Staying Relevant in a Changing World: Expanding Your Freelance Skills

In my more than two decades of freelancing, I have witnessed a lot of changes. When I first started out, I only wrote articles for print publications. However, this was not sustainable. Pay rates were not high enough to earn any kind of a full-time living, and over the years print publications started to dwindle by either going out of print altogether or moving to an online-only format.

I always knew that I wanted to be a freelancer. I love the freedom of being able to (mostly) determine my own hours, and that every day is different. But in order to stay in the media industry, I learned early that flexibility and diversity were key.

Photography has always been a major hobby of mine, and I was able to monetize it by taking pictures to go along with articles. This definitely added to my hireability.

Figuring out how to code basic HTML was one of the best professional moves I ever made. I started to be able to offer rudimentary, front-end websites to clients too busy to do it themselves. Later on, I learned how to use content management software like Wordpress and Expression Engine, which has really helped expand my ability to offer website design and content. But still, I sometimes need to lean on my HTML skills to format something.

Learning how to use video editing software was a bit of a learning curve, but being able to shoot videos for clients has also proven to be profitable.

Finally, as social media became more prominent since the mid-aughts, figuring out the ins and outs of digital marketing has been essential not only to promote my own work, but to incorporate this skill with my other services.

I am very much a self-starter when it comes to life-long learning. However, everyone has different learning styles. What is important is that you pick up new skills so that you can stay relevant in an increasingly narrow — and competitive — market.

Here are some ideas on how you can expand your skill set, without spending a fortune.

  • If you have a friend who has mad skills you crave, perhaps they would teach you for a nominal fee, over a beverage of choice and pizza, or even a professional exchange of services.
  • Many community colleges offer non-credit courses taught by local experts for a fee. Spend a weekend or a few weeknights brushing up on your photography skills, learn the basics of making a website, or get an introduction to social media marketing. It’s definitely worth the investment.
  • Search online for information about what you would like to learn. YouTube is full of “how-to” videos on a plethora of topics. There are message boards with professionals helping each other out with specific questions. Seek and you just may find.
  • Do you have a library card? If not, get one! Head to your local library. There are lots of books concerning photography, videography, writing/editing, websites, graphic design, social media, and more. This option is free — all you need is time to read.

Remember not to spread yourself too thin. You can’t be an expert in everything, and you need to be honest with your clients as to the limits of your expertise. However, being able to provide a little extra may go a long way in terms of expanding your client base.

Paula E. Kirman is the Prairie Regional Director with the Canadian Freelance Union, a community chapter of Unifor, Canada’s largest private-sector union.

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Paula E. Kirman

Paula E. Kirman

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A writer, editor, photographer, filmmaker, musician, digital storyteller, and community organizer in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She/Her. wordspicturesmusic.com