I made the transition into becoming a full-time freelance eLearning designer back in 2019, while I was working as the Director of Global Instructional Design at GoDaddy. And while I’ve been freelancing during my nights and weekends for the past several years, it has always been my long-term goal to make it my full-time gig—and trust me, it took a long time and a lot of work to make it happen!

Unfortunately, I think one of the biggest misconceptions folks have about freelancing is that you just decide one day to quit your full-time job and start a business. Well, I’m here to tell you that assumption could not be further from the truth! And while there are some folks out there who haphazardly make the leap like this, the reality is that most of them fail.

For me, the journey to becoming a full-time freelance eLearning designer is something that I’ve been working towards for many years. And the truth is, I never had a specific date in mind for when I would make the transition. Instead, I focused on a set of goals and milestones that would ensure my success when the time came, no matter how long it would take me to make it happen.

And that’s exactly what I want to share with you today. In this post, I’ll share the three steps I took to become a full-time freelance eLearning designer.

I Established My Brand

I became a full-time freelance eLearning designer by establishing my brand.

Here’s the thing: when you work as a full-time freelancer, you only get paid when you have work, and you only get work when you have clients, and you only get clients when they know who you are! Because of this, I can’t overemphasize the importance of having a strong and well-established brand!

For me, I started working on my professional brand back in 2012, when I created my first online portfolio and blog. At the time, I was working as a Senior eLearning Project Manager for the State of Wisconsin. And to be honest, I had no plans of becoming a full-time freelance eLearning designer, but I figured an online portfolio and eLearning blog would help my career in the long run.

As a freelancer, you only get paid when you have work, you only get work when you have clients, and you only get clients when they know who you are.

Shortly after launching my online portfolio and blog, I started getting contacted by various companies, interested in hiring me as a freelancer. After picking up a few side projects, I quickly realized that I could use my nights and weekends to make some extra money, and that’s exactly what I did!

Since then, I’ve put a considerable amount of effort into building and nurturing my professional brand. Over the years, I’ve made huge efforts to maintain my eLearning blog and share my expertise on social media. In 2013, I also started speaking at various eLearning conferences and hosting free eLearning webinars. And by doing so, it’s not only helped me to transition into freelancing full time successfully, but it’s also helped me to get new jobs and negotiate higher rates for my work.

I Found My Niche

I became a full-time freelance eLearning designer by finding my niche.

Becoming a successful full-time freelance eLearning designer requires you to know your talents and how to align those talents with the right clients. And while some clients are looking to hire a freelancer to accommodate some sort of capacity constraint, the vast majority of clients are looking to hire a freelancer to make up for a lack of capability. In other words, they are looking to hire a freelancer for the specific and unique talents they offer.

Having been on the side of having to hire freelancers in the past, I can tell you that a freelancer must be able to define the services they offer and why their talents are unique. The truth is, most clients (and a growing number of employers) don’t care how many years of experience you have under your belt or whether or not you have a degree—they care about what you can do for them today!

The truth is, most clients don’t care how many years of experience you have under your belt or whether or not you have a degree—they care about what you can do for them today.

In fact, in all of the years I’ve been working as a freelance eLearning designer, both part time and full time, I’ve never once been asked to provide my resume, education or work history. And why is this? Well, these things don’t really have any correlation to the unique talents I can offer right now. Yes, they’ve contributed to my expertise, but clients don’t really care how you developed your talents, they only care that you can put those talents into use to solve their problems.

So, how do you find your niche? Well, it’s simply a matter of paying attention to the types of work or projects you’re both successful at and enjoy the most. From there, you then need to determine whether or not it’s marketable and in-demand within the industry.

For me, I discovered that my niche is to develop eLearning content that is both ascetically pleasing and user-friendly. And while this might seem broad, the truth is there aren’t a lot of freelance eLearning designers who can execute the development of an eLearning course, while also applying strong graphic design, visual communication, and user interface design skills. This is my niche, and it’s what I’m known for, hired for, and it’s how I market myself within the industry.

I Diversified My Income

I became a full-time freelance eLearning designer by diversifying my income.

As I mentioned earlier in this post, before I made the leap into freelancing full time, I spent many years freelancing during my nights and weekends. And while the extra money was great for paying off extra debt, growing my savings, and taking a few vacations along the way, its was never enough to replace the income I made from my regular, full-time job.

The reality is, even when you’re a full-time freelance eLearning designer, there are only so many hours in the day and week that you can contribute to any number of projects or clients. Eventually, you’ll reach your own capacity limit, and you’ll have to decide whether you want sub-contract the extra work or hire your own employees. However, this isn’t possible for most freelancers, as it requires you to have enough cash flow or savings to cover not only what you need to pay yourself, but also those you hire. And frankly, most freelancer (including myself) don’t make the transition into freelancing to hire and manage the work of other employees or freelancers.

When you’re a full-time freelancer, there are only so many hours in the day and week that you can contribute to any number of projects or clients.

So, how do you make enough money to live, when you can only take on a limited number of projects at any given time? Well, for me, rather than hiring additional help, I decided to take the route of diversifying my income in other ways.

Let me break it down. As of right now, custom eLearning development and design only accounts for about 50% of my total income. The rest is generated through the other services and products I offer. For example, the online courses I’ve created here, my books, and my LinkedIn Learning courses. And while these services account for another 50% of my income, they still require my time and capacity.

All-in-all, much of my income is generated passively, and it’s my goal to increase this percentage within the next few years.

The Bottom Line

Making the leap into becoming a full-time freelance eLearning designer, especially a successful one, isn’t something you just randomly decide to do. For me, the journey was paved with a series of strategic goals and milestones, enabling my transition to be a smooth one.

If you’re looking to become a full-time freelance eLearning designer, I hope my story inspires you to think about how you can increase your odds of success when you decide to make the leap for yourself!

If you’re currently freelancing full time, what other tips would you share from your experience? Share them by commenting below!

Tim Slade

Tim Slade

Hi, I’m Tim Slade, and I’m a speaker, author, and founder of The eLearning Designer's Academy. Having spent the last decade working to help others elevate their eLearning and visual communications content, I have been recognized and awarded within the eLearning industry multiple times for my creative and innovative design aesthetics. I’m also a regular speaker at international eLearning conferences, a LinkedIn Learning instructor, and author of The eLearning Designer’s Handbook.

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