This article was originally published by JetCake.

Freelancing can be isolating. The flexibility of freelancing is a double-edged sword: on the one hand, a professional can make their own hours and work from anywhere. On the other hand, a freelancer often works from home or at odd hours – and it can be lonely to work in that kind of solitude. 

Of course, loneliness can be resolved by going to a coffee shop to work or meeting up with other freelancers for a co-working session. The more serious threat to a freelancer’s career is the lack of professional development and mentorship that would otherwise be available in a traditional office environment. It’s incumbent on freelancers to seek out their own development and mentoring opportunities to continue to grow professionally. Often, there’s no formal corporate ladder, no regular one-on-ones and no development benefits available to freelancers. 

For a freelancer seeking professional development and mentorship opportunities, here are some steps to take to branch out and grow your skills.

Complete a skills evaluation

Part of learning where you can develop is identifying areas of strengths and weaknesses. This is an important first step to your professional development. “While it can be tempting to rely on a mentor to give you guidance on where you need to improve, you’ll get much more out of any mentorship relationship if you’ve done some self-reflection first,” writes Entrepreneur. 

There are a variety of tools to help you understand your work style. Some popular tools include: 

If you don’t have the time or the budget to take a formal assessment, ask trusted colleagues or clients to give you some feedback on where you could improve. It could be as simple as asking a client what they think they will need ten years down the road: for instance, what coding language would be useful to learn? What business trends or customer preferences are they planning for? Map your development around the needs of your customers to stay sharp.

Create a professional development plan

Once you have a sense of where you can grow, create a professional development plan. Flexjobs says this step involves deciding on which of two areas you should focus your effort: “learning new skills or developing existing ones.” Essentially, do you want to become an expert in something you’re already good at or do you want to broaden your skill set to learn new things?

There’s no right answer to this question. But, it does help guide freelancers to spend their time thoughtfully. When you have a path to focus on you can then begin to carve out time each day to practise a skill, enroll in a class, attend a seminar or listen to podcasts. It also gives you direction when working with a career coach or mentor.

Work with a coach

JetCake is just one agency where freelance developers can take advantage of coaching and a network of professionals to get career development. Our coaching focuses on working through a series of real-world projects that will hone your skills in effective communication, accurate estimation, agile methodologies, product concepts and more. Once a freelance developer completes this phase in their relationship with JetCake, and successfully completes a project with a client, they will have access to JetCake Developer Network for ongoing support, learning and growth. Codementor is a similar organisation that offers live mentorship on freelance projects. 

Other freelancers work with career coaches to help get feedback on their business, skillset and growth. A career coach can weigh in on your LinkedIn profile, business development plan and help you expand your network much in the same way a traditional mentor would. They can be expensive though, so make sure you go into a career coaching relationship with a specific goal in mind.

Keep in touch with former colleagues

Harvard Business Review recommends trying to schedule two substantive contacts per month with former colleagues to combat freelancer isolation and to make sure you’re apprised of industry trends. “Seek out real, regular interactions with former colleagues. If lunch at the old office isn’t feasible, there’s always a sustained IM chat on Facebook, an outdoor activity or an invitation to dinner at your home. Such connections maintain continuity in your life. They also help you stay on top of what’s happening in your industry in a way that mere consumption of media can’t.” Keeping in touch with colleagues can help you find new business and learn more about your industry.

Join a coworking space

Join a co-working space or another professional development organisation, like Toastmasters. Co-working spaces frequently offer guest presentations or seminars to their members. Simply talking to people over lunch can also bring new learning opportunities across your desk. Find a way to network frequently and keep your big goals in mind as you interact with other freelancers, colleagues and coaches.