This is the transcript of episode 2.
Click here to visit the full episode page and listen to the interview.
Hi Pete. Thanks for coming on the program. So look, I thought we go should right back to basics. What got you into the training business in the first place, and you might give us an understanding of how long you’ve been in the business and what it is you do.
I think, looking back at my career it’s only when you can join the dots that you can work out why you end up doing the thing you actually love doing
I have always been a people-focused person. There was a pivotal moment in my career where I had been travelling and I applied for two jobs, and I was fortunate enough to be offered the both of them.
One was as an “NVQ assessor”, which kind of ‘ticked my box’ in terms of the people side of things. However, the other job was working for Coca-Cola as a salesperson. That came with an extra £3000 a year as well as a company van. When you are in your mid 20s, you tend to follow the money.
So I followed the sales route, and the account-management route which is also people focused and that is when I really started to find my feet, engaging with my team delivering via one-to-one coaching.
This is when I realised that training was what I wanted to do. I met two guys, delivering some training for us. I still keep in contact with one of them. They were really my inspiration to be freelance and to work for myself.
I saw the money that we were paying them. But, more importantly, I observed the engagement which external consultants could have and how quite liberating that could be.
That was about nine or 10 years ago. However, at the time, I was recently married, had a new mortgage, had small children. So, the timing wasn’t really right to leave my job.
Eventually, I ended up being made redundant, needing to find a job or to find a new career. I tried to do both.
I found a job and was then offered at the same time, four days of work a week at £250 a day. That was another crossroads in my life.
I asked myself: do I take the safe option, where I am offered £2000 a month after tax or do I take the risk of going freelance?
We had no money in the bank, we had a new house and we had two kids. My wife wasn’t working at the time, so it was a huge risk. But it felt right.
That was about four years ago. Now, after a lot of hard work and effort, its beginning to truly pay off.
So when you say, ‘freelance’, is that to suggest that you have both direct clients as well as indirect work from training companies as one of their associate trainers?
When I started off, I took counsel from a few trusted people who had been a long time in training business.
One of them said I could be either a very busy associate trainer, earning a comfortable living, working hard, but not having to chase the next job, or, I could set up my training business engaging with clients directly and have more fun to some extent, but also, somewhat more pressure.
When I decided to go freelance, at the time, money was an important consideration so I went down the associate route because that was the easier route for me to generate cash from which I needed to live.
Now, after four years, I have made the transition to more direct business. I still have an element of associate training work, but in 2018 I’m concentrating more and more on my direct clients.
So, do you still consider yourself a freelance trainer. Shall we for the sake of our listeners define exactly what that word means?
Yes, yes. I’ve not really thought about that much, Mark. I am still freelance. I refer to the two kinds of work as associate work and direct client work.
Associate work is where I work on behalf of another training provider. Direct work is where I engage directly with my end clients. Either way, I consider the work, is still freelance work.
I have often heard those terms mixed up together.
It’s often not clear to me until I have a conversation with someone and can establish to what extent they rely upon their own clients to provide them with an income, or to what extent they work with training companies (training vendors).
I think it’s often useful – particularly for people who are new to this industry – to define what the term freelance trainer actually means.
In other words, to which extent are you drumming up the business yourself or, to which extent you are dependant on work allocated to you by a training company. Does that make sense?
It’s important to remember, that being a freelance trainer can be a lonely job. If you want to work as an associate trainer together with other trainers, there is no shame in that at all.
You don’t have to go after your own direct clients. If that is the path that you want to go down, then by all means be proud of that.
In your previous answer, you mentioned that you are altering the ratio between the amount of associate work you deliver and the amount of direct work that you deliver. I’m just curious why you have made that decision.
Having been unemployed and having been made redundant twice, I think I have learned rom my experiences.
Security is now very important to me. Direct client work gives me more security. As an associate trainer, I do not get sick pay. If I am on holidays, I am not earning any money.
For example I could have 10 direct clients with whom I work once per year each. If one or two of them go out of business, or their industry sees significant change or I fall out of favor with them and lose two of the clients, I will still have eight direct clients.
It also opens up opportunities for me whereby I could hire other trainers to deliver that work to my direct client. I can earn money whilst not being physically present in the training room.
What you are alluding to is, that you have the option to subcontract your training work, is that right?
That is correct. In effect, I become a training vendor in my own right.
However, I do not plan to become a large training vendor as I do not want to lose direct contact with my customer nor lose out on the level of engagement or in the development of a personal relationship with the client.
Let’s imagine, that someone listening to this program is still within the corporate environment as an employee. They have a sizeable number of years of work experience.
Let’s imagine, that she or he would really like to become a professional corporate trainer. What would you advise speed to someone who was thinking of making that leap?
I think my advice would be the same advice I would give to anyone else making a significant career change. First of all, you have to really ask yourself: why do you want to become a professional full-time trainer.
There are associate trainers whom I know who have gone into the business as a lifestyle choice. They want to work two days a week.
They do not want to work during school holidays. People who are thinking of making this decision should reflect upon the fact that there will likely be both good days and bad days, particularly in the first 12 months.
There will be times when your friends and family will question whether you have made the right choice. In order to keep yourself motivated, particularly in those early months, it is important to be really clear as to why you want to make this choice.
So it’s really all about being honest with yourself.
Many of my friends wondered why I wanted to work for myself. They appeared to believe that I wanted to work no more than two or three days a week followed by a day of ‘admin’, followed by a day playing golf. The reality is of course very different.
This is true. It’s funny how a lot of people believe that self-employed people want to work for themselves so they can actually work less than five days a week.
In actual fact, when we are not working, we are spending the rest of the time trying to get to the next training gig.
Which methods or techniques are most successful in persuading clients to allow people like you and I to train their employees?
That is something which I am still trying to pin down for my business. It’s a question of learning by failure as well as by success.
What appears to be working for me is reaching out to people with whom I have worked in the past. It may be simply matter of following peoples progress (particularly if they move companies) and offering to stay in touch with them. It may be a case of having a coffee with them.
Something else which works quite well from me is to go to the places where decision-makers are likely to be found.
Go to the events, go to the seminars, go to the meetings where they’re likely to be. Just go and meet them. Put that introverted part of you to one side and just meet people who can help you.
Something else I’ve tried is cold calling which takes a lot of time and is often difficult, yet it can be fruitful as long as you get through to the right people.
In terms of cold calling, you have to put a lot of effort in just to get one or two meetings in your calendar.
In summary, the best tactic is to contact the people that you know and get introduced or referred to the people they know.
Whatever you do, please don’t contact someone whom you have not seen for three years and trying to start selling them something. What’s important is to develop relationships with people for the right reasons.
Have you seen any success from networking with other professional corporate trainers?
I have seen it paid dividends in terms of developing new ideas. I think it’s particularly useful when you have some ideas and you want someone in your line of business to give you some feedback.
It’s sometimes lonely being a trainer. So, having a network of people you can turn to can be quite invaluable.
How are you using social media platforms to generate business?
My primary focus is LinkedIn. I will put blog posts on my website and link back to them via LinkedIn then share them.
To me, Facebook is more of a social platform rather than business platform. If there was another platform which I was going to look more closely at, it would probably be Instagram.
Thinking of working with training vendors for a moment, have you any words of advice to help people to establish whether working with a specific training company is the right thing for them?
What a pertinent question. In my first year of business, I was of course trying to engage with any training company as long as they could offer me training work.
I must have had many, many Skype calls and signed many nondisclosure agreements or NDA’s.
One thing I realised, was that most training companies’ business tends to go up and down. In my first year of trading, more than half of my business came from one specific training company.
That was convenient in so far as I got to know them. It was inconvenient insofar as their payment terms are 45 days.
In the second year, I had only £1000 pounds worth of work from them in the entire year! This taught me a very valuable lesson: not to put all my eggs in one basket. I then decided to spread my training work across 4-5 training companies.
I think that the more you work with training companies, the more you begin to realise whether they suit you and you suit them.
The frustrations, which I have at the moment with two specific companies are that one in particular has been terrible at paying me.
They have obviously had some financial issues as an organisation. That is a shame that our relationship has come to this.
They still owe me money so I am very careful not to bite the hand which feeds me. At the same time, I am also careful not to take on any more work until outstanding debts are cleared.
That’s a very important lesson. If you find that a training company still owes you money, you need to be careful how much do with them otherwise, you could be financially exposed.
In the case of the second training company, they recently contacted me to request that I join their special training group as a preferred partner so that I could benefit from new training resources et cetera et cetera. In return, they asked me to reduce my daily training rate by 15%.
I agree with what you have said. I have had similar experiences. I think it’s normal, particularly when it is an industry which is new to you. You may not know who is who, or what reputation particular providers have.
You may look at the shiny website or read the attractive brochure and think that ‘this is the training company for me’!
On the other hand, there are companies out there which may not have such an attractive website or brochure but may in fact be able to bring a lot of business your way if you contact them.
You simply have to dip your toes in the water and sometimes find out the hard way.
Certainly one of the things that I would do is to read the terms and conditions or expenses policy of the training company with which I’m thinking of working.
In my experience, if a training company has an extremely tight and unreasonable expenses policy or on more than one occasion tries to get you to lower your daily rate or has excessive payment terms i.e. beyond 30 days, then I prefer not to work with them.
Those to me are all warning signs.
I completely understand that large training companies have to manage their cash flow, but we as self-employed training business owners need to be able to do the same.
The good training companies pay a good rate, pay expenses without quibble, pay within a week after receipt of invoice and recognise the value of their trainers.
In essence, a quality trainer is the ‘crown jewels’ of any training organisation because they are the people standing in front of the client and representing that training company.
Training companies can have great managers and high-quality training material etc, but if the person standing in front of their clients is under-skilled as a trainer, then there is a strong chance that that training program will not succeed.
The best training companies see things this way. They do not treat trainers simply as a resource to whom they subcontract work on the basis that if one does not work out, they can simply replace that trainer with ‘just’ another trainer ‘off the street’.
Which strategy should a trainer follow in order to have the right number of days of work balanced with a number of free days in which to generate new business?
That is a great question. Following my experiences from three years ago, I find that I am still very careful with calendar management.
If my calendar is too full, I find that I have no time to do any administration and marketing with the result that it all gets squeezed into the evenings or the weekend.
The other problem is stand that I risk missing out on networking events. To some degree, I have gone too far the other way.
From my perspective, I find that four or five training companies is a good number with which to work. You can get close to their salespeople.
You can get close to their administrators and develop a good working relationship. You can also get to grips with their training material the more you work with it.
I am inclined to agree, Pete. There is a certain amount of time typically required by training companies, within which user training must familiarise themselves with training content.
Until such time as you are completely familiar with the content, you cannot confidently stand up in front of their clients to represent them.
Some training companies with which I worked, have alarmingly sent me a PowerPoint presentation and have expected me to training unfamiliar content without any form of assessment.
On the other hand, I have worked with a particular training company which has been so rigourous, that I have had to present the training material internally on a number of occasions before I was ever allowed to deliver to their clients externally.
When organisations are this rigorous, it actually increases my confidence in them. It stands to reason, that they are more than likely going to be better training company to work with
One of the training companies I’ve worked with, once sent me a box containing all the materials I would need to run a particular course.
They then said that I would ‘live or die’ by the evaluations or feedback from delegates on my course. This particular company has been the company which has been the most ‘hard’ in its negotiation with me.
They pay quickly, but they tend to cancel many courses.
How do you prepare for a training company’s training audition process? Do you think there’s any one way to prepare? They do vary. I am sure that you and I would agree on that.
First of all, you should look at the training companies website. Try and establish what is their values are. Find out who their clients are. Consider the kinds of courses they offer.
Look at the wording on their website. Is it corporate and serious or is it fun and engaging? This will give you an idea of their ethos or values.
If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would that advice be?
Don’t leave it so long to get involved in training. Even with so little cash in the bank, I was able to work hard, do a good job for people, build up a really steady income stream and enjoy doing so.
One guy gave me a very good piece of advice. He said: “Just do something to make it happen’. I liked this piece of advice because it wasn’t technical or strategic in nature. It was purely about taking a positive step.
That has popped into my head most days. I have found myself asking myself, okay, “what am I going to do today to make this happen?”
I am going to send a message on LinkedIn. I am going to tidy up my website. I am going to write that blog post. Just to do something.
When I first started, I was under the impression that I had to spend a lot of money to become qualified as a trainer. This happened because I was focused on the things I did not have.
Instead, I learned to focus on the strengths and things I already had and to build on those rather than focusing on the things I didn’t yet have.
Thanks for coming on the program, Pete!