A few weeks ago I met up with a friend who has left the corporate world and is shortly about to launch her business working as a freelance trainer, facilitator and coach!
As she builds her client roster she’ll be looking for Associate work. She asked me for concrete advice in the “things I wish people had told me” kind of vein. So not the typical things you get if you Google “starting your training/facilitation business”. I took the responsibility seriously really reflected on my first year and came up with the following top 5 tips:
Tip 1: Set rules and boundaries for yourself in advance and stick to them
My original plan for work/life balance was a maximum of 3 days in the classroom per week. But then work came flooding in and I kept saying “Yes” thinking it was better for the business to help me build new relationships & get more exposure. I only said “No” when I was booked for something on the same day. There were many weeks where I was in the classroom every day which meant weekends were used up for prep instead of recovery. I ended up burnt out and exhausted, working more than I did before I started my own business, when the aim was to work less.
Tip 2: Take time to get your branding right
I was so anxious not to waste time and ready to get out there in the market that I ended up completely rushing this step. I hired a single person to come up with a logo and colours and letterhead and a tag line without having any clear ideas myself of what I wanted. I ended up unhappy with the end result. But I accepted it anyway because I couldn’t suggest better and also running out of time because my web designer was waiting. In hindsight what I should have done is really spent some time thinking about it before using my brief going to Fiverr and paying 10 people £5 to provide me with ideas that I could use as a launchpad to get clarity over what I wanted. That’s what I did 18 months in and I’m now so much happier with my logo, colours and website.
Tip 3: Don’t accept less than you’re worth
In the beginning I thought that accepting a lower rate as an entry point to get my foot in the door was a good strategy both as an Associate and with clients. I figured that once they saw me in action and knew what I was worth it would open the door for discussions on a higher rate. Spoiler: In the history of Dana The Trainer that never happened. See, you send a message about what you’re worth when you accept a lower rate it’s hard to change that expectation you set. Start as you mean to continue.
Tip 4: Watch out for pesky payment terms especially as an Associate
There’s one group I worked as an Associate for who only allowed invoicing once a month at the end of the month, and then on top of that had 45-day payment terms. The work was exciting, so I did work with them for quite some time. But I had to carefully monitor how much I worked for them and which days in the month, and had to carefully make sure that there was balance in terms of cash flow with bookings from better payers. Find out the payment terms in advance to avoid surprises. I also think it’s important for Associate work to find rates out up front. In the beginning I would make it to the end of the process, with several discussions and a trial session underway and then find out that the set rate was something I could never accept. I quickly started saying “Before we move forward in the process can I be clear on rates and terms. I don’t want to waste your time or mine if we can’t align”
Tip 5: Have your demo/showcase sessions prepped and ready to go
Most of the Associate partners I worked with as part of the hiring process asked me to come in and deliver a sample session. I found that this happened really quickly. Where a need was urgent, a discussion could turn into a demo within a week, sometimes within days. I learned quite quickly to be prepared. I found it good practice to have 2 or 3 sessions designed and in a ready-to-deliver format, complete with flip charts, alongside a little go-bag of supplies so I was ready whenever I was called.
Those are my top tips – but as always I welcome more practical top tips from trainers and facilitators! I’m sure Jude would appreciate them!
My extra tip would be to stay in touch with your contacts from the corporate world and continue to enjoy being with them as people. You will probably miss having a team around you (I know I do) and they can form the basis of your new support network. Also, if you don’t push the commerciality, they will be more willing to stay in touch and might therefore remember you when an opportunity does come along. Win-win 🙂
I would add get any business affairs in order. I got hired by a university to do a professional development workshop for their staff and then they asked me for a certificate of insurance I didn’t know I needed at the time. Still got paid but had more hoops to jump.