It’s 2021, and entrepreneurship is growing at a staggering rate.
That’s because the freelance economy is booming. 35% of Americans today are freelancing, and it’s predicted that up to 50% of the workforce will be freelancing in some shape or form within the next couple of years.
Seeing that freelance is becoming such a critical and exciting part of our economy, it’s a wonder there isn’t more education and resources available in traditional universities for aspiring freelancers.
This is what Craig and Kelly Cannings found when they first began freelancing in 2003. And they decided to change that by creating Freelance University – an online university that teaches all things freelancing.
But can FreeU really take newbie freelancers and turn them into successful entrepreneurs in the online business space? We were fortunate enough to take an in-depth tour of the university to find out.
If you’re an aspiring freelancer, this Freelance University Review will reveal what you can expect from the platform and help you decide if it’s worth the tuition.
Introduction to Freelance University
Freelance University, aka FreeU, was co-founded by Craig and Kelly Cannings in 2008. Then known as VAClassroom, the Cannings wanted to create an all-encompassing resource for freelancers and virtual assistants, since there was next to no training available when they got started in 2003.
Since then, FreeU has helped over 14,000 students with their freelance careers in social media marketing, online management, content development, graphic design, podcast production, and more.
- It’s a one-stop shop to start a successful freelance business from scratch
- 8 mentors to help you along in your journey to becoming a successful freelancer
- The University is continually updated with new training material
- Live trainings include in-depth skills workshops
- Access to over 70 courses and trainings that teach you both in-demand skills and the ins and outs of running an online business
- Some courses offer certification in digital marketing, project management, podcast production, and more
- Access to a supportive community of fellow freelancers and mentors
- Opportunity to submit your profile to the Freelance directory so that clients can find you
- A 15-day money-back guarantee makes it a risk-free investment as you get a chance to explore the trainings to make sure it’s right for you
- Downloadable PDFs handouts are professional-looking and students can digitally take notes with them using Adobe Reader or Google Slides
- Might be overwhelming for those who aren’t sure what they want to specialize in
- Enrollment is only open a few times a year
- Some courses don’t go as in-depth as they could – For example the WordPress course covers the fundamentals but there's no training for the more advanced functions (That said, they continue to add material and this will likely change: FreeU does intend to roll out advanced courses in WordPress and Website Management.)
- Search bar function is not the greatest
Similar to a traditional university, FreeU is only open for enrollment at select times of the year. They currently accept new students every January, May, and September. However, one of their courses, 30 Days to Freelance Freedom, is available year-round for students who are eager to get started in freelance.
Prospective students are also encouraged to join the waitlist before the university opens so they can benefit from the free tips and trainings that subscribers get access to.
Logging into the FreeU dashboard for the first time might be an overwhelming moment for some. There are three different sections chock-full of training tracks, and each of those contain several comprehensive courses. In total, I counted over 70 courses. Some of these are longer certification programs while others are shorter workshops or labs that can be done in an afternoon.
Fortunately, FreeU offers an orientation course that comes with a checklist, a virtual tour of the university, and a course catalog. There are also general freelancing courses in “Freelance Foundations” and “Client Training” that are meant to help you build a strong foundation for your business. Everything from choosing your business plan to establishing the mindset for success is covered in foundations.
Who is FreeU for?
FreeU is for those who are looking to become their own boss and live the flexible lifestyle of freelancer. It’s especially ideal for those who know they want to offer a freelance service of some kind but lack the necessary skills or business know-how to get started.
Whether you want to be a general virtual assistant or specialize in services like graphic design, there’s a number of training tracks to choose from that will effectively kickstart your freelance career.
It’s particularly ideal for stay-at-home moms who would like to learn how to bring in some extra income; the self-paced courses and short, easily-digestible lessons allow moms to work on their business whenever they have a few minutes.
Who isn’t it for?
It isn’t for anyone who is looking to sell physical products or not interested in starting a service-based business.
It might also be a bad idea for those who are prone to “shiny object syndrome” with so many training tracks, courses, and resources available all at once, those who aren’t focused enough could get lost in the learning phase of being a freelancer and not actually take action.
Lastly, if you already know what kind of freelancing you want to specialize in and it is highly skill-specific – for example, bookkeeping – then FreeU might not be the best choice you. (Bookkeeper Launch is a highly comprehensive course that we recommend for this niche.)
Freelance University Courses
Probably the most impressive thing about FreeU is the plethora of training tracks and comprehensive courses within the platform. Those who are totally new to freelance will appreciate the courses found in Freelance Foundations and Client Training. These are general freelance training which teach you everything from how to run an online business to how to find and land clients.
Once you are ready to learn specific skills there are many training tracks to choose from:
- Social Media – Includes certification for social media management, social media ads, Facebook Messenger Marketing, and more.
- Internet Marketing – Learn all about online marketing with videos, product launches, books, free offers, and others.
- Content Creation & Management – This robust training track includes scores of courses that include copywriting fundamentals, creating online sales pages, repurposing online content, and writing engaging blog posts.
- Graphic Design – Includes courses in graphic design foundations, intermediate graphics design, and Canva for Work
- Online Business Management – Learn how to build a virtual team, manage projects, and more in FreeU’s OBM track.
- Technology Support – Master web tools like Asana, MailChimp, LeadPages, GSuite, Convertkit, and many more.
- Digital Media and Events – Learn how to coordinate online events like virtual summits, or podcast productions.
- Web Design and Development – Get savvy with Squarespace, WordPress, WooCommerce, or OptimizePress with these web development courses.
Each of these training tracks contains several courses to help students really drill down on a specialization.
You can always view the entire course catalog, which is updated every January, May, and September. (Which coincides with when the University is open for enrollment.) One thing I love about the catalog is that there is a link under the title of each course that goes to the home page of that particular course. Obviously, you can't see the course material if you haven't joined FreeU, but you can see the syllabus of the course allowing you to see how detailed (or not) that particular course is.
You can scroll through the dashboard to select a training track or group of courses. There is also a search bar in the top right corner, but unless you use exact wording you may have a hard time finding what you’re looking for.
For example, if you are looking for courses pertaining to online business management, you won’t be able to find what you’re looking for by searching “obm” or even “online business manager”. You are more likely to find the course you need by scrolling through the sections and clicking through.
Once you’ve chosen a training track and a course, you can read an overview of what the course entails, as well as an outline of the course curriculum and course reviews from other students who have taken the course.
Each course contains several modules and lessons within each module. Most lessons are videos with slides and usually 10-15 minutes long, with the occasional lesson being 30+ minutes.
How long it takes you to get through a course depends on the program. Certification programs take the longest, and contain roughly 15-20 hours of video, while app labs, workshops, and mini courses can be completed in an afternoon.
It’s very easy to follow along once you’ve chosen a course, you get a worksheet at the beginning of each module and can follow along and take notes as you work through each lesson. At the end of each module there are usually action steps included.
Craig Cannings teachers most of the courses, but there are currently 5 other trainers who offer training on the platform as well.
Freelance University Resources
FreeU doesn’t just begin and end with its courses. There are also a myriad of student resources that can help support students in their freelance pursuits. There are almost too many to list!
FreeU offers monthly skills workshops that are 90 minutes long. The skills workshops are designed to address topics that are based on the feedback from students and clients. All live trainings are available to watch on replay within the university’s training archives. To date, there’s an impressive assortment of video trainings which take a deep dive into valuable skills. Some examples of the video trainings you’ll find here are:
- Master G Suite
- Creating Effective Systems
- Onboarding Clients with Excellence
- Facebook Community Management
- Mastering Active Campaign
- Online Video Marketing 101
- Productivity Power
Each skills workshop comes with a downloadable PDF worksheet.
In addition to the skill workshops, FeeU also hosts “Facebook Fridays” which are typically a 30-40 minute live by Craig that offers some tips on a specific topic, like how to create a content calendar or how to raise your rates. You’ll also find all the replays from the Virtual Office Hours here.
Practical Software Training Tutorials
The “App Lab” contains detailed courses on how to use common web tools like Buffer, Canva, Toggl, Trello, Slack, and more.
Students can access over 80+ useful resources including checklists, tool kits, PDF guides, spreadsheets, and templates. Resources are grouped by training track and include content, internet marketing, business management, online event management, and social media.
Software Practice Area
Referred to as the “Student Sandbox & Discount Centre”, students can access tools like Adobe, Canva for Work, and Convertkit to hone their skills.
Student Success Interviews
The Cannings have compiled a variety of interviews with past students of the University who have become successful freelancers.
Students can create a profile on Freelance University’s directory, gaining visibility to prospective clients.
The Learning Curve
Included in the resources section is an archive of FreeU’s monthly newsletter, The Learning Curve. These emails include an article of the month, tool of the month, some helpful tips and links, and an event calendar.
In addition to the above resources, students are able to gain access to 1-on-1 mentorship for an additional fee. If students need help with getting a website started, there are discounted packages available only to FreeU students, with “done-for-you” and “done-with-you” options.
Students can pay an additional fee for one-on-one mentorship if they need extra help.
FreeU offers virtual office hours in the form of monthly live Q&A webinars.
Students also gain access to FreeU’s exclusive Facebook community where students can find excellent training for high-demand skills. There are 8 expert mentors on staff to respond to comments and questions about Freelance U. It’s a place where newbie and veteren freelancers alike get the support they need to build a successful business.
Past students have proclaimed that they “came for the training but stayed for the community”, and it’s apparent that the Facebook group is a great source of pride for the Cannings.
Educational Qualifications & Skills Required
Freelance U is unique from other courses we review because it caters to a wide variety of freelancers. No matter what your skills or interests are, there’s something for almost everyone. However, there are some common traits that every freelancer needs:
- Focused: With so many trainings available, FreeU students need to be focused on their goals to keep moving forward
- Action-taking: You need to be serious about succeeding and willing to take action towards your goals
- Willing to learn new things: There is an incredible wealth of knowledge on this platform, but in order to make use of it you must be willing to learn new things.
Freelance U Pricing
The university currently offers 2 payment plans for tuition:
- Monthly payment of $67 USD – This plan is month-to-month and the student can cancel at any time.
- 1 annual payment of $597 USD – This option is the best value for students as it works out to 3 months of free access when compared to the monthly plan
It is worth checking their site periodically as they sometimes slash the price.
FreeU also offers a 15-day money-back guarantee. This gives students a chance to look through the material offered in the various certifications. If they feel it is not going to meet their needs, they are welcome to email support for a refund.
It’s clear that Craig and Kelly Cannings have a vision for Freelance University and are committed to helping the next generation of freelancers thrive.
FreeU is truly a university for freelancers. Honestly, the sheer volume of resources alone makes it worth the price of admission. It’s also well worth the tuition for the business-building and marketing aspects.
But the wealth of knowledge that is available through the various training tracks is mind-blowing, especially when you consider that the annual tuition is half the cost of other courses out there that aren’t nearly as robust.
If you want to specialize in something specific, some of the trainings within FreeU may be a little basic. Depending on the specialization, there may be better training options elsewhere for some topics.
But anyone who wants to make money as a freelancer and needs a place to start will find what they need here, and then some.
Are you interested in learning more about Freelance University?
Have any questions about our Freelance University Review? Ask away in the comments below – even if we don’t know the answer we’re happy to find out for you!