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Continuing Your Education When You're Self Employed
How does the self-employed stay on "the cutting edge"? How do you keep yourself trained on the latest and greatest? Not only does the self-employed individual need to train themselves on their industry, regardless of whether it's real estate, construction, or architecture, they also need to stay knowledgeable about business models and trends as well.
But where can you go to get continuing education? I'm not talking about getting a degree here. Us self-employed folks don't have time for that. However, not having the luxury of a corporate office to reimburse you can be expensive, and may make continuing education prohibitive for many people. When I worked in corporate America I was paid to attend classes, not to mention the training I received from the company itself.
The costs of training myself are doubled because I am self-employed. I first have to pay for the training, and second I can't work when I'm being trained so I lose money there too.
Licensing requirements call for continued training in certain industries, like real estate. So many annual hours of continuing education are mandatory to retain licensing. Me, I just want to provide the best I can for my customers. And in order to give customers the best of me, I need to know what is going on in my industry. And that involves constant training. What are some options that don't require a large amount of my time and money, but allow me to continue my education?
Many industries have their own accreditation programs. These are usually industry specific and specialized to a particular association...everything ranging from marketing to landscape contracting. Depending on the accreditation, it may be that only others in your industry recognize the accomplishment of achieving the accreditation, but if continuing your education is at the forefront of your mind, this may be the best place to start. The cost will vary from industry to industry, but is generally less time and money than a degree from a university.
Less formal than accreditation, industry associations have monthly meetings and seminars, oftentimes with speakers from around the country that can train you in their areas of expertise. Attending these meetings is also a great opportunity for you to network and co-mingle with others in your field. Attending national conferences, even if they are out of town, can be worth the lost income if the speakers are relevant to your field. Many industry associations also publish monthly newsletters or magazines that provide you with in-depth articles on topics related to your field.
Attend Chamber of Commerce meetings/seminars.
Chamber of Commerce meetings allow you to keep up on business related topics, ones that aren't necessarily related to your specific field but are needed to run your business. Usually you can attend seminars during your lunch hour or at a breakfast meeting before work, so the loss of income is negligible. I find attending Chamber of Commerce meetings a great way to learn a little bit about a new topic, without having to outlay a large amount of my time or money. If interested, you can talk to the speaker about their topic in greater detail later.
Another great way to keep you up to date on what's new in the industry. The data provided by the vendor may be skewed to suit their individual needs, but you can still see what is out there, keep on top of trends, and perhaps see what is coming in the future. All of which allows you to better serve your customers, and keep yourself educated on your industry.
Participate in e-mail discussion lists.
One of the most difficult things about working alone is that there is no one sitting next to you to ask a question, or get feedback on an idea. Having an e-mail discussion list you can turn to for help is invaluable. Most are free, or have a nominal charge to join. However, one big disadvantage is that you have to listen to everybody else banter on about topics that may not interest you. But in my opinion the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages when you are in a jam and have no one to turn to for help. Plus, you may learn a thing or two by listening to everyone else's problems.
Reading general business books.
In addition to books in your field, knowing where you can go to ask questions and get answers and keeping yourself ahead of your competitors is a key to being successful when you are self-employed. Always be on the lookout for an opportunity to learn something about your industry without forking out a lot of dough! You never know where you may find it.
Copyright 2006 Kelly Robbins
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