Marathon not a sprint runner

‘It’s a marathon, not a sprint.’ How many times have you heard that one? But in the case of freelance training, it happens to be true.

And when I say freelance training, I mean all aspects of running a freelance training business from planning to marketing to building client relationships.

You don’t need to do everything today

If you’re launching a new training business or you want to drastically change your current business model, you might feel like you have to do everything at once. But even with a big team behind you, the chances are that you’ll still have a long to-do list. That’s fine – it’s the nature of running a business!

My advice is to think about your short-, medium- and long-term goals for your business and make strategic decisions about what to prioritise based on those. What do you need to do to achieve your goals? Can you break things down into smaller steps so it’s easier to see your progress?

For example, if you need to earn a certain amount each month, what do you need to sell to hit your target? Now, what do you need to do to make those sales?

Keep chipping away, tracking what works and what doesn’t. While you might not have a fully booked diary overnight, a slow, steady and goal-focused approach will win out with time.

Client relationships need nurturing

It is important to give your business time to flourish.

Nowadays, it’s estimated to take anywhere between 11 and 13 “touches” before one business buys from another. By touches, I mean points of contact such as first seeing a post on social media then visiting a website, signing up to a mailing list, receiving a marketing email and so on.

Each “touch” is an opportunity to nurture a relationship with a potential client by building trust, showing your expertise and communicating what businesses stand to gain by booking you. Touchpoints should continue, even after you’ve secured a booking, because it’s far easier to sell to someone who already knows, likes and trusts your business than someone who’s never heard of it.

But, as mentioned above, this all takes time.

The key is to think of ways to introduce touchpoints between the first point of contact and making a sale. For example, if someone visits your website for the first time, how can you ensure that you capture their details so that you can contact them again instead of letting them bounce away from your site to find another trainer? This might be where you want to offer a free lead magnet aimed at your ideal clients or some other incentive.

Marketing takes time

When I talk to people about the marketing they’ve done to promote their training business, they’ll often say, “I tried X, Y or Z” but it just didn’t work”. When I ask how long they tried a certain approach, the answer is usually along the lines of “Not very long”, “Once or twice” or “For a couple of months…”

It’s rarely long enough!

Sometimes, too, people forget to track the data that’s available for their marketing activities. So they’re not always able to say for sure whether something is working – it’s more a hunch.

Does this sound familiar at all?

The thing is that marketing results are rarely instantaneous. A good rule of thumb is that you will see the impact of any marketing you do today approximately three to six months from now (for content marketing like blogging, it can be closer to six to 12 months) and that’s if you approach marketing consistently. It won’t work if you do a flurry of activity today but then nothing else for months at a time. Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint!

Best case scenario: a flurry of activity might work, short-term, but it won’t lead to a reliable stream of bookings. Instead, you could find yourself swinging between manically busy periods and periods with no work at all. This can lead to a nail-biting ride on the feast and famine rollercoaster, which no freelancer wants.

Networking is relationship building

Have you ever written off a networking event because it didn’t immediately lead to work?

I think we’ve all gone into a networking session expecting to find new clients straight away but it’s not the best approach. Networking is about building relationships with other members. It’s about letting people get to know you so they feel happy about buying from you or making referrals. It’s about going in with a willingness to learn and share and be part of a community, ideally one that includes your ideal clients. Again, this can take time. Even in a networking group that’s a great fit, it may take a while to see the results of your efforts. It will happen though – you just need to pace yourself.

Building a business truly is a marathon, not a sprint

If you are expecting to get quick wins from going to a few networking events and making a few calls for a few months, then the chances are you’ll be disappointed. Training consultancy is a people business; when people buy your services, they are buying you – and they will only buy from you when they know, like and trust you. That process takes time.

I know this can be frustrating, especially when you’re starting out. It’s only natural that you want to know your hard work is going to pay off. Just know that consistent effort, focus and knowing where you want to go are at the core of building a winning business, one that will last the distance and not fizzle out straight off the starting block.

Note: This article was originally published in January 2010 and was updated in November 2021.

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