Instructional design, sometimes called instructional system design (ISD), involves:

  • Creating learning materials for different workplaces.
  • Planning how they’re used.
  • Measuring how well they work. 

It’s a vital career role that plays a big part in how businesses train and develop their staff. It’s also a solid choice for freelance work if you know how to go about it. 

In this guide, we’ll share everything you need to know to become a freelance instructional designer. First, we’ll cover industry-specific things, like:

  • What do instructional designers do?
  • Instructional design theory.
  • Instructional design eLearning technology. 

Then, we’ll cover broader knowledge that every freelancer needs to know, such as:

  • How to register your business. 
  • How to promote your business.
  • How to manage your finances. 

What do instructional designers do?

As we briefly mentioned up top, instructional designers are hired by businesses to create learning programmes for their employees. 

It’s similar to the way in which a teacher might create curriculums for their classes. The main difference is that instructional designers only create the learning experience. They normally won’t deliver the material themselves. 

There are many different theories and approaches to instructional design, but most processes follow the same three basic steps; analysis, design and development, and evaluation. 

Instructional design theory

By nature, instructional design draws on research from many areas, including visual design, educational psychology, education, neuroscience, user experience design. 

Most of the methods you use to develop your training programmes include the three basic steps we mentioned earlier. Still, you’ll need to understand more specific theories and use them as a basis for your methods. 

A basic understanding of some behavioural psychology, like Behaviorism and Cognitive Information Processing, is expected. But you should also do your own research to determine what specialised theories you find are the most effective. Some of the best-regarded ones are:

Knowing and using some combination of these theories, and giving reasons for doing so, will make you a better instructional designer and give you a selling point when you pitch your business to potential clients. 

If you have experience with instructional design, you’re probably familiar with a few of these theories already. 

But if you’re newer to the field, it can seem like a lot of information to get your head around. Start with the ADDIE model, as it’s still the most commonly used. After that, research your competitors to determine what methods they use and their reasons for doing so. 

Instructional design eLearning technology

It’s pretty much expected that instructional designers have experience with eLearning. A lot of the material you design and develop will be for online learning, so it’s a crucial skillset if you want to compete. 

To create engaging eLearning programmes, you need to get familiar with some form of authoring software, a tool that lets you create multimedia applications. 

Some popular choices for authoring tools are:

  • Articulate Storyline.
  • Articulate Rise 360.
  • Adobe Captivate.
  • Gomo.
  • Lectora.
  • Adapt.
  • DominKnow.
  • Easygenerator.
  • iSpring Suite.
  • Camtasia.

How to register your business

When starting your own business, you need to register with HMRC so you can pay taxes. 

Sole traders

If you choose to set up as a sole trader, you’ll need to register as self-employed. Sole traders pay income tax that changes depending on how much income they earn. 

When you register as a sole trader, you’ll get a Unique Tax Reference (UTR), which you’ll need when submitting your self-assessment tax return.

Limited companies

If you set up a limited company, you’ll need to register with HMRC as an employer, not self-employed, because you’ll be a business owner and an employee.

Next, you’ll need to sign up to PAYE (pay as you earn) if you want to pay yourself a salary. 

Limited companies pay corporation tax on all their taxable income. It’s a flat rate of 19%, so it can be more forgiving as your earnings increase. 

The main downside of a limited company is the extra admin. You’ll need to prepare company records and report them to both HMRC and Companies House. After that, the records are publicly accessible, so the public can see all of your company information and financial activity. 

On the plus side, limited companies grant you limited liability for debts, so you won’t have to use your own money to pay any of the company’s debts if it goes bust. 

How to promote your business

Finding clients is the key to running a successful business, and the best way to do that is with a solid marketing strategy. 

Business website

Your business website should include contact information, services, products, prices, and an “about me” page. There are loads of website builders that are cheap and easy to use, and there are some basic strategies you can use to improve your website’s search engine rankings, including:

Social media

Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube are all thriving networks full of potential customers. 

Here are some general rules for marketing your business on social media:

  • Follow other industry leaders and engage with their content. 
  • Post content often and regularly. 
  • Post interesting content, not just promotional messages for your business.
  • Engage with users by replying to comments, taking polls, making quizzes, and running competitions. 
  • Switch up between written posts, videos, and photos. 
  • Link back to your business website in your posts. 

Email marketing

With email marketing, you can send newsletters and promotional material directly to your followers’ inboxes, so you don’t need to rely on them finding it on their own. 

The most difficult part of email marketing is signing people up to your mailing list, so check out our article, “How to build an email list for a startup”.

How to manage your finances

Accurate bookkeeping is the basis of all good financial management, but it can be stressful and time-consuming when you’re self-employed. That’s why thousands of business owners use the Countingup app to make their financial admin easier. 

Countingup is the business current account with built-in accounting software that allows you to manage all your financial data in one place. With features like automatic expense categorisation, invoicing on the go, receipt capture tools, tax estimates, and cash flow insights, you can confidently keep on top of your business finances wherever you are. 

You can also share your bookkeeping with your accountant instantly without worrying about duplication errors, data lags or inaccuracies. Seamless, simple, and straightforward! 

Find out more here.