When I first started freelancing as an e-Learning Designer, I figured that finding new clients would simply be a matter of searching job sites to see who was hiring, and then applying for those positions where I felt I was a good fit. I had experience with job applications, so I felt good about my chances.
And then, like so many other times in the early days of my freelance career, reality hit. As I struggled to find new clients, money was tight, and I began to doubt my own abilities. After a lot of research, reflection, and discussions with my peers, I realized that it was time to start doing something I had never felt comfortable doing before: marketing myself.
As a concept, marketing myself felt like bragging at first, and bragging doesn’t come naturally to me. But as I got more into the habits of self-promotion, I adopted a new mindset: Self-marketing isn’t bragging; it’s highlighting your value for others who could benefit from your expertise. (Like Muhammad Ali said, “It ain’t bragging if it’s true.”) What’s more, as I was studying my most successful peers, I saw that strong self-marketing could be done with grace instead of arrogance, and it would ultimately be necessary to my long-term success.
So for this post, I’d like to share three key activities I found essential to successfully marketing myself as an e-Learning freelancer.
1. Set up a web portfolio and showcase a variety of e-Learning examples, even if you think some of your work “isn’t good enough” for public consumption.
I’m always my own biggest critic, and often times that leads me to shy away from sharing particular pieces. Why show examples of my work that don’t reflect the full scope of my abilities? That’s a waste of time, right?
While this approach makes sense on paper, the reality is that it’s more important to share different examples of your skills than it is to spend time perfecting one or two portfolio pieces. In fact, I’ve even seen portfolios that include work from an e-Learning Designer’s university years—and while those pieces aren’t always stellar, showing a progression of talent can be incredibly powerful. Imagine a prospective client seeing how much better your work became over the course of a few years; doesn’t that tell a better story than a handful of examples from the recent past?
In addition, it’s important to make sure that you’re including a variety of e-Learning examples. Show prospective clients that you can do more than create shiny PowerPoint presentations and static PDFs! A mix of the following is a good place to start:
- Learning Games
- Interactive Quizzes
- Samples of your writing
- Sample storyboards
- Graphic Design Samples
You never know what a client is going to need, and it’s important to convey that you have a wide variety of skills. Sometimes, clients aren’t even sure what exactly it is that they need, and seeing the breadth of your expertise can help them understand what they’re looking for and the many different ways you can help them.
2. Make sure your portfolio pieces include information about both the objectives and the results of your e-Learning work.
This was a tough one for me; I started out wanting to come up with dazzling e-Learning assets that would impress potential clients, and it took me a while to understand that sharing the end results of my efforts—what my e-Learning materials had achieved—was much more important to the business mindset that many of my clients have.
Consider it this way: If a potential client views a learning game you’ve created, they have to translate the value of that game into how it might work for their business. They may even dismiss the game’s value because of their preconceived notions about games. But if you include information about the goals of your game, and the benefit it had for end users, you’re doing the translating for them, making it much easier for them to understand the value you’ll bring to them as a freelancer. If you do this, you’re presenting yourself not just as a resource, but as a problem-solver.
For example, you might say, “I was responsible for creating an engaging interactive tool to help learners understand [blank]. After conducting a needs analysis and identifying the target audience, I determined that a game would be the most effective method for conveying the most important information. After delivery, the client reported that employees who played the game delivered [result].” Note that by describing your work as the result of your expert analysis, you’ve marketed your ability to help potential clients make key e-Learning decisions. By including the impact your materials had, potential clients no longer see just a game—they see an approach that delivered measurable results.
3. Get active on Twitter and e-Learning community forums—and stay active!
Marketing yourself isn’t just about contacting potential clients—as a freelancer, it’s also important to become part of the e-Learning community with your peers. Don’t think of other e-Learning freelancers as competition; think of them as your network. These are the people who will both show you how to level up your own skills, as well as potentially connect you to key work opportunities. And if you’re very successful, at some point you’ll need to subcontract work out to others, so it’s important to make connections with colleagues who you may be working with in the future.
Twitter in particular can be a key resource for you as a freelancer. If you use it carefully, you can:
- Meet other e-Learning Designers
- Identify potential clients
- Update the community on your latest projects and successes
- Provide value to others by sharing resources and articles
- Direct people to your website and portfolio
- Further establish your business’ brand
You may find a lot of differing opinions on how much tweeting is “too much.” I try and average between one and five tweets per day, as I find this ensures I’m perceived as active, but it still leaves me the appropriate amount of time to focus on other business and creative tasks.
To help get you started, here’s a list of the e-Learning Twitter accounts I’ve found most useful.
- Nicole Legault, @nicole_Legault – Nicole is a Community Manager at Articulate and tweets and writes about all things e-Learning. Her articles are typically a great combination between timely and interesting.
- Mike Taylor, @tmiket – Mike is someone who does an excellent job of curating very useful resources for e-Learning Designers. He provides great presentation templates, cheat sheets/job aids, social media tools/tips, and e-Learning tools on a daily basis!
- David Anderson, @elearning – David is the Director of Customer Training at Articulate. Not only is he an urban chicken farmer, but he also shares a ton of e-Learning samples for you to explore. If you’re looking for samples to inspire you from the e-Learning Heroes Community, he is the one to follow!
- Connie Malamed, @elearningcoach – Connie describes herself as an e-Learning, Information, and Visual Designer. She shares actionable strategies, tips, interviews with experts, and reviews for people involved in online learning.
- Jackie Van Nice, @jackietrains – I met Jackie when I first started my business several years ago. She is one of the most helpful freelancers I know! Jackie runs her own e-Learning design business and shares design ideas, how-to’s, freebies, and tips about self-employment in her blog.
- Matthew Guyan, @MattGuyan – Matt describes himself as an enthusiastic learning professional from Newcastle NSW, Australia. He’s been working in the Learning & Development field since 2007. He does a great job on his blog showing you how he creates e-Learning content and writes about topics of interest to anyone in the e-Learning field.
- Tom Kuhlmann, @tomkuhlmann – Tom writes extensively about e-Learning topics on The Rapid E-Learning Blog. From audio and video tips to building scenarios for e-Learning, you’ll find it on his blog.
You may have noticed that a lot of the individuals on this list are connected with e-Learning communities that already exist. This is the other side of staying connected with your peers: Some of the most innovative work and lucrative business opportunities come from these communities, so I recommend that you participate on an ongoing basis in a least a few venues. When participating in these groups, remember, it’s not all about you. Look for ways to help others solve their problems and add value. If you participate in a conversation, don’t forget to check back and respond to any new comments!
Here’s a quick list of the community venues I find most useful:
- Articulate e-Learning Heroes Forum: I love participating in this community of over 300,000 people! Whether you need help on a content development problem or you’re looking for inspiration on your next project, this is your one-stop shop. One of the ways you can build your portfolio is to participate in their weekly challenges.
- The eLearning Guild’s group on LinkedIn: This is a great place to participate in conversations with other e-Learning professionals to share your knowledge, ideas, and expertise. It’s currently over 52,000 members strong.
- Association for Talent Development group on LinkedIn: The Association for Talent Development, formerly ASTD, is the world’s largest association dedicated to those who develop talent in the workplace. It has over 112,000 members.
- e-Learning Business Basics Facebook Group: This is a new group I just started. It’s designed to be an active group where we can talk about all aspects of starting and running your e-Learning/creative business. It’s open to all skill levels.
Lastly, I’d like to share an idea that I wish someone had shared with me when I was first starting out: Marketing yourself may be simple, but it is not easy. The ideas I’m recommending here aren’t earth-shattering, brand-new ideas, but rather reminders about the fundamental tasks for marketing yourself, and recommendations for how to complete these tasks most efficiently. The hard part will be having the discipline and organizational skills to adopt these practices, and sustain them. Putting up a portfolio can be a lot of fun; keeping it updated, not so much. But both activities are critical!
If you’re interested in learning more about marketing yourself as a freelance e-Learning Designer, I encourage you to join our Facebook group, or join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #eLearningBiz. If you’re looking for a one-on-one consultation, I’m more than happy to provide feedback, coaching, and advice, so don’t hesitate to get in touch!