As a freelance trainer, you know better than most how important it is to prioritise your ongoing personal and professional training and development throughout your career.
Training and development can:
- Improve your performance
- Increase your confidence and morale
- Help you address weaknesses
- Develop your strengths
- Foster new interests and knowledge
- Spark innovation and creativity
- Enhance your reputation
The willingness to grow, learn and refine is a characteristic that many successful freelancers share.
That being said, there’s a difference between knowing something and doing it!
In my experience, training and development often fall to the wayside when you’ve got a million and one demands on your time.
If you’re trying to wear all the hats needed to run a business, it’s not unusual to put your own ‘student’ hat to the bottom of the pile – after all, you have training to deliver right here and now.
Training and development MUST be included in your business goals
So, how can you prioritise your training and development?
The first step is to include personal and professional development goals in your business planning.
If you’ve read any of my blogs about productivity and mindset, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of setting specific, measurable goals.
They keep you moving forward, they make you accountable, and they help you cut through all the potential distractions to focus on what matters.
Training is like anything else – you need to be clear about what you want to achieve from the outset.
Instead of a vague goal like ‘Spend time on training and development over the next 12 months’, I would urge you to identify more precise objectives. For example, a goal could be:
Find a training course specifically about pitching for new business by <date> and book a place on the next session.
Another might be:
Find a CPD course about digital marketing by <date> and commit to one hour per week (Friday 1pm-2pm) for 12 weeks.
The benefit of this approach is that you can definitively track whether or not you’ve met your training and development goals over any given period of time.
Of course, before you can define specific goals, you need to pinpoint exactly what they should be.
This means identifying your needs, both immediate and impending.
How to identify your development needs
Your development and training needs are likely to be dependent on your overall plans for your training business.
In other words, what do you need to learn to be able to reach your goals?
A good starting point is to ask yourself:
- Where am I now? i.e. What you currently know
- Where do I want to be? i.e. What you need to know
- How am I going to get there? i.e. What training would give you that knowledge/those skills
For example, if you feel that particular training qualifications could help you to attract more of your target clients, you could make this your development priority.
Alternatively, if you recognise that you need to learn vital business and marketing skills now that you’re self-employed, this will be at the heart of your goals.
Or, if you feel like your skills need updating, you could focus your training goals on combatting skill fade.
It’s important to have a plan for your training business because then you can identify development goals that support your objectives. In turn, this will enable you to identify the most appropriate training solutions.
Without a plan, it’s almost impossible to know where to place your attention.
Making time for professional and personal development
Identifying your training goals is just the beginning.
I’ve talked above about how important it is to build training into your strategic goals but you still need to carve out time that you can devote exclusively to your own development.
Personally, I think the best way to do this is by creating a regular appointment in your diary where you commit to your ongoing development as if you were committing to seeing a client or delivering training.
“But when? I’m already too busy!” I hear you cry. I’ve put together some ideas for finding the time below:
Track your time
Before you do anything else, commit to spending a week tracking how you spend your time. My advice is to make a note of everything:
- Every work task
- Time spent reading and responding to emails
- Time spent surfing the internet and social media
- Phone calls
- Time spent making a cup of tea
- How long you take for lunch
You could go a step further and track non-work tasks too, such as:
- Walking the dog
- Doing the school run
- Cooking dinner
- Watching TV
Toggl is a fantastic free time tracking tool that can help you track how you spend your day to the second. Otherwise, a pen and some paper will do.
Notice patterns and opportunities
The idea is to build up a picture of how you spend your days. Looks for patterns such as your:
- Least productive times of the day
- Most productive times of the day
- Quietest days
- Regular time wasters
- Essential tasks that take up the most time
- Things you enjoy doing
- Things you put off
Is there anything you can stop doing, automate or outsource?
For example, it might be more profitable in the long-term to handover some administrative tasks to a virtual assistant so that you can reclaim that time for training.
The next step is to boost your productivity as much as possible. There are many different ways you can do this.
If you notice, for example, that you spend lots of time aimlessly surfing websites, you could use an extension like Chrome’s StayFocusd to limit how long you spend on specific sites.
If you struggle to stay on top of your to-do list, you could use an extension like Momentum.
There may also be software that you can use to shave time off specific tasks such as creating invoices, sending out quotes or doing your weekly bookkeeping.
Use the time you’ve saved
The purpose of the above exercise is to claw back some time with the commitment to use it for training and development.
Just spending one hour a week on growing your skills could have a significant impact on your business and your self-confidence.
Always monitor and reflect on your progress
As a trainer, you know how important it is to monitor and reflect on your progress whenever you embark on any personal or professional development.
Make sure you book time for this in your diary too.
- What have you achieved in line with your goals and vision for the future?
- What have you found difficult?
- Is there something else you’ve realised you’ll need to do to accomplish a goal?
- If so, what training do you need to complete to make it happen?
- Do your goals still reflect what you want to achieve?
- Are you having fun and does what you’re doing energise you? (This can be affected by the extent to which you’re an extrovert or introvert).
- Are you learning in a way that suits your learning style?
Your observations will help you to revise your training needs moving forward.
Your development will benefit your clients too
I understand how hard it is to prioritise your own training and development when you’re building a training business. However, I believe it needs to be a non-negotiable element, as important to your plans as your accounts, marketing or clients.
Continuing personal and professional development can give your business the competitive edge by bringing clients:
- Up-to-date skills and knowledge
- A model for life-long learning
- New approaches to training
- Creativity and innovation
- Value for money
It’s always fantastic to meet someone who practices what they preach because it shows their advice is genuine and based on experience.
Who better to train others than someone who is committed to their own learning and development?
What do you do to prioritise your training and development? How much time a month do you spend on CPD or similar? I’d love to hear your thoughts.