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January 24, 2011
“It’s What You Learn After You Know It All That Counts”
"It's what you learn after you know it all that counts." Coach John Wooden said that. He also said “Don’t let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” Isn’t that prophetic to us freelancers? Even though you have mastered the skills you think you need to be able to do your job, you might not know enough tomorrow. As a web designer, I am faced with the reality that the tools of my trade change quickly, and I must keep my skills up-to-date in order to compete. One challenge is to keep learning while I’m working. Also, I know that I can’t learn it all, and I have to make time for learning. I have to try to diversify my skills enough to know what skills I need to master. I try to learn a little bit about many things, and then I delve further into those that I think will help my clients achieve their needs (and keep the clients coming to me!).
  1. Find Your Experts
    So, how can you keep up when there is so much change? Just as you would hire an illustrator to draw a custom illustration, look to the people who have made it their life’s work to stay on top of things and bring it all into one place. Thanks to social media, this is easier than ever. Follow a few top professional sites that regularly post items about timely and informative topics. Search on Twitter, Facebook ,or Alltop.com (a site that lists all the top blogs on any topic or industry you can think of). Ask colleagues who they follow. Then pick a few that you fancy and follow them, “Like” their Facebook page, and subscribe to their blogs. If the information finds you, it’s easier to keep on top of it all. If you wait until you have time to visit their sites, the amount of information you want to learn can get overwhelming.
  2. Keep a List
    Even though you might not have time to really delve into the topic, take the time each day to read the posts and tweets from your experts. I like to check them when it’s quiet and I am not distracted by work I should be doing. For me, this is when I’m waiting in the car when I pick up my kids from school or any of the other times I’m waiting for them. I find myself looking forward to this time of the day because I’m not rushing through it feeling guilty about the time it takes away from work. As you read the posts—and this is important—make notes of the items you want to explore further. Don’t try to learn it all now. Often the posts will include the resource you need to learn more about the subject, so make a note of that too. Evernote is a great way to keep up with your list whether you are checking posts on your phone or computer. Make a “Continuing Education” folder so you can quickly file them away until you are ready to commit the time to learning. 
  1. Sign Up for the Class
    Learning can be easier when it is done in a class with a teacher. Wouldn’t it be lovely to have the time to actually take a class? What if you made time to take a class where you are the teacher? If you schedule this time with yourself and do the tutorials on the subjects on your list, you can have the class you wished you had time for. I would guess that a couple hours once per week is enough time, but schedule as much time as you can handle. 
Continuing education is possible if you make it a priority. Staying organized is essential to success as a freelancer, and if you don’t organize your thoughts and schedule the time to read AND learn, you probably won’t do it. Don’t let the excuse that you’re too busy cost you future jobs. Take the steps necessary to keep your skills current, and it will pay off. 

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Larissa Harris is a graphic designer, Web developer, and social media marketer. Read her blog, LarissaHarris.com; "like" her Facebook page; or follow her on Twitter
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