How important is it to understand the business of your client? As a trainer, can you work within any sector or should you always niche?
The case for niching and understanding the business of your client
In my experience, one of the things that buyers of training look for in training providers is credibility within the business. They want to know that training will make a positive difference within the context of their organisation.
If you’re a trainer running a programme in an organisation and you don’t really understand the business, you’re leaving yourself open to the charge of ‘Well, you don’t really know what it’s like’ or ‘That wouldn’t work here because …’.
You know the kind of things delegates like to say!
People can be quick to dismiss those they see as outsiders, especially if they feel there’s no common ground.
This gives us a strong argument for working in a niche that you understand.
When I look back at my training career, I think one of the reasons that I was able to get so much work from insurance companies was because, having worked in the industry myself, I knew what an underwriter was and what a broker did – and I could talk their language. I understood the challenges the people I trained were facing within their roles and I was able to provide practical solutions based on experience.
This insider knowledge creates a kind of connection, a shorthand, that means you can get to core issues much quicker because everyone is already on the same page.
What about transferable skills?
Does that mean you should turn down training opportunities if you’re not familiar with the client’s business?
Not necessarily. In fact, in most cases, not at all.
It could be that while you don’t fully understand the business of your client or you’re new to an industry, you have skills and knowledge that translate into a range of settings.
In this case, I would argue that you still need to niche. It’s just that your niche is based on your skillset rather than the industry in which you operate.
For example, you could market yourself as a high growth, virtual team building, or project management specialist. The same principles will apply in a variety of industries. You may just need to do some research in order to customise the learning to the client’s specific needs. This could include checking out their website, researching their competitors, reading industry news, doing some mystery shopping, speaking to a customer service rep and more.
The more you understand a client’s business, the more you can demonstrate how your transferable skills are relevant and the outcomes they create.
In either scenario, you’re in with a much better chance of getting the work.
This is why it’s important to specialise.
Don’t try and be all things to all people. Think carefully about your target market and choose an area in which you feel comfortable, competent and credible operating. It will pay dividends in the end.
Note: This article was originally published in June 2011 and updated in September 2021.