Recently I’ve had several individuals reach out to me asking for advice about going freelance or getting started in eLearning instructional design. I thought I would share my thoughts about this so that others might benefit from my answer.
I think it’s important that you have the competencies that organizations are looking for when it comes to learning design. Take a look at as many eLearning job postings as you can and see what credentials these job descriptions have in common. I live in Canada and fell into eLearning and instructional design by accident. When I left my first job in the industry after about nine years, I noticed that the job listings were looking for CTDP certification. CTDP is the Certified Training and Development Professional designation and is administered by the Institute for Performance and Learning. I took the better part of a year to complete the requirements and I now have this certification and even display it on my website. In other countries, there may be other credentials. In the United States, the certification is called Certified Professional in Learning and Performance or CPLP for short, and this can be gained from the Association for Talent Development (ATD, formerly ASTD).
The second thing you need is something to distinguish yourself. Because eLearning designer/developers can literally work from anywhere in the world, you might be competing with tens of thousands of professionals, maybe even hundreds of thousands. When I decided to begin my freelance career I had worked for exactly two organizations over a period of fourteen years. This meant that only a handful of people knew me and my reputation for developing great eLearning. To address this I starting a YouTube channel dedicated to Adobe Captivate tutorials. This has brought me some notoriety within the eLearning industry but more importantly, it has brought me to the attention of organizations looking to hire someone like me. It also brought me to the attention of the eLearning team at Adobe, who have in turn invited me to speak at several of their live events in the United States. This has given me even more exposure.
You should participate in the community of eLearning designers and developers. I try to stay active on the Adobe eLearning Community by not only sharing my latest videos but also answering user questions whenever I have the time. You never know when someone in the position to hire a freelance designer might see and like your post enough to hire you for a job. This has happened to me on at least one occasion.
Finally, there is salesmanship (sorry I’m not aware of a word that is more gender neutral). Learning to speak to your potential clients is extremely important. In a previous career, I was a salesperson. When I decided to go freelance I had to brush the dust off those old skills. Early on I lost potential business because I failed to say the right thing to potential clients during those formative stages of a business relationship. Instead of saying “I’m pretty sure I can do that for you” try “Yes I can do that for you” instead.
Avoid phrases like “I think so” or “I’m pretty confident I can get that done.”
Instead, focus on providing confident answers that suggest you will have no difficulty meeting or exceeding your client’s expectations.
Also, don’t sell yourself short. If you think that offering your services at a discounted rate will help you until you build your reputation you will likely be disappointed. Again, early when work was scarce I did work for less money. Not only was I disappointed with the revenue but I had to say no to a higher paying job because of the previous commitment.
Decide how much work can you do in a year, how much you want to earn and do the math to figure out what you should charge and stick to that rate. I have made the mistake of accepting less money for more work and in the end, I was very disappointed in how it made me feel about the work, the client, and the money earned.