In some ways, this is a great time to be a freelancer, but it’s rather challenging in others. On the one hand, working remotely has left companies more open-minded about outsourcing. This is allowing freelancers with home offices to pitch their services broadly. They can work for huge international companies or small businesses. They can even work for ambitious startups or solopreneurs. They can take one-off briefs to negotiate long-term arrangements. It’s up to them.
On the other hand, the collapse of many industries has led to a massive global recession. This means plenty of businesses don’t have the resources to hire people — even freelancers. What can you do when you can provide a fantastic service, but you can’t find any work? Many people out there with niche skills are not currently in demand due to funding issues.
Think of a talented freelancer who works in branding for the hospitality industry. They design brand identities for clubs, bars, hotels, restaurants, and other comparable operations. Economic difficulties don’t normally touch hospitality, but this time is different. Hospitality companies are barely able to stay afloat given travel restrictions. Hotels aren’t expected to return to 2019 levels until 2023. They’re certainly not able to justify bringing in freelance brand designers.
Furthermore, there’s an influx of new freelancers to contend with. Many professionals lost their jobs due to the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of them turned to freelance with unclear routes back into full-time employment. They hoped that working for themselves would protect them in the future. Due to this, the competition for work is fierce. Most of the new freelancers are inexperienced, but they’re motivated to excel.
Aside from simply enduring these conditions, how can freelancers proceed? There must be actions they can take to control their destinies. Well, there are. One strong option is to combine regular freelance work with other monetizing expertise. Entering the field of e-learning is the way forward here.
E-learning is exactly what the name suggests: learning through the digital world. Experts from various industries create effective online courses for students around the world. Given the issues with gathering people in 2020, the e-learning industry is doing very well. In fact, it was projected to hit $325 billion globally by 2025 before the pandemic began.
But why should freelancers look to create their own online courses? That’s what we’re going to consider here. Here are some key reasons.
1. Selling a Course is Great for Building a Brand
As noted, simply being great at what you do isn’t enough to thrive as a freelancer. It’s frustrating, but the freelancers with prominent brands get more attention and seem like safer bets. Suppose that you’re a graphic designer. If someone searches on Google for “freelance graphic designer”, they’ll start with the top result. If that isn’t right, they’ll go down through the results until they reach a deal that suits their needs.
You might be better in every way than the most popular graphic designer. You might be easier to communicate with and better at understanding client briefs. You might be more efficient and more reliable. You might be more creative in every meaningful regard. But if the link to your business site is on the second page of search results, all that superiority won’t help. Prospective clients won’t know about it.
Now, can you build a strong personal brand solely by doing fantastic work? Technically, yes.
You can exceed expectations so wildly and theatrically that your clients are stunned. This can prompt them to sing your praises without seeming insincere. You can do this until a glowing recommendation reaches a notable industry influencer. The result? One golden prospect ushering you into the upper levels of success.
But none of that is likely. It’s tough to achieve, regardless of how good you are and how hard you work. This is because people don’t want to put time and effort into endorsing particular brands. If they recommend you, it’ll be casually and with little weight. Even then, though, it’s likely to prove ineffective. People will hold your weak SERP ranking against you. They’ll conclude (quite unfairly) that you’d be on the first page if you were really that good.
Then, you need to promote yourself and what you bring to the table on top of your work. Content marketing can prove highly effective. If you maintain an expert blog, you can show what you’re capable of. Industry-leading blog content is great for earning high rankings for relevant search terms. That said, giving content away for free isn’t the smartest move if it’s good enough to charge for. Why not bundle some content into a course and sell it?
There are intuitive online course platforms that can make it easy to shape and sell courses. For information on two contenders, here’s a Teachable review and one of LearnWorlds. You can even host online classes through services like Skillshare. Top Skillshare tutors can make around $40k per year from that alone. You don’t need to make your content incredibly expensive. Just having it behind a paywall will lend some legitimacy to your brand. People will assume that your work is worthy of their time.
The more you can enhance your brand. The more people will talk about you on social media and their blogs. This will assist your overall SEO efforts. Your free content will become more in-demand when people start to take note of your brand name. Additionally, it’ll seem more valuable since they’ll know that you’re good enough to charge for content.
You can also use your status as a paid tutor to convince relevant websites to feature your guest contributions. This will expand your reach and make you look good. It’ll also produce potent backlinks to your business site. This will send a clear signal to Google’s search crawlers that you deserve to be taken seriously. Overall, it’s a fantastic way to up your game as a professional and makes your industry insight known.
Example — Brennan Dunn (Double Your Freelancing)
While Brennan Dunn was running a software company called Planscope, he started a training resource site called Double Your Freelancing, which proved highly beneficial. Since the software, he worked on was great for freelancer project management, having further ways to reach freelancers afforded obvious opportunities for relevant promotion.
You can take a similar approach to your brand if you like, using your digital courses to mention and drive links to your main business pursuit — or you can focus on establishing your name, turning you into a respected influencer. Alternatively, you can do both. It’s up to you.
2. There Are Plenty of People Looking to Learn Online
Not everyone who lost their job due to COVID-19 became a freelancer. There are still people who haven’t been able to find new work. Many of them are eagerly looking for ways to improve their skills and find new ways to get ahead. There’s so much they need to do to stand out at the moment. Entire industries have already collapsed. More will run aground before the world has fully recovered from this crisis.
Take people who worked in the aforementioned hospitality industry, for instance. A former flight attendant, for instance, can’t look ahead with a great deal of hope at this point. Suppose that vaccination gets things under control fairly soon. Even then, airlines won’t start packing their aisles instead of staggering their passengers. They’ll keep operating safely.
They’ll still be unable to fill their planes, facing reduced interest due to ongoing fears. Airlines that survive this crisis may have permanently-reduced workforces. That former flight attendant, then, might never get a comparable position again. Their only practical choice may be to move to a totally different industry.
Due to this, there’s sure to be demand for any course you can offer with actionable advice in it. You don’t need to gear everything towards employment, coaching people through getting hired. Instead, you need to focus less on luxury courses. Most people aren’t looking for high-class methods for folding napkins. They want to learn things that can — and will — earn them money.
You do need to be careful when setting the cost, of course. I mentioned that your course charges don’t need to be exorbitant, and that’s certainly true. It’s particularly key when you’re aiming your material at people struggling to find work. They’re unlikely to be eager to spend heavily on your tuition, after all.
It would be best to focus on the ROI you’re sure you can deliver. Imagine offering a course on programming, for instance. Including it with data on in-demand programming jobs would be helpful. You could also talk about which programming languages will be useful in the future.
Don’t worry too much about setting your prices too low, though — at least at first. As your courses get popular and your brand name becomes stronger, you can raise your prices. After all, positive feedback should be enough to convince new people to get involved. And even a modest charge can be enough to make something profitable, as we’ll explore in the next (and final) section.
Example — Brad Schiff (Learn Web Code)
Particularly in today’s world of economic uncertainty, many people are looking to upskill in tech areas, and programming for the web has a huge amount to offer. This is something that developer and entrepreneur Brad Schiff understood when he created the Learn Web Code site to share his custom-made web development courses.
Offering various free courses to bring people in and help beginners, he ramps things up with paid courses on more niche topics. It clearly attracts a broad audience (one review on his About page is from someone with a 45-year career in the process of retraining). If you can target a similarly-broad audience, you can do very well.
3. It’s The Most Cost-effective Way to Teach
Going into e-learning isn’t the only way to monetize your expertise through tuition. You can hold seminars, give lectures, or serve as a consultant. You can even teach people through individual sessions (at the moment, you’d be using video tech such as Zoom). Many people have kept busy during lockdown by working as online tutors.
The demand is easy to understand. Countless schools have been unable to operate normally during lockdowns. Parents worried about development have wanted to keep education going using digital technology. On the one hand, this has kept tutors’ minds off the pandemic. On the other, it’s caused them great stress by taking up so much time.
After all, each of the methods we just went through is extremely time-consuming. Even a reasonably short lecture might take an hour. It isn’t a huge amount of time in isolation, but it all adds up. Teaching more people means running more sessions, repeatedly covering the same material. That time can’t then go towards freelance work. You can easily become so busy that you don’t have any energy to focus on anything else.
Now think about the prospect of creating e-learning materials. Designing a course can take tens or even hundreds of hours, yes. But that time investment can return incredible value. You can sell the course tens, hundreds, thousands of times with no more effort. You can largely forget that it’s available at all.
You will likely need to update your materials occasionally. If you don’t, they’ll lose their accuracy and relevancy. But this will take less time than any alternative teaching methods. Imagine setting aside a couple of hours each week to work on new materials you can charge for. The more you can expand your portfolio, the more you can charge for access to everything.
In the end, you can establish a class-leading online course. And if you notice an interesting addition to the popular niches, you can adapt. You can create a new course to a position alongside your old one. The faster you jump on a trend, the more you can benefit from it.
By working on materials between freelance projects, you can easily maintain a secondary income stream. If you approach it correctly, you can eventually build it into a viable primary income stream. The result will be a remarkable level of freedom. Imagine making all the money you need from your training courses. You could then spend the bulk of your time doing only what you wanted to do. It’s unlikely, sure — but it’s possible.
Example — Nathan Collier (Content Marketing Lounge)
After working for years as a content marketer, Nathan Collier decided to form a discussion group called The Content Marketing Lounge. The goal was to provide a place to discuss his craft with like-minded professionals while avoiding spam and irrelevant topics — and it achieved that goal, growing steadily to have thousands of members.
Consider that new people join up with each passing day, ready to engage with a now-extensive content archive. Factor in the posts from other professionals, and you have a huge body of resources that don’t need to be updated to get attention. In some ways, the accrued content isn’t the appeal. It’s the community — all built around that one platform.
If you can create high-quality content that retains its appeal for a long time, that’ll be a great help. If you can build a community around it that consistently adds value through user-generated content while supporting the central courses, so much the better.
Selling e-learning courses can be a fantastic addition to a freelance career. It’ll allow you to benefit from your expertise without getting in the way of your regular schedule. Furthermore, it shouldn’t be overly costly. If you’re interested, start thinking about what your course might involve.