What Freelancers Can Teach You About Keeping Your Skills Sharp Five tips all entrepreneurs can learn from freelancers.

By John Boitnott

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Eva-Katalin | Getty Images

A recent Upwork study revealed that freelancers are more committed to advancing existing skills and learning new ones and are generally more proactive about keeping their skill sets sharp and competitive than traditional workers.

Related: How to Run a 6-Figure Freelance Business in 20 Hours a Week

During the current crisis, freelancers everywhere have had to be particularly nimble and scrappy to keep clients and find new ones. Any entrepreneur can learn a lot from these fast-moving freelancers. Here are some examples.

1. Think strategically about your skill set and where you want to improve

Freelancers can't afford the time or the money to it takes to engage in slapdash continuing online education opportunities during this time. They need to be selective and strategic about where and how they spend limited hours and other resources in pursuit of new or improved skills.

You can take a page from the freelancer's book by taking the time to think critically about your current set of skills. Identify gaps in those skills. Was there any recent situation that made you think I really wish I was better at ___? Have you continually had to delegate certain projects or tasks to someone else because you weren't comfortable with your own abilities?

By the same token, think about things you love to do but haven't done recently. When it comes to staying current with job skills, we human beings tend to lose what we don't use frequently. A refresher course might be useful, especially when it comes to technology-related skills, where frequent advancements tend to make older approaches obsolete.

Once you've identified gaps in your skill sets, make a plan to fill them with any combination of the methods mentioned here. When possible, look for less expensive and self-paced learning opportunities if you're concerned about time management or cost.

2. Take advantage of digital tools

According to a study conducted by Harvard Business School for Degreed, freelancers take fuller advantage of digital tools for professional and continuing education needs than traditional employees.

That makes sense because digital platforms tend to make the learning process easier, especially when there's no need to work around class schedules or travel to a physical class location. Moreover, digital learning networks are often less expensive or even free, meaning you can indulge your curiosity more fully without concern for the cost.

Related: 18 Freelance Sites to Find Your Next Gig

Use mobile apps and online sites such as Skillshare and Udemy to explore new interests or brush up on recent developments in existing skills. However, bear in mind that for some career purposes, a formal certification course may be required. If that's the case, make sure the digital program you're signing up for carries the appropriate accreditation.

Also check into MOOCs, or massive open online courses. These classes are run on digital platforms through the auspices of colleges and universities. You can take them from any location and many are self-directed and self-paced.

3. Listen to podcasts

The hundreds of thousands of podcasts available on dozens of different platforms can be an excellent source of new information. It can be intimidating to find a new podcast you'll find useful and worthwhile, so you might start with a curated list of educational podcasts and try an episode or two of any title that intrigues you. Explore podcasts related to your field or specific skills you're interested in developing. Most podcast apps include robust search features that will help you pinpoint the right show for your needs.

4. Use work projects as learning environments

Freelancers often test themselves with projects that might be just a little outside their comfort zones in order to pursue learning opportunities or the chance to brush up on new skills.

Of course, you always want to make sure you have sufficient backup for a project that's significantly outside your wheelhouse to make sure neither the work nor the client suffers as a result of your inexperience. Look into securing a mentor or colleague to guide you on a case-by-case basis if you think you need closer supervision.

5. Read more

Books on subjects related to your field, about related skills (such as learning or memory) or about business in general can be a great way to help keep your skills sharp. They're a perfect solution if you prefer learning at your own pace and in a solitary way.

If reading physical books isn't your thing, use Audible and other audiobook solutions to "read" books from leaders in your field as you're exercising, doing homework, commuting, etc. At least one study shows that listening to a book provides the same emotional and intellectual experience that reading the same book would evoke.

Staying competitive means prioritizing your skills and keeping up with current developments in your field. Adopting the freelancer mindset will help you stay sharp by making creative use of your time and energy, whether on your own or as part of a more structured class environment.

Related: 4 Mistakes You Should Avoid When Working as a Freelance Writer

Wavy Line
John Boitnott

Entrepreneur Leadership Network VIP

Journalist, Digital Media Consultant and Investor

John Boitnott is a longtime digital media consultant and journalist living in San Francisco. He's written for Venturebeat, USA Today and FastCompany.

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