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Separating Paying Work from Professional Development

Posted on October 2nd, 2016
Paying Work vs. Professional Development

As freelancers, most of us enjoy the freedom of not having a boss and getting to choose our priorities and projects. We can pursue our passions, continuing education, and expertise without having to attend team meetings or even put on a tie for work.

However, a downside to freelancing is that there is no one standing over us and reminding us of the “bottom line.” It’s easy to prioritize fun, expansive activities like development and creativity and not focus on cultivating paying clients.

This is why separating paying work from professional development is an important skill. There are several categories of “work” that should considered in terms of compartmentalization, and where you are in your career largely determines the importance and urgency of each category.

For example, if you are a new freelancer, it is more important that you create a portfolio of happy, paying clients than it is that you write your first book.

However, if you are an experienced freelancer with an impressive resume and clients who enthusiastically refer you, you may be ready to shift your focus to increased expertise, creativity, networking, and specialized development.

What are some example categories that you could use to define tasks?

Income-Generating Work

This is working with clients or selling products. This is the most obvious and simple part of freelancing. You need to make money and pay bills, and putting your current clients at the top of the list is crucial.

While it seems obvious, many freelancers often acquire clients and then do not tend to them as they should. Your goal should be to continuously engage with and satisfy your current clients so that they become referral machines. Your clients’ experience is your reputation.


Similarly, generating new clients and closing sales is another extremely important part of freelance business, especially for new freelancers. You need to spend a considerable amount of time marketing yourself, putting yourself out there, and developing relationships with potential clients.

Prospecting is more than hiding behind a computer screen and running social media ads. Generating leads is an extremely organic, social process, in which you not only ask your current clients for testimonials and referrals, but also talk to your network about your career and services.

Administrative/Office Work

This could include marketing, but it’s not limited to it. Administrative work also encompasses running your website, programming your social media, writing for your blog, managing your business finances, or paying someone to do all of these things and supervising their work.

Administrative work is the least glamorous side of freelancing, but it’s essential.

Passion Projects

This category is where many new freelancers are excitedly drawn, but it must occur side-by-side with income-generating work and prospecting, or else it is just a hobby. No matter how good your ideas are, you need to have a foundation of income or fund-raising before or during your time spent writing your book, writing your grant, or developing new ideas.

However, passion projects, even if you are a new freelancer, should never be totally ignored. They just need to be in perspective in the scope of your career and how financially stable your life is.

Continuing Education

While essential for continued growth, professional development and education is often over-prioritized for new freelancers. Convinced that specialization will close the sale, newer freelancers forget that it is their personality, drive, and communication skills that will generate more clients, not necessarily a degree or certificate.

However, there is a point when continuing education is essential. Maybe you’re in a field where periodic re-certification is required. On the other hand, you may be in a field where information and protocols change quickly and you need to be up-to-date in order to be professional. Either way, just like passion projects, continuing education is important but should be planned in light of your overall career progress.

William Lipovsky

William Lipovsky

William Lipovsky owns the personal finance website First Quarter Finance. He began investing when he was 10 years old. His financial works have been published on Business Insider, Entrepreneur, Forbes, U.S. News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and many others.

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