The Way We Work
February 3, 2010 by Guest Blogger

By: Alex Hornbake

As freelancers we’re afforded a lot of perks – everyday is casual Friday, and we don’t have to “pretend laugh” at our bosses’ bad jokes – however, we definitely have our fair share of burdens, too. One of the biggest challenges is forecasting demand for our skills, and deciding when to continuine our education to meet potential future demand. Any kind of forecasting has a certain “crystal ball” factor, but hopefully the tips below can help ease the stress of figuring out when and how to develop your skills.

Demand and Trends

The oDesk trends page can be a great place to get a rough estimate of how “in demand” your skills are, and gauge the value of adding new ones to your skill set. On the individual trends pages, be sure to check out the “New Jobs posted per Month”, and the number of other providers already offering those skills.

If you’re a computer programmer, you should check out LangPop.com, a site dedicated to providing rankings based upon search engine results, book sales, tags in blog posts, Google code,  and job listings. The “normalized view” they offer is the combination of all these techniques, and gives a good idea of what your peers, and the industry, are up to.

Hotskills.net is worth a visit as well, although the mishmash of “skill” words, may leave you a bit overwhelmed – unless of course you are a hotshot Unix-operating SAP-consulting Oracle-rocking project-managing .Net and C# gunslinger – in which case, you’re probably swamped in emails from potential clients right now and shouldn’t be hanging around reading blogs anyways!

Follow Your “Gut”

That little voice inside is what led many of us to become freelancers, as Ian McKenzie states“…if I actually listened the voice inside, I realized it was telling me to trust the unknown…It was telling me to follow the path with heart.”

Don’t stop listening to your gut.

The projects and skills that you are passionate about are going to be your best work, and the most successful for both you and your clients. Follow those “gut” instincts and learn skills as they arise. Regardless of what “Hot Skills” are in demand, if they don’t align with your passions, then being on the “cutting edge” will be a boring and frustrating place for you. Identify what’s hot in both the market and in your scope of interest.

At the risk of sounding like a bit of a mystic, if you have a history of being correct about where your industry is headed, then ignore me and keep doing what you’re doing. If you’re like many of us out there, and not good at predicting your industry on the fly, you should identify which of your peers have an insightful perspective, and have lunch with them, follow their blogs and tweets, read what they are reading – then take the things they do that interest you, and make them your own.

Knowledge vs Skills vs Sub-Skills…knowledge

Knowledge trumps skills. We all know the old saying, about the difference between giving a man a fish and teaching him to fish, but really fishing is derived from the knowledge of the pond, the behavior of the fish, and how to build a fishing rod. Share with a man the knowledge of the ecosystem of the pond and he’ll figure out how to fish based on that knowledge.

When taking on new skills, make sure you are expanding your knowledge as well as your skillset. Knowing the essentials, and more than “just enough” to get the immediate job done may seem overkill in the short term, but – in the long run – it takes true knowledge to build a career. Conversely, if you know the essentials and your knowledge gives you the ability to quickly pick up a new skill (for example, a knowledge of computer programming and C++ can open the doors to learning C# or Java) then don’t hold back!

Keep learning, keep growing, keep an eye on the market, and don’t loose the passion that led you to become a freelancer in the first place!