5 Top Tips For Building An eLearning Contract Career

How To Build An eLearning Contract Career

Whether you’re a designer, a developer, or a project manager, if the issue of contracting hasn’t come up for yet, it will soon. Thanks to eLearning being heavily project-based, it has a particularly buoyant contract marketplace. A hefty proportion of eLearning professionals, rather than enjoying the fixed salary and security of a permanent position, choose instead the flexibility –and risks– of moving from company to company every few months. And it’s easy to see why. Contracting offers higher remuneration, especially in the major cities, as well as the excitement of variety, and the chance to build an impressive and varied portfolio in far less time than on a conventional eLearning contract career path.

Yet there’s a catch when the rewards are this good – competition for the best eLearning contracts is particularly fierce. So how can you make yourself stand out, and build the most successful eLearning contract career possible?

  1. Choose the right time. 
    Junior instructional designers are particularly prone to making the leap into contracting very early on, perhaps after just a year or two’s employment. The risk can pay off – but it is a big risk. Once you start contracting, responsibility for training and upskilling lies solely with yourself. Contract employers don’t want to take a long-term view of your personal development and training – they want someone who can hit the ground running, who has the skills they need right now. So, if you’re still very early on in your career, it probably makes sense to stick with permanent employment for a few years, making the most of the training on offer. And don’t discount the value of all the ‘soft’ skills you pick up in employment, either. The experience of managing and mentoring a junior member of staff, for example, can be absolutely invaluable once you start contracting. In short, don’t start contracting before you’re sure that you have a well-rounded and in-depth skills set – be patient.
  2. Smarten your online presence. 
    If you’re in the design or development side of eLearning, a portfolio of past work will likely be the crucial factor in winning you contracts. The easiest way to manage this in a low-maintenance way is to build it online. That way you can continually update it as you complete new work, and sending it out to potential employers is as simple as sending out the URL. This is far easier than scrabbling around to put together a fresh hard copy every time you’re looking for a new contract. Don’t forget to check that any work you are publicizing in this way is not under NDA and can be shared in the public domain. Social media is another crucial element of your online presence. You may not be interested in using Twitter or Facebook, and that’s fine, but LinkedIn, which pitches itself as the professional social networking site, is very often the first port of call for hiring managers looking for their next contractor. Make sure your profile is bang up-to-date, that your job title is relevant and searchable, and all your relevant experience is in place. There’s no need to write a lengthy article about every project you’ve worked on, but short, snappy bullet points listing the highlights of each are definitely a good idea.
  3. Get your legals (and financials) in order. 
    Once you start contracting, you are responsible for paying your own tax and national insurance contributions. You also won’t have a workplace pension, so you’ll need to set up a private one, if you wish. The vast majority of eLearning contractors work through their own private limited company. Setting one up is fairly straightforward – you can visit the government’s official website on the matter here or pay any one of a vast number of third parties to do it for you. Of course, once you’ve done this you are officially a business owner and have certain accounting responsibilities by law. You will also need to organize professional indemnity insurance. Operating as a sole trader is simpler in that there are fewer accounting obligations, but a great many eLearning employers will not take on sole traders on a contract basis. If you’d like to cut out some of the complexity, you can work through an umbrella company instead. Another aspect of contractor finances to consider is the cushion that you should have in place to protect against any downtime between contracts. The higher rates that contractors command are in part to protect against this – you should aim to have three months’ worth of mortgage, bills and other essential payments set aside.
  4. Freelancing vs. contracting. 
    What’s the difference? Well, contractors will tend to work full-time on a particular project for three months or more, while freelancers work on a more adhoc basis, a little like a one-person eLearning agency. However, as a contractor it can be incredibly helpful to have one or two freelance clients constantly on the back burner, for whom you might do the odd piece of work every other month, to help plug any gaps between projects. Useful sources for such projects might be ex-colleagues who’ve since moved on, or even your last permanent employer.
  5. Be agile and flexible. 
    Perhaps the most crucial factor in building a successful elearning contract career is the ability to be flexible. You may need to be prepared to both travel further and even temporarily relocate in order to take on a project that will add huge quality to your portfolio. You will certainly need to be prepared, when you start looking for a new contract on a Friday, to potentially start on Monday.

The eLearning contract career world is extremely fast-paced, and if you’re not prepared to bend a little bit more than you would for a permanent position, the chances are that someone else will.