About a year and a half ago, I started an E-Learning Heroes forum thread, “Freelancers: Where Do You Find Most of Your Work?” To be honest, I felt stupid asking it, but as a newly full-time freelancer, I was in a slow period and looking for answers. However, my sheepishness turned to surprise when I saw how strongly it resonated with the Articulate community. After a few weeks of dizzying activity on the original thread, I created a Freelance Heroes thread to capture what I believe are some of the most helpful discussions about e-learning freelancing anywhere.
Now this thread is closing in on its thousandth post, inspiring me to recap the most popular discussions, suggestions, and assets shared there. The Articulate community has given me so much through this thread—I figured it’s high time I gave back.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll highlight the key advice that’s emerged from these threads. In this article, I’ll talk about how to prepare yourself to go freelance.
Making the leap from the company nest to freelance life can be nerve-wracking, for sure. The good news is, a lot of people made the jump before you, and they’ve been kind enough to share what worked, what didn’t, and general things you should know about e-learning freelancing. So before you launch your career as an independent contractor, here are some ideas from Freelance Heroes to help you get a good start:
1. Find your focus. It takes a lot of skills to create high-quality e-learning. What do you do a little bit better than others? What part of the process do you enjoy the most? Maybe it’s your knack for writing, performance consulting, graphic design, or wizardry with Articulate products. If you know what unique value you offer and what aspects of e-learning you enjoy most, you can focus on the right kinds of projects and clients.
Along the same lines, it’s equally important to know your weaknesses, or parts of the process you don’t enjoy. With a good network, you can cover these by partnering with others. To paraphrase thread contributor Bruce Graham, “Freelancers are on their own, but not alone.”
2. Save some money first. Nobody likes to work under pressure—especially money pressure. With a little cash in reserve, you’ll have some breathing room to take the projects you want that will build your profile. If you have to take any old gig that comes your way just to make ends meet, you may end up with a disparate portfolio that’s not focused on your desired area of expertise for prospective clients.
3. Set up an online base of operations. This is where you’ll host your opinions and samples of your work. For some, this might be a blog or website; for others, it might be a social media channel, such as LinkedIn. Wherever it is, keep this base of operations current. Make it easy for people to find and contact you.
4. Create an online portfolio. Don’t have an instructional design degree? No worries. Build a good-looking portfolio and you’ll get gigs. You’ll need some content, of course. Develop a mini-lesson on a professional subject you know a lot about and share it on various channels. Create a pro-bono e-learning course for an organization you care about. If you need help finding an organization, you might want to volunteer for LINGOS, as Tom Kuhlmann suggests in his blog.
As you build your portfolio, remember that your primary audience is potential clients, not other e-learning developers. Resist the temptation to include big splashes of raw, edgy, or downright quirky material. (See “The Secret to Getting a Lot of Web Design Work.”)
5. Track your time. Even if you are working on your very first e-learning project, start tracking how many hours you spend on it. Break it down into categories such as communication with client, storyboarding, course development, and so on. You’ll likely be surprised. It doesn’t matter if you use pen and paper, a spreadsheet, or a time-tracking tool such as Harvest—just make sure you do it. Your success as a freelancer hinges upon your ability to estimate the hours a project will take, and price it accordingly.
Assets and References
For more freelancing tips, take a look at these helpful resources I’ve compiled from the Freelance Heroes thread:
- freelanceswitch.com is one of the most popular sites devoted to freelancers. It contains a blog, resources, forum, and job board. A favorite is “A Comprehensive Guide to Starting Your Freelance Career“.
- Freelancefolder.com is another well-respected site and, like Freelanceswitch.com, contains a blog, resources, forum, and job board.
- Fast Company magazine’s article “How to Be a Happy and Successful Creative Freelancer (or Work with One)” contains information on the creative process, getting paid, building brand, and setting up your office.
- Bruce Graham’s presentation, “Being an E-Learning Freelancer,” contains many helpful tips.
- Popular time-tracking and invoice tools:
Good luck, and feel free to post comments here or add your own ideas to the Freelance Heroes thread on E-Learning Heroes.