It’s that time of year, and I’m sure you are hearing lots about investments.
In your RRSPs (Canadian), ISA (United Kingdom), or 401K (United States). Or maybe you see advertisements about your mutual funds or other finical investment opportunities.
I’m advocating an investment that is often missed for independent consultants. Yet, it contributes significantly to the financial stability and rewards that our craft and business can provide. And, it enables us to architect the lifestyle we want.
We can’t afford to miss investing in our own learning and development opportunities
As independent consultants, we absolutely need to stay relevant in our craft and useful to our clients. Our clients expect us to bring the ‘latest and greatest’ approaches, methodologies, and tools to help them solve their problems.
When I was first trying to improve my social and economic position, I knew I had to take advantage of education – I had no issue with taking out the student loans I needed to complete my degree and then paying them back. And I was rewarded for doing so.
But I didn’t stop there.
“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.”
– Malcolm X
Acquiring a good education doesn’t end when we graduate
Even when I was an employee, I directed my education. I knew how influential it could be. And I often butted-heads with my leaders when it came to training.
In one case, I wanted to attend a leadership conference in New York. At that time, I was a manager, and the conference was targeted at directors and executives. But the content looked astounding.
- Jack Welsh, author of Winning
- Malcolm Gladwell, author of Tipping Point
- James C. Collins, author of Good to Great
- Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan, co-authors of Execution, the Discipline of Getting Things Done
- Renee Mauborgne, co-author with W. Chan Kim of Blue Ocean Strategy
- Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone
They were all going and speaking. I had to be there!
I did my research and presented my case. However, my leaders assumed I was just trying to get a free trip and said no. I didn’t let that stop me. To show how serious I was, I negotiated. I let them know I would pay for the trip (hotel, flights, and food) and the course. And they would give me the time to go and acknowledge it as training, so I didn’t have to use my vacation allowance.
My leader agreed, and I took action.
And when I confirmed everything was organised for the event, my leader and others in the organisation saw me differently. They saw me as managing and investing in myself, and directing my career. And I, in turn:
- Came back with some inspiring ideas and new skills to apply to my portfolio of responsibilities.
- It helped my personal brand and positioning within my organisation and with the various leaders.
- Plus, my leader reimbursed me for all my expenses!
“Whenever you make an investment in yourself, you’re making an investment in your future.”
– The Reply
I look for learning opportunities that fulfil the goals I set
To this day, I continue this practice. I look ahead for the year and see what can help me and my business, guided by the goals I set. Sometimes I go to an international conference focused on business. Other times I attend seminars related to my craft and specialisation. I no longer ask anyone for permission – that’s a significant upside of having my own business.
The other upside is it provides me with fresh ideas and concepts. But most importantly, I keep myself relevant and able to help my clients. So, if you want to continue to grow your business, enhance your craft, and stay useful for your clients, you can’t afford to miss this most important investment: your learning and development opportunities.
Type 1 Learning & Development Investment: For Your Specialization Within Your Craft
Your specialisation preferences are related to your business. It not only helps you position yourself as an expert and guides your marketing, it also directs what and how you invest in your learning and development opportunities.
If you specialise in a particular type of function within an organisation, like Finance, you need to be aware of the latest trends that affect your client. Or if you specialise in a particular level of leadership, you need to research and learn about recent trends that affect their level.
One aspect of my specialisation is providing my services within the structure of projects or programs. Therefore, I need to keep up with Project Management trends and how Project and Program Managers are working. I ask myself, “Are they using Traditional, Agile, or Waterfall methodologies?” I can educate myself by checking in with the Project Management Institute (PMI) which is the guardian for various Project, Program and Portfolio Management certifications. There is also AXELOS which is responsible for the Projects IN Controlled Environments (PRINCE2) certification. Both organisations provide various ways for me to attain and direct my learning opportunities.
Type 2 Learning & Development Investment: For Your Craft as a Consultant
I expect myself to improve in general, over time. I try to find new and improved products or different ways to do something in my craft. Even as consultants, we can use an infusion of new information about the latest trends and ‘how tos’. We can easily slip into focusing so much on our client that we forget to lift our head and see what is happening in the industry of our craft.
For example, massive advancements in document management have caused changes in everything from hard copy documents all the way to cloud access and filing. As a consultant in this craft, you need to be aware of where the industry is going, how it’s going about it, and whether you want to integrate elements into your own craft.
Attaining new clients and contracts depends on being relevant in your industry
And this likely means finding education opportunities to match. You can always find new approaches and advancements to help you stay relevant and bring new concepts to your clients. Personally, I have looked for these in Design Thinking or new certifications. Recent developments in Sociology and Psychology are also extremely useful to my craft as an Organizational Transformation (OT) or Organization Change Management (OCM/ CM) Consultant.
Type 3 Learning & Development Investment: For Your Business as an Independent Consultant
Were you surprised to learn you need to manage your personal brand as a consultant? Do you want to learn how to maximise your pre-tax dollars when it comes to investing in your company?
There are lots of opportunities you may not know you have available to you as an independent consultant. You may be in the situation that ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’.
Once you decide what you want to learn about or take advantage of, you need to learn enough about it to determine if:
- You want to become a master in it, or
- You want to know enough to be able to masterfully delegate or outsource it to someone else.
To do either, you need to learn enough about it to position yourself to make an educated decision. If you do outsource a part of your business, do it in a way to ensure you get the results you want.
Some factors that may influence your decision are:
- Does it contribute to the value of your business? This includes all aspects of your business.
- How much personal interest do you have in it? Would it distract or enable your craft or specialisation?
For example, I needed to learn about writing and the value of it for my business. I draft all my own content, such as these articles and the course materials I teach. However, I outsource the final writing and editing of some of the content. It depends what I want to produce and the level of polish and research required to ensure I provide the best quality and value-add product I can.
Once I understood this better, I was able to determine I wanted to be both:
- A master – to a certain point in the process because I want all my content to align with my personal brand and my long-term vision for my business.
- A delegator – I needed to learn enough about writing to delegate the remaining steps to another source. But I wanted to do so with clear expectations so both I and the delegate could be successful.
While thinking about learning and development opportunities, ask yourself whether you want to master or delegate the following:
- Search word optimisation
- Data mining to generate leads from LinkedIn
- Creating a consultant-focused LinkedIn profile
- Organic marketing vs paid advertising
- Print layouts
- Web designing and maintaining
The list can keep going, but I figure you get the point. Regardless, it’s up to you to decide how much you want to learn and master to ensure your business enables your lifestyle.
Type 4 Learning & Development Investment: For You Personally
You need to reward yourself.
Do this by giving yourself an opportunity to learn more about your interests. How does this benefit your independent consulting business? You’re more relatable to your clients and their situations when you bring you and your interests to your craft.
Personally, I am interested in Nero Linguistic Programming (NLP), Buddhism Phycology, and real estate investment. As it turns out, my personal interest also helps with my specialisation, craft, and business-a huge bonus, but not necessary. You could be interested in Egyptian archaeology or extreme hiking or rock climbing. Whatever your interests, give them some of your time and energy. You deserve to invest in yourself too.
“Investing in your own growth and self-development isn’t selfish, it’s self care.”
Investing in my own learning and development has helped me architect a fantastic life
I can’t express enough how instrumental this has been both to my personal growth and my ability to take my business to such levels of success.
I hope you are inspired to invest in yourself as well. You may be amazed at how much further you can reach in helping not only yourself, your business, and your clients, but other significant people in your life too.
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Thank you for reading.
Founder and President
Stand & Deliver Inc.