How to find time to work on your training business, not in it

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The bad news is that time flies. The good news is you're the pilot. Quote from Michael AlshulerOne of the biggest challenges freelance trainers face is juggling the need to work in their business – actually delivering the training and creating training materials – with the need to work on the business and developing its strategic direction.

In my recent blog about ‘why you need a thinking day and how to make it work’, I touched on the importance of having time to look at the big picture and keep your business evolving in the best way for you and your clients.

The question I’m often asked is, how do you find time to work on your business when you’re busy with training?

Different tactics work for different people. However, the following approaches work for me and for many of the trainers I mentor:

  1. Automate

When you’re running a training business, it’s easy to lose a lot of time to carrying out small administrative tasks. Answering emails, sending out invoices, posting on social media, etc. can all take up valuable time.

Whenever I have a new task to complete, I explore whether it has the potential to be automated. For example, I use the Tweetily WordPress plugin to automate regular posts about my blog on Twitter, so that I’m always creating some new Twitter content without having to do anything at my end. If I have the time to post extra tweets, I can.

Email marketing tools such as Mailchimp and Infusionsoft come with features that can be automated. You could create a regular newsletter when you have a quiet moment, but then schedule it to go out at a time that suits your clients.

If you frequently receive enquiries that are similar in nature, you could create a series of response templates that can be tweaked if necessary to save time writing a fresh response every time a new email comes in.

Also, project management systems such as Trello are helpful for streamlining your to-do list and automating reminders and actions to make sure tasks are completed on time.

  1. Delegate or outsource

You might want to look at tasks that you can delegate to people in your team or outsource if you work alone. Options for outsourcing include:

  • A VA who can help with tasks such as call answering, invoicing, inbox management, quoting, posting your blogs, diary management, creating memes for social media and much more
  • A bookkeeper to keep your financial records up-to-date
  • An accountant to check your financial records and prepare your tax returns
  • A social media manager to handle your social media accounts on your behalf
  • A copywriter to write blogs or refresh your website content

Although you may be worried about the costs of outsourcing, it should free up valuable time that you can spend on the profitable areas of your business, such as delivering training or connecting with new clients.

  1. Plan Ahead

One of the most helpful tips I was ever given was to make the last task of my work day to write my to-do list for the following day. This helps me to focus on my priorities for the next day and to have a clear action plan in mind before I even switch on my computer each morning. I also find that I’m less likely to let my day get hijacked by other people’s agendas when I’m clear about my own.

  1. Identify your most productive times

If you’re anything like me, I bet you find that your concentration fluctuates throughout the working day. I tend to be at my most productive in the mornings, so this is when I focus on completing ‘meatier’ tasks. In the afternoons, my concentration span is shorter and I prefer to spend my time on tasks like making phone calls or answering emails. A different routine may suit you, but planning your work around your productive times can free up a surprising amount of time for different tasks.

  1. Avoid interruptions

There’s something about being self-employed that means many of us feel we have to be contactable at all times of the day. If you’re constantly answering your phone or dealing with a steady stream of emails, it can quickly eat into your day. You may also find that you get pulled away from your to-do list to respond to someone else’s or that you lose your most productive times to tasks that would be better suited to other times of the day.

My advice is to set your phone to voicemail and only check your emails at times that are convenient for you. Personally, I like to review them when I start work, at lunchtime and before I finish work – the rest of the time, my emails are switched off.

Quote about scheduling your priorities to make time for what mattersYour training business, your rules

The most important thing is to create the time you need to work on your business, even if it’s just for one morning or afternoon a week/fortnight. Prioritising the need to look at the big picture is a great way of ensuring that your business continues to work well for you, rather than becoming a job where you are always responding to the demands of others.

When you have time to work on your business and not just in it, you can continue to ensure that your processes are growing with your business, that you’re giving your clients value, that your skills and knowledge are up to date, and that you’re getting the best return on your marketing.

How much time do you devote to working on your business rather than in it? Do you struggle to find time? What tasks do you avoid? What things do you wish you could outsource? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the Comments below.

If you’ve enjoyed this article and/or found it helpful, please do hit the social share buttons to spread the word. It only takes a moment, but it means a lot.

 

How to feed your pipeline

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Quote about making people in sales pipeline and in life feel important.As a freelance trainer, the feast and famine rollercoaster of a packed training diary followed by an extended quiet period may be something you grapple with regularly. How can you feed your sales pipeline by lining up prospective clients? How do you find work for the future when you’re busy now? How do you know when you’ll next be quiet?

 

What is a sales pipeline?

Your sales pipeline is the process you go through to sell your training services, i.e. how you make contact with a potential customer right through to the point that you secure a training booking. For most businesses, the pipeline covers a five-step process of initial contact, qualification, meeting, proposal, and close.

The marketing you do helps to bring people into your pipeline.

It’s important to recognise that the marketing you do today is likely to bring in people to your pipeline three to six months down the line rather than overnight. Therefore, you shouldn’t wait until business goes quiet before you next think about your marketing as it could be half a year before you see any results. Instead, you should always be marketing with a view to securing bookings three to six months from now so that you have some idea of what your income will be in advance.

 

Small actions can make a big difference to your pipeline

Of course, finding time to feed your pipeline is easier said than done. When you’re rushed off your feet delivering training, I imagine your marketing is one of the first things to slide. My advice is ‘little but often’ – consistency is the key here; just focusing on your pipeline for five minutes a day could make a big difference.

To help you come up with a plan to consistently attract new business and repeat bookings to create a steady flow of work and income, I’ve put together my top tips for feeding your pipeline.

 

  1. Build your mailing list

Your mailing list can be a powerful tool when it comes to feeding your pipeline. The contact details you have on your mailing list are from people who have expressly given their consent for you to contact them about your business and your services. But unlike followers on social media, the list belongs to you.

To grow your mailing list, you might consider adding an incentive to your website – this could be a white paper, a free ebook, a free online training session, a workbook or a taster introduction to your latest training.

The idea is to give something to your potential customers in exchange for their contact details. Go for a strong call-to-action and a short sign-up form that only asks for the essential information, e.g. their first name and email address.

You might also want to add a mechanism for signing up to your e-newsletter via your website, so you have a reason to regularly keep in touch with your latest news and views.

 

  1. Maintain your database

According to some stats, the contact data in your customer database is probably decaying at a rate of two percent a month. In other words, people are moving jobs, changing email addresses, finding new service providers, and may no longer be contactable. Two percent may not sound like much, but this drip in your pipeline can be harmful if it’s left unplugged.

Reach out to people on your database and just let them know that you’re checking their contact details are still current and wondering whether they have any specific training needs. If you do find contact details that are no longer relevant, you can always ask who the right person to speak to will be from now on. This can be a helpful reminder that you have an existing training relationship with a company.

 

  1. Keep in touch

In a past blog, I looked at why your existing clients represent the fast track to a better training business. I believe that one of the best things you can do for your business is to have a process in place for keeping in touch with your past and existing clients, as well as your network of contacts. It’s far easier to sell your services to warm leads who’ve already expressed an interest in what you do, and could be six to seven times cheaper than acquiring a new customer.

If you use a CRM system to manage your contacts, you could put some prompts in place to remind you to get in touch with your clients. Ask for immediate feedback on training you’ve delivered, check in a month later to see what difference it has made or whether the client has any questions, ask to feature them in a case study – these are all legitimate reasons to get in touch.

Quote about listening being the most important part of selling.

 

4. Nurture your leads

Sales experts recommend nurturing your hottest leads, as nurtured leads are more engaged, produce 20% more sales opportunities than non-nurtured leads, and spend up to 47% more with businesses that they feel care about them personally.

How do you nurture a lead?

  • Respond quickly to enquiries and attempts to reach out to you – 35% to 50% of businesses go to the supplier who responds to them first and begins creating a relationship with them before anyone else.
  • Ask questions about what they need and show how your training business can meet those needs.
  • Follow-up with a tailored training proposal.
  • Build conversations and keep in touch by giving your time and interest without the expectation of receiving.

 

  1. Have a dream list

This is a method I have used successfully over the years. Your dream list is a list of ten companies that you would like to connect with as potential clients; your task is to do one thing to connect with one of those companies each week. This might be securing an introduction on LinkedIn, speaking to the decision-makers about training, or tweaking your website content to appeal to your target clients.

If one of your dream list of ten companies becomes a real client, remove them from your dream list and add a new company so that there are always ten businesses that you are working towards connecting with.

 

Is there anything that you do to feed your pipeline that consistently works well for your business? Do you struggle to attract a steady flow of sales? Are there times when you’re rushed off your feet and others when it’s unnervingly quiet? I’d love to hear your experiences in the Comments below.

If you’ve enjoyed this article and/or found it helpful, please do hit the social share buttons to spread the word. It only takes a moment, but it means a lot.

How to create a positive mindset after a setback

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"Keep your face toward sunshine - and shadows will fall behind you." Walt Whitman quoteWhen you’re self-employed, there are times when keeping a positive mindset can feel like a tall order. You may be feeling overwhelmed by how much you have to do or having a major wobble about a large gap in your diary with no bookings. You may have had a client relationship breakdown or are struggling to get paid for training you’ve delivered.

Whatever the reason, it’s inevitable that most of us have down days, especially after a setback in our businesses. Although every situation offers an opportunity to learn and set processes in motion to stop the same situation occurring again, you may need time to regroup before that can happen.

The question is how can we turn these down days on their head and create a more forward-thinking positive mindset instead of focusing on what’s been and gone?

  1. Meditate

Meditation is proven to have a vast number of benefits. By just taking a couple of minutes out of your day to relax and meditate, you can improve your mindfulness, connect with your feelings and what you need to feel better, improve your intuition and concentration span, decrease feelings of anxiety, boost your metabolism and much more.

  1. Write

Try keeping a gratitude diary or a gratitude jar and write down one positive experience or thing you’re grateful about to go in it every day. One study found that when a group of students spent 20 minutes a day writing about a positive experience for three consecutive days, they continued to experience benefits three months later, when compared to a control group who wrote about neutral experiences. Writing down positive things can therefore help mould your brain and body to be more positive.

  1. Move

Whether you go for a run, practice yoga, leave the office for a 10-minute walk, or put some music on loud and dance yourself into a positive mindset, movement is shown to have huge benefits. It can boost the mood enhancing chemicals in your brain, such as endorphins, and decrease the chemicals that lower your mood.

  1. Plan

I always find a great way to list my mood is to set a series of achievable goals or to break down the big tasks on my to-do list into smaller, manageable chunks. It’s been proven that achieving goals is a great confidence booster and will help you focus on one task at a time rather than getting overwhelmed by the big picture.

"Believing in negative thoughts is the single greatest obstacle to success." Charles F Glassman quote

  1. Talk

As a self-employed trainer, especially if you work alone, business can get lonely sometimes, even if you have some great client relationships. Sometimes the most helpful and productive thing you can do is arrange to meet a friend for a cuppa or speak to a mentor who understands the challenges of running your own business. If you miss talking to other trainers, you could do some virtual networking and hang out in Facebook groups, on The Trainers Training Company Facebook page or find groups aimed at trainers on LinkedIn. Or you could take part in face-to-face events like Trainer Talk Live to listen to some inspirational speakers and collaborate with other trainers?

What do you do to lift your mood when you’re having a rough day or week in your training business? Do you believe it’s possible to think yourself into a positive mindset? What are your best mood boosters? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the Comments below.

If you’re looking to connect with other trainers or get advice about running your training business, please do contact me about group mentoring, one-to-one mentoring or attending the next Trainer Talk Live event.

 

 

How to find public speaking opportunities

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All speaking is public speaking, whether it's to one person or a thousand. Quote by Roger LoveAs trainers, people expect us to feel confident about getting up in front of an audience, but I often find that this confidence depends on context. How you feel in front of a small room of trainees or one-to-one may be completely different to standing up in front of a conference room full of people.

If you’re happy with your current business model this may not be a problem for you, but if you’d like to level-up your training business by working with larger groups, then you may be wanting to develop your public speaking skills in front of a larger audience.

Public speaking gigs can also be a great way to boost your reputation, authority and credibility, and become the ‘go to’ person for insights into your industry. Paid public speaking engagements can also be very lucrative, but many speaking opportunities are unpaid because speakers come for the free exposure and new contacts.

Of course, the question remains: how do you find public speaking opportunities that are the right fit for you and your training business?

Get proactive

My advice is to contact places/organisations where opportunities are most likely to exist. This might be:

  • local business networking groups, e.g. Chamber of Commerce
  • colleges and universities
  • local not-for-profit groups, such as a Rotary Club or a Women’s Institute (WI) group
  • special interest groups

Business networking groups are always on the lookout for good speakers. Plus, the groups are attended by representatives from other businesses who may host their own events or need speakers in the future. If you make a good impression at one event, it could lead to more speaking engagements in the weeks, months or even years ahead.

As well as asking if these organisations are looking for speakers, you can also ask if anyone else in their network might be looking for a speaker with your expertise and request an introduction.

You should be clear about the benefits you would bring as a public speaker, so that the organisation can see why they should engage you to speak. Offer to meet with the event organiser beforehand and show them how your presentation is unique or what people will be able to take away from it and implement.

Use your network

While your clients and contacts within your industry may not be looking for a public speaker, they may know someone who is. It’s perfectly acceptable to reach out to your network and ask if they ever use public speakers and how they find them, although – as I discussed in my recent blog about LinkedIn – do make sure that you have a good relationship with your contact first, instead of asking for a favour out of the blue.

Look to your fellow trainers

You could also try asking your fellow trainers what events they’ve spoken at, and contact the same organisations. You could even agree to share information about opportunities with other speakers in your network, so that you benefit from your combined networks.

Keep an eye on local business publications

Another handy tip is to subscribe to your local business publications, as many of these contain an events section with information about forthcoming events. While it might be too late to secure a speaking engagement at the most immediate event, you could contact the organisers and express your interest in speaking at the next event.

Check out online conference directories, planners and venues

There is a wide range of online conference directories featuring details of event organisers, venues and much more. These can be a mine of information when looking for potential speaking opportunities. I would also recommend using the Twitter search facility and websites such as socialmention.com to search for people talking about conferences they’ve attended, spoken at or are planning to attend.

Adding value

There are two kinds of speakers: Those that are nervous, and those that are liars. Mark Twain quote.If you are booked as a speaker at an event, think about ways that you can add value. You could have someone record your talk and then send the link to everyone who attended so they can review your advice. Or you could set up a table with your marketing brochure, details about your training programmes and a booking form if someone wants to book you for another speaking engagement. Alternatively, you might agree to run a workshop after you speak to give people a chance to discuss what you talked about in more detail.

Have you taken on a speaking engagement before? Is it something you do regularly or would like to do? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the Comments section below or over on the Trainers Training Company Facebook page.

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Is there any value in offering taster sessions?

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Life is an echo, what you give out you get back quoteA taster session is one where you work for free or at a reduced rate to introduce yourself to potential clients. When I covered the topic of taster sessions in an article way back in 2011, the comments I received were overwhelmingly in favour of providing taster sessions as a method to secure new business. This feedback came with a number of caveats.

  1. Taster sessions should not be standalone freebies – they should leave people wanting more.
  2. Taster sessions are an opportunity to connect and show that you’re a match for the client in terms of content and delivery style. They should have value but not give everything away. You want people to think, “Wow, if they give this much away for free, what would we get if we paid?”
  3. It’s important to keep costs down – look for venues that will hire out rooms by the hour or consider using free public venues.
  4. Make sure your taster sessions are a good use of everyone’s time.
  5. Ask for feedback that you can use to fine tune the main training to meet your clients’ expectations.

But are taster sessions right for your training business?

Despite the feedback that people receive bookings as a result of offering taster sessions, many other trainers find them a drain on their time and resources that doesn’t always lead to bookings. In some cases, free taster sessions attract people who have little to no budget, and want to glean any hints and tips they can without paying for training.

There’s also a strong argument that giving away your time for free devalues your time and knowledge overall. Some even feel that free training sessions come with a whiff of desperation – are you struggling for bookings so much that you need to give away your time for free?

On the flipside, the Law of Reciprocity is the belief that what you give away, you will get back. Many business owners experience the benefits of giving freely as a way to generate good will and reputation.

Some clients will value the reassurance of getting to see how you work and whether your training is a good fit for their business before committing to payment. As a way to get your foot in the door and create a quality guarantee, free taster sessions can be compelling. If there’s a client you particularly want to work with, a taster session may be your way in.

I know and have known many trainers who have used the free taster session model to great success as a way to secure bookings and plenty of referrals. It’s not something I offer these days – mainly because my time is already spoken for – but free taster sessions have served me well at times.

Alternatives to face-to-face taster sessions

Quote: A candle loses nothing by lighting another candleThere are other ways to build your authority and showcase your knowledge without having to travel to a training venue for a free taster session. Have you thought about running one of the following?

  • A free webinar (live or pre-recorded)
  • Call-in conferences
  • Online chats
  • Forums
  • Podcasts

The beauty of something like a webinar is that you can potentially deliver it to hundreds of people in one go, depending on which software you choose, and record it for future use. You could even add the webinar to an online store and sell it to anyone who doesn’t sign up for the live event.

The same goes for call-in conferences – you can have thousands of people call-in to hear you speak, record the Q&A sessions, and repackage the whole thing as a podcast or audio file with transcript, letting you repurpose the content to create a passive income, as well as using it as a free taster session.

The benefit of this sort of training freebie is that you only need to deliver it once but can reuse it time and again to connect with potential clients.

If your taster session needs to be unique and delivered to a small group of delegates, you could always deliver a Skype training session or create a Google Hangout. This saves all the attendees from having to travel but will still give them the value of your content.

Creating chemistry and scarcity

If you’re not sure about offering free taster sessions, listen to your gut instinct. There are other ways to generate bookings and referrals.

In the feedback to my previous blog about free taster sessions, one trainer commented that she offers free ‘Chemistry’ sessions instead, where she sits down in a one-to-one session with the client to get a detailed insight into what they want from the training and the tools and methods that might be best for the delegates. This kind of personal approach is a powerful way of showing that your training services are bespoke to the client, and building an on-going relationship with a client.

Another approach might be to communicate a message of scarcity and exclusivity in your marketing – let potential customers know that your books are filling up fast and you will only be working with a group of select clients for the foreseeable future. Scarcity has a huge role to play psychologically when it comes to the buying process, as the more scarce something becomes, the greater the perception of its value and the desire to have it. You may even be able to increase your prices to reflect the scarcity of your offering.

Do you offer free taster sessions for your training business? Have you found them effective or are they a drain on resources? Have you ever run a webinar or call-in conference instead? I’d love to hear your experiences in the Comments section below.

And if this article has hit the spot and you think other trainers might find it useful, please share it with your network. It only takes a moment – thank you!

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