Continuing Professional Development as a Consultant
In this post, we want to talk about continuing professional development or CPD. Let’s say that you have set yourself up as a consultant. You have clients, you are expanding your network and maybe you even have a regular part-time role for a few hours or days a week. What now? The best way to be noticed by people and businesses in your particular sector is to stay ahead by continuing to learn - and this is precisely what you need to do. Staying ahead requires training, dedication, research, and above all, a willingness to find new things to learn and study them. Consultancy can be very competitive, especially as business changes are more rapid now than even ten years ago, let alone longer. While keeping up with developments is essential for anyone, whatever your age, as someone over the age of 45, you will probably have some advantages.
That’s where CPD, or continuous professional development, comes in. CPD is now at the forefront of making sure professionals stay ahead. For consultants, knowing more than everyone else and making sure that you keep informed of current developments is what gets you, clients. So let’s talk about that.
Continuing your professional development
For experienced workers, the first inherent advantage as a consultant is that they’ve been around for longer. Consultants can often be locked in a battle of “who knows more?” when it comes to engaging with clients and selling services. Since knowledge and experience is your greatest asset - supporting this by expanding what you know is the first step in CPD.
This can be done in a variety of ways, such as:
Coaching: this is where another, more seasoned professional, or one who has a different experience, provides support. The aim is to learn different skills that can then be put into practice. They can help fill any gaps in knowledge, provide new information and help you deliver that extra bit of value your clients are looking for.
Workshops and seminars: this is the most common way to attain new knowledge, and therefore develop your skills. No longer do you need physically go to a place to study as many are now delivered online. Going to an event and learning may be preferred but it can get expensive.
Formal education: depending on your area of expertise there will be courses you can take that will result in a qualification. Quite often these are run through industry associations or local business groups such as Chambers of Commerce. Professional education is a big business so you should be able to find relevant opportunities for you.
Mentoring: as we’ve talked about before, mentoring is a great skillset that older workers often have because of their years of experience, but sometimes older workers themselves need a little mentoring. And mentors don't necessarily need to be your senior - they can be younger but with a different skill set. This may be more the case now as technology changes and new ways of working need to be learned.
Online searching: it's always good to remember that if you have a question try typing it into Google or another search engine and see what you find. The power of this question and answer process online is immense and there are chat groups, online resources, peer groups, industry groups such as on LinkedIn and information for any need. Spending an hour searching for answers can often reveal more than you need.
How important is CPD?
In a word? Extremely. If you cannot show your ability to adapt to changes in your industry or ways of working, you will limit the amount of support and assistance you can provide clients, and this will reduce your earning potential. It is also important to maintain the momentum of learning especially as change accelerates - not doing so will risk the potential of being left behind.
The rule is simple: the moment you stop thinking you’ve learned all you can is when you should seek to learn more new things. Life is a learning process, however long you have been working.
As we've hinted above, it’s possible to continue your professional development without going through formal channels. Here are a few tips on how to go about this?
First, it's important to have the right approach when it comes to self-CPD:
Keep an open mind to learning new things
Set up a schedule to learn - you may need to achieve a certain number of study hours per week so a good idea is to put them in your diary
Set up a good place to achieve your CPD goals such as a room or desk at home, a library or may be a separate office in the place where you are working
Have a study buddy - this could be a friend, family member or colleague. They don't need to be studying as well; the idea for this is to have someone you are accountable to
Second, you must have the right resources. Some will come from a formal curriculum from an academic institution or business organisation, and others will be more informal. Make sure you find the right ones for you and persist with using them. Over time you will get to know the best sources of information for your needs.
What’s in an effective self-CPD process?
Finally, in order to make sure that your self-CPD process is effective, it’s useful to set up a plan and record results. One danger with self-managing development is getting side-tracked or distracted by interesting but not necessarily focused and useful areas of learning. If you develop a plan at the outset, to suit your pace of learning, you can police yourself as to whether or not you are on track. The rule of thumb is to prune what you don’t need and focus only on the things that are on plan.
Here are a couple of things that indicate that your self-CPD activities are going well:
Record what you are learning and make a note of application of that learning. Doing this means you can recount learning and results to future clients
Keep a diary of useful information or lessons learned while working - noting and categorising interesting online resources is also a useful record to make
Tick goals as they are achieved
Make a note of aspects that don't go so well - failure to achieve something is also a lesson learned
Another way to learn is to seek out opportunities in the voluntary sectors. Boards of Trustees is one example but there are always other community organisations needing willing and able people to help. Putting your skills to use while learning others within a community organisation is a way to give back as well as benefit.
CPD as an investment
Developing yourself professionally will always pay off. It provides value when there was none, and enhances the value of the skills and talents you have already. Being a worker over the age of 45, experience is your bread and butter. But think of CPD as jam, ham, and all the other things you can put in the middle to make something better. You become more interesting, more engaging, and more attractive to potential clients.
The investment you make will involve time and money and with constant change in business, and the way they work, it needs to be a continuous process. The assumption often is that because you are over the age of 55 you need to learn more because business and the way we work has changed so much because of technology. However, this isn't necessarily the case. People of all ages are needing to learn, unlearn and relearn skills - it is the nature of work today. It's changing so fast that even recent graduates are having to re-educate themselves. This means that in many ways you are in a better position than younger workers because of both your experience and ability to learn new things.
Any professional should invest into CPD but consultants in particular (established and new ones alike) trade their knowledge so need to be up to date. And there’s nothing that says that the process can’t be something you can have fun with. Informal and formal learning are all parts of CPD, and there is always a lesson around every corner.
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