Branding and marketing can be something of a mystery when you become a freelance trainer.
You may have lots of questions:
- What is marketing?
- What is branding?
- Where should you start?
- What should you do?
- Who should you market to?
- How much will it all cost?
- Is a social media presence essential?
- Do you have to have a website?
To help you, whether you’re just starting out as a freelance trainer or you want to take your marketing to the next level, I’ve put together this branding and marketing blueprint for freelance trainers.
What is marketing?
Marketing is all about getting people interested in your business and the products/services you provide. It involves researching, analysing and understanding what matters to your clients then incorporating this knowledge in every aspect of your business. This includes your service development, delivery, sales, advertising and promotions.
Marketing should be at the heart of your business strategy from the very beginning.
It starts with identifying:
- Who your target client groups are going to be
- What you’re going to offer them
- Why your services will matter to them
If you’re able to pinpoint these insights, it will be easier to nail down your core messages and talk about them in a way that will resonate with the people you want to reach.
You’ll also save money and find it easier to make marketing decisions if you constantly ask the questions, “Is this relevant to my target clients?” and “Why will or should they care?”
What is branding?
Once upon a time, a brand was literally a distinct mark burned into the hide of livestock to identify who it belonged to in a busy marketplace.
Although the marketplace may have changed, in many ways a brand still plays the same role – it’s the identifier, the name, the characteristics that set a business apart from other sellers.
In turn, branding is how we give our products and services the power of our brand.
Branding can heavily influence how people perceive your business. Brands are a form of identity, of communicating your values, your intentions, your promises to potential clients, employees, and colleagues.
Ideally, people will connect with your brand because something about it speaks to them as being in tune with their core values and beliefs.
There are many tools that we can use to develop a brand – they include advertising, on- and offline marketing (e.g. print, social media, video, email), the colours and images you use, your tone of voice, logo, website, customer service, promotional merchandise and more.
Step 1: Develop your brand identity
Before you begin marketing your training business, your first priority should be to create a brand identity.
Remember, your brand identity is about more than just what your marketing looks like – it’s about how your business makes people feel too.
Think about the following:
- Who are your target clients?
- How can you help them?
- What matters to them?
- Name the values at the heart of your business
- With what qualities would you like to be associated?
Let’s imagine, for example, that you’re a trainer who works with companies that have gone through a massive structural reorganisation. You might want to be recognised as an expert in change/mergers/restructures and a safe pair of hands to help people cope with a significant transition in their working life.
This will be at the core of your brand identity.
And this key message will affect the colours you choose for your brand, the images and words you use, the design of your logo, branded memes on social media and much more.
In my blog about five things that can make your training brand look amateur (and how to go pro), I featured some fantastic links to advice about choosing your brand colours, fonts and images based on your brand identity.
Step 2: Name your training business
The name you use for your training business will be an integral part of your brand identity.
There are pros and cons to each approach. In the end, only you know what feels right.
Should you use your own name?
Trading under your own name can be a fantastic way to build your professional reputation, attract referrals and recommendations, connect with clients as an individual, and build on the ‘like, trust and know’ factor to keep clients coming back with more work.
On the other hand, people sometimes feel a personal brand is less scalable. People may always expect to work with just you, which can make it harder to bring in associates.
If you’re just starting out as a freelance trainer and you’re relatively inexperienced, your name might not be known within your industry yet. Some people feel this emphasises the solo nature of freelancing, which can make it hard to compete with bigger training providers.
On the other hand, this personal touch can be an advantage.
Should you create a company name?
You may have a preference for a name that describes what you do – The Trainers Training Company, for example, fits in that bracket – or you might prefer a more abstract or value-driven name for your training business.
As I’ve said in past articles, if you want to remain a freelancer, build your professional reputation and don’t have plans to sell your training business, then you may decide a personal brand is the right way forward.
If you’re focused on taking on employees, stepping back from the daily running of your business or selling it as a going concern in the future, then a business brand would be the more logical choice.
Think about the longevity of your business name. Would it still work if you sold your business or if you changed your training services or niched?
Step 3: Find your tone of voice
Once you’ve broadly identified your business identity and you feel confident about your business name, you’ll need to start thinking about your tone of voice.
With a personal brand, for example, people might expect a more informal, chatty type of marketing where you forge a personal connection. Ideally, people will feel like they’ve heard you speak through your marketing.
If your business includes several trainers, you might want to speak as the business rather than as individuals. This could affect how you talk in your marketing.
Your tone of voice will also be driven by the industry in which you plan to work or the expectations of trainees. For example, people might expect a more formal, traditional tone of voice if you provide services for solicitors, accountants, medical professionals or business executives.
But if you’re training creatives, solopreneurs, other trainers, social media marketers, etc., you may be able to adopt a less traditional approach.
Your tone of voice will undoubtedly evolve over time but it’s good to start out with your brand identity in mind.
Think about the words your clients commonly use within their roles and industry. You should aim to mirror their language.
One top tip when working on your marketing messages is to go back over what you’ve written before you publish anything and ask, “So what?”, i.e. “Why does that matter to my clients?”
Step 4: Identify your marketing essentials
A common mistake is to think that you have to create branded stationery, a glossy printed brochure, business cards, flyers and other marketing materials before you can launch a training business.
Nine out of ten times this will be a colossal waste of money and completely the wrong place to put your focus.
Arguably, you don’t even need a logo or domain name to get started. The most important thing you can do is decide who you want to work with and why.
Then work on creating a logo or buying your web domain. The glossy brochures, email marketing campaigns, live videos, lead magnets, etc. can all come later.
Step 5: Develop a marketing strategy
Planning is essential to every part of your training business and your marketing is no exception.
Before you embark on any marketing activity, you need to set goals for your business and pinpoint how you can use marketing to achieve them.
Example goals might be:
- Work with five new clients this quarter
- Secure repeat bookings from five existing clients
- Launch an online training programme
- Boost professional reputation by guest blogging for X, Y or Z
- Improve client loyalty by offering a VIP service for the three most profitable clients
The key is to make your goals precise and measurable and then map out how you can use different marketing activities to help you achieve them.
This will make the bones of your marketing strategy, which should be something you review on a regular basis as your goals change.
Step 6: Create your website
It’s only once you know what you want to achieve in your training business that you should start working on resources such as your website.
This should reflect your brand identity, tone of voice, key messages and goals.
Although some trainers manage well without a website, I personally believe that potential clients expect us to have an online presence these days. A simple site featuring a Home page, Services page, About page and Contact form can be enough to attract enquiries.
Unlike social media platforms and other online spaces, you should have complete control of how you develop your website as a marketing tool.
You can build your presence with blogs, lead magnets (see Step 7 below), webinars, tutorials, ebooks, etc. via your website if you choose.
It’s important to include Search Engine Optimisation in your online marketing strategy. A client-focused approach can help bring high-quality traffic to your website, which is great for bookings.
Step 7: Develop marketing that serves your goals
You can’t market your training business to everyone using every marketing technique via every available platform. Nor should you. As well as decimating your budget, this would just dilute your message.
Instead (and sorry to keep banging this drum), think about who you want to reach, why and where they are most likely to engage with your marketing.
You may need to experiment with different approaches before you hit on the right formula – just remember to measure the outcomes of any marketing to monitor how cost effective it is.
Step 8: Grow your mailing list
It’s much easier to market your training services to someone who’s already aware of your business and has expressed interest in hearing from you.
This is why people say “your money is in your mailing list”.
Your mailing list is a collection of contact details for people who have actively given you permission to contact them, something that is incredibly important for data protection purposes.
Your website, for example, is an important marketing tool but it’s so much more powerful if you’re able to use it to capture contact information for potential clients.
This is why your marketing blueprint should include a mechanism for lead capture.
The most common approach is to offer a lead magnet as an incentive for signing up to a mailing list. Typically, a lead magnet is a low cost or free piece of content that provides some value to potential clients and illustrates your field of expertise. You can find a list of irresistible lead magnet ideas here.
Step 9: Find time for marketing
Cash flow is a common concern for freelancers. It’s crucial to keep marketing, even during your busiest periods, so that you’re always creating interest around your training services. Many people wait until their diary goes quiet to focus on marketing but, as it can take three to six months to work, this tends to be bad for cash flow.
My advice is to schedule marketing time into your working day/week. You can create a marketing calendar to do this.
Even spending just 10 minutes a day on your marketing can make a huge difference to your workflow over the year.
Successful marketing takes practice.
The most important thing to remember is that you should measure everything you do to understand its effectiveness. This will help you figure out what resonates with your clients and what doesn’t.
Keep those all-important goals in mind and ask yourself, “Does this marketing activity serve Goal X, Y or Z?”
Be creative with your approach. If your budget is tight, you’d be amazed how much marketing you can do for free – here are just 10 ideas!
Keep an eye on what other people are doing – look at your competitors, your industry, what your clients are talking about on social media, new trends, marketing that you respond to, brands you love. These can all be sources of inspiration.
If you put your clients’ needs at the heart of your marketing and take approaches aligned with your brand identity, you’re on to a winner.
Want more advice about branding and marketing your training business? Check out these fab articles:
- 20 top trainers share their best marketing tips
- Five big marketing trends (and how to use them)
- Seven essentials for your marketing toolbox
- 7 proven marketing tips for busy freelance trainers
And if you’d like to chat with other freelance trainers about what works to them, why not join the Trainer Talk community?