I’m the type of person who is constantly learning and growing. When I finished graduate school, I was excited to start earning an income. But I was also concerned that I would stop my professional development. Little did I know that on-the-job learning may be different from that done in school, but is still very real.
I gained experience in program management and budgeting and building partnerships with community organizations. My employer supported me in learning QuickBooks, and even sent me to a conference for interpreters to learn more about the field, since I was managing an interpreter program.
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During my 10 months of volunteering in Israel, I attended a conference that helped me figure out how to indicate to future employers what skills I gained during my service. I spent another six months studying full-time for personal growth before I took a job as a grant writer.
I had done some grant writing during my time in Israel and in graduate school. That was helpful in getting hired for the job, but it still seemed easy to talk about my professional work in terms of advancing toward a goal – or at least, moving in one direction.
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But when I decided to become a freelancer, I had no idea how to support my own professional development. I’m a writer. Isn’t that enough? I write copy for websites, social media, and blogs. How much would I still need to learn? How would I continue to gain skills and show my clients (and possible future employers) that I was constantly improving?
If you don't know what you need to work on, your professional development won't be very productive.
Recognize what skills you will need to be successful in your freelancing. For example, I'd used social media quite a bit personally, but had only used it professionally a few times before I began managing it for someone else. To do a better job, I watched webinars and read articles to stay on top of trends and best practices.
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At first, I searched my LinkedIn connections to see who else I knew who blogged and managed social media. I was extremely grateful for the opportunity to chat with my cousin, a freelance writer, as well as with a friend who ran social media for a company. They helped me figure out how I needed to proceed to sharpen my skills.
A friend also connected me with a few self-employed women in Atlanta who did marketing. Picking their brains on how they got started and how they managed to increase their income helped me a lot.
I also signed up for e-newsletters. These helped me learn how to pitch, how to find new clients, and how to silence that voice in my head that said that I couldn’t do it.
But whatever you do to invest in your personal growth, make sure to do your research. If you want an accredited certificate, find out who's approving the certificate and whether it will actually be useful for you.
Also, find podcasts that are relevant to your work. Listen to a podcast when you’re driving or cooking – or maybe during the time you set aside for professional development.
Continuing my education has been important, not only to know the best practices in my field of expertise, but also to see what’s changing in that field. Social media changes all the time, and it’s critical to know what’s happening.
So I read a lot. It helps my own work to read other blogs, study e-newsletters, and pay attention to the social media feeds of successful businesses. I also make it a point to continue writing, even when I don’t feel like it. Whether it’s for myself or for a client, I try to write nearly every day. This helps to improve my writing, as well.
Now, as I’ve put into practice the skills I learned through online sources and through friends and family, my performance has skyrocketed.
This, in turn, allows me to charge more for new clients.
I didn’t know how to develop my skills, even though I am no longer working a nine-to-five job. With the help of the internet, the hour or so that I spend each week on learning is worth it. Even though I’m not making money during that time, I know my improved skills make me worth more.
Of course, professional development isn’t only about increasing your income. Still, I find that being able to prove to my clients that I am improving over time makes them more confident in my ability and my commitment to my craft.