How to Invest in Yourself Without Spending a Dime

No matter where you are financially, it always pays to invest in yourself. Here are some ways to invest in yourself, while spending nothing but time.
Standing on a mountain A man standing on a cliff, overlooking a mountain range.

Are you feeling stuck in your current job or finding yourself between jobs? Do you know you could get that raise or land that promotion if you could just do x, y, or z better? Do you find yourself yearning for a more fulfilling life, or greater earning potential?

There are a lot of ways to invest in your personal and professional growth without spending a dime. By taking some time to define what you want, and getting organized about how to get there, you can reap the rewards of a more satisfying career, and often a bigger paycheck, too.

Here are some tips to help you define your goals, see the opportunities around you, and invest in yourself to create the life you want—that’ll cost you nothing but time.

Update your online presence

While some people use LinkedIn to engage with their professional networks on a regular basis, many of us only log in during periods of transition: Like when you graduate from college, are looking to make a job change, or have recently been laid off.

One easy way to invest in your personal and professional brand is to dedicate some time to really honing in on how you want to present yourself online. What do you want people to know about you from looking at your LinkedIn profile? Do you want to showcase your analytical abilities, succinct writing style, or creative chops?

What skills do you need to highlight specifically for the jobs you’re applying for?

Before you start editing your profile, take some time to jot down some adjectives that you want people to use to describe you after viewing it. Think beyond the basics like ‘passionate’ or ‘team player’. What really makes you you?

Take personality assessments to learn more about you

If you’re struggling to come with good answers to that question, you aren’t alone. One thing that tends to be missing from our grade-school curricula is self-reflection: Understanding how we think, and how that shapes the ways in which we relate to others.

We’re not talking about Buzzfeed quizzes like ‘Which Game of Thrones character are you?’ here—although you might learn something from taking one of those. We’re talking more about personality assessments used by psychologists, business schools, and tech companies to help people understand how to manage themselves—and interpersonal relationships—better.

While every quiz result might not ring true, you’ll likely discover (or find a new way to articulate) parts of your personal and professional personality that you might’ve not realized were unique to you.

If you really resonate with the results of one of these assessments, use it to add depth to your description on LinkedIn and your resume!

Organize your work into a portfolio

If you create for a living (whether you’re a blogger, photographer, designer, or you create a product that you sell), it’s always a good idea to keep a portfolio of your best work: Ideally, one that is available to share online.

Even if your work doesn’t involve creating something tangible, it’s likely you can find other ways to demonstrate your skills and experience. Maybe you created an improved workflow or way of doing something that helped your team save countless hours, or discovered a key insight that helped increase your company’s social media following by 100%.

Set aside an afternoon (or more time if necessary), to simply gather all the pieces of your professional life and put them into one place. Go through each of the roles you’ve had, and look for ways to demonstrate your contributions. If your work lends itself to this, upload your portfolio to a personal website! Although getting a custom domain name will cost you, there are many tools like Wix that can help you build a personal website to showcase your work for free.

Take a professional-looking headshot

Your Linkedin profile is your digital identity; that small square image is the first impression potential employers will see. And although we’d all like to think that our work can speak for itself, the reality is that you’ll receive 14 times more visits & 36 times more chances to receive a message with a professional headshot than a blurry selfie.

It’d be lovely to have a beauty squad and professional photographer to help you look your best for your LinkedIn, but for most people, that’s a little out of budget. The good news is that with some good natural lighting, a freshly ironed shirt, and a smartphone, you can get a professional-looking headshot for no money at all.

Here are some do’s and don’ts for your LinkedIn profile pic:

Do’s Don’t
Aim to look approachable by smiling and looking at the camera Feel the need to be overly serious—it can make you look angry!
Frame or crop the shot so that your face takes up about 60% of the image Use a full-body shot where your face isn’t clearly visible
Dress for the job you want—if you’re applying for creative roles, let your outfit reflect that! Dress for the job you want—if you’re applying for creative roles, let your outfit reflect that!
Take your photo with a clean, neutral background, so your face is the focus Use a distracting background, or try to do too much with the photo—simple is best!
Ask a friend or family member to take the photo from a few feet in front of you Resort to taking a selfie or using a cropped group photo

Focus on building connections, not just ‘networking’

You might’ve heard the (frustrating, but often true) phrase, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” And if you don’t happen to have parents, teachers, or friends who are well-connected in your industry, it might sound more discouraging than helpful. Maybe you’re the first person in your family to go to college, or the only person in your family that’s musically inclined. That means you’ll have to do a little more legwork to build your network—but it’s not impossible.

Sometimes, all it takes is one strong connection to open yourself up to a whole new group of like-minded people. Start by thinking through your existing relationships: People that you’re in touch with now, but also people who you might’ve lost contact with. Maybe you have one teacher or friend who has experience in your industry of choice. Send them a message to see if they’d be willing to grab coffee or chat with you over the phone, just to learn more about what they do. People love talking about themselves—so framing your request in a way that is flattering to them will go a long way (like an informational interview).

Here are some ways to grow your network simply by deepening or investing in your existing connections:

  • Make a list of people you know (close and distant ties) that you’d like to connect with. Set a goal of reaching out to a certain number of people every week—just 1-2 a week adds up to 50-100 connections in a year!
  • Spend time on LinkedIn sending invitations to connect with people you already know to make sure you stay in touch with the people in your existing network.
  • Dedicate an afternoon to writing recommendations for people you’ve worked with in the past and endorsing them for skills.

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