Category: Careers & Work

Security for Freelancers and Consultants

Many people are reluctant to become freelancers or consultants because the risk seems too high. You have flexibility to set your work schedule and take the kinds of projects you want, but you trade that for the security of a full-time job.

I’m not convinced that working independently is necessarily much riskier than a full-time job though. In fact, sometimes it can be safer.

Security for Freelancers and Consultants

The Risks of Full-Time Employment

Having multiple clients and income streams can actually be more secure than having a single full-time income.

Think of it this way: you would never invest everything in your IRA in the stocks of a single company. That would be ridiculously risky to trust your entire future retirement income to the success of a single enterprise.

But full time employees trust their entire present income to a single company. If they lose their job, they lose 100% of their income. They usually have to ramp up from nothing to find a new one.

Reducing Risks, Increasing Security

Multiple Clients Reduce Risk

I usually have at least two active clients at all times, plus sometimes smaller side projects and more in my pipeline. If one of my two current big clients suddenly cancels their project, it will hurt my income–but not nearly as much as losing a full-time job hurts. I’ll still have income coming in from my other active client.

Nurturing Leads and Your Network Increase Security

I also have the security of having additional leads so I can ramp up quickly on other work. I have a network of colleagues. I refer work to others when I’m busy, and they return the favor. I know I can reach out to my network if I need more work.

Being Able to Find the Next Project

Yes, my income is variable, and I have had both good and bad years overall. However, I don’t see freelancing as being as being that much less secure overall than having a full-time job. The security comes from being able to find the next project, not from having a guarantee that the current project is a sure thing.

After all, if you have a full-time job and it ends suddenly, your security is really a measure of how fast you can find a new job. Freelancers and consultants are generally better prepared for finding that next thing.

I think many of us consultants and freelancers probably have more security than we realize, and many people in full-time jobs don’t realize how little security they truly have.

More Freelancing Tips

Kai Davis shared some ideas on the balance of flexibility and security in his daily email newsletter for freelancers. This is based on my response to his email. If you’re interested in learning more about other ways to improve your security (and improve your processes as a freelancer in general), I recommend his newsletter.

Podcast Interview on Freelancing and Consulting

I recently had the pleasure of recording an interview for Kristin Anthony’s Dear Instructional Designer podcast. We spoke for about 45 minutes on moving into freelancing and consulting, positioning yourself in the market, finding clients, pricing strategies, and managing my business. Our discussion ranged from the practical topics of liability insurance and accounting software to the strategic topics of specializing in a niche and finding the right clients.

Listen to the episode on her site or on iTunes.

This season on Kristin’s show will be all about freelancing, consulting, and working independently. If you haven’t subscribed yet, now is a good time so you can catch the future episodes on this topic.

Podcast interview on freelancing and consulting in instructional design

Transitioning from Teaching to Instructional Design

Last week I gave a webinar through UCI on transitioning from teaching to instructional design. I shared my story of moving from teaching to instructional design as well as tips for finding a job. While this presentation was primarily aimed at teachers, much of the content also applies to others looking to change careers. The recording is now available on YouTube.

The links and resources mentioned during my presentation are listed below.

Instructional Design Competencies

Comparing lists of instructional design competencies to your current skills is one way to determine what you already know and where you need to focus on improving.

Portfolios

A portfolio is a critical tool for showing prospective employers and clients your skills.

Resumes

If your resume is currently focused on teaching, you’ll need to do some updating to focus on the relevant skills for instructional design.

Interviews

One way to prepare for interviews is thinking about how to answer potential questions by employers.

Podcasts

Listening to podcasts is one way to learn about the field and become familiar with  terminology and trends.

Book Recommendations

Whether you enroll in a graduate certificate program, masters program, or are learning on your own, reading books is a way to learn skills to fill in the gaps in your skills.

Check out my posts on instructional design careers for more information.

Transitioning from Teaching to Instructional Design

My Typical Week as a Consultant

Everyone manages their time a little differently, but I’ve been asked several times what a typical day or week looks like. I’m an independent consultant, so my schedule is different from people who work full time for a single company. I work from home and have a pretty flexible schedule. It’s hard to say what a single day is, but here’s my basic weekly pattern.

My Typical Week as a Consultant

Every day

I usually start my day with email and moderating my LinkedIn group (eLearning Global Network). I do other social media (Slack, reddit, Twitter) during transitions, especially if I’m switching from one project to another. That gives me a little mental break between tasks.

I take a 20 minute nap most afternoons. I have found I’m more productive when I get a quick power nap, so it’s worth taking the break.

Monday morning

First thing Monday morning, I catch up on email and work on my business. That means following up with prospects, working on my website, catching up on my blog if needed, networking, etc. Sometimes this is some professional development time spent reading or taking online courses.

It’s so easy to put off working on my business that I decided I need to do it right at the beginning of the week. I always have something I could be doing for a client, but I try to “pay myself first” and put at least a few hours into working on my business every week.

Monday afternoon

Client work. Right now, I have 3 different projects for clients.

  • Storyboarding a course on child care standards
  • Storyline development for a tech startup
  • Revisions to content in an LMS that I converted from face-to-face

I try to have two projects in progress at all times, ideally staggered so they’re in different phases. I prefer having some variety. I love writing and storyboarding, but I can only write for so many hours in a day before my productivity drops significantly. If I have one project that requires writing and one that requires development, I can switch between the two and keep my productivity higher.

Tuesday

Tuesdays are usually client work, sometimes including phone calls with SMEs or project managers.

I know I’m most productive in the mornings, so I try to tackle my hardest or highest priority task before lunch.

Wednesday

Wednesdays are usually more client work: storyboarding, development, or LMS work.

Thursday morning

I spend at least 45 minutes on my blog on Thursday so I can publish a new post every other Tuesday (at least that’s the goal). Every other Thursday, I join the meeting for the Online Network of Independent Learning Professionals. That’s a virtual community for freelancers and consultants.

Thursday afternoon

I try to schedule calls and appointments on Thursday afternoons when possible. That means I have calls with prospective clients, SMEs, or project managers. I also do some client work.

Friday morning

On Friday mornings, I wrap up my client work for the week.

Friday afternoon

Friday afternoons are spent closing out the week. I send status updates to clients, update project plans, and set goals for the next week. Every other Friday, I review and categorize transactions in my accounting software so tax time is easier. If I have time, I do some client work or reading for professional development.

What’s Your Schedule?

What’s your schedule? How do you budget and manage your time? Let me know in the comments.

Looking for More?

Liked this post? You might also be interested in my tips for staying productive while working remotely.

How to Become an E-learning Freelancer Vol. I-III: Book Reviews

Richard Watson published his ebooks on the practicalities of freelancing in the elearning field last fall. The books are a series in three volumes, with information expanded from his blog posts on freelancing. All three combine Richard’s personal stories about his freelancing journey with practical tips for creating and running a freelance business.

Volume I: Launching Your Freelance E-Learning Career

As you’d expect in any book about starting a freelancing career, this book includes very practical tips about setting up a business structure, self-employment taxes, and accounting. For example, you’ll find advice on when to hire a bookkeeper or CPA instead of managing the finances yourself (and the difference between what a bookkeeper or CPA can do for you).

Chapter 4 has practical advice for what hardware and software are necessary and helpful. This chapter differentiates this book from other general sources on getting started with freelancing. You can find information elsewhere about creating a business website with WordPress, but few sources list specific hardware recommendations for a computer for elearning development.

In my opinion, the most valuable information in this volume comes before the practicalities of technology and finances though. The book starts with big questions.

  • Is freelancing a good fit for you?
  • What are your goals? How do you set good goals for your business?
  • What are your core values as a freelancer?

I regularly hear from people who aren’t sure if they want to be freelancers or if they’d be happier as an employee. Independent work isn’t for everyone. Figuring out if it’s a fit before making the leap is important. Identifying goals and values helps increase the chances of being successful as a freelancer. I didn’t use as formal a process as what Richard recommends when I started my business, but I really like the core values section as a way to clarify what kind of business and clients you want.

Volume II: Marketing Yourself and Finding Great Clients

The second book on marketing and finding clients is useful both for people just getting started and those who have been working independently for a while but need to improve their business.

I struggled to name my business, and my professional brand is still split between this blog and my company, Syniad Learning. Richard explores the pros and cons of branding as an individual or as a company. Whatever you decide, he offers advice on how to do that branding and how to build a portfolio.

The chapters on finding clients are great for everyone, even as reminders to those of us who have been working on our own for a while. Richard digs into bad clients, including why they’re harmful and how to avoid them. More importantly, he provides suggestions on finding better clients and keeping those clients as long-term partners.

Volume III: Managing a Successful E-Learning Project

In addition to tips on keeping projects running smoothly, the third volume includes information on writing proposals and determining project costs. If you’re looking for specifics on what to include in proposals and example language, this is a good place to start.

Richard also details the pros and cons of hourly versus project-based pricing, a continual topic of discussion even among experienced consultants and freelancers. (In the interest of disclosure, I’ll note that Richard cites my post on elearning hourly rates as a source for benchmark data.)

I enjoyed the chapter on closing out a project is finished because that’s an area where I think I can do better myself. I haven’t always been consistent about reflecting on what went well and what didn’t, but the list of questions included in this book is a good place to start that conversation.

Overall, I think all three books have a lot of practical advice, especially for those who are thinking about making the leap to freelance or who are just getting started.

You can buy all three books on Amazon:

If you’re looking for more books to read, check out my book recommendations on Amazon.