Continuing Professional Development for Freelancers

Why Complacency Will Kill Your Business

When you stumble into the big scary world of freelancing, the last thing on your mind will be continuing professional development (CPD). Your priority is to make money, to make freelancing a viable option for you. And, in the beginning, this is fair enough. The only way to make freelancing a feasible career choice is to make money from it. Because of this, you spend all hours of the day (and night, sometimes) working on projects. After all, it’s the projects that bring you money. I know what it is like to feel like you have to take every project thrown your way. I know what it feels like to feel that any time you’re not working on actual projects, for actual people, is wasted time and doesn’t ‘count’ as work. To this day, I still struggle with the idea that if I’m not writing or editing for a client, then I’m not working.

As a freelancer, you have tasks that you HAVE to complete in order to keep your business up and running, tasks that are not projects for clients… answering emails, writing blog posts, networking, researching, and a whole bunch of other admin tasks that, let’s face it, we’d rather not do. I swear, when I’m doing these tasks, even four years into freelancing, I still feel like I’m skiving or procrastinating. That these things are preventing me from doing my ‘work’. However, if you had an employer, you would be paid for doing all of these tasks and you wouldn’t bat an eyelid about calling it ‘work’.

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT:

IF YOU’RE A FREELANCER – EVERYTHING YOU DO TO FURTHER YOUR CAREER COUNTS AS WORK.

You don’t have to feel guilty about working on things that aren’t projects. This is where CPD comes into the equation.

As a freelancer, YOU are responsible for your continuing professional development.

Unfortunately, nobody is going to come along and tell you that you’re booked on a course on such and such a day. No employer is going to fund it for you. It all comes back to you. Now, I had no idea how expensive some CPD courses were, before I turned to freelancing. This is part of the reason why I chose to do my own research, from books and from the internet from the get-go.

Back when I was teaching, I loved courses and inset days. I’ve always loved learning new things. I went on to do my MA (part-time, while I worked) immediately after finishing my degree because I just loved that side of university. The teaching practices, I didn’t love so much, but being in lectures and experiencing people who knew a hell of a lot more than me sharing their knowledge, I just loved. On a side note, I’ve always joked that if I won the lottery I’d become a perpetual student doing random degrees that sound interesting until I die.

If you are a freelancer YOU ARE YOUR BIGGEST ASSET.

If you don’t continue learning, developing, and progressing, then you’re going to stagnate. When you stagnate, you lose business. I came into freelance writing and editing from a teaching background. I had no formal training in ghostwriting or editing, so it was up to me to learn the basics.

Initially, I kept my rates low while I was getting the hang of things, but once I was confident that I knew enough to do a damn good job for clients, I upped my rates and got down to business. Because my background isn’t in writing/editing, I find that I work harder than most to ensure that I do know what I’m doing. I’m constantly researching – watching lectures from industry titans, reading books, learning from other freelancers, and trolling the internet for new insights and information into my chosen profession.

The funny thing is when I started freelancing the idea of sharing that I knew hardly anything about writing and editing, other than the fact that I could write a damned good essay and had a fairly good grasp of the English language, was terrifying. Now, I’m more than happy to shout from the rooftops that there’s plenty I don’t know about writing and editing. It’s like the more I learn, the more I realise I don’t know. I’ve been doing this job for about four years now and so I’d like to think that I’m pretty damn knowledgeable about this industry. However, I’m at a place in my life where I feel comfortable admitting that there’s also a lot I don’t know.

As the writing industry evolves, goalposts move, and new expectations are set.

If I don’t do my best to stay ahead of the curve, then eventually I’ll become redundant. Of course, I’ll always be able to write a cracking manuscript for a client or edit/proofread to a high standard but that’s not all there is to my profession. I am a solo-entrepeneur. If I’m not at the top of my game, there are plenty of other people who will be at the top of theirs.

The way to set yourself apart from the crowd of freelancers doing the exact same thing as you, is to continue to learn and develop your practice.

Sitting on your laurels and accepting that you know ‘enough’ will ultimately lead you to fall behind. Now, I’m not suggesting that you need to spend thousands of pounds on additional degrees or whatever, unless that’s an industry standard for you. What I am suggesting is this…

  1. Take matters into your own hands. The internet is a valuable tool to support your continuing professional development. Yes, you might not get a certificate out of internet research, but self-study is a valid form of professional development.
  2. Find courses that work for you. There are so many sites out there where you can undertake free courses on virtually any subject. There are many more where you pay a small amount per course, or pay a subscription fee.
  3. Refreshing existing knowledge is always useful. I’m doing a course at the moment where a lot of it I already knew, but there are also new bits of information scattered amongst this.
  4. Remember that CPD is ongoing. It’s a cycle that never ends. Regularly reviewing your practice, and reflecting on what would help you further your practice/understanding of your chosen profession, can help you to put a plan in place to keep moving forwards.
  5. Plan and track your CPD. Keep a log of all of the courses you do, the self-study you undertake, the professionals you shadow. All of this helps you to demonstrate your commitment and capabilities. It also helps you to see where you may have gaps in your knowledge. Plan a space into your diary, every week or month or whatever, where you focus solely on your professional development.

You are the only one who can take charge of your professional development.

You are the only one who can put in the effort to stay ahead of the curve.

That’s the thing about being a freelancer, it all comes back to you.

To summarise… CPD doesn’t have to be formal. It doesn’t have to come with a certificate at the end of it. CPD is anything you do to develop your knowledge and further your practice. Hell, it could even be something as simple as reading a magazine about your chosen industry. All these little acts of research come together. CPD is a culmination of everything that you do to further yourself and your knowledge. Be open to the fact that you don’t know everything. Be curious. Be willing to learn and take advantage of the wealth of information out there. We live in unprecedented times, where everything we could possibly ever want to know is at our fingertips. Make the most of it.

One final thing… CPD COUNTS AS WORK. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Be curious. Seek new knowledge. Don’t settle.

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