15 essentials for setting up a training company

Setting up a training business cover image

Setting up a training company as a freelancer or the head of a small team is a step that many trainers decide to take at some point in their career.

Sometimes, it’s as a result of redundancy. Other times, it’s to pursue a passion or in search of variety or more autonomy. Or to devote more time to the family or other commitments.

Whatever your reasons for wanting to fly solo, it’s essential to lay the right groundwork first with good business planning. It’s estimated that approximately 44% of businesses fail at some point within their first four years (20% in the first year) and as many as 92% of start-ups fail overall world-wide. According to Small Business Trends, some of the top 10 reasons for this include running out of money (29%), being outcompeted (19%), pricing issues (18%), no business model (17%), poor marketing (14%) and ignoring customers (14%).

Knowing this, below you’ll find a list of 15 things that I think are essential to setting up a training company that stays the course:

1.      Know who you want to work with

I talk about the concept of an ‘ideal’ or ‘target’ client a lot. You might also hear people talk about marketing avatars or buyer personas – it’s the same thing.

The ideal client is the client who’s most likely to benefit from hiring you as a trainer. They’re also the type of client you most enjoy working with.

They can see the value of what you offer and how it relates to their company, they’re happy to pay your fees and they’ll tell their contacts about how highly they rate you as a trainer.

When you know who you want to work with, it’s much easier to create compelling marketing that converts into bookings. It’s also easier to develop training that reflects your strengths and perfectly matches the clients’ needs.

"It's easier to love a brand when the brand loves you back." Quote by Seth Godin

2.      Set your goals

It’s crucial when setting up a training business to have clear goals for what you want to achieve in the short-, medium- and long-term.

Goals give you a destination to work towards. You can frame everything you do within your business in terms of how it fits with your goals.

It’s incredibly difficult to be strategic if you don’t know what you want to achieve.

3.      Clearly define what you’re offering

Once you know who you want to work with and what your goals are for your training business, you’ll need to define what training services you plan to offer.

In other words, how you intend to make money.

Think about your knowledge, areas of expertise, demand within your industry, what would most benefit your clients, your location, your preferred method(s) of delivery, the technology you plan to use and so on.

Is it possible to package your training services so you can have a clear pricing structure? Or do you plan to offer bespoke training?

4.      Settle on a business model

There are various business models that you might want to consider as a freelance trainer.

You could offer off-the-shelf training days or workshops on set topics.

Alternatively, you could create bespoke training packages unique to a client’s organisation.

Another option is to create a virtual library of resources and make it available on a subscription basis.

You might decide that you only ever want to work on a client’s site or, on the flip side, team up with a local training venue.

Whatever training business model you feel would be the best fit, the secret of success is to make it simple and repeatable.

5.      Work out your training fees

Once you know what you plan to deliver, how you plan to deliver it and who for, you’ll need to work out what you plan to charge.

You’ll find lots of different blogs about freelance training fees and finances here.

If you can work out a clear pricing structure from the outset, it should help you make quoting simple and stress-free. There’s nothing worse than agonising about what to charge each time you receive an enquiry!

6.      Convey your value to your clients

When talking about your training services or discussing your fees, you’ll find it easier if you have a clear idea about what value you offer to your clients.

Why should a business hire you rather another trainer?

How will they benefit from working with you?

One powerful exercise is to write down all the features of your training. Now ask yourself, “So what?” What does this mean to the client? Why is the feature important? What positive impact will it make on their business?

Here are some examples from my Trainer Talk offering:

Business Growth webinarsTap into expert knowledge that will supercharge your business and help you sidestep common mistakes
Resource LibraryQuickly and easily find information to help you grow your business at any time of the day (you can build your business when it’s convenient for you)
Online Community HubShare best practice – learn what works for other trainers (and what doesn’t) and implement it in your business, i.e. fast track your business success


7.      Speak your clients’ language

The best way to convey the benefits of hiring you as a trainer is to develop a tone of voice for your business that resonates with your clients.

If you had your favourite client in the room with you right now, what would the conversation sound like? How would the client describe their business? How would you both talk about the training?

What level of knowledge would your client have? Would you both be talking about a training topic from an expert perspective or would you need to pitch things at a different level?

This is another reason that having an ideal client is so important – if you understand who you want to speak to, you’ll have a clearer idea about what you should say and how you need to say it.

"It's not what you say, but how you say it." Quote by Mae West

8.      Network where your potential clients network

There are lots of reasons to network and many different networking opportunities.

My advice is to think about your networking goals before you choose a new group to try out.

  • Do you want to network with other trainers so you can learn from them?
  • Do you want to meet other freelancers or small business owners, regardless of what they do, to learn more about running your own business?
  • Or are you planning to use networking as a way to connect with potential clients?

If the latter is your goal then you will need to identify networking groups where your potential clients might be.

Be wary of going in focused on a hard sell though.

Networking is all about relationship building and giving without any expectation of receiving.

9.      Focus on relationships that will grow your training business

While we’re on the subject of relationship building, your time will be precious when you first begin setting up your training company.

For this reason, focus the time you have on relationships that will have a positive impact on how you grow your business.

Only attend the networking groups that lift you and benefit your working week in some way. Go the extra mile for your ideal clients. Nurture relationships with associate trainers or suppliers that matter to your business.

It may sound harsh but you can’t be available to everyone so spend your precious time strengthening the relationships that matter to you and your business.

10. Spend time with friends and family who support your dream

Most freelancers and self-employed people have friends or family members who just don’t get why they want to work for themselves.

I think most of us have been asked “So, when are you going to go back to a proper job?” at one point or another!

My advice is to only talk about your training company with friends and family who are supportive.

With the less supportive loved ones, I’d keep the work chat to a minimum. Only share the highs and lows with those people who are happy to be your cheerleaders.

11. Publish

One thing that will contribute to the success of your training business is your professional reputation.

Your experience, knowledge, client list, credentials, qualifications, etc. will all have an impact on how potential clients perceive you. They will also contribute to how extensively your training is trusted.

One way that you can build your reputation more widely, aside from word of mouth recommendations, is to publish your knowledge.

This could be by writing a blog, contributing an expert quote to a news piece, writing an ebook or speaking at events.

Putting your voice into the public domain is a powerful way to let potential clients hear your insights into training topics before they make a booking.

12. Outsource

One question I’m often asked is whether it’s possible to set up a training business all by yourself.

You might think that I’d say you could but, honestly, I think the answer is ‘no’.

Now, that doesn’t mean that you’re not capable of creating your own business. Of course, you are.

As long as you’re clear on who it is you’re going to work with, you take the time to understand your market place and you create a training product that is wanted by your market, then, of course, it’s possible.

But not all by yourself.

The saying goes that ‘No man is an island’ and that certainly applies to running a business.

With only 24 hours in every day, you could try to do everything in the business yourself but it’s a guaranteed fast track to burning out.

Instead, you’ll need to start building a team around you.

That doesn’t mean you have to employ staff to succeed. However, I think it’s sensible to concentrate on where you’re strongest in your business and outsource the rest.

For most of us, this means finding an accountant/bookkeeper, IT support and admin support at the very least.

You may also want to outsource things like design, marketing, blog writing, SEO, Pay Per Click (PPC) marketing or web development on an ad hoc basis.

13. Work with a coach or mentor

I believe that finding the right coach or mentor can transform any business.

A mentor is usually someone who has successfully run the same kind of business but is a few years further along in their journey. They’re able to share insights into what’s worked well for them, as well as mistakes they wish they had avoided. This knowledge can be invaluable.

Equally, a coach is someone who will offer professional support, guidance and accountability. This is a fantastic way to keep you working towards those all-important goals and to give you a sounding board for how to grow your business.

You might also want to see if you can find someone willing to act as your ‘business buddy’. They could be a fellow trainer or in a different field altogether. The commitment is that you’ll act as accountability partners and cheer each other on through every twist and turn of running your own company.

14. Have some backup money in the bank

During those early days of setting up a training business (and beyond for some companies), your cash flow can be hard to predict.

When you become caught in a cycle of feast and famine, you can end up saying ‘yes’ to every enquiry – even ones that aren’t a good fit – and your marketing and admin can become inconsistent. This perpetuates the problem.

If you can have some backup money in the bank (six months’ working capital is ideal), it will save a lot of stress and panic-induced decisions as you build your business.

15. Be committed to setting up a training company

"Most people fail not because of a lack of desire but because of a lack of commitment. " Quote by Vince Lombardi

There’s no denying that setting up a training company can demand a lot of your time, attention and energy.

You may need to put in long hours and learn a whole host of new skills to make your name as a freelance trainer.

This isn’t an enterprise for the faint-hearted.

However, your commitment will pay off.

If you’re clear on your goals, who you want to work with, what you plan to offer and why it matters to your clients, then your diary should quickly start to fill up.

Surrounding yourself with positive people who are willing you on to success will be a huge help. But, above all, it’s your commitment to creating a training company on your terms for clients you love working with that will shape your success.

Need help setting up a training company? Join us in the Trainer Talk community where you can connect with fellow trainers, learn from seasoned experts and tap into all sorts of training business know-how.

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