If there’s no qualification at the end, is it still valuable to you?

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!

  • Is it just a ‘vanity’ project?

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?

  • Will it help you now, or is it something to help you in the future?

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?

  • Is it actually useful?

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?

Is the training given by a reputable trainer?

  • Do you know the company / person giving the training?

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?

  • Is the course delivered in a way that will facilitate learning?

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?

  • Does the course have reviews by people you trust?

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.

Is it value for money?

  • Can you afford it?

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.

  • Are you really learning something new?

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).

  • If it’s a free course, is it a good one?

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.

How to decide which training to go for.

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’re looking at more than one course here’s how to prioritise:

  1. The one that will help you now

If you’ll be learning something that will give you an immediate benefit, then this is the course to do first.

  1. The one that has a time-sensitive discount / offer and you have time to do it now

If there’s a discount, and you have time to do it now, then this should probably also take priority.

  1. The one that has a time-sensitive discount / offer and you have to pay for it now, but will have the time to do it later

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.

  1. The one that will help you do something you know you have to do soon

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.

  1. The one that will help you move forward

The course that will help you move forward, but is not a priority, will come last.

Putting it all together

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.

Train like a boss

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.

winner's trophy

Why you need a freelance support network

social media networks

The image of a freelancer

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.

The realities of freelance life

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.

But.

If you’re a freelancer you need a freelance support network.

Professional societies are great

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.

But freelancer networks are great too

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.

social media networks

The Being Freelance Community

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.

Sara Donaldson being freelance

Freelance Heroes

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).

freelance heroes assemble

Team Atomic

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!

Freelance Networks Rock!

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.

So, why do you need a support network?

As a freelancer, joining a network:

  1. Gives you friendship
  2. Stops you feeling isolated
  3. Gives you a feeling of perspective
  4. Gives you access to people who can help you
  5. Gives you quick access to information
  6. Points you in the right direction when you need help
  7. Lifts you up when you’re feeling down
  8. Shares in your wins and losses
  9. Lets you talk to people who understand you
  10. Makes you realise that freelance life can be fun!

The Publishing Process explained for new authors

reading about the publishing process for authors

How do books get published?

It’s not really that complicated, but getting your book published can seem quite daunting to new authors. While this isn’t an in-depth look at book publishing, it should help you to break down the process and understand what happens at each stage. Bear in mind though, that publishers work their own way, and self-publishing can take you down some different paths. Also, if you’ve written a book, you must be realistic … not every book should, or can, be published.

So whether you are a fiction writer, writing an academic text or non-fiction book, or creating a book for your business, here’s what to expect from the publishing process.

just write

In the beginning – write your book

Writing your book can take years, so you want to make sure that you do it right. Take your time, create a style sheet to help you keep consistent, and track your plot to make sure it holds up to scrutiny (or make sure your non-fiction book is factually correct and engaging to read). Ask yourself if it could be published for a wider audience, or just for family and friends, or within your organisation if it’s a business book. Research your target audience and the market … is the book idea a viable one? There’s no point in spending months or years writing a book if realistically no-one will want to read it, or it will be out of date by the time it’s published (harsh, but true). If you’re sure you have the commitment, crack on.

Then …

  • Finish your book. Make sure you’ve edited as much as you can yourself, used the spellcheck and basically hone your book to perfection (but remember, it will never be perfect).

  • Send it to some beta readers to get their opinion (try not to rely on family and friends as they can feel the need to only tell you how brilliant it is, rather than help iron out the faults). Readers’ forums on Facebook and Goodreads can help you find beta readers.

  • Make some changes depending on what your beta readers say. Again, finish your book.
  • Decide whether you want to get an agent or self-publish
My book pile is growing!

Using an agent?

The agent will have access to publishing houses – this is the ‘easiest’ way to be published by mainstream publishers (unsolicited manuscripts sent to publishers have huge competition, if the publisher actually accepts them in the first place).

How to find an agenthttps://www.writersandartists.co.uk/ is a great resource, both online and in print. Look for agents online and on social media (you’ll often see them letting writers know that they’re looking for submissions). They’ll hang out where the writers are, so Goodreads and Facebook, again, are good places to be. Choose agents who work in your genre, because if you send your manuscript to someone who works on romance and you write horror, your book is going to get rejected immediately. Look at their submission guidelines and stick to them. Send to an agent belonging to a reputable agency, or if they’re independent check to see that they’ve actually had books signed up by publishers. If they’re new agents don’t discount them, but find out what qualifies them to have set up as an agent.

book stack cartoon
  • Write a synopsis of your book. You’ll send this off to agents, so you need to write a quick breakdown of the plot (and yes, include the ending and any spoilers), which genre it fits into and a little about yourself. One page should be enough, this is your chance to hook the agent as they won’t read a full manuscript unless they’re interested. Include a nicely thought-out quote to pull the reader in, and make your book sound as enticing as you can.
book stack cartoon
  • Write a query letter to send to agents. This is just a formal letter to send to build interest in your book. Don’t write a generic one ‘Dear Sir/Madam…’, find out who you need to send the letter to. If they require a snail mail letter, write it as a formal introduction – tell them why you’re writing to them, what your book is about and who you are. It doesn’t need to go into as much detail as the synopsis, as you’re going to send that to them anyway, but it needs to be enough to pique their interest in what you have to offer. If they ask for email correspondence include the same information.
book stack cartoon
  • Send your synopsis, query letter and first three chapters to agents you’re interested in working with. Most will ask for the first three chapters, but again be very clear about what they ask for and send them exactly what they want. Be as professional as you can be.

When you find an agent who’s interested in your book think very carefully about their offer – the agent will be with you for a long time so make sure their terms and conditions are acceptable. If in doubt, consider taking advice.

Once the agent has submitted the book to publishers, commissioning editors will read the manuscript and decide whether they want to go forward with the book. If they do, the publishing house will take care of the rest of the process, with input from you as they go along.

Victorian photo albums

Self-publishing?

Many people these days decide to self-publish. This means you have to deal with the publishing process yourself, from finding the right editor to finding the right publishing platform and formatting for ebook and print. The marketing is up to you too – there’s no point in having a brilliant book if no one knows it exists.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to hire an editor to look over your book. Even if you’re confident that you don’t need a structural edit, a copy edit is important to catch all the things you will miss yourself.

reading

The publishing process

If you’re using an agent, this process will usually be taken care of by the publisher. If you’re self-publishing these are the steps you need to take yourself, finding professionals to help along the way.

Once your book has been accepted it will go through a series of edits, these cover everything from the overall structure to the spelling, grammar and flow of the sentences and paragraphs. It will also be designed, which is something that should be done with care – everything from the font used to the cover design must be in keeping with the book’s contents and the expected look for your genre. You’re looking to produce a book that is as attractive as it is readable.

book stack cartoon

The process goes like this:

  • Structural / developmental edit – where the ‘big picture’ is looked at. Things such as narrative pace, structure of the book, characterisation and plot are examined. All the contents of a non-fiction book are examined, such as pace and structure, and whether pictures, tables, maps and illustrations, as well as indexes, references and bibliographies are needed. A structural edit doesn’t go into detail with the writing, it looks at the overall look, feel and structure of the book.
book stack cartoon

Next comes the …

  • Copyedit – which looks for errors and inconsistencies in grammar, spelling, style, sentence structure, flow and sense. This is sometimes broken down into line edits and copy edits, although the term ‘line edit’ is mainly an American term and is only just starting to be used in the UK.
book stack cartoon

When the copyedit is done …

  • Design / typesetting – The cover design will often be started before the editing is completed (it’s an important part of marketing your book, so it has to be appealing to your target audience). Make sure your designer knows what your book is about and, if they have time, they might want to read the book to get a feel for what the cover should look like.

    Once the edit is finished the final document will be sent to the typesetter to create the page proofs. If you are self-publishing search for book designers and typesetters online. Page proofs are generally paper mock-ups of the book interior, however, they can also be digital files, sent as PDFs.

If you’re self-publishing you’ll have to decide if you want to publish as an ebook, as a paperback, or both. Rather than a hire a professional typesetter who tends to work with publishing houses, it’s more common to hire a book designer/typesetter who will set out your book for you. Many will set out your book as both ebook and print, but there are differences in the setup for both, so be prepared to see a different layout for both of your formats. And be patient – images and tables can still be tricky for ebook design.

Here is where some self-publishers decide to format the book themselves for uploading to online publishers such as IngramSpark and Amazon. There are help files and documents available to help you, but you might find you get a better result (and less frustration) if you hire a professional. No matter which direction you take, you will have to proofread for the last stage of the process.

book stack cartoon
  • Proofreading – When the proofs come back they’re usually sent to the proofreader and the author to check for any final alterations. The proofreader will mark up the proofs with any final errors they find, and the author will also flag up any errors they see.  The file will get sent back to the typesetter, and once the alterations are made, the proofreader gets to look at the file again to make sure the changes have been made correctly (and to make sure that all of the changes have been made). The index is then created (the indexer will have been scheduled in at the beginning of the publishing process) and when the final proof comes back, complete with the index, if all the changes look OK, the book is ready to go to press.

Sometimes the indexer gets to work before the final proofread, but the index will have to be checked again if the proofreader’s check moves any text between pages.

book stack cartoon
  • Off to press – Once the book looks just right the file is sent to the printer. The publisher will have already negotiated a slot with the printing company, which is why the schedule can be tight if changes need to be made.

If you’re self-publishing you will now give the OK to your designer, or upload the file yourself to your preferred publishing platform.

book stack cartoon
  • Sales and marketing – If you’re being traditionally published the sales and marketing department will now take over and work their magic. If you are self-publishing you should hopefully have already told the world your book is coming, and now you must start marketing your book in any way you can, for example, social media, local book and online groups, press releases, bookshop talks and your Goodreads and Facebook page.

You’re now ready to finally see your book in print, send it out into the world and wait for the reviews to pour in. And remember, not everyone will like your book – enjoy the positive reviews and ignore the rest; most of all never, ever get into a verbal war with bad reviewers, it will only make you look bad. Accept all reviews with good grace and be proud of your achievement.

present

Hopefully this has demystified the process and you’re now set to start on the path towards getting your book published.

To find an editor or proofreader head to the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading in the UK  https://www.ciep.uk/

or the Editorial Freelancers Association in the US  http://www.the-efa.org/

or have a chat with me if you feel I’d be the right for your project.