One of the best things about being a freelancer these days, whether it’s writing, photography, illustration or just being self-employed is that there is no shortage of information out there to help you. Just twenty years ago, there was no such thing as Google. The Internet didn’t begin to gain real traction with the public until the mid to late 90’s. Before that, you had to go to the library. That’s a building with books in it.
We enjoy almost instant connection today, but it used to be a lot more difficult to find information while learning a skill. If you were lucky, you might find a professional artist with whom to apprentice, but what to do if you lived in a rural area and had limited resources? Now, we have access to apps, books, trade magazines, DVDs, online courses, webinars, forums, and websites full of information, all from the comfort of our own homes.
The problem with access to all of that information is that it is far too much for any one person to take in. You may have the resources to learn all you want to, but so do your competitors, so there’s no room for complacency. Thirty years ago, for example, a newspaper would have an editorial cartoonist on staff and that’s how they’d make their living, drawing one cartoon a day (sometimes less) for that one publication, spending the whole day working on one image, and not having to worry about sales, marketing, printing, promotion or local, national, and international competition, certainly not to the extent one must do so, today.
Most daily newspapers have dismissed their cartoonists and are opting for more regional, national and international syndicated cartoons and paying significantly less than they used to. We are all familiar with this trend in every industry, so lamenting the fact is a useless exercise. Adaptation is the order of the day in every profession.
With all of that information available and so many options, it can be easy to become anxious about where to put your efforts. Ask ten freelancers which sites, organizations, and advice you should follow, and you’ll get an infinite number of answers. If you dig a little deeper, you’ll discover that each of those ten freelancers is following the advice of ten other people, and everybody is just winging it, hoping to get enough work to pay the mortgage.
Put simply, you have to try new things and then evaluate their worth on your own. Then you have to consider that something that worked for you yesterday might not work for you tomorrow. Your own instinct will be your best guide.
For example, I’ve been a member of the National Association of Photoshop Professionals since September of 2004. That’s quite a long time these days. In addition to all I’ve learned about Photoshop, I’ve made invaluable contacts in the industry, and have formed lasting relationships with many people, a number of whom I consider good friends. The investment in that membership has been very good for my career.
In recent years my skills have reached a point where I’m now in need of more advanced training and when the air gets a little thin, it’s tough to find that in any organization that must cater to a wide variety of skill levels. That, coupled with the fact that today, NAPP’s focus is almost exclusively on photography, it has become obvious that there isn’t much left there for me anymore.
The friendships and connections, I take those with me, but when my membership expires next month, I won’t be renewing it. It was a tough decision, but I based it on the question, “Had I not been a member for the past eight years, would I join the organization today?”
The answer was an easy No. It isn’t that NAPP doesn’t have value for photographers, because it clearly does. But I’m not a photographer.
While I had a good run and it was time and money well spent, I’m looking for other learning opportunities. That being said, there’s still a good chance I’ll return to Photoshop World in Las Vegas next year. Connecting with others, networking and spending time with other industry professionals is invaluable, not to mention that I always have a good time. My experience teaching at the Wacom booth in September was great and I hope to repeat it again next year. But I’ll be there on the periphery, not as an attendee.
So the message here is that continuing education as a freelancer is crucial to developing and maintaining a thriving career, but it’s up to you to find your own teachers, a task that will never end. You must constantly adapt to an environment that is changing so much faster than most can keep up with. When something is working for you, get as much from it as you can. When it stops contributing to your momentum and success, you need to cut it loose.
For now, my own path to continued education is uncertain, but I’ll keep looking to online courses, webinars, trade magazines and I’ll follow the art of other creatives, those who inspire me to be a better artist. They say when the student is ready, the teacher shows up, so I’m not worried.
While I’m waiting, I’ll just keep working. Practice makes perfect and even though I’ll never get there, I’m still aiming for it.