Skilling up with little to no budget

So you really feel drawn to the creative boss life, and you know your mind is wired creatively but your current situation just doesn’t allow you to drop everything and go get a degree in graphic design/photography or whatever it might be that inspires you.

I was there too, when I was studying Publishing I realised that I was definitely more interested in the few design modules we had than anything else, but I wasn’t studying Graphic Design (yet) but really wanted to up my skills. Being a student then I barely had a budget for anything more than the basics, so investing in graphic design skills wasn’t an option. Eventually I did get a degree in Graphic Design but my final year of Publishing was actually the year I would say I developed most of my skills, and my degree only furthered them and assisted with the conceptual side of things more than the technical side. And even after my degree I’ve continued to use free methods of upping my skills in other fields like website development, photography and motion graphics.

So to get to the point, I thought I would share with you 5 free ways you can start upping your skills in whatever field you’re interested in.

1. Take advantage of information being one Google search away

Seriously don’t underestimate the power of Google, I recently started to dip my toes in Adobe After Effects, and anything I know about it now is thanks to the initial Google Search “After Effects for beginners tutorials” after which I decided on a personal project like making an animated invitation to an event and then Youtube tutorialed (it’s a verb now) every little thing I wanted to do. And yes it was totally free.

Aside from the tutorial route, don’t underestimate the lessons you’ll learn from free webinars, workshops etc. you barely have to scroll twice on Instagram before seeing a free masterclass advertisement.

2. Create opportunities that force you to learn

Don’t expect yourself to be a pro off the bat, decide on what your goal is (for instance, designing corporate identities for clients) and then make it happen. Six years ago when I started dabbling in design I nominated myself to design a logo for my sister and her now husband’s side business, charging them almost nothing, because what I wanted to gain from that was experience. You can do the same, nominate yourself to design low risk things like event invitations for friends, or designs for a non-profit organisation or make up your own conceptual project and keep at it until you’re happy with the results.

3. Trial and error

I recently decided I wanted to make DIY style videos, you know those Tasty Recipe kind of videos for Social Media. So I honestly Googled a million ways of stabilising my camera to capture the DIY from an overhead view. I ended up using a makeshift tripod along with my actual tripod, set up the video session, and tried it out (I sincerely apologise for all the videographers out there cringing right now). No it wasn’t perfect, yes there’s room for improvement, but yes I learnt A LOT, and next time it will be better. If you wait until everything is perfect you’re never going to learn, rather start imperfectly and keep going until you’ve reached your goal.

4. Phone/Voice Note a friend

I’ve received voice notes asking me how to do something in Illustrator and I happily obliged, because I was there too! You are in an amazing creative industry with loads of experts in their field, you’re probably friends with a few of them … so don’t hesitate to ask someone’s advice when you’re busy developing new skills.

5. Intern or get a mentor

This is something that made a HUGE difference to me. In my final year of Publishing I started interning at a design studio up until the final year of my Graphic Design degree (four years of interning in-between classes and over holidays in total). This is where I learnt the most, yes initially I received low risk projects to assist them with but I also had someone who constantly gave feedback on my designs (similar to a lecturer). Secondly I also learnt a lot about how things should be done, how meetings should be held, how styled shoots work, how to present a concept to a client, how the printing process works etc.. In my last year of working there I ended up receiving entire projects as my responsibility, and being the one helping out new interns. This is definitely where I learnt the most, to this day I occasionally send screenshots to my (then) mentor and ask her opinion on a design I’ve done.

I’ve revealed a lot in this post about my somewhat shaky start six years ago (feeling a little vulnerable …) but I hope that this helps you if you are where I was once, and I’d like to give you permission that it’s okay to be new at something and to still be learning. Everyone started somewhere, and starting imperfectly is better than not starting at all.


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My name is Marike,

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