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Academy Xi Blog

Going solo: A guide to freelancing

By Academy Xi

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Are you new to the world of freelancing? This blog will explain what freelance work is, its perks, and five freelance professions that allow you to reap the benefits of going solo.

Freedom – that glorious ability to do what you want, when you want, without too many external restrictions. In so many words, that’s what freelancing is all about.

Yet many of us live with the opposite – trapped in an office, confined to a desk, watching the clock hands slowly grind to 5:00pm. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way.

What is freelancing?

Freelancing is a form of self-employment, which entails delivering services on a per-job or per-task basis. Rather than being permanently employed by a single company, freelancing allows you to work for yourself and complete projects for a number of different businesses and clients.

In recent years, tech innovations and the improvement of remote work systems have broken down traditional employment structures. Businesses of every kind are now paying for the services of freelancers.

Far from being an employment niche, the stats indicate that freelancing is the future:

  • There are now 3.15 million freelancers in Australia (28% of the national workforce).
  • The freelance employment market is currently growing three times faster than the employment market as a whole.
There are approximately 1.1 billion freelancers in the world. This means around 31.4% of the world’s total workforce is freelance, and this number is expected to grow significantly in 2022 (Source: Thrivemyway)

How do businesses benefit from freelancers?

By supplementing core staff with freelancers, companies are able to:

  • Access a larger and more diverse talent pool than a permanent workforce offers.
  • Get the specialist skills they need just-in-time and complete projects with increased agility.
  • Spend more efficiently by accessing talent exactly when they need it.

What are the benefits of freelance work?

There are a number of benefits that come with striking it out alone as a freelancer. Some of the biggest perks include:

  • Choosing your clients
    As a freelancer you’ll have the unique ability to select the clients you work with. You might pick clients based on their brand image or stellar reputation, or because of a personal affinity with delivering a particular product or service.

  • Managing your workload
    Freelancing means you can manage your own workload and work as much or as little as you like. If you want to work full-time most of the year and only part-time during the summer months, you’ll have the flexibility to make that lifestyle a reality.

  • Following your passions
    Freelancing allows you to focus on the work you love without the distractions that come with a permanent contract (no more long commutes, office politics or meetings that hardly relate to what you do).

  • Working independently
    Freelancing means you’ll have the ability to work alone for long stretches of time (if you’re a people person, there’s always the opportunity to collaborate). Because freelancing is often remote, you can work anywhere wifi-connected.

  • Diversify your exposure
    Freelancing enables you to work on projects and with clients in a variety of industries, enabling you to broaden your horizons, diversify your professional exposure and build a unique CV.

What responsibilities come with being a freelancer?

As well as acknowledging the perks of freelancing, it’s important to understand the extra responsibilities.

As someone who’s self-employed, you’ll be responsible for:

  • Calculating and paying your own taxes. 
  • Funding your health insurance, pension and other personal contributions. 
  • Covering the lost income of holidays or being sick (it’s wise to put a little extra money aside, which will also support you when work proves hard to find).
Freelancer earnings statistics suggest there will be more freelancers in the tech domain soon (Source: Forbes)

Getting started as a freelancer is relatively simple. Essentially, a specialist skill-set + wifi = freelance capabilities. However, once your freelance operation is up and running, there are a few steps you’ll need to take to set yourself apart from the competition.  

You’ll need to build a professional portfolio that showcases your certifications, skills and examples of past work. Prospective clients will use your portfolio to assess the quality of your services and your suitability for a particular project. 

You’ll also need to create a brand and strategically build skills, work experience, a strong network and an online presence that helps you target a need among potential clients. 

If you want a steady supply of work, you’ll need to seek it out. There are a variety of portals that freelancers use to find work, including Upwork and Fiverr, which act as job marketplaces connecting businesses with specialists who are suitably skilled. 

There’s a wide range of specialist services that clients are searching for these days. To give you some food for thought, here are a five of the more popular options:

Freelance Digital Marketer

The internet and social media are crowded places where companies are striving to be seen and heard. A freelance digital marketer uses online platforms and digital tools to promote products and improve sales for their clients. Freelance digital marketers use various channels, including: 

  • Website content
  • Email
  • Social media marketing
  • Search engine marketing
  • Display advertising

Your goal as a freelance digital marketer is to help a company expand its brand awareness, increase conversions and ultimately grow as a business. All of this requires a razor-sharp strategic mindset. 

You’ll also need to be finance and budget savvy, data-driven, analytical, and a strong leader. Marketing is definitely a field where who you know is as important as what you know – so be prepared to network. 

To give yourself a headstart in a competitive industry, it’s wise to get a formal certification, as well as a portfolio demonstrating your real-world marketing experience. Academy Xi Digital Marketing courses give you all this and more, helping you develop the tactics and techniques needed to manage a digital marketing campaign from end-to-end.

Freelance Social Media Manager

With over 58% of the world’s population actively using social media, freelance social media managers plan, execute, filter and monitor the social media presence of a product, company or influential person. Some of the services this entails include:

  • Planning social media strategies
  • Creating content calendars and scheduling posts
  • Content creation – including photography, video and design
  • Copywriting – posts need to be short, snappy and attention grabbing
  • Community management – engaging with followers, answering DMs and replying to comments
  • Forecasting, analytics and reporting

Many social media managers have a formal certification. To be competitive, you might choose to get one too. Formal training will give you the practical skills and know-how needed to plan and execute an entire social media strategy.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, freelance hourly rates remained stable and as many as 17 percent of freelancers actually saw their business increase (Source: Payoneer)

Freelance Web Developer

Every business needs a website these days, and good freelance web developers are in high demand. Freelance web developers design and build websites using coding and software design tools. You’ll liaise with clients and normally receive a creative brief outlining the project’s content and style.

Establishing a web development specialisation will give you an advanced skill-set that clients are searching for. There are several areas you can specialise in as a web developer, these include: 

  • Back-end development – using code to communicate between an application, server and database.
  • Front-end development – turning that code into a visual website that users interact with. 
  • User experience – making the website intuitive and user-friendly.   
  • User interface – designing the look and style of a website. 

Most clients will require you to be able to use HTML, CSS and JavaScript at a minimum. As websites are rarely built in vacuums, web developers who possess an understanding of UI Design and SEO will find their services highly regarded. 

Academy Xi Front-End Web Development courses give you hands-on experience writing and maintaining user-facing code for user-friendly, responsive and easy-on-the-eye websites.

Freelance Graphic Designer

Freelance graphic designers work with clients to produce branded logos, illustrations and other visual collateral. As well as being highly creative, graphic designers are excellent problem solvers, using their designs to convey a brand’s identity and build an emotional connection with a target market. 

Graphic designers work with text and images, delivering designs for a variety of media, including:

  • Websites and apps
  • Social media
  • Print – magazines, pamphlets and brochures

By using computer applications and software, you’ll develop sketches and layouts that bring your ideas to life. A client might need to see a rough draft of any concepts you generate, so editing and revisions are a big part of the job.

Industry-standard graphic design software includes the Adobe suite – InDesign, Photoshop and/ or Illustrator, all of which you’ll likely need to be fluent in. As the field of digital design progresses, you’ll also need to incorporate emerging technologies and software innovations into your practice.

Freelance graphic designers need an attractive portfolio of work, as well as a certification demonstrating those hard-earned skills. Academy Xi Graphic Design courses offer you both, helping you to combine business objectives with creativity and put together a portfolio of eye-catching designs that resolve brand or user challenges.

It is estimated that by 2027 freelancers will constitute over 50% of the total US workforce with a growth rate of around 65% over the next five years (Source: Thrivemyway)

Freelance Writer

Freelance writers offer their services to different clients, working across a variety of platforms and topics.

Unlike writers employed by a single company, who must consistently maintain that company’s brand voice, freelance writers have the freedom to explore their own writing style and preferred subjects. However, it’s possible to find more freelance writing work by being adaptable enough to complete any brief a client assigns.

If you’re keen to go solo as a professional writer, there are a few simple steps to follow:

  • Choose your niche – picking what you want to write about and the platforms your writing will be published on is a crucial first step.
  • Develop specialist skills – there are courses offering formal training in creative writing, copywriting, social media communications and journalism, to name a few.  
  • Set up a website or blog that tells your professional story and houses samples of your best work.
  • Pitch yourself everywhere and regularly check writing job boards.
  • Collect testimonials from your clients – these are your most powerful form of marketing.
  • Stay up-to-date with the hottest topics in your subject areas – the key to keeping your writing relevant is lots of reading.

So there you have it – an introductory guide to becoming a freelancer!

Freelancing offers you the chance to escape that office cubicle and the regimented 9-5 regime. Instead, you can cherry-pick your projects, manage your own workload and personally mastermind a career that you’re truly passionate about.

If you back yourself, develop the right skills and go it alone, who knows where your career will take you? Remember – the best opportunities in life won’t just fall in your lap, you have to get out there and create them.

Need some help in upskilling in any of these in-demand skills? Speak to a course advisor today and take the first step in your journey with a course from Academy Xi!

Academy Xi Blog

5 ways to make the most of your professional development budget

By Academy Xi

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It’s that time again where we are nearing the end of the financial year and for many organisations there is unused learning and development budget tucked away.

This isn’t simply a case of ‘use it or lose it’, but a golden opportunity to seriously consider where your workforce can truly benefit from upskilling and personal development training.

There’s also the reality that the ‘great resignation’ has hit Australian shores. Perceived to be spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, rates of people quitting their jobs in the U.S hit a 20-year high at the end of 2021, with a lack of opportunities for advancement being stated as one of the main reasons for leaving roles. On local turf, recent findings from PwC Australia show that 38 percent of employees want to find a new job in the next year.

With all of this in mind, how can you meaningfully make the most of professional development budgets in the current climate? 

We’ve rounded up the following five ways to consider.

  1. Reflect on where you and your people want to go
  2. Select an in-demand skill
  3. Choose hands-on training
  4. Gain insights from mentors and managers
  5. Find training that serves professionally and personally

#1: Reflect on where you and your people want to go

For individuals, it’s important to consider which direction you see yourself moving in professionally. Take the time to clarify your short- and long-term goals in your current job, or the role you are aiming for in the future. Are there any skills that you need to learn to meet these goals, or at least work towards them? This process of reflection can help you to identify areas for further research.

For individuals and teams, digital skill gaps are always worth addressing and can help to future proof any role. There are upskilling courses for teams and individual employee development opportunities on the market, depending on the skills needed.

#2: Select an in-demand skill

Understanding the current skills that are in-demand in your industry can be a great way of identifying which areas you might like to focus on for your professional development training. Be open to the idea that a skillset worth gaining might not be something you have considered before. Digital skills, for instance, are in great demand across all industries and not only needed by I.T professionals. If you can harness the power of using company data effectively and learn how to visualise it, you will be an asset to any organisation. For those in learning and development management, empowering your people with data skills is one of the most strategic training decisions you can make right now.

#3: Choose hands-on training

Wherever possible, you want to invest your time and budget in training that gives you practical opportunities to practice your newfound skills as you are learning. This experiential approach will enable you to better retain new information and apply what you learn much more efficiently and effectively in your workplace environment. Better still, try to find training that supports you to use real life projects or scenarios from your current position as the basis for your learning.

Effective hands-on training doesn’t need to be face to face either. The last few years have seen a rapid increase in industry leading institutions migrating their offerings online. This enables flexibility for people to fit their training into their existing lifestyles and commitments. The key: search for best-in-class training where student success is prioritised.

#4: Gain insights from mentors and managers

Working with a mentor or manager can be a helpful approach to clarify any skills that could be beneficial for your career growth. Having an outside perspective from someone who is aware of the broader direction of the company or industry can give you insights into which direction to investigate, which can then influence learning and development opportunities.

It is also worth noting any positions within the company that you are interested in and discovering if it is possible for you to be seconded to that department or if some form of mentorship could be established to support you in learning more about that business function.

#5: Find training that serves professionally and personally

Perhaps there is an opportunity for you to upskill in a way that can support business needs and at the same time benefit your own personal interests. Is there a freelance business you would like to establish in addition to your in-house role that could gain traction from a new skill?

The Wrap Up

The importance of upskilling employees is vital to increase retention, motivation, and innovation and to ultimately equip your people for the future needs of the organisation.

Don’t let your own personal professional development budget go to waste, nor the learning and development budget of your teams. The benefits of upskilling for employees are well documented, with digital upskilling courses increasing in importance and popularity as many businesses recognise the digital skills gap within their ranks.

Need support in how to upskill your employees?

At Academy Xi, we understand how complex digital transformation can be. We help people thrive by training and supporting teams with the skills they need to stay ahead with genuine confidence, instead of being left behind. Our learning designers are experienced industry professionals and create customised programs that offer real, long-lasting change for individuals and teams.

Our training is offered at every level of experience, from introductory through to advanced and we ensure that our outcomes are highly practical so your teams can apply their new knowledge as quickly as possible back at HQ.

Don’t let your unused training budget go to waste

We’d love to discuss your organisation strategy for supporting upskilling and professional development. Get in touch with our team today and discover how we can design and deliver training to keep you thriving.

Academy Xi Blog

The five essential data skills for non-data professionals

By Academy Xi

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Gone are the days of data being analysed, assessed, and applied only within the confines of I.T departments. Now, more than ever, senior management teams need to embrace data and view data skills as being a critical part of the foundation for employees’ professional knowledge across all departments.

Your people need data literacy to be able to handle data confidently and effectively. We aren’t talking complicated analysis concepts, but practical, hands-on skills that can be applied to daily tasks and projects.

Why?

Simply, data is power. It isn’t theoretical, or an opinion and if you equip your teams with the ability to understand how to use data meaningfully, they will grow within their roles and your organisation will reap the benefits.

We have identified five essential data skills for non-data professionals. While it is possible that some of these skills might already exist within your teams at varying levels, it’s important to note that this skill set is a journey, with each step building on the one before. The best results will be experienced when your people have a working understanding and ability to apply the full suite.

Let’s check them out:

Skill 1: Defining the problem

Why fumble around with guess work and opinions on how to tackle business problems when you likely have access to data that can point you in a direction that is more likely to result in a meaningful outcome?

Being able to translate a known or perceived business challenge into a data analysis problem offers individuals and teams the opportunity to set goals and scope solutions.

Once a problem has been clearly articulated and defined, it is possible to then plan how you can analyse datasets to arrive at helpful and actionable insights, which can reveal options for how to approach solutions.

Asking data-driven questions

Asking the right kind of questions is key to getting truly useful detail and insights from your data. You can have the most intricate IT infrastructure in your organisation, but it won’t generate insights of its own accord.

The more specific you can be with your questions, the higher the quality of results you will receive. For example, ‘How can product X generate us more money?’. This could be made more specific: ‘Which of our marketing efforts generated the highest return on investment this quarter, which we can modify to promote product X and in turn increase profits?’. Clarity is also key – what exactly are you wanting to find out?

Data analytics training provides teams with the tools for how to understand and define a problem as the first step, which is the foundation of any data analysis work.

Skill 2: Collecting data

The notion of collecting data can be intimidating to those who aren’t used to working with datasets, but the fact is, your teams are likely already collecting data and perhaps even using it.

What can data look like in non-data roles?

Your marketing team might have a thousand subscribers to a monthly email newsletter. The data behind these sign-ups could reveal several details about the demographic who engage with the content that could influence future marketing activity or be shared with other departments for their benefit. 

Within other departments, such as customer service teams, there is often an abundance of what is known as ‘behavioural data’ available and is one of the most common types of data. This can include purchase and transaction records, website use and internet search history.  

A recent study from Google revealed that a customer journey today can incorporate anywhere from 20 to 500 touch points. All touch points equate to data.

Why learn how to collect data?

When your teams understand why data is important and how it can benefit their outcomes and those of the wider organisation, giving them the ability to know how to collect it empowers them to create benefit. One important aspect of data collection is it can enable more personalised product and service delivery to customers.

Mckinsey research reveals that companies that use data to effectively personalise their product and service offering to customers generate 40% more revenue than those who don’t or do an average job of it. Furthermore, “71% of consumers expect companies to personalise interactions and three quarters will switch if they don’t like their experience”.

Empowering teams with the knowledge of how to collect data will enable them to:

  • measure and evaluate project outcomes
  • understand how to apply findings to create powerful marketing
  • personalise customer experiences
  • effectively encourage stakeholder buy-in
  • save time and increase productivity.

When individuals and teams are able to harness data effectively and perform these tasks, there is no way but up for your organisation.

Skill 3: Pulling insights from data

An insight report from McKinsey states that by 2025 ‘nearly all employees will naturally and regularly leverage data to support their work…they will be empowered to ask how innovative data techniques could resolve challenges in hours, days or weeks’ – McKinsey (2022)

By giving your teams access to training that will enable them to pull insights that are actionable from your company data, you’ll be preparing your workforce for what is to come in the next few years and keep your organisation ahead of the pack.

What is a data insight?

All too often, what are called ‘data insights’ can simply be more information. That’s not an insight. Let’s clearly define this.

  • Data = unprocessed facts (often numbers in a spreadsheet)
  • Information = prepared data, providing context and presented in a more human-friendly fashion (eg: dashboard, report, chart)
  • Insights = generated by analysing the information and drawing conclusions. 

 The combination of the data and the information can lead to the discovery of insights.

Why are data-driven insights important?

Fundamentally, insights achieve impact. By using data driven insights, you’re working from an evidence base, as opposed to preference, instinct, or assumption. Once analysed, the conclusions that can be drawn from data are a lot more powerful, accurate and effective.

Mckinsey Global Institute reports that data-driven companies report above market growth in the range of 15-25%. Their findings reveal that there are five levers that enable data-driven sales growth by using data insights.

This particular study focused on the benefits of data insights on sales growth, but it is highly likely that any department would benefit from applying data insights to achieve significant benefits.

McKinsey continues to reveal that data-driven businesses are 23 times more likely to gain customers, but additionally six times as likely to retain them and a whopping 19 times more likely to be profitable.

Benefits of your teams learning this skill:

  • They will know what an insight is and how to pull it from your company data
  • Ability to access meaningful insights to empower projects
  • Actively knowing how to use insights to influence and drive change
  • Evidence-based insights will be used, not instinct or assumption based.

By investing in training that provides the hard data skills and is tailored to suit the needs of your industry and organisation, your team will learn how to embed these abilities into the way they work daily.

An integral part of this learning will be how to apply data driven insights.

Skill 4: Visualising data

Once data has been collected and analysed, it can be represented visually to make it easier for conclusions to be made. It is ultimately an efficient way to deliver data so that meaningful discussion and decision making can take place.

Learning to visualise data is a useful skill for any industry and team. It’s an effective way to share information with stakeholders and to communicate a large data set efficiently.

Examples of visualisation methods include:

  • Heat maps
  • Tables and pie charts
  • Infographics
  • Scatter plots
  • Line charts.
Image source: Neil Patel, "How to use data visualisation"

Let’s be clear that visualising data isn’t simply making a spreadsheet into a colourful chart or graph. The power of presenting data in a visually appealing way, is ultimately to clearly communicate an idea. You might be outright declaring something with what you present or perhaps be planting a seed to encourage an exploration of an idea or a possibility, driven by the dataset.

Why learn how to visualise data?

  • Assists in clarifying ideas from datasets.
  • Makes concepts easier to comprehend and more memorable for stakeholders.
  • Assists in gaining insights into large amounts of dry data.
  • Helps to understand consumer behaviour.
  • Can aid in predicting volumes of sales.
  • Quickly pinpoint business areas that need improvement or more focus.
  • Promotes identification of relationships, patterns, trends, and opportunities
  • Reduces errors across the business.

When teams know how to visualise data, they will be able to support faster decision making, which will ultimately increase the productivity of your organisation and generate more profit. Don’t let your data go to waste. Give your people the power to bring it to life.

Skill 5: Crafting data driven stories

It’s clear to most teams that data isn’t impactful when it simply sits in a spreadsheet. By visualising the dataset, we bring it to life and when put in the context of a story, we increase the engagement and buy-in with whoever we are presenting the data to.

Increasingly, there are more sources of data available to companies and they are rapidly becoming larger and more complex datasets. Being able to distil the data through a story is a vital skill. 

By getting your teams trained in basic data analytics, they will be able to learn how to present datasets visually and within a storyline. You don’t need to be a degree qualified data analyst or Hollywood screenwriter to generate a compelling data narrative. 

Essential in your company marketing, storytelling can drive conversions and return on investment, but before that stage, it is also greatly useful in-house when presenting datasets.

 Why you should focus on data storytelling:

  • Storytelling brings data to life and makes it more memorable
  • You are more likely to engage stakeholders with story
  • Increase influence of strategic decision making
  • Stories can inspire and drive business change

The bottom line

Chances are that your organisation is sitting on a minefield of valuable data without even realising it. It’s also likely that your teams don’t know how to recognise and use data meaningfully, so it is disregarded in favour of other tasks that are known and familiar. 

Investing in a short training program in data analytics for your teams that is geared for practical application in any department, will provide people with the skills to: 

  • Identify different data types
  • Know how to collect data effectively
  • Understand data samples
  • Pull meaningful insights from data
  • Visualise data meaningfully
  • Communicate with data-driven storytelling

Combined, these skills will ramp up your organisation’s evidence-based decision making, planning and prioritisation. This equals a substantial leap in productivity and subsequent growth, both for individuals and your overall business.

Ready for a data-driven culture?

At Academy Xi we design and deliver tailored, work-ready upskilling and reskilling programs. We work with industry experts to ensure that organisations of all sizes are equipped with the latest knowledge and skills across design, tech and data, business, and marketing.

We offer a range of data training solutions to help you transform your workforce. These range from one or two-day workshops right through to highly-tailored data enablement programs designed to elevate the data capability of your entire organisation. We offer these in-person or online and are flexible in terms of delivery requirements and timeframes.

Contact us today to discuss how we can help you transform your organisation by teaching you how to maximise your data.

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