How What You Don’t Know Can Help Your Freelancing Business

confusedSo, you’re pretty good at what you do. You’ve been doing it for a while and most projects seem to flow pretty smoothly. Then BAM! It happens.

You’re faced with a task or a subject or an app that you’ve never heard of before. Panic-time, right?

Everyone knows that it’s important to be knowledgeable in your field. Generally speaking, the more knowledge that you have mastered the more that you have to offer to your client.

But, did you know that what you don’t know can also benefit your freelancing business? It seems counter-intuitive, but it’s true. If you approach what you don’t know with the right attitude, it can provide new opportunities for you and for your freelancing business.

In this post, we’ll discuss five surprising ways to leverage what you don’t know to the advantage of your business.

1. A Learning Opportunity

What you don’t know provides you with a chance to learn and grow your skills. When you encounter something unfamiliar, whether it is an unfamiliar subject or a new app, tackle it head on. Read everything that you can find about it. Take time to process what you read.

If you think you will need this knowledge frequently, buy a book or invest in a class. Even if you can’t bill for the time that you spend learning, your business will benefit in the long run.

2. A Networking Opportunity

Okay, so you don’t have time to learn a new skill. You’re absolutely swamped with work. Besides, you don’t think that you’ll use this new information very often.

Even if you decide not to master the unknown, your freelancing business can still benefit from the way that you approach the unfamiliar. Find a colleague, or even someone outside of your field, who is an expert in the part of your project that you don’t understand. You may be able to subcontract out that piece of the project to them, and in the process gain a valuable addition to your professional network.

3. An Opportunity for Improvement

If you find that you are frequently faced with things that you don’t understand it may be time to re-evaluate your business. What are your strengths and what are your weaknesses? What skills are you lacking, and more importantly, how can you get them?

Take this opportunity to revamp and revitalize both your business and your skill set.

4. An Opportunity to Share

If you took the time to learn and mastered what you didn’t know, you now have a new opportunity. You have the opportunity to share what you just learned.

Chances are that you’re not the only freelancer in your industry who has faced this challenge. Through sharing and the dialog that goes along with sharing, you’ll learn even more.

If you have a blog, you can post about the problem and how you solved it. Even if you don’t have a blog, you can create an article and submit it to a professional site. Or, you could start a thread about the topic in a professional forum. Sharing your knowledge can help build your reputation in your specialty.

5. An Opportunity to Shine

How you approach a difficult challenge and your attitude as you face it is your opportunity to shine.

Are you open and willing to learn new things? Or, are you stuck in rut and closed to new ways of doing things?

You’ll really stand out to your clients as someone who is adaptable and competent if you go the extra mile and master the special skills and extra knowledge that is needed for their project. Your attitude will set you apart from other freelancers.

Another Plus to What You Don’t Know

If you’re open to exploring unfamiliar topics, it’s less likely that trends will pass you by. Maybe you’ll even be able to get in on the ground floor of an emerging technology. Tomorrow’s standards are being created today.

What Do You Think?

Have you ever faced a difficult or unfamiliar challenge in a project? What did you do?

Share your experiences in the comments.

Image by carbonnyc


  1. says

    I have never once had a project where I understood everything needed to do the project at the outset. Flash, Flex, asp, php, css, etc., are just too massive for any one person to know everything about every project that could potentially come along. So I read constantly to make sure I at least know where to look things up.

    I’d disagree that classes and books are worth investing in, because if it’s basic enough that someone who is willing to work in an academic setting can teach it to you, it’s probably available for free on the web, and most technical authors who are not purveying the basic type of information that is, again, available for free are so advanced in their field that they’re going to leave out critical steps that you’ll need to either figure out or fill in through web research.

    The exception is books that are constantly referred to by the best bloggers (for example AS3 Design Patterns).

  2. says

    Nice article, I can’t do anything else than agree. I love doing jobs I know are difficult and full of new challenges. I just make the best of it by reading documentation, visit forums, etc, and gain a lot of new knowledge this way.

  3. says

    I agree, especially with 5. How can you shine if there’s no crisis? It’s best to stay thinking as a newbie and keep learning. Sometimes the world is pretty counter-intuitive.

  4. says

    Thanks to everyone for sharing their perspective.

    Amy Blankenship–While I agree that there’s a lot of good information available online, I think there’s also a lot of misinformation and incomplete information. It can take quite a while to sort through it all–which is fine if you have the time. :-) However, taking a class or reading a book can be a great way to hone in on what you need to know.

  5. says

    Unfurtunately, educators and authors are not immune from providing misinformation or incomplete information. All _anyone_ is capable of presenting is their best understanding on the day, which is almost never complete or accurate. When you throw into the equation that very few authors or even educators have much knowledge of instructional design, then you have to ask if they can even convey whatever understanding it is that they have.

    I recently attended some hands-on workshops on the different Flex Frameworks, and I learned a little at one of them, because someone with in-depth knowledge was able to step in and answer questions the presenter didn’t understand enough to answer. In the other, I am confident the presenter knew exactly what he was talking about, but he was unable to convey his understanding in any way that was meaningful to me. Luckily, these were both free add-ons to a conference.

    At the same conference, I won a book as a “door prize”. When I leafed through it, I saw several things that were misleading, inaccurate, or incomplete.

    If you’re going to go the route of paying someone to sort through information for you, you should at least ask others who are at the level of knowledge you’re aspiring to what resources they aspire to. The bad part, when you’re first starting out, is that you don’t know how to tell the good information from the bad, regardless of the source, and bad information can be more costly than no information.

  6. says

    I love a good challenge, even tho initially I may balk at it and hide under the bed in fear. But, after researching and figuring it out, I feel so much stronger and smarter; it’s a huge confidence booster, and like you said, just one more feature/skill I can offer future clients.

  7. says

    I’ve been somewhat planning to write about this and i know by experience that
    what you don’t know can help you.
    When i try to learn something new because of necessity, I always stumble upon
    some things I should learn!

  8. says

    There’s yet another lemons-to-lemonade aspect of not knowing everything: you have a chance to be open and honest with your client. There have been several times that I’ve told a client, in response to a request, “I’m sorry, but I don’t know how to do that, and I don’t think I can learn it quickly enough to meet your target.” In every case, the clients have thanked me for being upfront about those limitations, and in some cases, have changed the requirements of the project. (I always try to identify and offer alternatives in such cases.)

    Several have remarked that such honesty stands in stark contrast to other freelancers who said they could do the job and then didn’t or couldn’t follow through.

    Of course, it’s almost always better to add new skills, but that’s just not always practical, especially when there’s a tight deadline. Learning how to recognize that situation and communicate successfully with the client about it is an important skill in itself.

  9. says

    Great feedback everyone!

    Eric–I really love your suggestion. Honesty is always the best policy. It is sad when clients view it as the exception rather than the rule.

  10. Oliver says

    lovely article :)

    give me more energy ( new way ) because I am a new freelancer, enterpreneur minded and find the positive signs…

    I liked Erik’s comment too.


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