It’s only been two months since I took my side-gig Instructional Design work full-time, but I have been LOVING it! Making the leap was one of the scariest decisions I’ve ever made, but it has paid off, and I’m a lot happier for it. My favourite aspect so far is being location independent; it’s nice to not have to be tethered to an office to do my job, and I think our dog has been really enjoying the extra time spent home.
Now, taking your side-gig full-time does not always have its perks – this past month for instance has been extremely busy for me, which is a great problem to have, but it has also meant that I need to hustle harder to get my work done and invoice those clients! I’ve missed every Thursday poker night in May and was unable to go on a day-long hiking trip that I really wanted to go on, all in the name of work…and I’ve been working some long days (and nights…and weekends).
If you’ve been wondering how you can take your Instructional Design gig full-time (or even break out into the field), here are the best three bits of advice I have for you:
1. Build Your Portfolio
This is so important! I understand that it may be difficult to do – heck! I have over 5 years of work that’s considered ‘controlled goods’ that I can’t use in my portfolio – some of my best work…it’s disappointing. However, don’t let Non-Disclosure Agreements and controlled goods get you down, instead proactively build your portfolio. Research various types of courses to develop and create miniature one-offs of those courses.
Challenge yourself to step out of your comfort zone by producing a creative portfolio that showcases your skills and abilities. If you need help, David Anderson puts up weekly e-learning challenges over on the E-Learning Heroes Community, and these are a great way to get your creative juices flowing and add pieces to your portfolio.
Another alternative is to volunteer your services to small businesses; this is a great way to help out organizations to develop their training opportunities, while building your portfolio. If a contract is developed for such an arrangement, MAKE DAMN SURE that the only important requirement (on your end) is that you get to use the project in your portfolio – very few things in life are free, and free training is a steal! Cover your butt and make sure you spell it out in the contract, just to make sure!
“But is a portfolio necessary?” – You know, it’s really not. However, it does give you a HUGE leg up when you’re competing against others for an Instructional Design job. You’ll end up being more of an ‘on purpose instructional designer’ instead of an ‘accidental instructional designer’ (both are fine, but you want to highlight your worth)! My business has grown considerably since adding a few small pieces to my portfolio; now, professional pieces are still hard to come by due to the aforementioned NDAs and controlled goods issues, but just showcasing some of your abilities can really help clients visualize how you can work for them on their projects!
2. Get Online! Be Social! Be Proactive!
Now – I know you’re already online, because you’re reading this, but what I mean is go get a website and start blogging. Now that you’ve built an awesome portfolio, put it somewhere for all to see. Get on twitter! Be active in communities! Take time to build a profile and following on LinkedIn!
The internet and social media is amazing when it comes to promoting yourself – it’s one of the best marketing tools I’ve come across so far, and once you start building a group of followers (on your blog, twitter, LinkedIn, wherever)…you will begin to see results in the form of business.
Another downside of small business ownership can be the hustle – the time you spend, that you aren’t being paid for, promoting yourself and seeking new contracts. I have to be honest – at least 1 hour a day is still reserved for finding new business opportunities. It can be frustrating and discouraging, and every industry has its peaks and valleys, but you want to make sure you’re contracting yourself out in advance (as much as possible). Keep hustlin’ and don’t get lazy! You’ll quickly find out that in the world of freelance, lazy = no work = no pay = no mortgage payment.
Now, I will make one forewarning about being active on social media. Try your best to keep your participation to meaningful posts; reciprocate. If you’re involved in a community, try to be helpful! You’re there for a reason and so are others, the least you can do is engage in meaningful ways and share your wealth of knowledge.
3. Remember – You are on a continuous learning journey!
As Instructional Designers (or aspiring Instructional Designers), I would hope that you have long-since been embracing your journey as a continuous learner, but if you haven’t – GET ON IT, GIIIIRL! Making it on your own in a very competitive industry can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. You can get a leg up on your competitors or find freelancers who need help with overflow work or even just need to collaborate with your services to get their contracts done, but the difference between you and your competitors will often be your abilities.
You don’t need a formal education, but I will say that it has definitely helped – people love qualifications, let me tell you! You don’t need a lot of experience, but start now, because it definitely helps! What you need are mad research skills – research anything and everything you think might help you improve your abilities. If you want to enhance current skills or acquire new skills, you can often find all of the information you need online.
Invest in yourself – TREAT YO’ SELF! It will pay off in spades, I promise. The Internet is a wonderful place – you can find courses on almost anything at sites like Udemy, SkillShare, and Lynda. If you make it to big and need real professional advice, don’t hesitate to employ marketing companies like YEAH Local. If you don’t want to outsource, many post-secondary institutions offer formal diplomas and/or certifications in Instructional Design, and there are SO MANY great books out there. You just need to do the research! By and large, the best resource I’ve found for my field has been the Articulate E-Learning Heroes Community. I’ll say it once, and I’ll say it again – THESE FOLKS ROCK! There is so much talent within those forums, it is unbelievable; when it comes to researching, you can find almost anything within that forum, and everyone is so supportive!