Empowering the Freelance Economy

Tired of playing it safe? Future-proof your business with the 70:20:10 risk reward rule

Photo by Jordan Benton
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Ready to break free from the “feast or famine” cycle and unlock your full potential? Then you may want to embrace more calculated risk-taking with the 70:20:10 rule.

This proven learning and development model isn’t just for corporates; it can be a game-changer for freelancers who want to future-proof their business.

Imagine stepping outside your comfort zone, confidently tackling new challenges, and turning every “failure” into a stepping stone toward success. That’s the magic of the 70:20:10 rule. It’s not about reckless gambling; it’s about strategically investing in your skills, knowledge, and network to build a thriving freelance business that stands the test of time.

In this article, we’ll dive into how the 70:20:10 rule can revitalise your business. We’ll explore real-world examples, research-backed insights, and actionable tips to help you embrace risk, learn from your mistakes, and create a freelance career that’s both exciting and sustainable.

Understanding the 70:20:10 rule

Originating in the corporate world, the 70:20:10 rule suggests that learning and development occur through three distinct avenues:

70% On-the-Job Experiences: This involves learning by doing, tackling real projects, and facing challenges head-on. For freelancers, this translates to taking on diverse clients, experimenting with different project types, and expanding their skills through hands-on work.

20% Learning from Others: This includes seeking mentorship, collaborating with peers, networking within the industry, and attending workshops or conferences. Freelancers can leverage online communities, co-working spaces, and professional networks to connect with others and learn from their experiences.

10% Formal Training: This refers to structured learning programmes such as courses, certifications, or degrees. Freelancers can invest in upskilling or reskilling to stay competitive in their field or explore new areas of interest.

Research supporting the 70:20:10 rule

Studies have found that on-the-job experiences were the most significant contributor to employee development, followed by interactions with others and formal training. This research aligns with the 70:20:10 model, emphasising the importance of experiential learning. Microsoft’s Staff and Training practices include the principle as well.

Another study by the Center for Creative Leadership revealed that the most effective leaders learn from a variety of sources, including on-the-job experiences, relationships, and formal training. This reinforces the notion that a balanced approach to learning is crucial for personal and professional growth.

Implementing the 70:20:10 rule as a freelancer

  • Embrace challenges: Don’t shy away from projects that push your boundaries. Each new challenge is an opportunity to learn and grow.
  • Seek mentorship: Find experienced freelancers or professionals in your field who can offer guidance and support.
  • Network actively: Build relationships with other freelancers, attend industry events, and participate in online communities.
  • Invest in learning: Dedicate time and resources to formal training that aligns with your career goals.
  • Reflect on mistakes: Analyse your setbacks and identify areas for improvement. Every mistake is a learning opportunity.

Here’s an example of how freelancers can use the 70:20:10 rule

Let’s take the example of a freelance graphic designer who uses the 70:20:10 rule to accelerate their career. They spend 70% of their time working on diverse projects for clients, ranging from small businesses to large corporations. They dedicate 20% of their time to networking with other designers, attending design conferences, and participating in online forums. For the remaining 10%, they should take online courses on new design software and trends. By embracing this balanced approach, they expand their skill set, build a strong network, and establish themself as a sought-after designer.

If they were to apply the 70:20:10 rule to a 40-hour work week, it could look something like this:

  • 28 hours: Experiential learning (on-the-job tasks, projects, problem-solving)
  • 8 hours: Social learning (working with mentors coaches and fellow freelancers)
  • 4 hours: Formal learning (online courses, workshops, conferences)

It’s important to remember that these are just rough estimates, and the actual distribution of your learning time will vary depending on your role, goals, and learning preferences. You could dedicate a single day each week (i.e. Wednesdays) to networking and half a day to a course or learning a new skill. Or dedicate time each day to networking in some way, the same for skilling up.

Practical framework

The 70:20:10 rule provides a practical framework for freelancers to manage their learning and development. By embracing a balanced approach to growth, freelancers can navigate the uncertainties of the freelance world, continuously improve their skills, and achieve long-term success.

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