Keeping Up To Date as a Freelancer
As freelancers, we’re expected to know what’s going on in our industry – to stay up to date with the latest changes and predict what’s going to be the next best thing. We’re hired for our in-depth knowledge and expertise.
This industry awareness enables us to provide valuable updates to clients, making sure they’re taking advantage of the latest tools and trends, as well as offer new services by adapting to what businesses currently need.
Personally, as a digital marketer I want my clients to be able to try out new features of the platforms they use, jump on the latest trends, and trust that I can keep them updated. As a digital marketing trainer and programme developer, I want to make sure what I’m teaching is 100% up to date. And as a coach, I might get asked about how to implement a new feature within 24 hours of it launching (see: Instagram shopping when it rolled out to the UK).
But as freelancers, we don’t have the “insider knowledge” that often comes with working at an agency or in an in-house team. When you’re in an industry like digital marketing, where changes happen at an almost alarming rate, where can we get this info from?
Here’s how I stay up to date with new, trends, features and changes in digital marketing and digital skills:
- Straight from the source – If I use a product, service or tool, it’s very likely I’m subscribed to their email newsletter, blog or news feed. Favourites include the Google Ads blog, Instagram business blog, Facebook business blog and Canva newsletter.
- Industry sources – Websites, podcasts, blogs and newsletters that share the latest updates. I like really topic-specific ones for this, like SearchEngineLand (search marketing), all-time favourite the Buffer blog (social media), a handful of agency blogs, and a whole load of podcasts that will probably become another blog post at some point.
- Social media – If I only look at one resource in a day, it’ll be Twitter. I’ve curated private lists of interesting accounts and people posting about key topics, and also review certain hashtags regularly. LinkedIn can be good, although I find I have to wade through more content to find the gems. YouTube is another favourite if I’ve got a bit more time.
- Industry events and meetups – Workshops, conferences, panel events… these are a great way to meet other local freelancers, but also help me to keep up to date on topics that I might not pay as much attention to day-to-day; the bigger picture stuff. I mostly find these through Eventbrite, Twitter or Meetup, and often via friends.
- Online communities – by far my favourite and most valuable resource are other people working in digital marketing. I’m part of a few Facebook groups, some general, some industry-specific, where fellow professionals post updates, answer questions and share ideas. Brilliant for brand-new features and tools where we’re all still finding our feet and can get a huge amount of value from others sharing their experiences and feedback. Just make sure you contribute as much as you take! Shout out to Avocado Social Media Hub (which I help moderate) and a couple of my favourite online freelance Facebook groups, Freelance Heroes and The Freelance Lifestylers.
- Industry friends – similar to the above, I’m lucky to work with a few teams of freelancers. We often have shared or overlapping professional interests, which means I always know who to go to for the latest on YouTube, Snapchat or web design – and I’m the go-to person for them on certain topics, too. Also great for in-person chats to combat the occasional freelance loneliness.
- Online learning & certification – Not as highly relevant to digital marketing as some other industries, but I like to keep my Google certificates up to date, and take new courses regularly on platforms like Coursera and Skillshare. They don’t always cover the very latest features and trends, but do often spark new ideas or ways of approaching work, or highlight things I haven’t tried yet.
Phew… that’s a LOT of content coming my way on a daily basis. Here’s how I process and filter it:
- Focus on your niche(s): You can’t know everything all the time, so pick out those key topics that will most affect the work you do. This takes the pressure off, allowing you to filter and prioritise rather than endlessly consume information. I remind myself of this whenever I find myself reading an article about Snapchat – something I don’t offer as a service and have no particular interest in offering any time soon. Although I might occasionally read an article about it as part of understanding the wider social media landscape, it’s firmly on the “off topic” list, as opposed to something like Google Ads where I want the latest updates straight away.
- Create reading lists: I save interesting articles to my bookmarks or Pocket, download pdfs for wifi-free journeys, and save YouTube videos to my “Watch Later” playlist, so when I have some downtime, I don’t have to scramble to find something interesting to read or watch
- … but don’t overwhelm yourself! If you haven’t read, watched or listened to something within a week, are you really going to? I have regular clear outs of articles I thought sounded interesting but just haven’t made the time to read. And my podcast folder gets a good declutter monthly too. They’re still out there on the internet if I want to go back later, but don’t let content hover on your devices like an unticked item on a to-do list.
- Use your network. Outsource research and double your collective brain power by finding “go to” people for industry areas that complement yours. I am not a web designer, but it goes hand-in-hand with digital marketing, so it’s helpful to have freelance friends who are happy to answer a quick question. Obviously you need to be willing to share your own knowledge with them, too!
- Use “dead time”. Listen to a podcast when cooking or driving, read articles on the train, watch videos on the bus. Scroll through Twitter during valuable time with your family… OK, maybe not. Without going too far into the well-documented work/life balance issue for freelancers, if you find yourself cramming industry news into your brain 24/7, burnout is on the horizon.
- Don’t be afraid to take a step back. Mute the Whatsapp groups, turn off social media notifications, read a fiction book instead of the latest industry must-read. Make space to process and implement the last thing you learned instead of constantly moving on to the next.
- Finally and arguably most importantly – put into practice what you’re learning. New feature on your social media scheduling tool? Use it today! Google Ads roll out something exciting? Test it out. Let your clients know about new things you can offer – and don’t be afraid to tell them it’s brand new, and you’re still learning too. Using this knowledge is the whole point of gaining it in the first place.
I hope this is helpful or at least interesting to other freelancers who work in a fast-changing industry. I’d love to hear how you keep on top of updates, features and developments without getting overwhelmed by the huge volume of information that’s out there – tweet me at @emsipic