Continuously developing your knowledge and skills is important to futher your career and ensure that your level of expertise is up to date. Whether it is becoming familiar with new technology or developing soft emotional intelligence skills, professional development should be a priority. It’s also a a great way for you to stand out from the crowd in today’s competitive business world. If you are a business owner, freelancer, or consultant, your knowledge and skills can be the difference between landing the clients you want and struggling to grow your business. Having knowledge and skills above and beyond the basics of your field can give you a professional advantage.
Here are 11 ways to improve your skills and knowledge.
1. Take Professional Development Courses
Professional development courses can help you expand your professional skill set, learn something new, or even earn academic credit to put towards a degree. Online courses are particularly convenient because they are affordable and flexible. Just be careful to do your homework—evaluate instructor bios, read reviews, and check the syllabus carefully before putting down your credit card. You can also find professional development courses through vendor-taught classes, traditional universities, and training institutions.
2. Access Online Resources
The Internet is a limitless source of free information and educational resources. Attend educational webinars, follow the blogs or social media accounts of industry experts, or bookmark and regularly check industry news sites and online forums to stay current on the latest trends. If you haven’t already, sign up for news alerts for your inbox (Google Alerts works well) or set up an RSS feed like Feedly.com to easily put all of your industry news in one place.
3. Attend Professional Events
Professional events are valuable ways to learn about growth and development in your industry. Local companies, business associations, and professional groups often host seminars, forums, or workshops that can give you direct access and insight to experts in your profession. Treat these events as constructive networking opportunities to brainstorm and share ideas with colleagues who can provide fresh insight and perspective.
4. Network Online
As an independent consultant, you know the importance of building and maintaining a list of contacts to ensure a steady flow of work. Use LinkedIn to connect with high-ranking people at companies you’re interested in working with. Employ social media platforms to promote your own service or brand, network with industry experts, and keep in touch with former and current clients.
Start by finding which social site works best for you—connect with fans and followers on Facebook, creatively network and share news on Twitter, or utilize blogging to boost your online credibility, and connect with potential clients.
5. Continue Your Education or Get a Certification
While continuing education and certification programs typically require a more intensive time and financial obligation, they can help boost reliability, and demonstrate a commitment to your profession. Becoming proficient in a new software platform before it becomes mainstream, committing to upholding industry standards through a certification program, or staying on top of market trends by taking a class can increase your income and position you competitively within your line of business.
6. Learn New Technology
Technology is rapidly developing, and staying up to date on the latest advancements is key to maintaining your competitive edge. Think first about staying up to date on the technologies that directly impact your work and that your clients use. Subscribing to updates by technology creators can help you stay up to date on the latest improvements and enhancements. Also consider new technologies you might like to learn for your business such as more efficient time and expense tracking software. Search and follow experts on the technologies you can learn new features as they learn.
7. Learn from Others
Social media platforms have given thought leaders a new outlet for sharing valuable information, insights, and practical advice. Seek out and follow both industry leaders in verticals you specialize in and those who specialize in skill areas you have or want to build. By reading regular posts, you can not only gain additional knowledge, but you can also build relationships by commenting and reacting to posts and increase visibility of your business and skills by sharing their content.
8. Read White Papers and Case Studies
Top companies, consulting organizations, agencies, and think tanks regularly publish white papers and case studies on industry trends and often offer them for download at no cost. Stay up to date on industry and business trends by taking advantage of these resources.
9. Improve Your Hard and Soft Skills
Conducting a self-assessment to determine your hard and soft skills and target those you want to develop should be a core activity in your professional development. A self-assessment test such as CliftonStrengths Assessment will measure your natural ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving, and you’ll get access to personalized reports that help you better understand what makes you unique and how to use your strengths to reach your full potential.
10. Develop In Demand Skills
It’s easy to become stagnant once your business is on a roll or your expertise is well established. However, companies are always have to adapt to market needs and are looking for specific skills to meet specific busines objectives. Browse job descriptions at current clients or at clients you want to work for to see if there are new skills you need to develop. Then create a plan for developing those skills either by continued education, online classes or implementing them in projects you are currently working on.
11. Create a Professional Development Plan
Once you know how you want to develop your skills and knowledge, create an action plan with realistic goals. Work with others, learn from others and build your knowledge with a plan that incorporates a variety of tasks so that you are not focusing your efforts too much in one area.
Maintaining enhanced knowledge and skills in your field shows clients you are well informed and dedicated. Set yourself up for success by investing in your job skills and knowledge today.