Professional development and the self-employed

I've encountered a tricky new consideration during the past couple of days. I figured I'd better write about it in case any of my site's readers (slowly growing, I see - hello!) ever decide to work for themselves. It's something I knew I'd deal with, but knowing and K N O W I N G aren't always the same things.

When you work for someone - a firm, organization, school, person - whatever...anyone besides yourself - your benefits package usually includes some professional development time. It behooves your employer to provide you with the resources to improve upon your knowledge. Everybody gains in this arrangement. Well, when you're freelancing, it's still imperative that you keep learning. But when you encounter an opportunity to learn something new, it's likely that opportunity won't conveniently present itself on "your free time." Since you're often working more hours than people might realize, you just might be faced with a new learning challenge while you're on the job. In walks a different kind of challenge.

Who pays for this? I suspect I may read up on what "the pros" have to say on the topic when time permits, but for my money, I say YOU pay for it. You, the freelancer, that is. I can't charge my client for something I don't know how to do. At least when it falls under the category of something you agreed to do, thinking it would be within the usual realm of responsibility. (Being asked to provide a service that doesn't fall under your usual areas of expertise opens up room for negotiation, but that's a different set of circumstances altogether.

I had a little old challenge like that this week. While developing a website I'm absolutely in love with - even more so now that I've gotten last night and this morning's hurdles out of the way, I elected to make a tiny change to the master stylesheet at the end. Note to self. Never, ever do that again. I suspect it would have gone much more smoothly had I handled that up front. As it is, I was struggling to incorporate this one seemingly small design request into the other design decisions I'd already mandated. Which led to some hard core struggles between those surprisingly incompatible lines of code.

Well of course when the client got wind of the possibility that this part was a bigger challenge than we'd imagined, she graciously said, "It's not that big a deal. I don't mind the other way." And while her offer was another example of why she's been so agreeable to work with, I knew that it IS a big deal. While this challenge seemed a big old fat headache on the surface, it was providing me a better opportunity for hands-on-learning than any textbook or online class developed around possible scenarios will ever offer me.

Of course the up-side is that I not only have the satisfaction of knowing I learned a lot of web design lessons, but also that I didn't have to pay someone else to learn these lessons. And although I'll be charging for about 1/3 of the time it took me to complete this leg of the project, that's 1/3 more than if I'd even found a freebie course online and took it "for free."

All in all, I'd say I got a bargain! Not to mention, a happy client who seems inclined to say good things about my work to her other colleagues. Now, on to the next project!