Can you improve your freelance skills without leaving home? Definitely!
There are plenty of web-based opportunities for a solo professional to build in-demand skills. Some of the most marketable skills on oDesk can be self-taught online, including PHP for web development, iPhone app creation, programming languages like C++ or .NET, WordPress for blogs, or English proficiency.
But where do you go to find all this great information? Here are seven ways you can learn, build and sharpen your skills on the web.
1. Enroll in online courses (free or paid)
There are plenty of online courses that can help you hone your skills and learn new strategies to improve them. These courses usually include ebooks, webinars, checklists and activity sheets packed into one package. They are often either given away for free or are included with a membership fee; the best courses may be expensive, but the investment is worth it. Some sites to check out include:
- Lynda.com (subscription based) – a popular site that offers training in a wide range of topics, including specific computer programs.
- MIT Open Courseware (free) – generally offering more in-depth programs, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has made many of their courses available in digital form. Available materials vary from course to course.
- W3 Schools (free) – if you want to learn more about web development, or just figure out how to format your blog posts, this site offers a variety of tutorials and quick-reference information.
2. Develop lasting relationships with your "mentor"
After taking an online course, you may have had an opportunity to establish one-on-one correspondence with the mentor or the industry expert who hosted the course. This can be a valuable opportunity to build a lasting relationship – a connection with a mentor you trust, who knows what he or she is talking about, and who may be willing to help you become a better freelancer every step of the way.
3. Assign and build your own projects
Practice makes perfect, so exercise your new skills regularly with personal projects. If you are a writer, set up a blog or write an ebook. If you are a designer, create logos, themes, and other products that showcase your skills and aesthetics. These projects will successfully display your abilities and what you can offer to prospective clients.
4. Check websites and blogs for tips, exercises, and other advice
There are plenty of websites that share tips, strategies, and neat tricks that can enhance your skills significantly. Writers, for example, can turn to Copyblogger for copywriting and web content tips, the International Freelancers Academy for freelancing strategies, and Daily Writing Tips for articles on grammar, lists of synonyms of common words, and quizzes.
5. Look for podcasts, webinars, video blogs
Building your skills online is not limited to reading and testing what youhave read. In fact, some of the best tips and strategies online are not laid out in written form; you can find a lot of valuable content in the form of podcasts, webinars and video blogs by industry experts in your field.
6. Find inspiration – and learn from it
Who are the leaders in your field, and what is their approach to their work? Most industries host award programs that highlight the best of the best; some organizations even sell publications that contain these award-winning projects for reference. Niche publications often include detailed case studies and interviews with experts about issues that are likely relevant to your work. Take time to study these examples and consider how to use the same principles in your own work.
7. Learn from fellow freelancers and online communities
Why work on your skills alone when you can learn and share strategies with fellow freelancers? There are hundreds of online communities that you can join and learn from, with both new and seasoned freelancers helping each other out. LinkedIn groups, forums, Facebook groups, and niche websites are some of the best places to connect to these resources.
Professional development is crucial if you hope to become an in-demand professional and industry expert. But keep in mind that the fruit of all your labor comes from actually putting these skills, strategies, tips and ideas into action. Release those personal projects, take those online courses, and join a learning community – each step forward is a step towards your success.