You, Inc.: Part 2 in the Training Entrepreneurs Series

Starting a training related business is appealing because it is much less complicated than other business ventures. Startup costs are relatively low; there is no building to buy, inventory to stock or staff to hire, at least not initially. Because you provide the knowledge and talent, its success is dependent solely on you and what you bring to the table. Many successful training consultants begin the process with a side gig or a small job that can be done in addition to their day job. Academics in our field often combine teaching and consulting, finding that consulting work informs their teaching by keeping their skill set relevant. Others who work full-time for organizations may use vacation or personal time to take on gigs, but should only do this with employer approval. Still, others begin with volunteer projects for a local non-profit organization creating a win-win by giving back to their community and demonstrating expertise.

In Part 1 of this series, you learned about the role of timing, niche, and expertise in entrepreneurial readiness. If all is in alignment and either circumstances or desire drives you to strike out on your own, there are aspects of the business start-up process to consider:

  • Identify your niche, mission, and business goal.  Craft an “elevator speech” to quickly and clearly describe what your business is about how it adds value.
  • Think about marketing. Identify a name for your business, register a domain, and start to think about a website and social media presence (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc.). Consider your client base and think about how to reach them.
  • Hire professionals. At the very least you should consult an attorney about incorporation and contracting, an accountant about business taxation, and a designer to create your website.
  • Update your portfolio. Clients want to see work samples, tools, and templates when they interview consultants. Make sure your portfolio is professional and ready to share. References are also a plus.
  • Get social by joining business organizations in your community, writing articles for LinkedIn or popular blogs, holding webinars, speaking at conferences, and in general, getting your name out there.

One of the most commons questions I receive from budding training consultants it what should I charge? If you overcharge, especially early in your business startup, you may lose clients that could benefit your portfolio. If you undercharge, you run the risk of appearing unprofessional or giving away your talent. One way to set fees is to reach out to other consultants to learn what they charge. Another is to identify a necessary annual income and calculate a daily or hourly rate based on this amount. Most training consultants charge by the hour but provide an estimate of the time they expect the project to take. It is difficult to predict the timeframe accurately, so I suggest specifying a range to allow room for error.

Recommended Reading

Flawless Consulting by Peter Block: Although this is an older book that is more about organization development than learning, the strategy for connecting with clients is timeless.

The Start-up Checklist by David Rose: A comprehensive summary of everything to consider when starting a business.

Platform by Michael Hyatt offers strategies to promote yourself through social media.

Questions for Discussion

  1. How can novice trainers gain expertise before starting an independent consulting business?
  2. What are the most important things to consider before starting a consulting business?

 

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3 comments

  • This is a great idea for beginning as a consultant. Finding out what the rates are for similar professionals sets a good baseline for a new company or individual looking to start their business. I have been considering consulting work in the future once I have more experience and finish my degree, and these posts are very helpful for me to get an idea of how to get started. Thank you!

  • I think this read is interesting due to the fact that people can support one another in the training field. And of course with any new business venture, you are going to be learning along the way but having the support from others in the field and some guidance can help make that transition much easier.

  • Thank you for the great advice for those considering starting a training related business! While you have outlined several areas to consider, I would like to add 3 more: balancing the marketing function with completing the actual work, avoiding scope creep, and dealing with dead-beat clients. Why have I selected these three? Having spent a portion of my career as an entrepreneur (albeit not in the L&D function) I found these areas to be those that someone considering self-employment must deeply consider. More importantly they must be willing to deal with each proactively.

    You could be immensely talented, produce astonishing work and delight your clients. Unless you are carefully balancing your time working on current projects with time invested lining up your their next several projects (AKA building a pipeline) you are likely going to experience periods of low or no income. Moreover, many a would-be entrepreneur has found they’re a highly skilled instructional designer, for example, but hate to network. Unless someone is marketing your services, self-employment is probably not for you.

    Avoiding scope-creep? I think we all know how easily this can happen. Say you’re in an L&D role in a company right now, and you’re told that a SME can provide you all the detail for an instructional design. You start working on your design and you find that you have to interview (or identify!) many more people than you originally planned for. You likely will miss the training due date, but you won’t lose another client, or income. Scope creep when self-employed becomes a real problem when you have a fixed priced contract and no-recourse for being paid for a bigger or longer product.

    The third and last area I would encourage anyone considering this route to reflect on, is your ability to insist that you are paid on time and in-full. Frankly, this became very difficult for me with one of my “biggest” clients; a client who provided me work I really enjoyed delivering and whose promises to pay me always sounded so sincere. I was unable to separate my heart from my head so to speak, and ended up producing a great deal of work for which I was ultimately paid pennies on the dollar.

    As I am completing my MATD, I am once again considering self employment. Having the opportunity to discuss them here has once again raised the specter for my own consideration; a very good thing!

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