My ultimate business planning guide will walk you through some of the issues, questions and challenges you will want to consider if you’re thinking of becoming a freelance trainer or want to grow your existing training business.
Throughout this guide, you’ll find links to other articles I’ve written about business planning – this will let you dive into the different topics in more depth so that you can focus on the areas where you most need help right now.
Don’t forget to bookmark the article too. Business planning isn’t just for start-ups – as your training business grows, you’ll want to keep revising your strategy. Plus, I’ll keep adding links to more articles that will help you.
What are the essential ingredients of a successful training business?
Over the years, I’ve often been asked what makes a training business successful – are there things that you have to do for the business to get off the ground?
For me, it’s not so much what you have to do as what you have to know and plan. I think, in essence, you must always consider the following three questions:
- Where are you right now? Look at your current skills, knowledge, contacts, experience, budget
- Where do you want to be? Think about your short-, medium- and long-term goals
- How are you going to get there? Explore your services, target clients, fees, what support you need
These questions are vital to staying on track – they’re a road map from A to B that should help you stay focused on what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. They can also help you to see any gaps in the knowledge or skills you have to be able to reach your goals.
Want more helpful articles about essential training business ingredients? Check out:
Identify your potential services and clients
Answering the above questions will also help you to develop a sense of your identity as a freelance trainer. They should show you what matters to you.
Think about what you love doing:
- What would you like to become an expert in if you’re not an expert already?
- How would you like to spend your time?
- What aspect of training are you most passionate about?
Another angle is to think about what common thing you can do uncommonly well. Is there something you excel at when it comes to client relationships, training sessions, communication? Put this at the heart of your business.
If you can focus on doing what you love in some way, your passion will shine through to potential clients.
And potential clients are the other side of the same coin. Who would most benefit from your knowledge and experience? What industry are they in? What sort of company do they run or work for? What problems can you solve? How can you make their life better with your training services?
The first part of any successful business is knowing what you plan to offer and who you plan to offer it to.
For more advice about this, check out:
- Six simple questions to help your training business stand out from the crowd
- How to create a profitable and repeatable business model as a freelance trainer
- Is there a safe way to become a freelance trainer?
Find your niche
Many freelance trainers shy away from niching their business but I’m personally an advocate for being as specific as possible about your clients and services.
It’s a hard slog to market to everybody and anybody who might want training services. If you create a training business that’s too broad in its offering, the danger is that it won’t appeal to anyone.
Yes, niching thins down your potential audience but it also thins down your competitors. Get it right and your audience should be much more engaged with what you have to offer because they’re looking for someone who understands the nuances of their field.
This engagement will turn into bookings.
Want to know more about niching? These articles tackle the topic:
- How to overcome the fear of niching
- How to find your niche
- Freelance Trainers: Don’t make this basic mistake
- Are you afraid of specialising?
Common business challenges
Running your own business is an amazing experience that suits many trainers perfectly but it isn’t without its hurdles.
When you’re business planning, it’s helpful to identify challenges what you may come across in the future and plan for them in advance.
- What will you do if you need more work? – Think about how you will feed your sales pipeline, how you can grow your mailing list, how you can reach out to your contacts about your availability.
- What can you do to protect your cash flow? – Earmark time for getting to grips with your accounts every month. How much is coming into your business and how much is going out? How much do you need to earn each month to be comfortable? What services do you need to sell to make this possible? How much money do you have saved for a rainy day?
- How can you compete with larger training providers? – How can you make your size your greatest strength? What do clients get when they work exclusively with you? What do bigger companies lose as they grow that you can provide?
- What marketing should you do? – Ask yourself who you want to reach and why? Think about where you can reach your target clients and what you want your marketing message to be. Start small by dipping your toe in the water rather than blowing all of your marketing budget on the first offer of an editorial that comes your way. And always, always monitor your marketing activities to understand how much money you make.
You can read more about common business challenges here:
Create a business plan you’ll actually use
It’s inevitable when talking about business planning to land on the topics of business plans. Should you have one? How essential is a business plan to your future success?
All too often, I’ve heard about freelance trainers writing 20-page business plans only for them to never see the light of day again. I’d argue that these business plans are bad for business.
However, business plans can be an incredible tool if you use the right approach.
For me, this document provides a snapshot of your road map, marking all the key information to get you from A to B. As you get further into your freelance journey, you should adjust the business plan accordingly.
As an overview, I think a one-page business plan should include:
- A compelling sentence or two explaining what your business is, the issues your clients are facing and how you can help them
- Your target clients or client groups
- An overview of your brand values
- What makes your business different from other training businesses – how do you differ from your competitors?
- Proposed marketing channels for the next 12 months
- Your most popular services and what you charge
- Costs of running your business
- Resources you have available as well as the resources you need
- Your advantages over your competitors
- The data you need to monitor to measure your goals (see below)
- Your goals for the next quarter, year and five years
I like to keep my one-page business plan somewhere visible to keep me focused. When I schedule time for a strategically-focused ‘thinking day’, one of first tasks is to give my business plan a quick refresh.
Keep measuring your goals
However you build your business, I would urge you to set, monitor and reassess your goals on a regular basis.
In fact, everything you do in terms of marketing, finances, service delivery, content creation, social media, etc. should be measured to help you build up a picture of what works for your business and what doesn’t.
Some of the things you will want to track include:
- Your incomings and outgoings
- Most profitable services/clients
- Business costs
- Social media performance
- Newsletter open rates
- Popular blogs
- Conversion rates of marketing campaigns
- Number and source of enquiries
By tracking all of your activities within your business, you should be able to work out which activities best support your goals. It will also help you to allocate your budget more effectively.
If you don’t track and measure your progress within the context of your goals, it’s easy to end up with a business that’s running you, not the other way round.
For more advice about what data to track against your goals, you might find these articles helpful:
- How to gather useful data about your training business (and what to do with it) – Part one
- How to gather useful data about your training business (and what to do with it) – Part two
Follow these business essentials checklists
Business planning isn’t just about your strategy for the future. You also need to have the training business essentials in place.
All self-employed people have some legal responsibilities, depending on the nature of their business. You will need to decide the structure of your business for tax and VAT purposes.
There are also practical tools, resources and operational decisions that will help your training business run smoothly – check out my start-up checklist for freelance trainers – Part one (Before you start) and Part two (Once your business is up and running)
Business planning overview
Above all, my takeaway message from this business planning guide is that you should be as deliberate as possible about the direction of your business.
Make decisions with your goals in mind. Say yes to new opportunities if they fit your goals. Say no if something won’t serve you well.
Many training businesses evolve organically and, while this can work out for some people, it can end up taking you in the wrong direction. Yes, you want to meet your clients’ needs but be wary of getting pulled along by the tide of other people’s agendas.
Business planning will keep you focused and swimming in the right direction. It will give you a framework to correct mistakes, identify possibilities and align your training business with your wider life.
Trust me, business planning works.
How often do you think about or spend time on business planning? What are your goals for your training business? Do you think business plans are helpful? I’d love to hear your thoughts about this big topic.
And if you’d like to talk about business planning with fellow freelance trainers, Trainer Talk is the place to do it, either as a full member (at Trainer Talk live and online) or as an online member of our fantastic training community.