I recently received an email from a former student from one of my instructional design courses who is looking to jump into the game as an independent ID contractor. He was looking for some advice on getting up and running -- particularly with what to consider about setting up a website and promoting himself in the field. I figured that I'd share a few considerations that would be helpful to anyone looking to do the same (whether you're considering going into it as a full-time gig, or as a "side hustle."
My former student asked for advice on:
What Are Clients Looking For?
Let's start with "ideas of what clients would be looking for in terms of skill sets." There is no definitive answer to this! My advice (which was shared to me by a former colleague with expertise in entrepreneurship) is to promote what you are good at and interested in doing. Don't expect to be a one-stop shop that can offer anything and everything a potential client may need in terms of instructional design work. If your experise and experience is in the area of creating multimedia resources, then focus on that. If your background includes experience managing course development products, emphasize that. If there is something that you have a bit of "technical" experience with, but you have a solid understanding of what needs to be done and why (i.e., you have a strong understanding of the principles and processes, but have only dabbled with specific applications common in the industry), and you are interested in doing that sort of work for clients, then focus on that, too! You can always master specific tools or applications if you know what you are trying to achieve and why! But, if there is something that you don't have a strong background or experience in (say, curriculum development, or organizational needs assessment processes), then don't emphasize that. If you promote yourself as a one-stop shop for everything, you run the risk of getting yourself in over your head with work requests that you can't handle. Plus, you run the risk of not appearing to be someone with specialist expertise.
Remember -- your potential clients could recruit an in-house developer (or go to a job board or recruiting agency to contract one) if all they need is someone with the technical skills to build a product in a given system. What they're looking for in an independent contractor is an expert consultant -- someone with a background that they can't easily recruit for a short-term in-house position! So, promote yourself as that expert in your niche of expertise!
Setting up Your Website
Your website is one of your primary vehicles for promoting your expertise and services. Here are a few tips.
Showcasing Your Work
When it comes to what types of digital artifacts you can include... that is completely up to you! If you have blog posts, instructional videos, interactive instructional resources you can share, then share them! I have a fairly extensive list of currated resources from over the years shared on the Power Learning Solutions site. But, another useful strategy might be to use a free LMS platform such as Canvas Free for Teachers to create a sample course site. In that course, you can include sample modules created in different ways, using different tools. For instance, you could include a sample module that follows a standard higher education course format, and one that uses the tools and structures frequently seen for shorter workplace training modules (using tools such as Articulate Storyline, Adobe Captivate, etc). You can either post the self-registration link so that your website visitors can check it out at their leisure, or post an overview of the site on your website, with a note that clients can be provided with free access upon request, following an initial consultation. Think of it as a menu that you clients can choose from when you are consulting with them about the unique instructional design needs. Creating a sample course site allows you to keep expanding your showcase platform, without having to have everything ready for your main website right away!
If you are looking for more ideas about the types of resources that you can share, check out the Resources section here on the Power Learning Solutions site.
How Much Should You Charge?
Now... this is a tricky question! Again, I'm going to fall back on the advice my entrepreur expert colleague shared with me. Do NOT post set rates for products and services. You are not a department store. Your clients are looking for a specialist, and they'll expect to be charged for specialist services. If you post rates on your site, you could end up under-selling yourself (by accepting contracts that take far longer than what your posted rate will actually fairly cover). And, you run the risk of being underbid by a potential competitor who sees your posted rates, and snatches a potential client out from under you in the early consultation stages.
What you charge for your services should be determined in consultation with your client, based on your initial consultations about their unique needs and the anticipated time and resources needed to do the job. Consider how much you would expect to be paid, by the hour, for doing the same work for a full-time employer. You don't want to spend the same number of hours on an independent contract for less pay! You'll also want to consider using a sliding scale on your service quotes, that varies depending on either the actual amount of time it takes to do the work, and the amount of deliverables actually produced for the client. I frequently do provide "hard figure quotes" to my clients after an initial consultation -- but that's because I've gained a good sense of how much work will be involved once I have that initial consultation. However, there are some cases where I do use sliding (hours of work) based scales, because the initial consultations reveal that the full scope of the project work may evolve as we progress through the project.
Another key piece of advice from my entrepreneurial colleague -- do NOT undersell yourself because you are afraid that a potential client may balk at your quote. If you go too low, you run the risk of not only getting underpaid, but also of losing the client because they don't view you as a serious expert in the field!
Of course -- there are some cases where you may deem it appropriate to offer a potential client a low-ball quote. For instance, you may connect with a non-profit organization or another small business operator who either does not have the budget of a larger organization, or who may be a valuable connection to build upon for future collaborations (and word-of-mouth promotion).
Some Legal Considerations
Your legal considerations may vary, depending on where you are physically located. Please note, I am NOT an expert on either business or tax law! But, here's what I had to keep in mind:
Rob Power, EdD, is an Assistant Professor of Education, an instructional developer, and educational technology, mLearning, and open, blended, and distributed learning specialist.
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