Often you only have five minutes for a potential client to decide your future. How will you set yourself apart from the pack? As a project worker, or independent professional (IPro) it’s important to recognise that, as is the case with marketing yourself and building your reputation, it’s up to you to take responsibility and accountability for your own career by continuing to invest in your skill set and capabilities.
When you work as an employee, it can be much easier to keep skills and knowledge up to date. You can attend the occasional vendor briefing or industry conference secure in the knowledge that you are being paid for your time and that any costs will be absorbed by the company. If you choose to engage in academic studies or embark on a course that offers recognised technical certification, your employer may well encourage you with offers of study leave or with partial reimbursement of fees.
Working as an IPro, however, all of this changes. You have to bear the cost of expenses and your time must be given freely. When there are paying clients waiting, is it any wonder some IPros are tempted to put off any decisions regarding education in the hope that one day in the future, things will be quieter?
Unfortunately this is a short-term view and while the impact of a failure to invest in skills development may not become immediately apparent, it will eventually affect your career options.
An ongoing commitment to education
Many professions demand a continuing education commitment, often stipulating an annual quota of education hours. This helps ensure skills are kept current and that the professional is kept up to date with the latest techniques and practices. Every IPro could benefit from a similar commitment.
Ongoing training and education improves your ability to do what you do. Training keeps your skills current and, as you learn more, you become better at your job. This in turn increases your value to clients and employers. It gives you an edge over the competition and you may find your earning potential improves.
Education puts you in charge of your career development. You get to select the courses or pursue the skills that will take your career where you want to go.
Just as importantly, learning new things keeps you fresh and stops you getting bored. This can be particularly important when you work for yourself.
Continuous learning doesn’t have to be hard. Talking to other people and reading are probably the simplest ways to keep in touch and to keep learning. Read newspapers, industry magazines, blogs and vendor information to keep abreast of changing trends. Network whenever possible and become a consumer of information.
Events such as webinars, vendor seminars and industry conferences are good informal learning opportunities, while for structured education and recognised certifications, consider signing up for formal classes or an online course.
In addition to professional learning, there are other subjects that can benefit a project contractor. One is the development of interpersonal skills. Whether in the middle of an interview or when engaged in a client project, it helps to be able to communicate effectively, and to convey your capabilities, enthusiasm and self-assurance in a suitably engaging manner.
If new to the idea of contracting, you may also find it pays to invest in courses to develop better administrative and/or time management skills. Both will be essential if you wish to build a business as an IPro.
Finally, as you hone your skills or add new capabilities, don’t forget to include them in your CV. Build mention of them into your social activities and make sure they are included in your elevator pitch. In Australia, we tend to shy away from self-promotion. Somehow it can seem cheesy. But, a concise description of what you do, your qualifications, expertise, the commitment you offer and the value you bring is likely to prove your most compelling marketing tool.
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