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More Than Words: Online Courses to Improve Your Freelancer Toolbox (and Stay Competitive)

These days, it’s usually not enough to be a professional wordsmith. As the content marketing landscape evolves at a dizzying pace, clients need creative talent who can do much more than craft a thoughtful 1000-word feature. Ideally, they want writers who can also edit video, know their way around Yoast, and can knock together social graphics.

Increasingly as Facebook and Google’s algorithms affect corporate fortunes and reputations, clients want their content creators also to be familiar with paid social campaigns, structured data, and data analytics. Ideally you’ll even be able to switch personalities on Twitter and create Wendy’s-level snark that is perfectly calibrated to never get the brand in trouble, but achieve viral status once a week. At the interview phase, some will ask for an entire content plan –you shouldn’t deliver it then, but surely before beginning the actual project.

Head spinning yet? It’s just the beginning! But on the bright side, we’re very much in a “content gold rush” — meaning that any company that wants a quality online presence needs content.   As always, there will be varying tiers of payment, and those who bring the sharpest and most diverse skills to the table will be able to negotiate the higher-paying gigs. To assist with that, here’s a refreshed list of some top companies providing online courses that help freelancers — and all professionals, for that matter — stay competitive and win more freelance jobs.

If you’re looking to brush up your media skills, please also check our roundup on top content marketing courses for working professionals.

Top online course topics for writers who want to expand their content marketing client list: SEO strategy, digital marketing, social media strategy and data analytics. | #Freelancing | #ContentMarketing | #OnlineCourses Click To Tweet

Where freelancers can take online courses to better compete for jobs:

General Assembly/GA Dash — Ramp up your tech expertise with online courses for freelancers

1. General Assembly/GA Dash — Ramp up your tech expertise

As mentioned up top, there’s a “content gold rush” going on right now—and the big budgets often come from businesses that need to build an online presence that ranks highly on Google and other SERPs. This type of SEO strategy is a delicate and ever-changing task, which includes the “health” of a website – i.e., making sure pages aren’t broken – as much as the quality of content. To add to the complexity of the job, most of the highest-paying gigs are outside of the Consumer sector and in other sectors such as Tech or Healthcare. (Check out this incredibly intriguing and FOMO-inducing infographic by the WSJ to compare median pay across sectors.)

So how do you learn just enough about SEO, digital marketing, data analytics and tech innovation to become a specialized content marketer? We recommend General Assembly – the buzzy bootcamp specializing in tech skill-building courses for the time-crunched. As we discovered through a friend’s experience, even the longest of GA’s remote courses won’t set you up to change careers into the subject matter you’ve studied –but you’ll be able to converse intelligently with product managers, digital marketing professionals and other potential clients, and come off looking like someone who understands the current landscape.

Sample courses

Digital marketing, HTML and data analysis classes are all available online and self-paced. Short-form classes and workshops are like a tasting portion of all that’s buzzy, interesting and potentially lucrative in tech — if you discover something you love, you’ll have to enroll in a longer course. The most famous of General Assembly’s free samples is a one-day coding crash course. Newer short-form offerings include Social Media Strategy Mapping and Introduction to Google Analytics.

Coursera — Freelancers, achieve specialized certifications online

2. Coursera — Achieve specialized certifications

With its Stanford University-founder pedigree and early partnership with multiple universities, including Princeton, Yale, University of Illinois and Duke University, this online education startup came roaring out of the starting blocks with heavyweight credibility. That remains true, even while the prestige degree space for online higher education is getting more crowded (even Oxford University now offers distance learning). Coursera offers far fewer classes than some competitors, but many of them are for certification—and a couple are degree programs.  Described as “interactive textbook” format rather than the less engaging video format, The site operates on a subscription model.

Sample courses

Coursera has expanded its catalog in the past year and now offers 11 learning categories. Degree programs are offered in Business Administration, Accountancy, Public Health, Computer Science, Data Science and a general MBA. Computer Science, IT and Data Science were the first hard-skill categories to roll out, and continue to be a focus.

The certification courses on this platform seem to offer a shortcut to career change, if that’s what you want. For those who want to simply update or expand their skills, there are courses ranging from practical (Introduction to Data Analytics for Business) to meditative (De-Mystifying Mindfulness).

Udemy — Freelancers, explore, prepare, get your feet wet to keep your skills sharp.

3. Udemy — Explore, prepare, get your feet wet

Udemy is an online learning platform that gives would-be instructors and subject matter experts a place to create remote courses that hopefully draw potential students. The system for creating courses is drag-and-drop, meaning people with a basic understanding of WYSIWYG CMS can become Udemy instructors. It also allows instructors to set their rates. Paid courses supposedly start around $100 but are typically deep-discounted, so you can get your first in a category for $11.99.

Udemy courses won’t replace a bootcamp certification or a degree, but they’ll get you prepared to take that certification course, or improve your knowledge of a niche topic related to your expertise

Sample courses

Udemy’s categories are an interesting split between hard skills (IT and Software, Programming and Development), soft skills (Photography) and general business.  There’s also a category called Personal Development that’s something of a catch-all for all types of work and life-related self-improvement. Popular courses include “Complete Python Bootcamp” (which is, of course, more like Python basics), Ultimate Google Ads/Adwords , and How Retargeting Works  (a handy intro to one of the hottest topics in social media marketing).

Keep your freelance skills competitive with Skillshare subscription to online courses.

4. Skillshare — Dabble or drill down, with a community

Similar to Udemy in its offerings, but with a monthly subscription model ($8.25 or $15/month) instead of per-class fees, Skillshare is a slightly better deal if you follow through on taking two courses a month. No accreditation is available, and anyone can be an instructor, which means that you either follow the crowd’s direction to popular courses in hopes they provide meaningful knowledge—or you take your chances.  Skillshare has tried a few additional features over the seven years since launch – in-person classes turned out not to be successful, so now the company is pushing online collaboration as a way to test your skills and get feedback.

Sample courses

Intro to Social Media Skills in collaboration with Buffer and Intro to SEO with Moz both offer  a promise of quick basic skill-building and brand credibility.  “Social media skills” could really mean anything depending on the instructor, but if it’s delivered by a Buffer pro, you can at least be sure you’ll leave knowing how to schedule and manage accounts in Buffer. Creative courses are this platform’s strong suit – hard skills are much less of a focus.

Bloc — Level up to all-around content expert or senior content strategist with online courses for freelancers

5. Bloc — Level up to all-around content expert or senior content strategist

This well regarded online bootcamp only has two curriculum tracks: Developer and Designer. Many a traditional writer would immediately think, “Why do I need to know anything about developing or designing, when there will always be other team members to do that for me?” The answer is, if you want to graduate from freelance writer to content strategist for major corporations and/or government agencies, you’ll need to be as familiar with design/development as you are with words. In fact, many content strategists come from a UX background, not editorial.  And if you operate as a solo consultant or boutique agency, your choice is to be an expert from the development/strategy beginnings or to partner with someone else and lose a lot in the process.

Bloc’s program is targeted toward professionals ready to invest a substantial amount ($8500-9600) toward a Creative Director or Content Strategist next phase. And the self-paced online setup is targeted to “students” whose day job is funding that next professional step. After completing a course, Bloc offers some one-on-one career coaching/networking help in case you’d like help in finding better opportunities outside your circle of clients.

Sample courses

Bloc’s Designer Track not only teaches the most popular programs and skills, it includes a portfolio-building phase, culminating in “mastery learning assessments” that mimic the strenuous and labor-intensive pitches or sample assignments that people in the field go through all the time on the job hunt.

Lynda (LinkedIn Learning) — Get foundational training or collect LinkedIn certifications

6. Lynda (LinkedIn Learning) — Get foundational training or collect LinkedIn certifications

For more than 20 years, this online education pioneer has facilitated professional and personal improvement through video tutorials. As one of the foremost names in distance learning, Lynda had enterprise solutions for government and academic clientele, as well as many courses geared toward individuals.  A recent merge with LinkedIn Learning enables what’s described as “personalized,” but may better be described as targeted advertising of skills you might want to boost. The pricing model is subscription of $29.99 monthly or $24.99 per month with annual membership. A free month is promoted at the top of the homepage.

Sample courses

Train to be a digital marketer with “foundation” courses in SEO, lead generation, growth-hacking and Google Analytics. Take your SEO expertise to the next level with a “Learning Path” that goes from foundational overview to link building to keyword strategy to local and international strategy. Bolster your all-around qualifications with basic project management, business writing and video editing.

Writers, pick one from this list and learn it this year: Link-building. Keyword strategy. Social media scheduling. Data analytics. Google Adwords. Come on, you've got this. | #LevelUp | #ContentMarketing Click To Tweet

 

Lena Katz

About Lena

Lena Katz's credits as a development producer, casting producer and locations manager include cable TV (WEtv, Revolt, HGTV), and digital-first productions (WhaleRock, mikeroweWORKS, Tastemade). She worked directly for major brands including Suzuki, Hormel and Brown-Forman. Learn more about her company at Variable Content.

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