No matter what field you work as a freelancer there is always something new to learn. Web design has especially grown into a tremendous community with ever-advancing trends. How can you find time for reading up on these trends and keeping yourself in the loop? Balancing your own freelance schedule along with personal study is never easy.

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In this article I hope to share a few ideas and tips for advancing your own education. Whether you want to learn more about marketing, copywriting, UI design, or anything else, the Internet probably has a few websites to get started. But don’t overlook the power of print media such as books or even magazines. If you find yourself enamored by a certain topic it is worth pushing yourself into unknown territory to see what’s out there.

Personal Projects

Whenever you have a slow week or slow month of work, try not to waste away that precious time! Back in high school before I had ever worked freelance I would create my own little web projects just to learn. I started with Adobe Photoshop and gradually moved into developing HTML/CSS layouts.

Moments of clarity do not come around on a schedule. Try to have some ideas that you already know sound interesting, and make a timeline to keep yourself busy. It’s important that you keep up with project work – but increasing your knowledgebase can actually help to land higher-paying projects in the future.

Start by Google searching for articles or tutorials online. These are usually free and will ideally provoke new ideas to drive you forward. The learning process is often accompanied by a final goal – some final project or piece of work to demonstrate you really have learned something. If it’s good enough you might even add a new entry in your portfolio. Anything you do has the potential to bring in new clients, so work on ideas you know will prove beneficial in the long run.

Taking on Uncertain Work

Do not be afraid to accept projects on topics which you aren’t too familiar with. If you’ve never touched a database and a prospective client is asking for a large-scale DB backend, maybe that’s not the best place to start. Try to understand your limitations and keep a mental note of how far you can push beyond them.

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Some of my most fulfilling projects have been development concepts or detailed articles that I knew almost nothing about prior to the work. PHP/MySQL used to be foreign and quite confusing, but I never gave up trying to learn. Nowadays online communities like Stack Overflow make it even easier to ask questions and receive exceptionally helpful answers.

Depending on the type of work, it may be a good idea to let the client know you don’t have as much experience but still want to give it a try. If you already have a solid portfolio then many people will be okay with this as long as you pull through with an excellent final product. If you passionately love web design but have never created a forum skin mockup, then it will probably take you some extra time to finish.

During this process you may examine forums and bulletin boards online to see which elements are necessary in the layout, how the page should be structured, and how to design a mockup which can easily be coded into a skin. Normally when you’re busy doing other projects you wouldn’t have time to learn about forum designs. The opportunity to self-educate as a freelancer is very realistic. Just be sure to do some background research before accepting a project that you might not be able to complete.

Books and Premium Courses

When I started learning web design back in 2004-2005 there were plenty of great books to read through. I still have many of these books today, although some information is outdated and I barely ever reference them. But I do have fond memories of learning and they helped me get to where I am today.

Printed materials are great but they also become dated over the years. If you don’t like physical learning instruments then why not sign up for a premium subscription online? Two amazing resources I recommend are Treehouse and Tuts+ Premium which both delve into some very detailed topics. Treehouse has gone into web design/development along with native mobile apps for Android and iOS.

tuts+ envato tutorials premium content website

Tuts+ is a premium network of websites hosted by Envato. The Tuts+ blogs publish tutorials which are usually free, but some are only available to premium subscribers. Content ranges from graphics design, print design, video editing, audio editing… check out their tutorials list to get a better idea.

I personally recommend online courses before books only if you’re interested in a digitally-based craft. Videos and online tutorials offer a more personal experience and they can also be updated over time. Printed books are re-released but you can’t always expect the information to stay relevant.

Plan your Studies

If you are serious about continuing your education outside of school then a small list can go a long way. When you see a cool text effect or banner design write it down for later. Organize a growing to-do list which focuses solely on your learning. Then once you have a bit of free time the list behaves like a reference point to start looking up educational materials.

You can also break down larger goals into smaller daily/weekly obstacles. Nobody created their first fully-formed Python web application on day one. There will be multiple aspects to anything you wish to learn – having it written down will be a nice way to realign your goalposts and prioritize stuff which is most important to you.

Closing

It’s tough dissecting the learning process when you’ve got work to finish on a deadline. But thankfully freelancing offers an immediate position to keep yourself working on new enticing ideas while pushing the envelope for your own educational purposes. If you feel lost or bored on a topic spend time thinking about what you really hope to achieve.

Deep comprehension isn’t achieved in a day or a week or even necessarily a month. But you can get the groundwork laid out in just a few days to further extend your knowledge in the future. Feel free to share any other ideas or questions you may have in the comments area below.

Posted by Jake Rocheleau

Jake is a writer & digital designer/illustrator. He writes about all things web and creative. Check out his website for work samples and follow his latest updates on Twitter @jakerocheleau.

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