What I Learned Going Freelance (Revisited)

I got a request from another professional on LinkedIn to provide some advice to someone considering going freelance in the learning industry. I don’t know if I have any secret formula for making it on my own, but I can share my personal experience.

I was working at the Toronto International Airport as an eLearning Designer, Developer, and after five years, my contract concluded. Rather than looking for the next company to work for, I decided to start my own consulting business. I knew that my employment was ending about three or four months beforehand, so my wife and I had time to save up some extra money. You won’t always have the foresight that I did, but if you think you might want to go freelance, this is something you need to consider. The day you start your freelance business will be the scariest of all. Your bank balance will likely not increase, and it will probably get sizably smaller.

Here are some of the expenses I had upfront that I can recall. I’m sure I forget some of them, but these were the main ones.

  • new laptop
  • software for a new laptop
  • office furniture
  • equipment to make YouTube videos (more on that later)
  • website
  • domain name registration
  • government sales tax registration
  • master business license (differs depending on your location)
  • business cards (probably not so important today)

Of course, I still had all the various household expenses that a typical family has to continue to pay.

My first problem was that I didn’t know where I would find potential clients. I had worked for precisely two companies in learning and design, but the rest of the world didn’t know who I was. I figured I needed to become well known to be successful in this industry. I started making YouTube videos about Adobe Captivate. I intended to clearly show that I knew the software well enough to have expert tutorials on YouTube. I hoped that someone looking for an eLearning developer would find my videos and reach out to hire me to have me build their eLearning for them.

This strategy did work, and I started to get clients to reach out to me for eLearning design and development jobs. There were two problems upfront. The first was that while I was working for the first client, I wasn’t looking for client number two or three and so on. When it’s just you, momentum can be a problem. The second problem was that my YouTube videos were generating questions from all these viewers. They had every conceivable question about the software you could imagine. I tried my best to help each person, but it was getting in the way of getting more paying clients. What I didn’t realize right away was there was an opportunity to pivot my business model, if only slightly. I realized that some of these people asking questions might be willing to pay me to provide one-on-one instruction. I changed my website from https://paulwilsonlearning.com to https://CaptivateTeacher.com and started promoting that I offered both design and development services as well as the one-on-one instruction.

As I approach the fifth year of my freelance eLearning business, I feel comfortable enough to not worry too much about where my next client will come from. A couple of things of note is that while I was not the first person on YouTube to teach people about Adobe Captivate, I am the most consistent. I have posted at least one video per week for five years, and my audience has grown from just a few views to over 1.5 million views. Each year that I have been freelance, Adobe themselves have invited me to attend and speak at the Adobe eLearning Conferences in Washington DC as well as Las Vegas. For the last several live events, I have been an instructor for their Adobe Captivate Specialist certification class.

So I guess my main message to anyone starting their own business is that some of your opportunities might be disguised as something else. Please don’t ignore these other opportunities. I quickly learned that ignoring these other opportunities could be overlooking a potential new revenue stream. It might seem at first that these other opportunities would get in the way of your main goals, but I can attest that your primary goals will still be there. My main goals might not be my main goals anymore. I now have revenue streams from teaching classroom courses, one-on-one classes, design and development work, and the YouTube channel has become very profitable as well. I used to say that the ad revenue from YouTube was enough to buy a pizza every couple of weeks, but I can no longer say that. Today I now measure it in vacations to Mexico for my wife and me to enjoy.

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