Expanding your Skills to be a Better Freelancer
During my presentation at the PayPal Community Freelancer Summit last week, I shared some of the most common tools and online services that freelancers can use to make their work more efficient and professional.
However, in my rounds and talks with a lot of the attendees, one of the more common topics was about upskilling or learning new skills that will add value to the services offered to clients.
Upskilling for freelancers is a very broad category and the learning curve can be different from one person to another. When I started out as a freelancer 15 years ago, I had to learn one skill at a time — started with graphics design, then off to web design (until I won the 2013 Philippine Web Awards), then to web programming (downloaded and printed the PHP manual then read a few pages while commuting from my office in Ortigas to my apartment in Bacoor) until I landed my first client, and on to photography where I put up my personal portfolio (eventually getting an inquiry to shoot for a wedding).
Even my attempt at blogging back then was some sort of upskilling. I flunked English in school so, after graduating, I started an online journal and tried using new words I encounter into a blog entry.
Learning new skills can be daunting, so this is really more about commitment. Here are some of the more common and doable skills you can learn while you’re doing client work.
Perhaps the most common skill that any freelancer needs to work on is their writing. Whether you’re a freelance developer or photographer, good communications skills is a great tool. There are a lot of classes you can take (classroom type) and even online courses you can follow in your spare time.
While you’re at it, you can also make use of tools such as Grammarly to help you write proper English.
Freelancers need good graphics when making their proposals, creating mock-ups or building their online portfolio. Learning some basic and intermediate skills in Photoshop can go a long way. Start with a good logo for yourself or your business (aim for a great-looking business card, letter head and Powerpoint presentation of your services).
I remember my first online freelance gig back in 2002 was creating custom buttons/images for vBulletin and I was paid $25 via PayPal.
If you’re not that good yet, you can get some inspiration and help from sites like Canva.
Search Engine Marketing
SEM has two major segments — SEO (search engine optimization) and PPC (pay per click). PPC is quicker to understand and practice since most of it revolves around Google AdWords. SEO, on the other hand, is quite complicated but you can start with the fundamentals. As a web copywriter, you also need to learn how to properly optimize your articles for better search visibility. Even developers need to know a bit of SEO so websites they create are optimized.
Read a lot of blogs about SEO. The ones I followed from 10 years ago are Search Engine Journal, Search Engine Land, Matt Cutts’ blog, John Battelle’s Search Blog, Graywolf, Shoemoney, to name a few.
Learn the ins and out of commonly used platforms like WordPress (Drupal or Joomla). WordPress is my favorite CMS since it can be used as a back-end for different kinds of websites. The level of customizability and expansion (via themes and plugins) is so enormous you can be a freelancer and work as a WordPress expert.
You graphics design skills, copywriting and SEO skills will really show with how well you customize your WordPress site.
Among the ones I listed above, this is the skill that takes a lot of years of practice and experience. It also needs a little bit of investment in terms of the gear you will use.
Save up on a new Canon dSLR and a nice lens. This way, you can offer original creatives (no need to buy from GettyImages) and add your personality to the services you offer.
Get ready to accept online payments.
Most importantly, be ready to bill your clients with the most convenient channel, especially if they’re abroad.
If you want to learn more about upgrading your freelance career, they have a great resource in this micro-site here.
Disclosure: The author is one of 4 PayPal freelancer mentors for the Philippines, a campaign to engage and grow the freelance community of Filipinos.