You may be surprised to learn that your professional development doesn’t end once you leave your full-time job. As an independent consultant, continuing to develop skills is crucial if you want to grow your business and work with top companies.
Many people refer to this process as upskilling—or building upon your existing skill sets with focused and intentional self-directed learning. It involves taking on a mindset of lifelong learning and being willing to embrace new ways of doing things.
Types of Skill Sets
Everyone has different skill sets depending on their natural abilities and professional background. Expanding your current skill sets can lead to increased income, better clients, and more professional opportunities.
When people talk about upskilling, they are usually referring to two types of skills—hard skills and soft skills. It’s important to understand the difference between each and how to highlight both types of skills.
Hard skills are abilities that are easy to quantify and are typically skills you learned in college or at work. You can improve these skills through practice or by receiving technical training. Here are some examples of hard skills:
- Being able to speak a foreign language
- Knowing how to use certain types of software
- Earning a certain license or certification
- Computer programming experience
Soft skills are more subjective and usually refer to interpersonal skills. One of the advantages of soft skills is that they are easily transferable, so they’re useful no matter what industry you’re in. Here are some examples of soft skills:
- Problem solving abilities
- Time management skills
- Effectively communicating with others
- A willingness to learn
How to Expand Your Current Skill Sets
As an independent consultant, you need to have a combination of hard and soft skills. Your knowledge and professional experience makes you valuable to clients, but open-mindedness and communication skills is what allows you to work with them effectively.
Let’s look at seven ways you can expand your current skill sets in the coming year.
Identify the Areas You Want to Improve
To figure out the skills you want to improve, take some time to consider where you are now and where you want to go. From there, you can identify the gaps in your skills and where you need to improve.
Once you know the areas you want to improve, you can set goals for yourself. Make sure these goals are measurable and time-bound—this will increase your odds of achieving them.
Utilize Online Classes
If you’re looking to develop a technical skill, you can take advantage of online classes. There are tens of thousands of courses available online about nearly every subject you can imagine, and many of them are inexpensive or completely free.
Here are a few learning platforms you can consider:
Each of these platforms offers a wide range of courses, and you’ll receive a certificate once you’re finished.
Seek Out a Mentor
Another way to expand your skill sets is by working with a mentor. A mentor is someone who’s accomplished many of the things you want to do professionally and is willing to offer you guidance and support.
However, asking someone to mentor you is a big commitment and some people may be reluctant to take that on. Another option you can consider is simply networking with peers that are slightly ahead of where you are and seek every opportunity you can to learn from their experience.
Stay on Top of the Latest Skills
What’s considered an in-demand skill right now may no longer be relevant in a couple of years. That’s why it’s important to stay up-to-date on changing trends in your industry.
One of the easiest ways to do this is by taking a little time every day to read the news about your industry. Reading the news will help you understand the current challenges as well as changes that are coming.
This can feel overwhelming at first, but staying on top of relevant trends can benefit you in a number of ways. It can help you identify and take advantage of upcoming opportunities and give you the ability to pivot quickly and offer new services.
Join a Professional Organization
Another way to expand on your current skills is by joining and becoming active in a professional organization. Look for national and state organizations in your industry.
Joining this type of organization will allow you to find and network with other people. The connections you build could lead to further business opportunities.
Another option is to go the extra mile and receive a professional consulting certification. Doing this can give you added credibility with potential clients and increase your competitive advantage. If you want to go this route, here are a few options you can consider:
- Project Management Professional (PMP): A PMP certification shows clients that you have extensive knowledge when it comes to managing projects. This certification teaches you how to deal with conflict, build an effective team, and maximize team performance.
- Certified Management Consultant (CMC): A CMC certification will help you expand your knowledge of organizational management, ethics, and client communications.
- Certified Sales Professional (CSP): To receive this certification, you must show that you have four years of professional client management experience. In this skill set training, you’ll learn how to find prospects, close deals, and maintain client relationships.
Attend Seminars and Workshops
Finally, you can also look for opportunities to attend relevant seminars and workshops. Traditionally, these had to be attended in person, but now there are tons of opportunities online. And most online workshops and seminars offer break-out rooms and an opportunity to connect with other professionals as well.
The Bottom Line
Part of being a successful consultant is staying curious and continuing to look for opportunities to improve your personal development skills. No matter what your goals are for the coming year, you can benefit from leveling up your current skill sets. Just make sure you spend time thinking about your goals and using them to identify the skills you’re looking to develop.
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