Guest Blog: Top Tips from our Training Provider, Sharon Gaskin. Part One – Before You Start

This week we launch the first of our ‘Top Tips’ blogs; a monthly blog post from a guest contributor. We work with many freelance trainers here at the Conference Venue and so we thought it would be useful to share some great tips in delivering your training courses. Let us introduce you to expert Sharon Gaskin…Sharon_Gaskin

Sharon Gaskin is the founder of the Trainer’s Training Company. Established in 2008, Sharon works with freelance trainers to help them create and grow successful and profitable training businesses. She has over 20 years experience in training and development having worked with large corporate companies as a Training Officer and Training Manager. Taking the leap in to the freelance world 10 years agao, Sharon is passionate about helping freelance trainers grow and develop their own businesses. We are delighted to host Sharon this month!

A start-up checklist for freelance trainers: Part one – Before you start

By Sharon Gaskin

If you’re thinking about becoming a freelance trainer or taking your first tentative steps into self-employment, it can feel overwhelming. Where do you begin? What do you need to know? What must you do now and what can wait until your business is more established?

Although I’ve covered some pointers in past blogs, I’ve put together a handy start-up two-part checklist for freelance trainers to help you get off to a great start without feeling overwhelmed.

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Part one: Before you start

If you’re still in the planning stages of your freelance training business, it’s important to address the following points:

Determine the viability of your business

Think about questions such as:

  • What training will you offer?
  • Can you think of at least ten potential customers who would benefit from your services?
  • What pain points or solutions can you provide?
  • What will set your business apart from your competitors?
  • What opportunities and risks do you face?
  • What is the simplest version of your business idea?
  • How soon can you be up and running?

Create a vision board

A vision board is a visual representation of your goals – what your values are, what you’d like your business to achieve, how you want your business to positively influence your life, and so on. There are no rules about what goes on your vision board.

It may sound woolly but many people find a vision board a helpful tool for clarifying their priorities and short-, medium- and long-term goals.

Want to know more about vision boards and how they can help you to focus your plans? I found a great article over at Entrepreneur.com.

Create a business plan

Many freelance trainers decide to skip writing a business plan, but I would urge you to spend some time on this before you start your business. A business plan is a fantastic tool for making you think through the details of how you want to establish your business and grow it in the future. It will get you thinking about finances, marketing, your network and more.

Even if no-one else sees it, a business plan can help you pinpoint your goals and provides a clear roadmap for moving forwards. If your business evolves in a different direction in the future or you move further along in your freelance journey, you can simply revisit and amend your road map to bring it up to date.

Know your numbers

I’ve already blogged about why it pays to know the numbers – the financial figures – that will make or break your training business.

  • Where will your living expenses come from during your first year of business?
  • How much money do you need to bring in a month?
  • How does this translate into training services and bookings?
  • What business expenses do you need to cover?
  • Are you eligible for or need to apply for business finance?

Many people recommend having at least three months’ worth of expenses saved up before you go freelance so that you always have an emergency pot of money on hand while you get established.

Choose a business name

Again, I’ve written about choosing your business name in the past, here and here. My advice is to have some fun brainstorming as many potential names as possible, even though there’s a serious point to your brainstorming.

It’s helpful to bear the following points in mind:

  • Find a name that will stick in people’s heads
  • Consider using your own name if you will be working alone and people will come to you for your expertise
  • Find a name that reflects your values and ethos
  • Check the name isn’t already taken by another company
  • Choose a name that will be short enough to use on Twitter without taking up loads of characters, or that can be abbreviated
  • Think about how easy the name is to spell and pronounce – is it easy to say over the phone? Will people catch what you’re saying straight away?
  • Is it a name that will grow with your business?

Register a domain name

Once you’ve chosen the name for your business, or as you’re choosing it, try to find a matching domain name for your website. In my experience, it’s better to have a unique URL than a name like mysite.wordpress.com as it will make your business look more professional and established.

Decide on your legal status

Before you start trading, you will need to decide whether you plan to operate as a sole trader or limited company. Many freelancers choose to become sole traders, but I’d recommend speaking to an accountant for advice that’s specific to your circumstances. I’ve also covered this topic in more detail here.

Your legal status as a business will determine who you have to notify that you are trading.

Open a business bank account

If you decide to operate as a sole trader, it isn’t a legal requirement to have a separate business bank account, but I would strongly advise it. By keeping your business and personal finances in separate accounts, it’s easier to manage your money, prepare your annual tax returns, and provide clear and transparent financial data if your business is ever audited.

Set up a website

These days, I would argue that it’s essential to have a website for your training business. Potential customers will expect you to have a web presence, and a website is a fantastic tool because you have complete control over the content and how you present your services. When setting up your website, think about ways you can capture contact information for potential customers, perhaps by providing a white paper report or free guide aimed at your target market.

If you’ve got the time and creativity, you can create a website yourself using a free open source platform like WordPress. However, you might want to seek out a professional web designer/developer to ensure that your website reflects your professionalism.

ChecklistRegister social media profiles

Back in 2014, a survey by G/O Digital found that 60% of people check a business’s Facebook page before they decide whether or not to buy a product or service from that company. It’s not much of a stretch to assume that figure is higher now.

For this reason, I think it is important for any business to have some presence on social media. My advice is to think about which platforms your potential customers are most likely to use and to build your presence on those first. I’ve written several articles about using LinkedIn to grow your training business, as well as Facebook and Twitter.

Even if you’re not ready to dedicate any time to social media at the moment, you might want to claim your vanity URLs on each platform. Try to make these the same as your business name. Knowem.com is a handy tool for finding out whether specific names have been claimed for URLs or social media.

Create or rent an office space

As a freelance trainer, the chances are that you’ll be delivering your services at your clients’ place of work or at an external training venue. However, you’ll still need a space to work when you’re not training. Some people enjoy frequenting their local coffee shop to work, while others claim a space at the kitchen table. You may find it better to have a dedicated office space at home, especially somewhere you can close the door and leave work behind at the end of the day, but you need to find what will work for you and the rest of your household.

Get a solicitor to write or check your contracts

Many freelancers don’t use contracts with their clients, trusting word of mouth agreements instead, and often live to regret this decision at some stage. I think it is good practice to have a contract in place that outlines the terms of your engagement and what it does or doesn’t cover. This helps to ensure that everyone is on the same page.

You may decide to write the contract yourself, but it’s helpful to ask a solicitor to review the contents to ensure you haven’t forgotten anything or left yourself or the client vulnerable in any way.

Set up your accounting system/choose an accountant

As I discussed in a recent blog, poor cash flow management can make or break a training business. If your accounts get into a mess or you don’t know the numbers that matter to your business, it can create untold stress further down the line.

You have a few different options when it comes to keeping your books in order. You might want to choose accounting software such as Kashflow, QuickBooks, or FreshBooks. Using these systems, you can easily log and track your income and outgoings, create invoices and prepare reports. Some give you the facility to link directly to your bank accounts and PayPal. Many freelance trainers find that they can manage their finances and prepare their annual self-assessment tax returns using these systems alone.

Alternatively, you could decide to hire a bookkeeper to maintain your financial records throughout the year, or opt to have an accountant to manage your books and complete your tax returns on your behalf. Again, only you know what feels right for you.

Set your boundaries and stick to them

When you’re self-employed, it’s essential that you identify your boundaries, make clear what they are and stick to them. If you’re working from home, you may find that friends or family want to pop round for a cuppa or think nothing of phoning for a chat when you should be working. Equally, clients may email late into the evenings or over the weekend. That doesn’t mean you have to be available. If you aren’t free to socialise during the day, let your friends know but tell them when you are free. If you don’t want to answer client calls or emails during the evenings or weekends, then don’t. It’s your business, so you can decide how to run it.

Start earning an income

Once the foundations of your business are in place, you will want (and need) to start earning an income as quickly as you can. I understand that you probably want things to be perfect, or as close to, as possible, but I prefer the saying, “Don’t get it perfect, get it done”. There will always be time to tweak your marketing, branding, financial management, etc. as your business evolves but first you need to get started.

Order business cards

If you’re planning on doing any networking – something that is often very important to training businesses – you will need plenty of business cards to hand out at events; this will give you credibility in the eyes of the people you meet. There are some really affordable business card design and printing services – moo.com and vistaprint.co.uk are both popular.

In Part 2 of this start-up checklist for freelance trainers, we’ll be looking at things you might choose to do once your business is up and running.