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What's on Deck For Your Professional Development? Getting your career on an upward trajectory involves everything from maintaining credentials to bolstering your network. Create a plan and execute it.

By Eddy Ricci Edited by Dan Bova

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Paul Bradbury | Getty Images

As an entrepreneur or professional, you may ask yourself, how are my employees and I getting better each day? Even if you can answer that because you have a detailed professional development plan to grow your team and yourself, it's important to know how this space changing.

Professional development (PD) is learning to earn or maintain professional credentials. Endeavors range from academic degrees to formal coursework, conferences and informal learning opportunities situated in practice. PD has unique approaches to learning including coaching, consultation, communities of practice, mentoring, lesson study, reflection and certification.

When I think of professional development, I think of it in two complementary ways: What is the new learning you need to acquire? Who are the people you need to connect with and surround yourself with?

Career trajectory improves when you synchronize the answers to these two questions. When you obtain new knowledge, develop or fortify a skill and compound that with the right connections, your career will improve.

Technology changes professional development.

Michael Croft, founder and CEO of Volute, is pioneering a new answer to this question as his company changes the way professional development is delivered.

"Professional Development requires new digital approaches due to the intensive and collaborative nature of PD training and most current digital platforms as current approaches are fundamentally flawed in their ability to support PD approaches at the speed of business," Croft says.

Volute has developed a new delivery method for PD by way of an open marketplace of digital learning tools contributed by universities around the world. With Volute, traditional learning content and delivery becomes interactive and social, with connected elements that feel like games. Learning is delivered in timely chunks, relevant to your objectives.

Related: How Gamification Is Engaging Customers and Employees Alike

"Executive education training is the perfect catalyst for this innovation and change in PD delivery because your audience includes thought leaders who support our global economy. The style of executive learning is different. It's geared towards power-packed bursts of learning that can accommodate the rapid pace and time constraints of busy executives," says Croft whose firm has offices in Providence and New York City, with plans for new offices in Madrid and Sao Paolo.

Croft's vision is to grow Volute as a universal marketplace of the best PD training and delivery ideas from thought leaders worldwide. Universities and companies are contributing their unique teaching methods as digital tools that can be mixed and matched and connected like LEGO® bricks. This creates personalized learning experiences that deliver the right information exactly when you need it. These tools immerse the learner in business situation. The sharing economy fostered by the Volute model allows learners to be exposed to diverse PD solutions to better prepare them for domestic and international challenges.

Your network changes your growth trajectory.

Another question you need to ask is who are the people I am meeting and developing relationships with? The answer to that is becoming increasingly relevant in someone's professional development planning. Being intentional in finding professionals who can provide business perspective and can introduce you to others should also be a key part of your PD growth strategy. Your ecosystem of talent can be as impactful to your professional development as learning content and its delivery.

Entrepreneurs and professionals looking to grow themselves and expand their businesses should spend an equal amount of time formulating an executable connection plan as a new learning plan.

Schedule "networking building time" into your daily or weekly routine by carving out calendar space to reflect on the people you need to be connecting with and then searching for mutual connections. Create real-world relationships by planning meetups when you cross paths or for more advanced relationships, a train ride or flight may be needed.

Related: 4 Little-Known Secrets to Better Networking

When scheduling a meeting with a new contact, be sure to create proper expectations of the agenda. The agenda can be as simple as a personal and industry introduction, followed by a few specific questions to get perspective on the businesses and industries, and learning about any ways one can help the other's business.

It is best to come prepared with a "two-way street connection list." First, create a list of three to five contacts that you know personally that you believe this new person may benefit from meeting. Also, through your research, you should have a good understanding of who they're connected to. Present a list of contacts to them to see if they are comfortable introducing you to the people you feel you should also be meeting. Specificity of who you'd like to be introduced to will be more effective than having the person "recall" names in their network that you should be meeting.

If the agenda and expectation of the meeting was set properly, the transition to networking and using your connection lists will be very simple. For example: "As I shared when I reached out to you, I wanted to take the remaining time of our meeting today to network. After researching your business, I think you should be meeting the following people in my network, and I am open to introducing you to others that aren't on this list."

Followed by, "I also did some research on a few professionals that you are connected to see if you would be comfortable making an introduction."

Your network must support who you want to become.

In addition to networking, the use of a consultant or coach can be a catalyst to enhancing your career, if done correctly. Coaching can help with new learning and with the new connections you want to build. According to an international coaching federation, between 2011 and 2016 there has been a 25 percent increase in the number of coaches with the largest category being leadership coaching. This industry continues to grow, with an average hourly fee of approximately $300 for those coaches with at least 10 years experience.

Most entrepreneurs and professionals can best grow themselves and potentially profits, by hiring a coach or consultant to gain new perspectives and brainpower. A consultant can also help you keep up with the disruptions in your industry that may be coming down the road as well as industry insights and competitive advantages.

Mike Ertz of Ertz Consulting says, "The most difficult employee we have to manage is ourselves. We have a hard time seeing our blind-spots and getting out of our way. That's where a coach can help."

Ertz feels that it's important for people to understand the difference between a coach and a consultant. He says a coach is someone who can help a client find within him- or herself what that person wants and is capable of doing; focuses on performance, development and discipline. A consultant on the other hand is someone who provides expertise, analysis, and solutions; someone with subject matter knowledge who provides advice and recommendations within a defined scope of work.

Related: Career Coach vs. Mentor: Which Can Help You the Most?

Ertz goes on, "I see that people don't know how to hire a coach. They should follow a three-step process where you do a self-assessment, interview multiple coaches based on that self-assessment and then negotiate a shared endgame." There are many questions you should ask before hiring a consultant.

Ertz concludes, "Sustainable growth requires adding mind-share. When you can't build it fast enough inside, you buy it outside. Entrepreneurs must surround themselves with people who think differently than they do. You hire outside consultants because they wake up every day thinking about several businesses, not just yours."

As businesses continue to be disrupted, it is important to understand how professional development is changing and how you can capitalize on these changes. You must learn what else you need to know and who else needs to know you.

Eddy Ricci, CFP ® is a founder, author, leadership consultant, talent acquisition specialist and angel investor.   He empowers entrepreneurs, executives and professional service practitioners to upgrade their businesses, careers and lifestyles through leadership consulting, firm building and talent acquisition.  He is the author of The Growth Game: a millennials guide to professional development and Miss Money Plan and the battle against emotion, a superhero-themed financial literacy book for kids.    

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