The Freelancer’s Guide to Back-to-School Shopping + TMNT Giveaway!

Welcome social media followers, readers, friends, and family! Before I dive into the freelance shopping guide, let’s get this giveaway business out of the way first.

I’ve partnered with the kind folks over at TV Store Online to give away a brand-new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles backpack to one of my lucky readers! All you need to do to complete at least one of the entry methods described below in the Rafflecopter app by September 22, 2015 at 12am EDT!

Yes, my friends, you can be sporting this super cool pack the next time you head over to Starbucks:


Hero in a half shell? I think so!

Enter to Win Here!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Now, what are you waiting for? Get those entries in and spread the word!

The Freelancer’s Back-to-School Guide

I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t it a bit late to write a back-to-school post? After all, most schools are already back in session, which means all the school supplies are super picked over and you’ll be stuck with the off-brand crayons (I’m looking at you, RoseArt).

And while it would be a bit late to post something about K-12 education or even higher ed, I’m not actually talking about that kind of school at all. In fact, I’m referring to the kind of school freelance professionals can access at any time of year (or time of day) that allows them to learn new things, broaden their abilities, and all-around enhance their skill sets. I’m talking about online school and training programs designed with businesspeople in mind.

In this case, I could’ve written a back-to-school post in February and it would’ve still been just as timely. But I digress.

Today I’m offering up a quick-start guide to shopping for online training as it applies to freelancers. And while you might not need a Trapper Keeper, you’re still going to need to stock up on a few supplies if you want your educational experience to be a success.

I legit owned the one of the left. Not even kidding.

I legit owned the one of the left. Not even kidding. Image credit:

I’ve broken down what you need into a few broad categories so you can keep your shopping list organized.

Hardware, Software & Peripherals

Your first order of business is to make sure you have a computer that can live up to what’s required of it by the course you want to take. If you need particular software to complete the course, you need to buy it. What’s the point of taking a course about how to use Pixelmator if you don’t have the program, right?

So check the course requirements and the requirements of the any software you need and see if they match up with your current hardware. If they don’t you may need to make an upgrade before you take your first lesson. Be sure to purchase any peripherals you might need, too, like a stylus for drawing, a mouse, backup storage, or web hosting.

Online Training & Courses

You can get a lot of training for free online. It’s kind of the great equalizer. However, there are many higher level courses that do have required fees. Often, a good way to approach it is to sign up for a membership with a larger education site that offers training in many areas for a flat monthly fee.

Lynda: This site has been around a long time and you can learn new skills in a multitude of areas from design to business to education. A subscription gets you access to all the tutorials starting at $20/month.

Team Treehouse: Learn all about coding, web design, and other tech subjects as experts walk you through everything you need to do step-by-step in instructional videos. Pricing starts at $25/month.

Udacity: Earn nano degrees in a variety of tech subjects in courses built by the likes of Google, Facebook, and AT&T. Learn to be an app developer, web developer, programmer, and more. Tuition is pricey, however, at $200/month.

Udemy: Take a course in just about any subject that can enhance your professional life from Python to Excel to SEO. Pricing for each course varies.

Copyblogger: Online writing and marketing training at its finest. You can get a fair amount of instructional ebooks here for free but the real meaty stuff is behind a paywall.

Of course, there are a few free options available as well:

Don’t Fear the Internet: Walks you through how to build a basic WordPress site in such a way so as to not make you want to smash your face into anything. You pick up new skills and put minimal strain on your brain. Nice!

Codecademy: I can’t say enough nice things about this site. You start out by making a basic website and build up new skills after that like Rails, Ruby on Rails, PHP Python, and more.

Note-Taking Apps & Implements

Once you get started in your training, it’s important to have the right tools on hand for taking notes. I like to use a combination of note-taking apps and implements when learning new things. Typing and writing by hand use different parts of the brain so I find committing things I really want to remember to memory work better when jotted down at least twice. Here are a few of my favorites:

Evernote: What’s not to love? It syncs across all my devices and allows me to take notes anywhere. I can organize all my notes into separate Notebooks. For instance, I have a Notebook for each of my clients, this website, and for various other personal projects and this could easily be adapted for use with coursework. I can then create individual notes to be placed in these Notebooks. I can tag them, add checklists, attach images and files. It’s my go-to note-taker.

StudyBlue: This nifty tool offers a convenient way to create flashcards and quizzes from your coursework. You can even browse the flashcards other people have created to see if someone else taking your course has done the same thing. A useful, quick way to better organize your notes.

Field Notes: I’m a sucker for pen and paper. Yes, even for online courses. That’s why I find it helpful to always keep a few Field Notes memo books on hand. They’re small, so can fit in your pocket or purse, and offer 48-pages to manage your notes–the perfect length for one class.

Pencils or Pens: If you plan on taking notes by hand, you’ll need some good pens or pencils for those quick jotting sessions. I don’t really have any recommendations here except to use a good ol’ No.2 and some smooth-gliding gel pens. Nothing that skips or streaks.

Scheduling Apps & Planners

Just like anything with freelancing, schedules are everything. So when you have courses to complete, it’s important you stay on top of your deadlines–even if self-imposed.

Trello: I talk about Trello a lot but that’s just because I love it so much. You can easily use this service to create boards for each of your courses. Then you can add columns of cards for different aspects of the course like Current Assignments, Work in Progress, Submitted, or Graded. And you can add due dates and checklists to everything. I have the mobile app on my tablet and phone, too so my schedule goes with me everywhere.

KanbanFlow: A powerful project management app that makes visually seeing your progress on a project a snap. It includes Pomodoro support for on-the-spot time tracking, and you can color code everything by importance.

My Study Life: This app makes it easy to set up a schedule for your coursework and never forget anything you need to do ever again. It works on all devices and allows you to setup schedules and timetables that reoccur automatically. You can also create task to-do lists, reminders, and cross-platform sync. Best of all? It’s free.

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Brenda Stokes Barron is a freelance writer and blogger for hire. When she's not hunched over her laptop, she's spending time with her family and two crazy cats. Keep up with her antics (which often include trips to Starbucks) on all the usual social network places.

I sent you an email and said I would take the large but no respond ?


I keep a notebook...dated daily...and make notes as I go!


I keep track of everything in my phone !!


I put everything down on a calendar.


Thanks for the chance!  Great giveaway.