Freelancing 101: How to Learn a New Skill (without Stressing Yourself Out)

To get paid, you must first be useful. Learning a new skill is step #1 when you want to be a freelancer. You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on a college education. It’s easy to teach yourself a new skill from the comfort of home. Below, I’ll reveal how to learn a new skill (without stressing yourself out).

Know your why.

It’s easy to give up when you don’t have a motivator. How will learning a marketable new skill benefit you? Maybe you’d like to quit your job, double your hourly rate, set your own work schedule, or any combination of those things.

Now let’s dig deeper. Why do you want to learn this specific skill? Freelance writing is a good choice for people who are strong communicators. Photography and graphic design make sense when you’re artistically inclined. Coding is excellent for practical types who want to maximize their odds of finding work that pays well.

Embrace the suck.

Don’t kid yourself. You’re going to be awful at first. I had to write approximately a hundred horrible blogs before I wrote a respectable one.  It takes time and patience to learn a new skill. There’s no escaping this reality. Embrace it!

Would it be smart for a new pianist to compare himself to Beethoven? No way! That’s completely insane. If you just started designing websites last week, you shouldn’t compare yourself to people who have been practicing for years. Only compete with the person you were yesterday. If you beat that guy everyday, your skills will grow in a hurry.

Forget about mastery.

I hate the supposed 10,000 hour rule. The theory goes something like this: to become an expert or master of a craft, you must practice for 10,000 hours. Even if you practiced for three hours per day, that would take an entire decade.

Operating from this mindset is a wonderful way to psych yourself out. I have a better idea. Follow Pareto’s principle, which says: “80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.” Here are some examples to help you understand this concept:

  • 80% of sales are made to 20% of your clients
  • 80% of work is completed by 20% of your staff
  • 80% of complaints come from 20% of your customers

You can apply the 80/20 principle to learning a new skill. What are the most critical things to know? If you spend enough time studying, I bet you’ll notice certain concepts show up constantly. Focus on those.

Deconstruct your skill.

Josh Kaufmann, founder of, applied this reasoning to golf. “Playing golf” isn’t one skill in itself. Instead, it’s a collection of several sub-skills that must be practiced separately. Some sub-skills are more important than others.

If you want to excel in golf, you’ve gotta have a strong drive and accurate putt. That’s the best place to start. Want to write? Increase your words-per-minute (WPM) and learn to type without looking at your keyboard. Want to code? You’ll spend plenty of time debugging, so you better get comfortable with it!

Entrepreneurs get this concept. Running a business requires you to be good at salesnegotiation, persuasion, and time management. FYI: freelancing is similar. It’s like “entrepreneurship with training wheels.” Freelancers aren’t taking as much of a risk; but nonetheless, they need to be skilled in the same areas.

Make learning a priority.

The greatest advice in the world can’t help you until you implement it. If you really want to learn a new skill, follow these five steps right now:

  1. Make a list of all the ways skill acquisition will benefit your life
  2. Select a specific skill to learn (based on a mixture of passion and profit potential)
  3. Deconstruct your skill into sub-skills and list them in order of importance (80/20 rule)
  4. Don’t forget to include business-related sub-skills, because your profitability depends on it
  5. Block off at least 1-3 hours to practice everyday (use a 50/50 mixture of learning and application)

Do you have any questions about how to learn a new skill that weren’t answered here? Tell me in the comments! Enjoy this article? If so, share it with your friends. They will appreciate the actionable advice. :)


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