How to Become a Training Consultant
Those of you who've met me in person will be aware that I LOVE my job. I'm crazily passionate about people development, training and my niche (customer access, healthcare, communication, happiness and being the best you can be).
Inevitably some of the people I train get inspired as much by the idea of becoming a self-employed training consultant as they do by the workshop or session I run for them.
I get asked lots of questions about my job during the coffee breaks and via email after the training. I've put together this article to hopefully help answer many of those questions and provide a beginners' blueprint for becoming self-employed in the "consultancy/training expert" field. It isn't intended as a comprehensive guide, and doesn't replace professional advice, but should point you in the right direction!
Why become an “Expert/Trainer for Hire”?
1. Your work is based entirely on your passion and knowledge – you get to find your unique voice and to share it with your chosen community. You teach and develop and grow that community. I find this inspirational and it really gives me a zest for my working life.
2. Your work is almost totally Relating and Creating – There are fundamentally only two tasks to focus on.
Relating – connecting with, understanding and building trust within your community
Creating – creating useful solutions, content, workshops, information and products that add value to that community
If those two functions excite you, you will love being a training consultant. There are other advantages too:
3. You can work from anywhere at any time you choose. This flexibility is liberating!
4. You can work with and collaborate with whom you like
5. What you earn is down to you and not your boss
6. What you earn is based on how many people you help and by how much you help them. Not how many hours you work!
7. You don’t need a big team of people. You can be extremely successful on your own. A team of you plus one part-time admin/office person is likely to be the most you will need. Even the global superstars of learning and training, who turn over >£100million typically have 5 or fewer full-time staff (they outsource all other tasks). But if you do want to lead a large team of staff, that model can work too.
8. The tools you need to start are very cheap. A PC and a phone and that’s about it. Your marketing is likewise effectively free or very nearly free: Website can be on wordpress, social media via linkedin, facebook & twitter, your own TV channel on YouTube and if you want an online store, Paypal or Google can do it for you.
First and foremost, you need to find your topic or niche.
I cannot overstate the importance of this. I came to recognise the importance of finding my niche via a learning process: initially I tried to be all-things-to-all-customers, trying to appeal to everyone and keep a diverse customer base. I was very keen to say “Yes” (I’m an accommodating chap and can turn my hand to most things… plus I had a mortgage and bills to pay!).
When I started out, I ran training workshops on selling skills, advanced selling skills & persuasion psychology, consultative selling, negotiation skills, first line management, coaching, leadership, presentations, large group facilitation, running effective meetings, train the trainer, field-visit coaching, sales planning, sales territory management, Key Account Management, communication skills, versatile communication, assertiveness, customer service, tele-sales, time management, peak performance …and of course Access Skills and Exhibition Skills.
And I worked across various industries: IT, telecoms, building, engineering, aerospace, financial, food, FMCG, consultancy, accounting … and of course Pharmaceutical and Medical Devices. Access Skills was always my biggest seller (it’s not a coincidence that it was always my favourite workshop) and healthcare represented the majority of my work.
The problem with trying to appeal to all was that it diluted my offering. I was too vague to stand out in a crowded training market; my audience didn’t know what my specialty was. Why choose me over the others? It also meant I was too thinly spread to truly focus on and master my area of passion; Access Skills.
Once I did specialise and became absolutely clear on what I wasn’t going to do, my success (and my earnings) took off. I am known in the pharmaceuticals industry as ‘Mr Customer Access’ - Google ‘pharmaceutical access skills’ in the UK and you will find me on the first results page. I don’t pay for that; even Google knows (- another benefit of owning your niche)!
It seems counter-intuitive that offering fewer solutions will earn you more – but believe me it is essential to have a defined niche. 20% of your activities are likely to provide you with 80% of your rewards – identify this 20%. Then become a specialist in it.
So, as early as possible in your Training Consultancy career, choose ONE topic. Claim it and master it!
How to Define your Niche
In short: follow your passion!
Choose a topic:
· you already love to immerse yourself in
· you already love to research
· you choose to invest time and money in (reading about, participating in, talking about…)
· you’d love to learn more about
· that reflects you and your journey in life
· that you are willing to live and breathe!
Notice I haven’t suggested you ‘list the activities you’ve done most frequently/have the most experience of over the past X years’. If that is the same thing you’ve arrived at in answering questions above, great! If not, then acknowledge that your passions have not been effectively utilised in your career so far. That’s no bad thing: you can now cross off the things you DON’T want to specialise in!
My tip for distilling and clarifying your ideas is this: Get 3 sheets of plain A4 paper. You are going to brainstorm 3 lists (or Mindmaps); one on each sheet.
First sheet write RESPECT. On this sheet brainstorm as many topics from your life (not just your work life) where your opinion is RESPECTED. What topics do people ask your advice on? What topics do people turn to you for help? On what is your opinion valued and listened to?
Second sheet write RESULTS. On this sheet, same again, brainstorm as many topics from your life where you personally have achieved some top quality tangible RESULTS (say better than 80% of the rest of the world)? In what fields have you been in the top 20% of participants? What results are you most proud of? Where have you been particularly successful?
Third sheet write RESEARCH. Finally on this sheet brainstorm all the topics you love to RESEARCH. What topics of books do you read, which blogs do you consult, which section of the newspaper do you turn to, who do you like reading about (& what field are they in?), what degree or further education would you study if you could?
Stay open minded and keep adding to your 3 lists.
Now put your 3 lists side by side. Is there one topic that appears on all three lists? If there is, THIS could be your niche! If you are lucky enough to have 2 (or more) topics on all three lists you could consider combining the two into a unique offering. E.g. Yoga for rock-climbers, public-speaking for nurses, access skills for medical sales people etc.
You may not have a topic appearing on all 3 lists. All is not lost! You may not realise it, but it is absolutely possible to become an expert in an area where you yourself have not yet experienced success.
The key is passion: passion for the subject, and a passion for research.
Why is passion as important as experience?
For example, if you were looking for advice on property investment, on the surface it may seem counter-intuitive to hire an ‘expert in real estate investment’ who had never invested in property themselves … BUT, if that person had interviewed in detail 20 of the world’s leading self-made property billionaires and distilled their advice and knowledge into a 10-step programme coupled with a 150 page e-book, you might attend their workshop (or at least buy their book!).
People ask who they trust for advice, even if that person is not (yet) a “guru” of world renown.
Secondly, passion is what will drive you to deliver. On those days when it’s pouring down with rain, your car gets a burst tyre and the laptop runs out of batteries just as you start your presentation, PASSION is what is going to keep you going when there is no manager barking at you to deliver. Belief in yourself and your training will come across, whatever mishap may occur. In the same vein, LACK of passion speaks volumes. We’ve all experienced an endless corporate training session about a topic that the trainer can barely stay awake to communicate, that we’ve already forgotten as soon as the tea break arrives. Don’t be that guy. (Or girl.)
If you can’t be absolutely 100% sure what your niche is at the outset, make a start on a few topics and notice what you naturally gravitate towards.
Find your Audience
Once you have your niche (or your best guess about what your niche is), you need to think about who your audience is.
· Who do you want to serve most?
· Who will most likely benefit from your training? Who has the need?
· Who is most likely to pay for this knowledge and know-how?
In many cases this group of people is self-evident. For me, and my niche, my audience is customer facing medical sales people and their managers.
Now it’s time to do your market research.
Ask your audience:
· What are you trying to achieve this year?
· What do you think it would take to double your effectiveness?
· What frustrates you most?
· What have you tried to improve your situation? What has worked and what hasn’t?
· What do you dream of?
· What do you Google?
· What are you afraid of not knowing?
· Who or what do you follow in the media?
· What do you hate having to do?
· What would you pay good money for?
· If I could provide world class information on a topic, what would you most want to hear about or solve?
· What steps do others in your group often miss out in pursuing their goals? Where do they get stuck?
The RESPECT, RESULTS and RESEARCH exercise and the answers to these questions should help you refine your niche. I will say this again: this is vital for real long term success.
Design your Training Solution
Well done on completing the ground work! Now you know your niche and your target audience, it is time to design your training solution.
What type of Solution?
As you may know, I LOVE leading both small groups (6-10 people) through in depth workshops (2-days) and I also LOVE large group (>1,000 people) keynote presentations (1 hour). But these are not your only options, and you need to discover what works best for you and your audience.
There are effectively, 5 different types of solution – each with typically different price points.
1. Read – blogs, books, ebooks, guides, workbooks, articles, text messages (£)
2. Hear – CDs, MP3s, podcasts, conference calls, one-to-one calls (£-££)
3. Watch – DVDs, online video, webinars (£-£££)
4. Experience – Seminars, workshops, live keynotes, retreats (£££-££££)
5. “Mastery” – Mentorships, Full Package programmes (£££££)
You’ll notice that the lower price point options often have an advantage in their scalability. So their low ticket price does not limit the overall potential revenue. Clearly if I am presenting to an audience in Las Vegas on Monday I cannot also be presenting in London on the same day. But I could be selling 100 e-books while I sleep.
Choose your type of solution and get creating! (I will leave this up to you – I assume you know your stuff and have studied learning styles and training skills etc.) Do beware of trying to do too much in one go; in the early days, it’s important to channel your energies where you will gain the greatest return for your aims. Spending 6 months developing a slick and professional-looking app that only your mum and your sister download may not be as useful as building a client database, for example.
That said, consider bundling different solutions together. Offer a small amount of FREE, valuable content and some MASSIVELY discounted content to tempt some early clients – their feedback and testimonials plus their leads and recommendations will kick-start your business.
Reaching out to your audience is usually fairly self-explanatory if you have done your homework
· Get a decent, easy-to-manage website with a simple-to-remember domain
· Attend events that your audience also attend – network!
· Connect online: forums, facebook, twitter and in particular Linkedin
· Phone people up; read industry news for potential leads
· Have some proposal documents ready to be customised or at least a page on your website that provide value and answers FAQs
· Ask for referrals
· Use social media to demonstrate your expertise
Social media marketing is a topic in itself, and the internet is full of excellent free advice, so I’m not going to cover it here. Used properly, it can be a powerful and cost effective way of communicating with your audience. My basic advice would be to keep to have dedicated business accounts - separate to your personal accounts - on each of your chosen channels, and use them to add and share news and content that will add value to your audience. For example, if you’re reading lots on your chosen subject, why not write a review and publish it on Twitter, Linked in, Facebook etc? Not only will this keep you in people’s minds, but they will begin to associate you with your specialism, so when they come to hiring a trainer in that area, you’ll be the first name they think of! Are you discovering quality content and resources which may be useful to your audience? Why not share it and credit the source? This is a great way of building links within your chosen industry.
As customer needs change and develop, so does the market. Effective market research is a continual process of refine and repeat: keep Creating and Relating!
Define your Offering
Remember that who you are and what you stand for is as important as the training solution you are selling.
1. Uniqueness – be authentic and know EXACTLY how your stuff is different
“I’m all about ___________. Work with me and you’ll get more _____________ & less of ___________. Specifically you’ll benefit by ______________. “
2. Excellence – give maximum effort, care more than anyone else about your niche, master your niche, go the extra mile, focus, show your passion, challenge your customers to be their very best.
3. Service – help MORE, demonstrate big-hearted compassion, do good, deliver more than you promise.
And there you have it, my whistle-stop tour through the world of self-employment.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of all the things you need to think about when considering becoming a training consultant, and it isn’t meant to replace specialist professional advice in any area. But I hope it has given you food for thought and some questions to ask yourself when entering the exciting world of self-employment. If you have any other questions, I’d be happy to answer them; just get in touch!
Finally, good luck! I hope you find your experience as rewarding and enjoyable as I have.
FAQs: Other questions people ask me, Ian Chamberlain, about being a training consultant:
1. Why did you make the leap from being employed in pharma to being self-employed?
In short, because I had something to say.
I was concerned by the somewhat anachronistic way much of pharma sales were done. The aimless driving round, dropping business cards off, grabbing 5 minutes with customers here and there, turning up unannounced at doctors’ places of work on the “off-chance” of an appointment, the unthinking message delivery of 3 key benefits etc; this was becoming increasingly unwanted by doctors and was ridiculously inefficient and wasteful for the pharma companies. Is it any wonder that access became an issue?!
I’ve always believed that the sales rep job done well can be transformational in helping physicians get better outcomes for patients. It still has a vital place – but the old ways of selling had to change.
The shift in role of the sales rep and the small but significant change in the way they gain access were clear to me.
I’d also just turned 30 and all through my twenties I’d dreamed about self-employment … So I took the plunge.
And I’ve loved every minute!
2. Was it easy to make the leap – practically and emotionally?
Practically; yes, very easy.
Emotionally; yes, quite easy.
The practical steps to setting up your own business are very easy in the UK. A local accountant can help you or you can set it up on line for a very small fee. It may be more complex in other countries, but it is always relatively simple – far more so than you might imagine!
The emotional shift was somewhat more challenging. I had some fears and anxieties in the early days. I had in the past associated being self-employed with something “risky”.
I train and speak on the subject of belief-change and so I practised what I preach!
I explored the origins of my fear and questioned their assumptions. I also sought out evidence against the argument that my new venture was less risky:
· Who decided salary has to come in 12 equally spaced and equally sized lumps?
· Surely having many clients (and therefore various sources of income) is less risky than a single employer and a single source of income?
· Surely making decisions myself, solely for my own benefit, is less risky than being a part of someone else’s business, their priorities and their plans?
· Surely focussing a business exclusively on the things I am very best at is more likely to be a success over a career of compromise and diluted effort?
· Surely being employed demands that your boss (or the business owners) takes a portion of the value you generate, while the self-employed person benefits from all their efforts?
· Best of all: Nobody can ever fire me, downsize me or side-line me into a dead end position!
At the very least I concluded that if you are poor at your job and don’t offer value, your job is at risk whether you are self-employed or not. As a minimum I took “risky” off the table when I was negotiating with myself whether I should make the jump.
Then it became easy!
3. What do you miss about being employed?
I don’t consider myself to have left the healthcare industry and all the things I liked about working for a big company I still get to do:
· Working with great people
· Getting involved with life changing medicines
· Learning about fascinating scientific breakthroughs and discoveries
· Problem solving, sales and marketing
· Making a difference and helping people develop
I suppose working for yourself demands a little more discipline and proactivity in certain areas – but I’ve never felt that a burden because I am working on something that makes me excited.
4. How do you get your customers?
Largely through recommendation by previous clients. People call and email me. I have a large network of people I’ve worked with and helped over the years. Sometimes they need me again for their new team or role; sometimes they recommend me to a colleague.
I’m pretty findable:
· www.ianchamberlain.net (with ‘contact me’ form)
· And +44 7973 198 910 (my mobile phone, always with me!)
· LinkedIn is increasingly a source of enquiries too: https://uk.linkedin.com/in/ianpchamberlain
Feel free to get in touch!
5. What one thing do you wish someone had told you when you started?
That the more specific my niche and the fewer the range of solutions I offer, the more I would be in demand. As I wrote earlier, this was a lesson I learnt over a couple of years.
In addition to that, some insight into why people hire and re-hire me would have helped explaining my solutions in the early days.
I have found out, from candid commissioning managers amongst my clients that:
· I get hired for the “numbers” (demonstrable ROI)
· I get re-hired because of the change in “confidence and self-esteem” of the people on the workshop
What that means is that initially sales directors hire me for the Return on Investment (£,$,€) that results from investing in my workshops and programmes. It makes business sense. The ROI figures are impressive, measureable and tangible.
When it comes to being retained long term those numbers are still there and they still matter, but my customers increasingly talk about the more esoteric results they notice in their staff:
· Feel-Good vibes
These factors are harder to measure than the KPIs, sales metrics and sales activity but are just as real and tangible, and have a real impact on sales. It is why my trainees remember me too: they remember how they felt after my training.
6. How many days a year do you deliver in person?
I personally deliver around 70-85 days a year.
It varies dependent on travel – for example I “lose” a day travelling to and from the US. So my total days-per-year depends on how many of those days are being delivered in far off countries.
Speaking to colleagues who do similar types of training jobs to me the range for most of them is 60-110 days live training per year.
Clearly those trainers whose solutions focus on e-books, webinars etc will deliver far fewer live events.
Some freelance trainers negotiate exclusive deals with a single client and get contracted for 5 days a week for 6+ months at a time – they effectively become a fulltime member of staff for the duration of their contract (in the way that IT contractors work). They may end up delivering >200 days in a year.
7. Do you do any work outside pharma and medical devices?
Rarely – but it is often interesting to do so.
Clearly the skills I deliver have crossover appeal into many industries – and I look at each project on a case by case basis: if I can help I will; if I can’t, I’ll say so, and try and recommend a trainer who can.
I also get hired by doctors and doctors’ groups from time to time. They want better, more appropriate access to (pharma-medical) supplier companies. That’s always illuminating and interesting work.
8. How much can pharma-medical industry training consultants realistically earn? How do you calculate your daily rate?
Potentially a rather personal question! And also a “how long is a piece of string” type question.
It is a meritocracy and is driven by supply and demand. You earn as much as you deserve to; based on how much you can help other people, based on how well you create and relate.
The market for speakers and trainers is similar to the music industry. Picking a trainer or speaker for your company is like picking a band to play at the gala dinner.
For your band you could pick:
· All Time Great Band of LEGENDARY status (eg. Rolling Stones @ >£1mil*)
· Current Global Superstar Band (eg. Foo Fighters @£200k*)
· FamousBand from the 90s (eg Snow Patrol @£35k*)
· Up and Coming Local Covers Band (approx. £2.5k)
· Sales Director’s best mate’s nephew’s band (£400)
(* amounts estimated from media reports)
You could hire Tony Blair to speak (£300,000*) to your management team or get a retired local bank manager to do so (£800).
The vast majority of self-employed pharma industry trainers delivering their own work in the UK in short workshops (1-3 days per workshop) bill between £1,800 and £8,000 per day (at time of writing: 2016). Think barrister/lawyer and non-exec director type daily rates as equivalent jobs. Like all jobs it depends on several factors:
· Their experience and expertise
· The value of their work to the client
· How in demand they are
· The level of specialisation: are they the only person who can do this or are they interchangeable with lots of others
Clearly if you are the world’s leader in a specific piece of consultancy around multi-billion dollar global pharma mergers you are likely to be charging more per day for your expertise than a general ‘presentation skills’ or ‘health and safety’ trainer.
If you don’t have a niche you will do well to bill >£2,500 per day. Moral: find your niche.
I have developed an Excel Spreadsheet that helps you calculate your rate based on advice in Tom Lambert’s book “High Income Consultancy”. Get in touch if you’d like me to send it to you.
You might be a Sales Manager in pharma reading this, working 225 days a year for £80,000 and be thinking to yourself: “I can earn three times my salary for a third of the work!”
While this is absolutely possible, and you may well have some wisdom to share, this only looks at the 75 paid days … You will still be working the rest of the year, you don’t get 290 days off! You will have expenses and taxes to take off your £240,000 (office space, secretarial support, accountancy, pension, printing, car, IT, telephone, marketing spend, healthcare and your own skills development will all now be paid for by you!) And, remember, it might take you 3 years to get to this level of demand – you’ll be a beginner once again initially; finding your feet, developing your work and building your network.
In my first year as a training consultant I earned less than half my previous year’s salary working in Big Pharma!
Another way to earn a living as a self-employed training consultant is to deliver somebody else’s work for them. This is called “Associate Work”.
It works like this: somebody else already has a training business, they have their audience and they have created training solutions for them. They arrange all the logistics, the precise ways of working and the terms and conditions of the contract. They do all of the administration and paperwork; you run the training workshop.
This can be a perfect job if you don’t like selling training but you love delivering training. It is also much lighter on administration.
However, as you might suspect, you will get paid less per day. By its very nature this type of work is “generic” rather than specialised – the work is designed specifically so any skilled trainer can deliver it (that doesn’t mean that the quality may not be fantastic). Also, of course, most of the work has been done for you by the company that has designed the training programme and found the client. Your freedom of creativity may be limited.
Rates for associate work delivery at time of writing in the UK are usually in the range £700-£1,800 per day.
You are not in control of how much (or little) work the training company pushes your way. For this reason many new associate trainers sign up with several training companies initially to see who sends them the right type and right amount of work.
Can I help you more?
If you have further questions, get in touch. I am always keen to help!
DISCLAIMER: The above advice is purely illustrative and based on personal experience, it is not intended to be relied on in any way. Please consult an appropriate specialist for professional advice where relevant.