EP. 019

Why learning new skills is important for freelancers

We don’t all start with the full set of skills needed to be a fantastic freelancer. In this episode, Kaleigh and Paul discuss the skills they had when they started freelancing, and the skills they’ve made sure to pick up and strengthen along the way that have helped them grow profitable, long-term businesses.

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Paul:                Alright Kaleigh, what skills did you start your freelancing career with? I think it’s probably obvious, at least one of them, because I know what you do.

Kaleigh:           The skills that I started with were a pretty solid foundation of writing, obviously like you said. I know a little bit about social media. I was a communications major in college so I had a little bit of background there. That is basically what I started with, I had kind of foundation to build upon. I’m fairly comfortable with speaking in front of people and writing things and being in a marketing type role and I feel like that a lot of this things are related so that’s kind of where I started. How about you?

Paul:                I’ll answer that but I have one more question. In your schooling because I didn’t finish mine, was there any courses about business or running a business or doing business or dealing with businesses?

Kaleigh:           Related to what I do now? No. it was honestly a total I feel bad this is not a good advertisement for my college that I went to but there wasn’t a lot of business oriented stuff at least in the program that I took which was communication so it wasn’t business focus, I can’t can’t fault them for that. But it was more like a traditional media approaches so we talked a lot about radio and television and newspapers which now feels a little dusty I guess.

Paul:                What’s a radio? If you are listening to us on iHeartRadio, I’m only saying this because we just got accepted to be on iHeartRadio. We were just kidding and plus iHeart radio is a different iteration like I don’t really think of iHeartRadio is as serious as terrestrial radio, it’s like a different thing. I think normal radio is dead sorry if you work in radio. I’m a morning talk show DJ on radio but it doesn’t seem that useful to my life at least.

But why I asked you that because I think it’s fairly common that a lot of university and college programs don’t focus on the running a business aspect of it. Even looking at my wife went to school for Western Herbal Medicine, and the goal of that program was to basically open your own practice, and I think there is only one business course. And that is common across pretty much every business or even non business related program where is lite on how business works today because it is changed with the internet and automations of technology. You can run a one person business now.

It was way hard I think about how hard it was to accept money on the internet in the 90’s. The steps you have to take in the merchant accounts you have to open and deal with banks. Now you just click two buttons on Stripe or Paypal and you’ve got the ability to accept money.

So to answer your question after a little diversions from that, the skills that I had when I started freelancing were interface design and front end programming that was it. I knew how to make a website and at the time it has to make a website with HTML tables and a bit of flash.

Kaleigh:           Interesting.

Paul:                So that’s where we both started with I think that is fairly common. Freelancers start with the skill that they want to get paid to do, to me that seems pretty logical. So what skills then did you learn or add to freelancing and how did that help you to be a better freelancer?

Kaleigh:           So I had an ecommerce business before but it was really just kind of a small scale experiment for me. I had an etsy shop and later I had moved over to another platform. I had a little bit of experience with running a business from that hands on experimentation but when I got into freelancing full time is a lot larger scale and there are a lot more things I had to learn. About a year in my freelance career that’s when I took Creative Class for the first time and that’s where I feel like I learned a lot of the basic business stuff that I needed to know to do a good job of freelancing. And so I fully endorse it for everything I learned.

Paul:                I didn’t even think that you’re going to go there but I’m glad that you did. Hooray Creative Class.

Kaleigh:           The other thing was I have a really good accountant who walked me through a lot of the basics of bookkeeping so I basically just know what is going on the number side of the business. I don’t do my own taxes, I don’t do a lot of the complex stuff but I get the gist of it and I had never taken any accounting courses or anything like that. So that was another thing, the bookkeeping side was an another element that I really had to learn a lot about which was super intimidating to me but very helpful.

Paul:                Do you do monthly in and out cash flow or how do you do that for your bookkeeping?

Kaleigh:           Yeah, I basically I just do the journal where I note my incoming invoices my expenses, mileage, things like that.

Paul:                At a high level that is basically enough to see if your business is profitable or not month to month. Kind of important to do. I feel like I had no idea what I was doing for that aspect of it as well but then I realized it’s not that hard. I don’t need to know what the numbers are on my tax filing form means line 362, I don’t know if it is the same in America but in Canada it’s like refer to line 362 and you look at line 362 and I was like based on line 23 and 87 divided by the. I don’t need to know any of that. I just need to know money in and money out and how I’m fairing with both of those numbers.

Kaleigh:           That is right, so what were some of the skills you learned when you were starting?

Paul:                I didn’t have Creative Class. I think in school the only thing I cared about and the only thing I learned about was Math and Science. It’s like I’m a nerd so that’s what it was. I never taken a business, I don’t even know if there were business courses in my program. I don’t because I quit so quickly, pretty sure there weren’t.

But I think the biggest thing that I learned the hard way unfortunately was how to do business, how to run a business. I was a designer and a bit of a programmer but I didn’t know how to do business as those things. And I mean if you are freelancing full time you are basically a fulltime business owner. You’ve get thrown in the deep end as soon as that happens and that is one of the reasons why I created Creative Class, and two it is important to kind of know that and it is important to make time for that especially when you are busy, like I hear from a lot of people that I’m too busy with client work to run my business; long term that seems like a scary place to be in.

Kaleigh:           It does.

Paul:                If everything is doing well and you are just making more money by volume they want you spending or noticing things that’s possibly good but eventually you’re going to need to understand your business a little bit, and eventually you are going to need to make time for things like sales and marketing. You got to have an another client. I’m going to wrote it at some point.

The other thing that I feel exciting go to school for communications but I feel like that was the other thing that really led my freelancing career to a good place was learning how to communicate with people. Because one I’m a nerd the bar is set really low for communication skills for me, and two I’m a creative person so again the bar is set and I mean this is all a lot of self-talk and like stories we tell each other. Look I’m a nerd I don’t need to be good at communications. If you are a nerd and you are a freelancer you have to be good at communication. Sorry to burst that bubble.

It is easy in hindsight to kind of see that the more I focus on communication and working and talking to other people understanding them and understand me the more monitory benefit I saw in my freelancing. We talked about this in talent episode. It is really hard to be the best designer, the best writer, the best developer. You can work really hard at skills around like running your business, you can run your business well and you could make the same amount of money but if you are running your business well you could end up with more profit even if you have the same amount of gross revenue or somebody else if you do your business really well you can end up making more money.

And then for the communications side of things I feel like if you are a good communicator your clients are going to like you more regardless of your talent to some degree. Obviously you can’t know what you’re doing with your talent. You have to know what you are doing but if you are really a good communicator. If you understand, you empathize with your clients and you have an open dialogue with them then they are going to like the work that you’ve done a lot more. So those are the biggest things for me was learning the business because you have to and then really start to understand communication.

Kaleigh:           I think those were all extremely important and I feel like the kind of basics for, it’s like Freelancing 101. Work on those things and you’ll be in a good place or you’ll be set down a good path at least. You will be going the right direction. I think that I also you’ve kind of touch on this already but it just helps you better manage the relationships that you have. You said this before on one of the other episodes, even if you have one client, if you have a really strong relationship with them that can very quickly snowball and be very fruitful for future projects, for referrals, were all kinds of things.

It is not always about, “Oh I spent 20hours this week cold pitching new clients. If you invest to that time into being a really good business person for the one freelance client that you have whether it’s communication or developing strong onboarding materials, things like that I think that can almost be more beneficial that doing the things like cold pitching sometimes.

Paul:                So let me ask you this, have you ever added a new skill set to, because those are all skill sets that are important like learning the business communication marketing all that kind of stuff, have you ever added a skill set to your quiver? I just like saying quiver. It’s just a cute word. I feel like we are the Lord of the rings right now. Have you ever added a skill to your quiver or that you have then charged clients for your main services that you have? Have you ever added to those main services with a new skill?

Kaleigh:           You know I do. I do some mentoring, I do some training with freelance writers who are like, “Okay, I need to develop a plan for my niche that I’m going to pursue or I need to figure out how to have a better onboarding system.” Sometimes it’s just a matter of I have a lot of questions about how I can do this the right way. Can you sit with me like for 30 minutes and help me figure out what it is that I’m doing and so again that kind of goes back to communication. It’s kind of here is what I learned along the way and here is maybe how it can help you but being able to put that into an actionable format to where it’s not just me talking to somebody for thirty minutes. I guess that would kind of qualify for an answer.

Paul:                That is definitely an additional service and I think for me it was definitely email marketing. So I’ve been doing web design and website development for clients for years and years and I started to super interested in email marketing. I started learning a ton about it and started playing with it myself and I was like I can charge my clients for this. And if they are coming to me for a website then they are probably also need help with their newsletter whether it’s sending up segmented automations or helping them work through sales funnels or that sort of thing. So I ended up starting to charge for additional services like that because I’m like, “This client already wants to work with me. I could probably make more money in the project if I offer them more things and if I like the client I want to keep working with them so I offer them more things.” Or I could even say, “If you want to do this next month Phase 2 of this project could be taking everything you’ve learned from doing your website and applying that to a newsletter or some automation sequences.”

And I think that when we are looking at a sustaining a career over the long term, I think the first thing I need to do is continue to update our skills and continue to learn about our skills because I don’t think anybody can ever be in a place where they know everything about the skill that they have. I take hours of my week typically to learn about what are web design is, what writing is or what SaaS is and so that is one aspect of it.

The second aspect of it I think it sometimes a good idea to add auxiliary related skills to your quiver. So if you have a service that you offer clients and then you have something else that you know a bit about that you could learn a bit more about that you could offer clients as if the type of clients that comes to you wants this core skills that you have. If there is something that you can add to that then you could end up getting bigger projects for more money working with those clients for longer. So I think it is a win in that regard if you start to add more related skills to your arsenal of knowledge because then you end up becoming like the one stop shop for people. Like I know how to do this things and I don’t think being a generalist is necessarily bad in this case. It’s really good at one thing and that kind of really help catapult you but then learning about all the other aspects of what you do and how that impacts other areas. I think that’s a good idea.

Kaleigh:           I do too, and I like what you said about you make time for it. I think of that it’s a big part of success of this whole equation that if you set aside time whether it’s weekly or monthly even to really learn something new and to be dedicated to always learning something new, that can have a really big impact on your business. I think it is important to kind of set mini goals for yourself on a regular basis related to learning. So maybe you’re going to do something like take a course, the Creative Class would be a good one for example or you’re maybe going to hire a coach, or maybe you are going to a conference that you’ve been thinking about or maybe you are going to take a class in the local university or something like that. Whatever your learning style is best. I think really putting it on your calendar and making it a priority is the secret to not ever falling into that oh you know I’ve got this I don’t really need to learn anything. I’m good, because that is a dangerous place to be.

Paul:                It is if I didn’t update my skill set for design I would still be making websites with flash and tables nobody does that. So how do you keep your writing skills fresh? Pass I guess what you just said about going to conferences, talking to other people coaches. So what do you do to keep your writing skills fresh?

Kaleigh:           So I’m a big reader, so reading is huge for me whether it’s blogs or different books on writing or news articles about trends with writing and things like that, that is my primary way of learning. But I also think that podcast have a ton of free resources where. I love podcast because you can multitask like I can be walking a dog and also learning at the same time, or cooking dinner and also learning something really valuable that’s going to help me with my freelance business while I’m getting something else done. I think for me both of those are great options and again they are free. There are so much free material out there that is really valuable. I mean there is no investment even involve in those situations.

Paul:                Do you keep up with your industry? Do you read periodicals and publications that talk about ecommerce and SaaS type writing?

Kaleigh:           The lucky thing for me is that most of the stuff that I write about is that stuff. So I get to do a lot of research and I almost getting paid to do that stuff to keep up on my industry and to learn about the trends, and what is new, what is coming? It’s a win situation, I’m always learning as I’m doing client’s work.

Paul:                That is good, I like that. I think the research part of it is good. I think that for me I don’t like web design as an industry. I think it can get super derivative and just super mean. I look at a site like designer news and it’s just a bunch of mean people saying mean things to each other. Like I haven’t talked to anybody lately that likes being on designer news. One of my things I did unfortunately made it to the front page of that site, and I say unfortunately because I didn’t do anything from my bottom line and it just got a bunch of snarky comments I wish I hadn’t submitted anyways.

So I don’t like to keep up with my industry per say if web design really is my industry in the beginning I definitely did. I would read a list of parts being around forever Jeffrey Almond’s writing has been around forever. I would definitely pay attention to that now. I’d like to pay attention to, I still love design and like my wife hates sitting in movie theaters before the movie starts because I’ll tell her what every single type faces on the screen during ads. I’m not good to go to the movies, just FYI.

But I still love to keep up with what is going on. I like to learn about different CSS or JavaScript tricks or things that you can do or different updates to the governing body of how that code work. Or even just I love architecture I know absolutely nothing about architecture but I feel like architecture is really inspiring for interface design because the same principles of what makes something good versus what makes something bad in terms of proportions are there. So Architectural Digest magazine is awesome. It has nothing to do with interface design but I still like to keep up with what is going on in some aspect of it and same with I guess courses because that’s kind of my industry now.

I don’t read a whole ton about courses but there is definitely some authors that I pay attention to everything that [unclear – 17:52] writes I think is really smart and she really has a finger on the pulse of that. Hilary Wise writes a bunch about courses actually she works a bunch of clients who do course so her writing as well. I’m very specific about who I pay attention to and probably should pay attention to it more. But I think that learning is probably a scale that I’ve leaned on the most, especially since I really didn’t go to school for anything.

So I feel like I had to teach myself all the this skills so it has to be learning so always learning for me is really important because I always wanted to be especially like I’m almost forty now. Like I don’t want to be seen as the old guy who doesn’t have his finger on the pulse of what is happening anymore.

Kaleigh:           Where am I?

Paul:                Exactly. Get off my lawn freelancers. I honestly like I don’t want to be in that place so I feel like I need to some degree. Like it look at product hunt every couple of days. I don’t really not watching anything but like I still like to see kind of what is going on because I don’t want to fall behind.

Kaleigh:           I think that is the secret to life really being open to learning and being devoted to it on an ongoing basis. If you can do that and you can keep your mind open to always changing and evolving and getting better, that’s going to help with anything.

Paul:                Yeah, I totally agree. I think that note from you is a perfect place to call it for this episode.

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