7 Tips For Becoming a Freelance Trainer
The decision to become a freelance trainer (or a freelancer in any industry) is a risky one. At the same time, the idea of being on your own, making your own decisions, and being fully responsible for your work life. It’s absolutely liberating – at least in your mind.
But make no mistake about it. Once you make this leap, there will be challenges – where will your clients come from? How will you market your services? How will you manage your expenses while you establish yourself? How much should you charge?
And also make no mistake about this: If you think your time will be fully your own, you could not be more wrong. At least in the beginning, it is your clients who will be in control. In order to acquire those early contracts and build a reputation, you will be operating according to their schedules and timelines, not your own.
Still, if you know this is what you want to do, then here are some solid tips and strategies that will nurture your success.
Take Your Lead from Other Successful Training Consultants
You probably know many of these people, if only by reputation within your training niche. Read everything that they write, especially about their careers.
Get on their websites; read their blogs; follow them on social media. Many of them have podcasts, webinars, and speak at conferences.
One of the best ways to nurture your own success is to model your behaviors after those who are successful.
Pick Your Niche and Stick with It
You cannot be a “Jack of all trades and master of none.” You have to be a master of one trade. That’s how you become an expert. And, if you look at the really successful consultants in any industry, they all focus on one niche. If you are an HR training consultant, don’t decide that you can move into logistics too. On the other hand, if you are an IT training consultant, moving into logistics might be something you could ultimately do, if a company is digitizing its logistics. But, don’t make your niche to broad, at least not in the beginning.
Most highly successful freelance consultants have a training model or two that they stick with and continue to develop as the niche itself evolves.
A Website and a Blog – Not an Option
Time was, consultants marketed themselves “on the ground.” They made phone calls, they networked face-to-face, they joined professional organizations, and they bought a lot of lunches and dinners while they courted potential clients. All of these things are still done today and are extremely important.
But the digital world has added a new dimension to marketing, and you will need to become a part of it. Your first step is to create an amazing website and, perhaps even more important in the beginning, a blog. Your website can ultimately be used to highlight your experience with specific clients (with their permission of course), but in the beginning, it will focus primarily on the one or two training models in which you are an expert.
Your blog, however, is how you become an expert to others. Here you get to talk about your expertise, to develop your own personal brand. Be interesting; be exciting; be humorous. Above all, show your enthusiasm for your craft. And when you create a particularly exceptional post? Submit it to other experts in related fields and to the blogs of consulting and training associations.
If you are not an amazing writer, contract with someone who can create those amazing posts for you. Lots of people use ghostwriters.
Use Every Marketing Tool Possible
In addition to your site and blog, you have to market aggressively to make and nurture contacts. This means you are on social media; it means you join social media platforms related to your niche; this means you join networking groups, both web-based and on the ground. Most consultants begin locally, so membership in business and community organizations, and attending all of their meetings, is a must. This is one of only two ways you get referrals. The other source, of course, is happy clients.
Get yourself some publicity and take every opportunity to speak. This is how you move that personal brand from your own head out to the world. Sam Ovens, founder of Consulting.com grew his consulting business to a $10 million operation in four years. His advice is very straightforward – you must build your personal brand immediately and fast.
“Getting brand recognition gives you credibility. If people know and trust you and your personal brand, they’re more likely to trust your new business… as you widen your personal audience with your brand, the more likely you are to reach potential clients…get speaking engagements, and grow a social media following…each media hit, speaking opportunity or social media post has the potential to bring you a new customer.”
Mind Your Finances
There are three aspects to financing your consultancy.
First, you know that the first months may be quite lean. Make sure you have planned to support yourself in the beginning.
Second, there will be lean times throughout your career. Be certain to set aside earnings during the “good times” to see you through. So many businesses fold because the owners cannot make it through the financial ups and downs of the first five years.
Third, you have all of the budgeting, bookkeeping, invoicing, and tax records to maintain. And you may not be able to afford an accountant in the beginning. Look into cloud-based accounting software apps, choose one and use it faithfully. It will save you so much time and stress.
Fourth, and most critical, is the decision of how much you will charge for your services. There is a temptation to just undercut the competition, so that you look like a bargain to potential clients. Don’t do it. Career business pros do not see these types of bargains in a good light. “You get what you pay for” still works in their worlds. Do the research and get comparable rates. Put yourself in the middle.
Consider a Freebie Introductory Session
If you have one or two models that you are using, chances are those models are divided into modules. If you know you will “blow their socks off” with an introductory session, consider offering a modified version of that first module as a “teaser.”
Continued Professional Development
No niche stays static. And your competition does not either. It goes without saying that you have to engage in continued and aggressive professional development and renovate and/or create new models as knowledge grows. Building this into your work life can be tough, but you must.
Research the certifications in your niche that are respected and valued. And generalist training certificates too. Do what it takes to get them.
Personality is the one overriding factor in setting yourself up as a training consultant. People are hiring you as a person as much as they are buying your expertise. If you are a comfortable extrovert, who is also an effective “brand” salesperson, you have much of this “battle” won. Just be certain that you can also be introverted enough to be productive when you work alone – having a consulting business can be lonely at times.