In my experience, people tend to sit quite firmly on one side or other of the experience versus qualifications debate. There are those that believe industry, training and life experience counts for more than paper qualifications, while others argue that setting up as a freelance trainer without provable qualifications devalues the role.
With the intention of throwing an objective light on the debate, I can safely say that I’ve encountered individuals with a list of qualifications as long as their arm who fail to engage their audience, while others with no qualifications have held their trainees captivated with their real world experience. On the flipside, I’ve met people who have worked at the coal face of their industry but just can’t translate their experience into training. Some people wow crowded rooms, while others work best with small groups or on a one-to-one basis – qualifications rarely influence this, although they can boost your confidence in certain settings.
As with so many things in life, I’m convinced there is no one-size-fits-all approach to effective training.
Focus on demonstrating your quality
Whether or not you hold any training qualifications, your priority as a freelance trainer should be to work out what sets you apart from the crowd – i.e. HOW you work and WHO you are – and how to demonstrate and communicate your quality.
My recommendation would always be to look at ways you can customise your training services to each client. If you offer an off-the-shelf training product that’s the same for every client, the only thing that will distinguish you is the price that you charge and, when presented with identical offerings, clients tend to opt for the lowest price.
If you can demonstrate that yours is a bespoke solution, designed around the client and bringing your extensive experience into play for their benefit, you will be better placed to secure a face-to-face meeting and charge a higher rate, regardless of your qualifications.
Far more than training qualifications, your focus as a freelance trainer needs to be on marketing and personal selling. You need to:
- Identify potential clients
- Communicate your marketing message to them effectively
- Get in to see them
- Work with them to create a bespoke training solution for their business
Continuing Professional Development
Of course, if you are a member of a professional organisation or have training qualifications, certification and references, this can help you stand out from your competitors and rubber stamp your reputation.
For some clients, especially those in the public sector, your training qualifications may tick a box in the tendering process that secures you a contract.
It’s also fair to say that showing a commitment to your own Continuing Professional Development (CPD) makes a statement to your clients that you practice what you preach, that you’re constantly striving to grow, and that your knowledge is current.
CPD can be a minefield for freelance trainers. When you were in gainful employment, you probably didn’t blink an eye at heading off to a £1,000 CPD residential course but now that you’re footing the bill for your own training, you may be more circumspect. Before you invest in CPD, it’s important to consider how long you are expecting it to take before you see a return on your investment? Will the CPD pay for itself eventually? How will it improve your business?
Some freelance trainers prefer to look for other ways to develop their knowledge – this might be by running a mastermind group or by investing in diagnostic tools to help businesses come up with a prioritised action plan based on a strategic overview of their organisation.
Show where you’ve made a difference
There’s no doubt that qualifications are important to some clients and industries. It’s worth reaching out to your potential clients and asking them how they view qualifications versus experience. They will respect the fact that you are building your business based around your clients’ needs. And this is crucial – as freelance trainers, we need to think about our clients’ needs first, then offer solutions second, not try to fit template solutions to our clients.
Ultimately, qualifications aren’t essential if you can show where you have made or can make a difference to your clients. As with most purchasing decisions, your clients want to know what’s in it for them, so your challenge is to make your training proposition so compelling, it’s a no-brainer to hire you. You may find they don’t even ask about your qualifications.