As you may have noticed, I’ve recently been going through some of my old blogs (I have more than 10 years’ worth!) and updating them. This blog leapt out at me because of its title. After all, I think most of us have had moments in 2020 when our well has run a bit dry! This could mean different things to different people – perhaps you feel like you’ve run out of energy, ideas or potential clients.
I just wanted to tell you that you’re not alone if you feel like you need an injection of direction and enthusiasm about your training business right now. It happens to all of us, even when we’re not in the throes of a global pandemic!
When I first set up The Trainers Training Company, it was aimed very much at helping new freelance trainers set up and develop a business. These were training professionals who were just leaving corporate life and who wanted to go freelance but didn’t really know where to start. Over the years, I have been able to help many clients in this position. What quickly became apparent though, and has continued over more than a decade, is that the community I’ve built appeals equally to trainers who have years of business under their belt. These people have signed up for my workshops, webinars and are active Trainer Talk members because they benefit from ongoing support, guidance and advice about how to find new clients.
Questions to ask when your well is running dry
If you’re worried your well has run dry, start by taking a long hard look at where your business is right now and what you are doing. The following nine questions may help you:
1. Are you relying too much on one client?
We all know the saying about “not putting all of your eggs in one basket”. In the context of clients, relying on one too much can make your business vulnerable. How would you cope if you were to lose their business? Are you reliant on one client to keep you afloat financially? Do you spend so much time with one client that your other clients suffer or you don’t have time to find anyone else?
You might be feeling some anxiety around this, so my first recommendation is to make a note of all your clients and determine whether things are as balanced as they could be. How much has each client been worth over the last 12 months? Who do you love working with? What services do they buy from you?
2. What percentage of high-value as opposed to low-value work do you have?
Following on from the exercise above, make a note of how your different training contracts/services can be broken down by client and job type over the past 12 months? What is the split between high-value and low-value work? The problem with low-value work is that you can end up putting in a lot of hours for very little reward. What could you do to bring in more high-value bookings?
3. Are you trying to be all things to all people and taking anything that’s coming your way?
Often, in business, we feel that we have to appeal to everyone and say ‘yes’ to every enquiry and opportunity that comes our way. There are several pitfalls to this approach. One, it’s exhausting! Two, it’s impossible to be everything to everyone. Three, you will end up working with people who are simply the wrong fit for you and your business. Each of these pitfalls will chip away at your confidence about your business.
The reason I always recommend identifying your ideal client and the niche for your training business is that it will let you work with clients who are a good fit and who value you and your experience (as well as being willing to pay you fairly without haggling on price).
4. What marketing methods are you using?
If you’re struggling to attract clients, it could be that you’re not marketing in the right places or speaking to the right people in a targeted enough way. When was the last time that you did some market research? A good starting point is to email your existing clients or mailing list and ask them where they spend their time online (e.g. favourite websites, social media platforms, forums, etc.) or their favourite marketing channels/styles. It’s also worth doing some research into your competitors. While you shouldn’t get too bogged down by what they’re doing, it can be helpful to see which of their social media pages and posts attract the most engagement or how they’re presenting their services on their websites.
5. Are you marketing consistently or are you just doing it when you don’t have any work?
In my experience, when freelancers are busy, one of the first things to drop off of their to-do list is marketing. It’s understandable that, when you’re snowed under with client work, the last thing you want to think about is bringing in more clients. The problem with this approach is that it’s a priority route to the feast and famine rollercoaster. Marketing takes time. What you do today could take three to six months to benefit your business. If your client well has gone dry, it may be because you’re not marketing consistently. Just 10 minutes a day – every single day – can yield better results than marketing intensively once a month/quarter.
6. How well do you follow up with people and keep in contact with them after you have met them?
The most successful business models centre on building customer loyalty and repeat business from a core group of clients. It’s far easier – and less expensive – to sell your training services to someone who already knows about you and values what you bring to the table. I recommend putting steps in place to follow-up with enquiries and existing customers. A thank you card or a ‘just to say hello’ email once in a while can help to keep your sales leads warm.
7. What do you love in your business and how can you do more of it?
I’ve always believed that it’s easier to be successful in business if you love what you do. On the flip side, if you spend loads of time doing things that leave you cold and make you feel resentful, there’s no real incentive to invest your time and energy. For this reason, I think it’s advisable to take stock once in a while. What do you love doing? How can you do more of it? What tasks do you always put off? What takes up most of your time? What would you do more of if you could?
8. What don’t you enjoy? Is there any way to outsource or automate it or even stop doing it?
No-one is good at everything. We all have our individual talents and the best thing you can do for your business is utilise your talents as much as possible. If there are aspects of freelancing that you struggle with, why not take a look at how you can potentially remove them from your day?
Is there something you could outsource? This could be your accounts, social media management, email marketing or diary management, for example.
Are there administrative tasks or marketing tasks that you could automate, such as the emails that go out to people who sign up to course or download a lead magnet?
Is there another way of approaching a task that is more in line with who you are and what you love? For example, if you hate pre-recording marketing videos, how about being more spontaneous and chatting to your audience via Facebook Lives or LinkedIn Video?
9. Do you know what your goals are for your training business?
One of the best ways to reinvigorate your business, to fill that metaphorical well, is to get crystal clear on your goals. What training do you want to deliver? Who do you want to work with? How much do you want to earn in the next tax year? What services do you need to sell, and for how much, to achieve this? Once you understand where you want your business to go, you can start to create a map to take you there.
Knowing the answers to these questions, analysing what’s working and what isn’t will give you a good starting point for putting together a plan to re-energise your training business as we head into the next decade.
This blog was first published in January 2010 and has been updated in December 2020.