How to Get Started with Freelancing: The Instructional Design Story

It’s never easy to start something new and it gets even tougher when you’re starting out as a freelance Instructional Designer. Before you even take the plunge a million questions pop up in your head. How to I start? Where do I find clients? How much should charge for a project? What if I do the work and don’t get paid? And to be honest there aren’t many platforms that help out a freelancer, to educate them or guide them.

I’d setup a community hour, a virtual meetup for IDs to discuss their ideas and ask any questions they have in mind about freelancing in Instructional Design. We had a successful meetup and based on our discussion with experienced and newbies in the world of freelancing, we have compiled the most common questions and responses to help you out in your journey as a freelance Instructional Designer.

I should thank all the participants and especially my colleagues- Mukta Raut, Anita Kumar, Christy Tucker and an anonymous friend for helping me to put together these key points.

Here are the frequently asked questions asked by our freelancers.

How to approach clients and find projects?

9788623-16427897_62-s4-v1.pngApproaching people that you don’t know and asking for work is probably the most terrifying thing you have to do. It may be hard in the beginning but once you have established yourself your work will get you more work in return. Here are some sites and venues that have helped us:

LinkedIn: LinkedIn is usually the first stop freelancers make, it’s a great website for you to make connections with potential customers or meet other consultants. However, keep in mind LinkedIn will get you clients only when you know how to work LinkedIn. For instance, you found someone who is looking to create an e-learning course for K12 and sent him a request which was accepted after a while. If you’re expecting that you’re going to get a message that the project is yours, that’s very unlikely. Sending a request does not guarantee anything. You need to work on building a relationship showcase your skills and make him believe that you’re the one he was looking for!

Naukri, Shine, Agency FAQs (if you are looking for copywriting or writing gigs with media-houses), and other job portals: Look for freelance work on these portals. In case you come across an opportunity that you like but the company is not looking out for a freelancer, reach out all the same.

Your own network: Let your friends and ex-colleagues know that you are scouting for work. This is perhaps the strongest and richest foundation for coming across opportunities that will be a good fit for your skills and ones where you will get paid.

Blogging or some form of content creation: Give rather than get! Blogging is another great way for generating leads, putting out your ideas and sharing your thoughts on the latest happenings in the world of instructional design and demonstrate your expertise. This helps build your credibility. Not to mention you also get to learn while you write and who knows the next person to comment on your blog could be your next big customer.

What needs to go with your application: One big mistake that every freelancer makes is sending out only the resume. A resume works when you’re looking for a 9 to 5 job, but when it comes to freelancing the more you show the higher are your chances. Here are some tips:

  • A resume, of course, but also…
  • A good cover letter: A resume without a cover letter is like superman without his cape!
  • Link to your portfolio: Another great way to showcase your skills is to create your portfolio. Portfolios amplify your work when you’re looking for clients, your work is your best asset, make sometime create a few samples that showcase your best skills and you will see the difference!
  • Testimonials if you have them. These can be part of your portfolio or your cover letter as well, depending on context.

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What kind of projects should a freelancer take up? Are advanced concepts like gamification open to freelancing?

10141213-16427897_62-s4-v1.pngHonesty is always the best policy when it comes to freelancing. Understand the scope of the project and assess yourself according to it. For instance, if you’re a newbie then jumping right into gamification is a big no! However, you can still scout for opportunities in gamification projects where you may not be taking the lead but doing a small, manageable part. This helps you test waters and be ready for the next big game-based learning assignment.

Map yourself according to your scope and take a call on whether you can take the project or not.Don’t be a jack of all trades, create a niche for yourself and be the best in it. If you know something well, then go for it and if you’re starting out in creating your specialization then say it as it is you don’t want to raise high expectations and fall flat on your face.

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Along with eLearning what are the other fields open to a freelance instructional designer?

Content editing, copy writing, blogging, creating marketing collaterals such as presentations, animation scripts, content for digital media, etc.  are few of the avenues you could explore as a freelancer, but again sticking to a specialization will always be better in the long run. For example, you could focus only on corporate e-learning or on medical e-learning, or scenario-based learning. Better to be a master of one than a jack-of-all trades. There is enough business out there, if you are good at what you do. By trying to take on too many other activities, like technical writing etc. you may actually end up losing your edge. Pick one area and focus on that to build a reputation as a specialist, rather than broadening your skills to other areas. When you’re first getting started, you might need to get jobs outside of ID and eLearning to pay your bills.

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How to conduct an effort versus cost analysis for freelance projects?

bitmoji1352137617Set a target for yourself, how much do you want to make in a month and work around it? You can also start tracking your time everything you do so you can build up enough data to improve your estimates down the road. Analyze the project requirements well before estimating the effort and cost of the project. You need to factor in your experience and profit margin. At the initial stages, you may have to give in to your client’s demands, but as you keep going and gain more experience you will have strong idea of your time and cost management. At times depending on your circumstances, you may have to take on projects that don’t pay you well, don’t be disheartened if you cannot earn then learn. Inculcating a habit of self-learning will be beneficial to you in the long run.

Ask around. Talk to people from different streams to understand what the market is willing to pay. For example, if you are an instructional designer, ask a project manager or a skill head or even a graphic artist whether they know how much IDs get paid. Some of the folks who are clued in will tell you.

How many rounds of review should be done on SB?

Ideally you should have a minimum of 2 rounds of review, but this may vary depending on the scope of your project or they already have a review process in place. If not, then you need to educate the client on how many iterations you are okay with during storyboarding. You can also create review milestones if you’re working on a huge project. It all depends on you and your client how you two work together and come to an understanding about the review process.

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What are the different ways/conditions under which the payment is made by the client? If the client is not interested in giving advance payment. How to handle them?

 

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Identifying a non-paying client in the initial stages is a key to success in freelancing

If it is a big client the set milestones, for example, 20% before you start the project, 20% after storyboarding 20% after development and so on. Payment methods may vary from project to project. Some organizations have a tedious and time taking process when it comes to raising an invoice and approval of payment, in that case if the organization is a trusted one, then you can go ahead and start working when you know that eventually you will be paid. To be on the safer side you can draw up a contract and put your payment terms in writing. Payment terms can be hourly, monthly, or project-wise.

Working on a monthly retainer is the most hassle free, as then there is no dispute on the number of hours worked or worries about delays caused by other stake holders. Again let me remind you that this is dynamic and depends on your relationship with the client. There have been instances where my clients have taken up to 2 months to pay.

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This was just to get you started, there is more to learn if you want to excel in the world of freelancing. Self-learning is the key to become a specialist in any field, like Sir Walter Scott puts it “All men who have turned out worth anything has had the chief hand in their own education”. Pitch in your thoughts and maybe we can talk about it, or better yet join us for our next meet up.

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#The cartoon images used in this blog post are taken from the application Bitmoji
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