• Advice

5 Ways to Keep Your Skills Sharp

It’s back-to-school season! As you watched the kids in your neighborhood load onto the bus wearing One Direction backpacks, you thought you were off the hook, didn’t you?

Maybe it’s time freelancers went back to school, too.

As an independent worker, you can’t afford to fall behind your industry. Even if your skill set is “evergreen,” like having good presentation or writing skills that never go out of style, platforms, trends, and industries change every day.

Good news: You don’t have to sit at a wooden desk or fill out worksheets to learn anymore. Learning can be interactive, exciting, and bully-free.


Online courses still have a bad rap for teaching to the lowest common denominator and overusing PowerPoint and multiple choice, but we love (LOVE) Skillshare.

Classes are project-based. You’re not expected just to learn from tutorials, you learn by doing - from your teacher and your fellow class-takers.

The range of possible classes is astounding: logo design, interior decorating, and humor writing, just to name a few. You can even take an audio mixing class for $20 from the guy who mixes Jay-Z’s albums. (Yes, really.)

Google Alerts

Use Google Alerts to keep on top of industry or competitor news. This is probably the most reliable and lowest effort way to keep your existing skills and knowledge base up-to-date.

Skip this paragraph if you know what Google Alerts is: Essentially, you’re asking to get a round-up email that lists recent articles and videos from around the web on different topics that you control. For example, if you’re a marketing consultant, you could put in search terms like “social media advertising” or “blogging” so that everytime a new or interesting article or video is posted, it gets included in your email.

Using Google Alerts means you don’t have to have a thousand RSS feeds from different blogs or trawl the web for industry trends. Just read through some industry news for twenty minutes a day, and you’re less likely to fall behind.

Local Classes and Workshops

Is there a co-working space in your neighborhood? They probably have interesting classes open to the public. Have you checked They have tons of meet-ups all over the country, and while it might not be a “class” directly, sometimes you learn more in informal get-togethers with people in your industry and shooting the breeze than a formal class.

Freelancers Union is hosting a series of networking and education events starting this month - check out our full series announcement and our first event in NYC.

And if you’re up for it, remember that teaching a class is actually one of the best ways to learn.

Push Your Boundaries

Let’s say you want to get a freelance copywriting gig for a men’s style magazine, but they ask for a portfolio of published men’s health articles. You don’t have any. But you’ve blogged about health and wellness issues, and you’ve written for a men’s lifestyle magazine on another topic. You should still apply for the job, explaining why you’re qualified and what unique extra value these other experiences provide.

This is how you push your boundaries professionally. If you always apply to jobs you are exactly or over-qualified for, you’ll never have the chance expand your skills.

Do Crazy Stuff During Dry Periods

This is the fun one. As we all know, for freelancers, income is sometimes sporadic. You should of course be filling your time applying for new gigs and reaching out to old clients, but it could also be very much worth your time to learn something new - even if it seems pointless or you can’t make money off it.

You’d be surprised.

Karen X. Cheng had a job she disliked. In her spare time, she taught herself to dance. Not because she wanted to be a professional dancer - in fact, she was also teaching herself to be a designer - but because she just wanted to become a better dancer.

A video of her dancing went viral. And now she’s starting a website, which may turn into a business. By doing something crazy during a period where she could have just become depressed, she kept her mind fresh and dramatically increased her social presence, while doing something that gave her the discipline to do anything she wanted.

Go crazy.