Dear Danielle: How do I improve my skills?

Dear Danielle:

What do you recommend we do to keep on track and improve our skills? Conferences (online or in-person), classes? Do you have personal recommendations of some? —Stephanie Bateman

Great question!

A lot of times people will take classes willy nilly. They aren’t sure what they need so they sign up for anything and everything that comes along in case they might need those skills some day.

Or they’ll fall prey to manipulative marketing that tells them such-and-such are the “hot skills” that ALL clients need and if you don’t know how to do this or that, you won’t be as valuable, or you won’t be able to charge as much, or you will otherwise be a failure or just a “generalist.” (Complete BS and I hope you are smart enough not fall for those kind of sleazy sales tactics and messages.)

I’m a HUGE proponent of lifelong learning and always being in curiosity mindset! But going about things that way can get expensive fast, you may end up not even needing to use the skills you learned this way, and it’s the worst way to determine how to support clients.

Here again is where having a target market can really keep you focused and save you a TON of time, energy and money, all of which you have finite stores of and need to be smart about where you invest them. ;).

When you have a target market, you know what kind of work you do for clients, how their businesses are run, what their common goals and objectives are, and you can get training to elevate, improve or modernize your skills accordingly. Let your target market needs and the work you do for them determine where you spend your skills training and continuous learning time and dollars.

For example, if you work with attorneys, learning all the various e-filing ropes is a wise investment of your time and attention because that’s knowledge that’s of great use in your support work. If you don’t work with bankruptcy attorneys, taking bankruptcy training would not be a good use of your time and attention. See what I mean?

Also, remember that just working with clients keeps you on your toes. All the time that you are working with them, you are learning new skills and improving upon existing ones as you learn new and better ways of doing things and new tips and tricks for the tools and software you use.

I think conferences can be fun, and they’re certainly good for networking, meeting new people and forging bonds and maybe learning some snippets. It’s really a personal preference, but I haven’t ever seen or attended any conferences that imparted any real learning. That’s not to say you shouldn’t  attend them. You may get some valuable business learning. I just doubt that you’re going to get the kind of skills training we’re talking about here. That’s not really the function or purpose of a conference.

It’s better to take skills training when the need arises, when you see there is going to be a meaningful use or purpose in your business and for your target market in the immediate future. That is, sort of like I mentioned above, you can waste a lot of time and money just taking classes you only think you might use later on. So, it can be a way to manage and be more discerning about where you spend that time and money by letting your business and client needs dictate any skills training you decide to take. You’ll take to and retain what you learn much better this way, and it will certainly help take the pressure off you thinking you have to learn everything RIGHT NOW.

Looking at things from another angle, it can also be energizing to take certain skills training just because it interests you and you get joy out of it.

For example, I really enjoy learning the ropes of video editing. Maybe it’s due to my love of filmmaking, but I just love putting video together and learning how to use editing tools to create nicely polished and professional transitions and effects.

I have not used this skill for any clients as yet and it would be a side, project type offering anyway (this would never be something they would get included in their administrative support, but rather be charged separately since it is both project work and a completely separate service and skillset). But the energizing effect it has on my creativity carries over into my business. Those things that enrich our spirit enrich our businesses by proxy. And there’s everything good about that!

Personally, I tend to do a lot more self-taught learning, at least in the beginning. I enjoy figuring things out myself. But even then, there comes a point in my learning curve where I need the help of someone more knowledgeable to attain higher expert levels or when I need to learn something faster than I can figure it out on my own. That’s usually when I take a class.

So keep in mind that self-paced, self-study is an option as well. There are all kinds of online, free and paid training and tutorials options out there for just about everything you’d like to learn.

The main thing to remember is this isn’t something you need to be stressed about at all. I find that everything always falls into place just as it’s meant to. Take what you need, when you need it. Take what you enjoy. Ignore the rest.

Hope this helps!

One Response

  1. Stephanie Bateman says:

    Thanks Danielle!

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