6 Surprising Things I've Learnt as a Freelance eLearning Designer

May already?? Wow, where has 2015 gone? It's been 4 months since I wrote about my decision to embark upon a new adventure into the world of freelancing, which also turned into my most shared blog so far in several years of blogging (you can read that blog post here).

I received some fantastic responses wishing me luck, some with suggestions on where to find work and some giving me advice on what to do and what not to do.

Most interestingly for me, many people who are also thinking of making a similar decision and leaving their full-time position to go out alone wrote to me. 

So I wanted to write an update which included some of the key things I wish I'd have known when I started. Or maybe I did know after being warned by my peers, but I probably didn't take enough notice! 

I should start by saying it has been an absolutely amazing few months. I have been thoroughly enjoying myself, have worked on some really interesting projects (and a couple of not-so interesting ones!) and am even more excited now that I know what I am doing - well, a bit more than I did at the start of the year at least! 

So what have I learnt? 

1) Becoming an expert in the business of freelancing is a full-time job in itself

I had completely underestimated the volume of work that you can put into managing a business of one person. There is so much to learn!!

And I want to start by stressing that this shouldn't put you off making the decision to go for it, because even if you don't know 'how' to be a freelancer, you can still find clients, deliver high quality work and get paid without anything more than common sense.

However, I have seen that to create a successful, sustainable career as a freelancer, there is a lot of work that goes into learning about 'the business of freelancing'.

For example, developing a sales and marketing strategy, qualifying potential clients, cultivating relationships, creating a pricing model, writing proposals, planning scoping meetings... the list is almost endless etc.

I have many thoughts and ideas on what works and what doesn't work, and I am learning new things on a daily basis. I will blog about this in the future - so please bookmark my blog and come back to hear my thoughts on this. 

2) The difference between contracting and freelancing

Are you aware of the difference? I thought they were pretty much the same thing, but it turns out they are quite different. Remember that I'm over here in London - so I would be interested to hear if this is the same in the US. I plan to write a longer blog post on this topic, because it's quite a meaty subject.

But let me give you a crude explanation into my understanding of the differences:

Contracting

Contracting is much more like a full-time position at a company on a fixed-term, full-time 1/3/6 month contract.

These positions are usually office based, and you are basically treated as an employee of the company for a set period of time. An advantage of this arrangement is that you are guaranteed a set amount of work, usually on a decent day-rate, for a set period of time.

The disadvantages are that you may find it difficult to take on additional projects while you are working full-time at a client premises, you cannot work from home (one of the main reasons I wanted to quit my full-time job!) and you still don't have the security of a full-time job or the additional benefits that other employees have (like health insurance, pensions etc.)

Although you knew that was going to be the case before you left your full-time position so that shouldn't come as a surprise!

Contracting may be a great option for you if you are thinking of leaving a full-time position, but want a little more security than a freelancer.

Could be a great way to begin your solo career?

Freelancing

Freelancing is much more flexible and you are usually working for a company who has a specific project that needs undertaking.

With freelancing, you are not usually expected to work from the clients office and often will be paid per project rather than on a daily rate (although this is obviously upto you to negotiate!)

Freelancing is great if you like to work on your own schedule and feel confident in taking on several projects at the same time. However, it does offer less stability than a contract role.

3) Don't underestimate the amount of time you need for admin, finance, sales and marketing

I was fully expecting to be quitting my job in order to give myself time to sit in my creative bubble and design eLearning 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.

Well maybe I thought that one day a week I may have to go out and speak to some potential clients, update my portfolio and check that my bills and invoices had been paid.

But I don't think I quite realised that upto 50% of my time would be taken up tackling unbillable tasks. And it is therefore essential that you factor this into your decision to start freelancing. Are you someone who enjoys hopping from one job to another?

I have spoken to other professionals who assign Monday to sales, Tuesday to marketing, Wednesday and Thursday to designing eLearning and Friday to managing their finances.

But that doesn't work for me, and I am quite happy spending a couple of hours on each during a day. It gives me variety and allows me to prioritise as the work comes in. It also turns out that I can't be creative for more than a few hours per week, let alone per day, so it's lucky that I have other work to be getting on with.

4) Share your knowledge

I read a lovely blog recently titled 'Nobody knows what the hell they are doing'. It's really easy to become complacent with your own skills and knowledge and assume that everyone knows everything that you know.

But they don't, so I would definitely recommend getting involved in some of the eLearning communities to share what you know - posting answers to questions on the community forums, sharing tips and tricks via a blog or maybe the most relevant way of sharing in respect our profession of eLearning - creating short video tutorial demonstrating some of the skills you have learned (I created my first one here on created patterned backgrounds in Storyline here).

You may worry that giving away knowledge will mean you are less in demand because now everyone knows how to do what you do.

But in all probability, the people learning from you will either not have the time to do the work themselves (which is where you come in) or alternatively, they will now know how to do it themselves, but further down the line will want something more advanced.

Now that in their eyes you are an expert, you will now be the first person they call if they need some help. 

5) Get yourself out there

Already this year I've received some work from a client who I met at a community event 2 years ago. It just so happened that he was looking for a developer this year and because of a conversation we had at the event, he had remembered me being helpful and knowledgeable and contacted me through LinkedIn.

If I hadn't have attended that event, I wouldn't have won that contract!

The important lesson here is that you may not win business from a conversation immediately, and it may be tempting to view that as wasted time.

But if you give that person value through an insightful conversation or explaining something to them that they currently aren't aware of, then when they do have a need, you will be at the forefront of their mind.

6) Don't pigeonhole yourself

I was fully prepared to spend the next 20 years of my life designing eLearning, but I've already realised that putting all my eggs into one basket is not a sensible business strategy.

I have already started looking at how I can take on a variety of different work including delivering training and coaching on rapid-authoring tools and Learning Management Systems.

I am writing more guest blogs that I have ever written before, and I am looking to start building some video based courses that I can sell via platforms such as Udemy.

I am also really keen to use the experiences I gained in my last full-time role to help prospective clients implement an LMS into their company, although I have yet to figure how I package this up as a service. If you have any suggestions on this I would be excited to hear from you! 

Conclusion

So to summarise, I would definitely recommend going for it! There are a lot of unknowns, but so far for me, tackling these unknowns has been the most enjoyable part of freelancing so far. 

I'm glad we both made it through to the end of this post and I really hope it was useful for you.

If you enjoyed reading this, could you do me a favour and share this with your network? 

If you enjoyed reading this article, you're going to love my free 5-day email crash course - 5 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Starting an eLearning Project.

Ant Pugh

108A Tooting Bec Road, 108A Tooting Bec Road