The gig economy is booming! Nearly 60 million Americans performed freelancing work in 2020, and it is expected to grow by 168% in the next decade. Freelance work is growing in popularity due to flexibility, autonomy, and improved work/life balance.
Trainers and other learning and development (L&D) professionals are seeing a shift from full-time employment to contract-based freelance work. In fact, training contract work is one of the top 10 freelance fields. The short-term and temporary nature of many training positions has created an opportunity for L&D professionals to specialize in their preferred subject area while companies can take advantage of all the freelance talent available without having the fixed cost of a full-time employee.
With the growing popularity of freelance work, the choice to become an L&D freelancer is more exciting than ever.
Here is a list of 10 tips that will help you get started:
1) Determine What Type of Business is Best for You: Although it’s not required, many freelancers agree that establishing your new business as an LLC or other business entity is beneficial for keeping personal and business taxes and expenses separate. There may be other perks like personal liability protection. Also, many companies prefer to work with LLCs because it minimizes the risks of worker misclassification, audits, mismanagement claims, and co-employment.
Although an LLC can be established on your own using some simple online forms, an attorney or tax professional should be consulted.
2) Name Your Business: Your business name could be as simple as your name, be descriptive of your service, or something abstract but appealing. It will help define your brand and can be a requirement for some clients and marketplaces. The unique name must be registered with the Secretary of State’s office. This is a simple form to submit along with a small fee. They will issue an Employer Identification Number (EIN). This EIN will be used in all tax documents and LLC registration.
3) Write a Business Plan: What makes you different from other training freelancers? Put your thoughts on paper and begin to build a plan for your business. Write a persuasive value proposition that clearly defines the value that you bring to your clients. Begin thinking about how you will market your brand and who you will serve. Keep adding to your business plan with many of the steps below. This living document will be useful as you create new marketing and proposal documents.
4) Set Financial Goals and Crush Them: What would you like to achieve as a freelancer? Your financial needs will likely be the source of your initial revenue goals. Having a certain amount of revenue in mind are common targets to work towards. Dream big and set some short, mid, and long-term revenue goals
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, so they say. Depending too heavily on just one client can put you in a risky financial position if the contract ends unexpectedly. The rule of thumb is that any client shouldn’t make up more than 30% of revenue. Keep prospective clients in the sales funnel when possible, making it easier to onboard a new client when needed.
5) Choose a Niche: One of the biggest mistakes a company, big or small, can make is trying to be everything to everyone. Your value proposition will grow if you position yourself as an expert in a specific field and even in a specific industry. Choose a specific type of training to specialize in and the types of clients you will serve that can benefit most from your expertise. An expert is worth more than a “jack of all trades.”
In the beginning, you may have fewer opportunities and might need to be more flexible on which ones you take until your experience and portfolio grow. Resist the temptation to say yes to things you will not do well. These early stages of your business will build your reputation and the work you do needs to be high quality. Telling a client that you do not feel that you can knock something out of the park and would like to decline the opportunity is better than taking on work you are not qualified to do well.
6) Establish Your Brand and Thought Leadership: Now is the time to build your brand. Tell the world what you know and how you’ve helped businesses achieve their goals. Thought leadership is established by sharing valuable information with your audience. Blogging, social media posts, and vlogging are common ways to build brand awareness and credibility. Set aside time each week to publish content and build a following. This curated information can be used as a robust online portfolio, displaying your best work for prospective clients to see. Course outlines, training content, sample work, and videos are great additions to this.
7) Ask Your Clients for Feedback: Customer testimonials are one of the most influential pieces of information that clients use to evaluate a freelancer’s credibility. A short statement from a client that explains the value and/or outcome of your service is worth its weight in gold. As your contract is winding down, ask your client to give a statement about your good work. Then, post that testimonial to your online profile, website, and social media channels, with their permission.
8) Collaborate: Never stop networking! New business opportunities often come from referrals and word of mouth. Attend, or better yet participate in tradeshows and conferences. Join fellow trainers or other L&D professionals in projects, presentations, and thought leadership opportunities. Participating in online forums, webinars, and social media discussions can be great for your brand’s visibility. Once you have your sea legs, be the host of these types of collaborative discussions. Go live on YouTube or Facebook to offer advice or answer questions. These are all great ways to continue to build your brand!
9) Stay Relevant in New Trends and Topics: Never stop learning, as they say. Additional skills, credentials, licenses, and certifications will make you more marketable and will elevate your expertise. Start with the essentials and aim for skills that will benefit you most.
What are the new tools, technology releases, soft skills topics, and other important advances? Attending conferences, tradeshows, and industry events will keep you up to date on industry trends, and participating in courses and continuing education will help you acquire new skills and certifications. Webinars and other online training are more widely available than ever before. All of these are great opportunities to network, as well.
10) Register on Marketplaces: As an L&D consultant, partnering with a training provider or registering on a marketplace can greatly improve your visibility. These freelance platforms bring client companies and freelancers together, allowing job posting and applying for services. Take full advantage of these partners by fully completing your portfolio and showcase your capabilities and portfolio. Be sure to set up job alert searches to inform you about new openings and apply to opportunities that match your expertise.
Becoming a freelancer can be a rewarding and lucrative career. The flexibility, autonomy, and earning potential can outweigh the downsides of self-employment and contract work. Getting started as a freelancer will take some planning and attention but nurture these ten tips for the best outcomes in your endeavor as an entrepreneur.
Training partners like TTA offer freelance opportunities in over 15,000 skill sets and work with companies of all sizes, including Fortune 500 corporations. Learn more about our exciting talent opportunities at TTA and how to join our network of L&D professionals.