This is a great guest post by Danielle Bullen. Continuing education as an entrepreneur is vital to success and growth. I like to say I’m a student for life, because I am always interested and looking for ways to learn new things that helps me both to grow as a person and as a business. And FYI? You should be too! So read on and learn ways you can do just that.
Some people with full-time jobs are lucky enough that their company gives them opportunities for continuing education. Like everything else when you work for yourself, freelancers need to hustle to find the same opportunities. But just because you’re a one-man or one-woman show, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep learning.
In fact, you could argue that entrepreneurs have an even greater need to keep learning new skills. Keeping up with the latest in your industry will make you marketable to prospective clients. Learning a new skill is also a great way to expand your client base.
No matter your budget or schedule there are ways you can benefit from continuing education.
At one end of the spectrum is self-education. You may prefer this to traditional classroom learning because you can learn at your own pace. Often times, it’s cheaper too.
As a reader of Big Girl Branding, you already know how much you can learn from blogs. Whether it’s a small one with a few followers or a big one with thousands, many bloggers write with the intention of teaching. Just enter your profession into a blog directory or Google Blogs and you’ll be amazed with what you can find.
Social media has opened a whole new world of learning. Sometimes the people with the best ideas aren’t experts or professors but fellow workers who share their knowledge. There are chats for nearly every industry, from agriculture to zoology. These real-time discussions can sometimes be fast-paced for novices, but stick with it and you’ll learn a lot. The website, www.wthashtag.com has archived verions of chat transcripts, so if you’re not at your computer when the chat’s live, you can read it later.
The same MP3 player you listen to when jogging can give you useful educational opportunities. Podcasts are available on everything from baking to blogging. Many of them are serial, so each week you build on the topic, learning a little more. ItunesU has podcasts and video lectures direct from respected colleges and universities, many of which are free. Personally, I downloaded and listened to a 12-week course on Writing for Public Relations from the University of Illinois.
NewsU and Poynter Institute
These are specific to writers (sorry everyone else!) Poynter offers chats and podcasts with journalists and journalism professors. They also have several writing and writing-industry related blogs. NewsU is their online course portal with both free and paid online courses in content management,, editing, publishing, writing, and many other communications topics.
Poynter also offers in-person classes, which brings me to the second pillar of continuing ed, traditional or classroom. Some people prefer to learn from an instructor in a more structured environment. If that sounds like you, read on for ways to keep learning.
Your Alma Mater
A lot of colleges and universities offer their alumni the chance to audit classes for free. That means you sit in on courses with current students but don’t take exams or write papers. It’s an often underutilized way to brush up on your field.
If you’re looking for formal education, try your county’s community college. At often significant savings over public and private institutions, you can take interesting and informative classes. Classes are in the evenings and on weekends, so they’re tailored to working professionals. Many community colleges have certificate programs in various software packages or career fields like fundraising or event planning. Those can be great opportunities if you’re looking to branch out with your own business.
Community sponsored night schools are a little less formal but can still be worthwhile. Many towns have adult education centers, often run out of the high school. Do an online search for your town and night school. My town for example has a night course that offers classes in everything from accounting to grammar to leadership.
Chambers of Commerce
Consider becoming a member of your local chamber of commerce. Chambers offer lectures and workshops, often with free or discounted rates to members. If you’re an entrepreneur, it’s a great way to network with local businesses that might need your services. Sometimes, there could be a membership discount for young professionals or the self-employed. Chamber programs are sometimes available to the general public, so you can still learn something without joining.
A shout out goes to Susan Johnston, a Boston-based freelance writer, for suggesting this option. Conferences are great ways to learn the latest trends in your field, hear industry leaders, and built your contact list through networking. This is the most expensive suggestion on the list, so choose carefully. Sometimes, if you volunteer at the conference, you can get discounted admission. I recommend speaking people in your profession whom you trust about which conferences they’ve attended.
So, there you go. 10 different ways you can continue your education as a freelancer. Click on a blog, download a podcast or register for a course today. Even though you’re not in school anymore, learning never stops.
How about you? Have your own methods or ways you learn new things? Something not mentioned here? Drop your thoughts in the comments below and tell us about them.