If you look closely at people who are succeeding in this new digital world of work, you’ll notice they have something in common: they’re fast learners and willing to adapt.
Even more importantly, they go out of their way to learn what they don’t know, to gain the skills and knowledge they need.
Because in the post-recession workplace, your company probably isn’t going to send you to a conference so you can learn that new skill that will make you an even more valuable employee. (And if your employer DOES send you to that conference, we all want to know who you work for.) Your boss probably doesn’t have time to hold your hand as you figure out how to use a new tool that will make your team more efficient. And it’s unlikely you’ll be encouraged to spend your workday focusing on forward-looking, innovative projects that will really help you grow.
If you want to grow as a person and a worker, if you want to gain skills that will help you take that next step in your career, you’ll probably have to learn those skills on your own.
And of course, an increasing number of us are working for ourselves or building our own companies — and if you’re in this boat, you’re in charge of your own development, too.
While this is a drawback of the new economy in some ways, it also creates tremendous opportunity for go-getters. Because if you make the time and effort to learn something new, you can propel yourself ahead of your peers.
Over dinner recently, a friend (who’s doing fascinating research in Madagascar, by the way) asked how I’d learned to build websites, help businesses with social media, and all the other skills that allow me to make a living on my own terms.
I learned to write — which is the core of what I do now — while working full time as a journalist. But most of the other skills I use now on a daily basis, like all the logistics behind creating and selling ebooks, the best ways to promote my work, and how to build a blog and run social media campaigns for small businesses, I taught myself. I learned by DOING, through trial and error, by figuring it out as I went along.
In truth, I never set out to learn these skills specifically. Instead, I went about my business until I had to do something I didn’t know how to do, then learned how to do it. (This, by the way, is one of the major benefits of working for yourself: that you can make learning a priority. And when you launch your own business for the first time, there’s lots to learn.)
So how, exactly, should you go about teaching yourself what you need to know?
1. Tap the Internet
There’s a tutorial for EVERYTHING these days. Seriously. If you want to learn how to replace your bathroom faucet, there’s a tutorial for that. Same goes for learning how to run better. Or figuring out how to hire remote employees. Remember to search both for written blog posts and for video, depending on how you want to take in the information.
The best part? These resources are often FREE, so long as you’re willing to put in some time to sort through the crap and find quality information.
If you prefer your information in easy-to-digest bits or an organized format, you might consider paying for an online course or video tutorials; Lynda.com is a great place to find that for just about anything digital. This is also why I offer guides and courses — because many of us are willing to pay for information that’s organized in a way that makes it easy to learn.
Once you’ve got your resources, it’s all about DOING IT. Trying out that skill is the best way to learn.
2. If you get stuck, hire someone to teach you
This likely won’t be free, but it could save you loads of time and frustration (and even money in the long run). It also gets you to the finish line faster, which is helpful if you have a deadline (or a short attention span).
How do you find someone to teach you? Look around, both in your physical and virtual space — knowledgeable people are everywhere.
Just because someone doesn’t advertise themselves for hire doesn’t mean you can’t hire them. In fact, those are often the best people to learn from. For example, when I wanted to know how to set up sales funnels in Google Analytics, I hired a friend who knew how to do it for a quick coaching session, saving myself hours of trying to figure it out.
Other examples of skills I’ve hired people to coach me on:
- How to use CSS to customize my website
- Strategies for growing my newsletter list faster
- How to advertise effectively with Facebook ads
- The best way to sell my products on a webinar without being annoyingly sales-y
Don’t forget you can also barter with friends. If you both have a valuable skill the other person wants to learn, help each other! Or ask the person you want to work with how you can help them back, whether any of your skills could benefit them.
3. Find a way to work for someone who will teach you
This costs you nothing — you might even earn money — and can help you gain not only skills, but also connections, recommendations and more.
You’ll find lots of opportunities in the form of internships on job boards. But you could also create your own learning opportunity.
How can you make this happen? Simply approach someone who’s doing what you want to do, and ask if you can help them. It’s as easy as that. Give them a reason to think they’d also benefit from the exchange (free or low-cost worker!), and they’d be silly to say no.
Some successful people even enjoy mentoring others; working with you is a great way for them to give back. But guess what? They’re not going to find you. You have to find them.
This is one of the many ways to boost your career that’s not likely to fall into your lap. If you think you’d benefit from this type of relationship, you’ve got to go after it.
What skill do you want to learn? Or maybe a better question is, what skills will make you more marketable? And how can you learn them?