for Freelancers and Home-Based Business Owners
By Sean Dunagan
When we think of technical
certification, most of us think of the seemingly endless jumble
of letters that follow the names of information technology experts—MCSE,
MCSA, A+, CCNA, etc. These certifications serve as standardized,
objective validations that the person holding them possesses a certain
set of skills and a certain level of professional competency.
In today’s increasingly
competitive business environment, however, certifications aren’t
just for “computer geeks.” There are now a number of
highly valuable certifications available in areas beyond information
technology. If you are a work-at-home parent or a freelance professional
in any field, investing the time and effort to get a non-technical
or semi-technical certification can reap tremendous benefits.
Why get certified? I
believe that there are three fundamental reasons for you to consider
adding a professional certification to your freelance portfolio.
First, just like the
classic IT certifications, holding a professional certification
demonstrates that you are competent. It’s one thing to state
on your resume, website or promotional materials that you know how
to use Microsoft Word, but it’s quite another to state that
you are a Microsoft-Certified Office Specialist in Word. The difference
is just one passable exam, but to a business considering who to
hire for a freelance word processing or data management project
the difference is significant.
That brings me to the
second advantage. As a freelancer (or the owner of an at-home business
services business), being certified always gives you a “leg
up” on the competition. This is particularly true if you are
fairly new to the freelance market and haven’t yet acquired
an impressive list of satisfied clients. Holding a certification
is a quick and reliable way of letting prospective clients know
that you are a professional.
in a relevant field can enable you to parlay entry-level freelance
jobs into more lucrative contracts. Data entry work, for instance,
is typically one of the most available freelance opportunities;
unfortunately, it is also usually the worst paying. Microsoft certification
in Access or as a database administrator can help a data entry freelancer
transition to a database design and management contract. Today,
there are professional certifications to facilitate such a business
development strategy for freelancers in virtually every field.
Here’s a look at
the best certifications for freelancers and work-at-home professionals.
The Computing Technology
Industry Association (CompTIA) offers the most widely-recognized
vendor neutral certifications in the world. As the name suggests,
most of their certifications are in the IT field; however, many
are valuable for freelancers of all stripes.
For general business
services, including any type of consulting service, CompTIA’s
Project+ is invaluable. Project+, as the company’s website
states, is “a global credential that validates the knowledge
required to effectively manage projects throughout the entire project
life cycle.” In addition to project management basics, the
exam includes skills such as conflict resolution, negotiation, and
team building. In short, holding Project+ certification demonstrates
that you know how to do what the typical MBA graduate has only learned
about. Yet, there is no academic requirement for the Project+, and
the exam, though rigorous, is definitely passable for those willing
to study. Sitting for the Project+ exam costs $207 USD, but you
can almost always find discount test vouchers online for about $150.
certification demonstrates a degree of proficiency in the concepts,
issues and technologies of IT-enabled business processes. Don’t
panic, though—you won’t have to memorize html code!
Rather, e-Biz+ demonstrates knowledge of e-commerce, e-marketing
and other issues related to maximizing the benefit of utilizing
technology in a business environment. This certification could be
highly valuable for freelancers and work-at-home professionals working
as business consultants, or for those with Internet-based businesses.
The retail exam fee for the e-Biz+ test is currently $225.
CompTIA also offers the
i-Net+ certification. This exam covers Internet basics, web development,
networking and security issues. Don’t let the word “networking”
scare you, though. This is a semi-technical certification that is
of far more value to e-commerce and marketing freelancers than to
network administrators. The i-Net+ exam currently costs $207.
You don’t need
to be a networking guru to benefit from the prestige and recognition
of official Microsoft certification. The company also offers universally-recognized
certification options for end users of the Office suite and Microsoft
Microsoft Office certification
is available at three levels. For certification as a Specialist,
you must pass an exam in Word, Excel, PowerPoint or Access. That’s
right—you’re just one test away from being Microsoft
The next level is Expert
certification. That requires the passage of a somewhat more rigorous
exam. Currently, the expert-level tests are only available for Word
To attain Master certification,
the candidate must pass a total of four exams: Word 2003 Expert,
Excel 2003 Expert, PowerPoint 2003 and either Access 2003 or Outlook
2003. That’s a lot of tests, but holding Microsoft Office
Master Certification can really set a freelancer apart in the eyes
of a prospective client. Test vouchers for each Microsoft exam can
be found online for approximately $70.
Like the rest of the
global business climate, the world of freelancing and self-employment
grows more competitive every day. Professional certification is
not a panacea that will guarantee success, but it can certainly
help you stay ahead of the competition and win new clients.
Sean Dunagan is the president of Pinnacle Associates (http://www.pinnacleassociates.50megs.com),
a web-based resource for freelancers and work-at-home professionals.