While typically managed by traditional workplaces, professional development activities and upskilling programs are increasingly prioritized by freelancers building their own competitive and sustainable businesses. As the future of work changes and new technologies and trends emerge, fractional professionals must take their development program into their own hands.
Upskilling and continuous learning can be built into the everyday routine of your independent business, and there are plenty of avenues to broaden skills and professional networks to continue marketing and delivering value to your customers.
The importance of professional development
Unlike traditional employment, which often offers annual performance reviews and development plans, freelancers receive feedback for their work through repeat business, referrals and recommendations from colleagues. Creating a formal or informal professional development plan is left up to the individual, and if neglected, can create more work down the line.
Paro fractional financial analyst Frank C. notes that this realization is gradual, not abrupt. For those working in professions that are becoming more automated, freelancers may find that their skills are now sought at a lower rate, and they’re working more hours to compensate. “Unless you change that approach and work on those soft skills and do some of those [professional development activities], then you can charge a higher dollar amount, work less hours and at least be neutral in terms of total revenue, if not grow your revenue,” he states.
And customers will pay for that value. “Everyone is busy. Nobody’s looking for more complexity,” states Frank. “They won’t pay for the routine stuff that can probably be done through technology, but if you give them that level of service and create a platform that solves a lot of their problems, people are willing to pay for that.”
By shifting one’s value proposition and providing additional skills, freelancers can continue to deliver the value that customers need.
Adding value: upskilling vs. reskilling
There are two forms of professional development that can help freelancers increase their value: upskilling and reskilling.
Upskilling means building on your knowledge to create a deeper understanding of an area within your current skill set. This can make us more attractive to customers requiring a specific knowledge base or a specialization, such as a specific type of software.
Reskilling, however, is sometimes necessary. Reskilling is when an individual must adjust to market needs by acquiring a completely different skill set. Those who previously worked on the shop floor of a manufacturing facility may find that training to work in IT support could be their best avenue for securing consistent, ongoing work.
Create a professional development plan
Paro fractional CFO Steve J. is adept at integrating professional development into his daily routine. As an accounting and manufacturing expert, he makes continued learning a part of his routine. “Every day, I spend probably a couple of hours early in the morning with a cup of coffee reading. I read at least one business book, and then I have subscriptions to various publications,” states Steve.
Steve’s repertoire of upskilling activities includes reading accounting industry publications, attending international manufacturing and technology (IMTS) and robotics trade shows, participating in LinkedIn groups and watching videos that advance his knowledge.
“If you don’t have skills that have a market for them, you’re outdated,” he remarks. And like any traditional business, competition is the key to longevity.
Don’t forget the big picture
Everyday upskilling activities are crucial to building relevant skills and knowledge. But freelancers should also build these everyday activities into their big-picture plan. This means creating a plan that you’re accountable for across the quarter or the year.
Frank describes his process:
“Each quarter, what I do is devote time. I grab a notebook. I find a really pretty place to sit and jot down what my objectives are for the quarter. I’ll take two days each quarter, [and] I’ll lay out the things that I want to do that are beyond the everyday and commit a level of time to each one of those and revisit that every couple of weeks.”
Why is it important to look so far ahead? “In the modern age, six months is now six weeks, and six weeks is six days,” says Frank.
Tune up your soft skills
In addition to technical skills, take note of soft skills that aid in creating customer relationships. Public speaking, time management and communication skills are applicable to a number of jobs, as well as sales training, critical thinking and deductive reasoning skills. Integrating these soft skills into your personal development plan can give you productive breaks from intense technical training.
“Those are the issues that truly matter, and I think we have to understand empathy. We have to understand trust building. There are techniques and there are lessons to be learned in how to develop those skills, and the only way that you can learn that and actually put it in place is getting out there—physically getting out there, sharing space with people and going to events.”
Find a mentor
Access to coaches or mentors can be limited when working remotely. However, fractional professionals can still create meaningful connections within their industry with the right approach.
State societies and other professional groups offer events where professionals can connect and learn from each other. In addition to people in your industry, it’s also important to get to know the people who work adjacent to you. If you often do remote work in a back office role, such as finance, it’s important to meet workers in other departments to get a better understanding of their role, their challenges and other important factors affecting that particular industry.
Step outside of your comfort zone
CPAs (Certified Public Accountants) like Steve or Frank, and others who hold professional credentials, are often required to continue building on their education. More often than not, professional organizations and state licensing boards require a certain number of continuing professional education (CPE) courses be taken over a specific interval.
However, that built-in education requirement does not guarantee more value. Steve advocates that CPE time be spent on meaningful learning that can aid and bring value to the businesses:
“My focus is on things that will provide better value that I can help the business with at the end of the day. It’s all about the value proposition of the business and how to go about improving on that aspect.”
Frank echoes this sentiment. Despite his background in authoring continuing education courses, he agrees that CPE courses can only be part of the equation, especially if individuals are taking classes on topics that are familiar to them. “It’s not simply enough to take continuing education on things that we know. We need to expand well beyond that,” states Frank.
Integrate professional development into your business
Freelance professionals have the opportunity to work on diverse and fulfilling projects that may not otherwise be available through traditional employment. Taking advantage of work diversity and development opportunities can keep you motivated and add value to each engagement.
If you’re looking to build professional development into your business, apply to join Paro’s elite community of finance and accounting experts. Receive AI-driven tools and guided insights to help you secure meaningful projects, stay competitive and grow your business.