What’s the one thing all freelance trainers must learn?

I’ll give you a clue… it has nothing to do with training (well, not the training you deliver anyway!).

Yes, to succeed long-term as a freelance trainer, you need to know the stuff you teach. I’m sure that goes without saying. Whatever you promise to your clients, you need to be able to deliver. What this means will depend on your particular skills, knowledge and training services.

Hopefully, though, you’ve got the “training” part of being a freelance trainer in the bag already or, if you haven’t, you’re working on the skills you’ll need to get there.

There’s another part to being a successful freelance trainer that people often forget – especially when they’re starting out – and that’s the “freelance” bit.

What does it mean to be freelance?

From a legal standpoint, being freelance means that you’re available for hire as an independent contractor, offering services to multiple clients at the same time.

But I’m not really thinking of legal definitions when I talk about the one thing freelance trainers must learn.

Instead, I’m referring to the fact that, as a freelancer, you will have to learn how to think like a business owner as well as a trainer. It’s this mindset that I think makes the biggest difference to whether or not a training business succeeds.

What do I mean by success?

I guess we could argue that success looks different to everyone. Some people don’t see themselves as successful unless they’re earning six figures, while others view success as being able to cover the bills or work a four-day week.

For the purpose of this blog, I think success as a freelance trainer means that you constantly and consistently have training work, have a regular income stream and are able to enjoy the things you want to outside of work.

But these three things don’t magically happen.

In reality, many freelance trainers struggle to find clients, pay the bills or afford to do things they enjoy outside of work. In the majority of cases, this is because they don’t yet have the skills of a business owner, even if they are a fantastic trainer.

This is the one thing all freelance trainers must learn

So many freelancers only make a legal switch from employed to freelance status without truly adopting a freelance mindset.

As a freelance expert, Brennan Dunn, says in Double Your Freelancing: “They switch one boss for multiple, one employer for many employers. Ask anyone who’s had to juggle multiple jobs, and it becomes clear what the problem with this is: burnout.”

If you solely focus your attention on your role as a trainer, you can easily end up behaving like an employee and seeing yourself as the lesser party in the client-trainer relationship. Plus, if you’re finding it hard to find clients, you may feel like to have to accept every offer of work, whether it’s the right fit for you or not. And you may even end up working for lower rates or sacrificing your non-work time every time a client needs something urgently.

The most successful freelancers are the ones who see themselves as business owners and who develop the business and marketing skills to support this. They’re then able to approach the client-trainer relationship as a B2B transaction that serves both parties equally.

There are plenty of training programmes out there to help increase your training skill levels (especially of the NLP type!) but just make sure you’re putting the same, if not more, investment in your business and marketing skills.

It’s these skills that will help you be a successful freelance trainer!

Need help with your business and marketing skills?

The Complete Trainer is a rolling cycle of modular training designed by training business owners for training business owners. Learn about business strategy, marketing, what systems to use, how to create a profitable training business and much more.

Note: This blog was written in July 2012 and updated in October 2021.


Won't be long!

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