Creating a budget for your freelancing services is by far one of the greatest assets that you can have. Budgets provide us with visual reminders of our projected income, shortfalls, and overall expenditures. Budgeting is also an opportunity to establish priorities as to where and how you want to use your resources.

Standard line items like supplies, office space (if applicable), contractor fees, and utilities such as WIFI and cell phone bills often make their way to budgets, because these expenses tend to be universal for many of us. But, there is another line item that some of us may not have thought about that can have a tremendous impact on our grown and development as freelancers—professional development or PD.

What is professional development?

I first became familiar with PD as a graduate student. We could apply for funding to attend conferences, workshops, and/or lectures that were related to our field of study or discipline. As the name implies, professional development revolves around learning new trends, best practices, and ongoing developments in one’s field.

Businessdictionary.com defines professional development as the “process of improving and increasing capabilities of staff through access to education and training opportunities in the workplace through outside organization, or through watching others perform the job. Professional development helps build and maintain morale of staff members and is thought to attract quality staff to an organization.”

In a freelancing capacity, think about PD as a chance to take a deep dive into a topic or area of interest that will better position you to do your job. Because we often work in isolation, we may not always be aware of significant changes—the types of changes that can prove to be advantageous.

Why is professional development beneficial to freelancers?

Although self-imposed PD may not have the formality or the same requirements as the continuing education units (CEU)/credits or the recertification process that is required by some disciplines, it can have a profound impact on how well a freelancer is able to maintain their professional standing amongst their peers and clients.

PD keeps freelancers up-to-date about changes such as any new rules, new software, improved resources, and changing compensation guidelines. Experts or Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) are often brought in to share their stories and real-world strategies that have benefitted them and can potentially benefit others. Depending on the nature of the PD, freelancers may also have the opportunity to buy resources like books, CDs, DVDs, and curricula.

From editors and accountants to registered dietitians and legal counselors, there are myriad chances to seek out and take advantage of professional development opportunities. In addition, PD, whether via webinars or live conferences, provides freelancers with an opportunity to connect and network with other freelancers. These informal connections are not only beneficial from a professional context, but they also create opportunities to build relationships and bonds with other freelancers who have similar interests.

How much should you budget?

Most national organizations and associations have annual conferences that are planned at least a year in advance. With the shifting economy, many of these organizations now recognize that their members and conference participants are not necessarily anchored to institutions. As such, there is often the option to register as an independent participant. And sometimes the registration fee is slightly lower for freelancers, especially since the fees of many of the other participants will be absorbed by larger corporations and institutions.

With the host city, hotel fees, and registration costs often listed publicly on websites, freelancers are able to project and plan ahead well in advance. Once a per diem for food, travel cost like airfare, and other miscellaneous costs are factored in, it is possible to create a realistic budget for PD.

Carving out your budget for PD should revolve around picking the options that are going to give you the greatest bang for your buck. Each year, consider incrementally increasing your PD budget. Of course, it is great if more than one PD opportunity is fiscally feasible for you. After attending a few, it should become clear why this line item is worth it.