Have you been considering taking a leap of faith to become a freelance instructional designer? If you’re just beginning your instructional design journey, freelance instructional design could be a good fit for you.
Breaking away from a set routine can be daunting. But there are some attractive benefits when you become a freelance instructional designer. The most exciting being you can work on your own schedule and be your own boss.
However, just like any other profession, freelance instructional design comes with its fair share of challenges.
First, ask yourself these tough questions:
- Are you ready for a new challenge?
- Do you have a knack for networking?
- Are you willing to work overtime while you build your freelance business?
- Can you go a couple of months without a guaranteed source of income before you find your first client?
Did you answer yes to any or all of the above? If so, these tips to become a freelance instructional designer are for you!
6 Steps to Become a Freelance Instructional Designer
Starting a new business is exciting but scary. I should know, I started out small and grew my side hustle to a main hustle! It’s especially stressful when that job isn’t a traditional, 9-to-5 with benefits.
For new instructional designers, freelance work can be a great introduction to the field. You get to choose what projects you work on without committing to one company. Not to mention, you’ll be taking ownership of a project for its entire cycle.
Freelance work can help you find your niche in instructional design. Or, it could be the perfect, flexible fit for you long-term. Here are my 6 best tips to become a freelance instructional designer.
Identify Your Target Market
Every professional in the eLearning industry has specific strengths, talents, and abilities. To achieve success as a freelance instructional designer, first identify your strengths. Every instructional designer is unique and works best under different circumstances. This is why you must figure out the right path for yourself before you dive into freelance work.
Make a list of your instructional design talents. Then use that list to find your niche. Here are just a few examples:
You’re a natural at determining training needs. You might highlight your consulting talents to clients who know they need help but aren’t quite sure what the right solution is.
You’re a project management pro. You might market yourself as a training leader who collaborates with other professionals to take a project from idea to execution.
You’re a micro-learning machine. You can showcase your bite-sized learning solutions to clients who have minor learning gaps and need a quick fix.
Not sure what your specialty is yet? Jump on the waiting list for the Instructional Design Accelerator crash course!
The bottom line is this: determine how your knowledge and abilities translate into solutions. Then, identify gaps in the market and figure out ways you can fill those gaps. Research the various niche markets, and figure out if there are any that offer steady and stable growth. Avoid exclusively chasing hot trends in the industry, as they’re likely to fade away quickly, leaving you without a target market.
Research the Industry
Now that you’ve identified your own strengths, it’s time to shift the focus to your competitors. Researching other eLearning freelancers will give you unique insights into the industry and target market in which you’re operating. The best way to become a freelance instructional designer is to discover what worked for existing freelance instructional designers!
Use LinkedIn to search for current freelancers in your area of expertise. What are they posting? What’s their relevant experience? How long have they been independent consultants? What does their portfolio look like?
For more in-depth research, visit their websites and read customer testimonials and reviews to hone in on their strengths and weaknesses. Wherever you detect a weakness, such as steep pricing or slow response time, use that information to your advantage!
Develop your Clientele
The next step to become a freelance instructional designer is to expand your network. You can’t freelance if you don’t have any clients!
Building personal relationships with your business network is a great way to find success in freelance instructional design. These connections may lead to referrals and increased lead generation. Your potential clients may include acquaintances from an eLearning conference, people you’ve worked with in previous jobs (even if you weren’t an instructional designer for that company), and even people you’ve connected with on LinkedIn or Facebook groups.
To be a successful consultant, you must work closely with your clients and, therefore, must forge trust, credibility, and mutual respect. Building a solid reputation will earn you new customers and ensure the loyalty of your existing ones.
One of the best ways to reach out to potential clients and sustain current ones is through blogging. You should start your professional blog as soon as possible if you don’t already have one. You can share knowledge and expertise in your blogs, which would further add to your credibility as a freelance instructional designer. Blogging can also increase traffic to your portfolio, which can mean more project offers
You should also create a separate social media page to update clients about new services, promotions, or events you plan to host. And make sure you stay in touch with them through regular emails and that you respond to them as soon as possible. To be successful in the long term, you must develop the habit of going out of your way to make your customers feel valued.
Collaborate with Others
Working solo has its advantages, but you may also want to partner with other eLearning professionals, especially if you’re new to instructional design.
This can be as simple as joining a Reddit or Facebook community. The current and aspiring instructional designers in The Hangout share tips, ask questions, and provide feedback to their peers all the time.
You might also want to partner with creatives like voice-over artists, graphic designers, video editors/animators, or eLearning developers. Having these professional contacts is beneficial in many ways. First, it’s one less step when you’re working for a client that wants a custom video, for example. But often these contacts can help you make new connections with potential clients.
Having connections in the industry can help you branch out and allow you to take on more challenging opportunities!
Create a Marketing Strategy
Promoting your services is at the core of becoming a successful freelance instructional designer. Marketing can feel like a full-time job, especially when you’re just starting out.
A holistic marketing strategy must also be reassessed and change as your business grows. For example, if you have exhausted traditional routes such as email marketing and social media promotion, you can try alternative guerilla marketing or warm calling strategies.
Set some time aside, preferably an hour or two, and promote yourself through forums, blogs, and other platforms that will help build your online presence. Make sure you link to a website that includes your portfolio and blog (this might just be your LinkedIn page). This way potential clients can learn about your services and specialties.
Keep in mind that the more effort you put into marketing yourself, the more clients and projects you’ll be able to take on. However, it is also essential to balance working on existing contracts and attracting clients for future projects. This may take some time to master, so be patient!
You can also check out this article on how to affordably market your freelance business.
Establish a Fee Structure
You didn’t think I’d leave you hanging without talking about the money, did you? I know new instructional designers are all about the challenge of a new project and growing as professionals. But you’ve also got bills to pay!
Before you become a freelance instructional designer, you need to determine how you’ll price yourself. Do you want to change an hourly fee or a flat rate? Will you be flexible if a potential client wants the opposite fee structure?
Here, the research you conducted on your competitors’ pricing structure will help you make your plan more competitive. Try to keep your costs low, and remember that many clients will pay you more than 30 days after billing. To mitigate liabilities, you may ask for a sum of the payment up-front.
You will also have to calculate your expenses to ensure that you’ll be turning a profit. Remember those voiceover artists and video editors? If you’re enlisting their services, you’ll need to include their costs in your fee structure. Create a list of all the available resources to provide more accurate estimates to your clients. You may also include any expenses for additional materials and tools.
Don’t hesitate to adjust your costs over time. The more experience you have, the more your time is worth!
Wrapping it Up
Becoming a freelance instructional designer can be challenging and rewarding at the same time. There is fierce competition from talented eLearning professionals in every segment of the market. This is why it is essential to work to your strengths and have a clear idea of your target market.
Conduct in-depth research into the market segment that you plan on targeting to get intel on your competitors. Don’t forget, a strong relationship with your clients based on trust, respect, and credibility will allow you to attract prospects and sustain your customer base.
Collaborating with other professionals will enable you to take on more challenging projects and create a strong network within the industry. A comprehensive and multi-faceted marketing strategy will allow you to grow your business further.
And lastly, a competitive and strategic pricing structure will help you make profits and employ more resources for future eLearning projects! Are you ready to become a freelance instructional designer?