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Brush up skills to beat the recession

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PAINT POTMark Benjamin's solution to the downturn is not marketing and corporate pitches, but overalls, a paintbrush and ladder. His client is not a major plc, but Luigi's Italian Pizzeria. He hopes his story will inspire others to think in a new and different way about the journey forwards.







During the past year, opportunities for new contract work have proved inversely proportional to my efforts to capture them - despite a glowing CV and 15 years time served in an industry to which I'm dedicated, and proud to have achieved great results with many people.

Sadly however, many 'opportunities' that have materialised have often proved a poisoned-chalice of conflicting agendas, one-sided contracts, and for the first time in my career, clients who are bad payers. Like many readers, perhaps, I had thought about giving up on the training industry and going back to my humble roots (in an entirely different profession).

Photo of Mark Benjamin"The skills which we take for granted in the training and consulting industry are not only high-level ones, but also truly transferrable... link them up with another skill or interest you have, and hey presto, you are in a new place of opportunity."

Fortunate to be a practical type, I've often been a 'handyman' for friends and family - which I greatly enjoy - and it's also an antidote to the often demanding world of winning hearts and minds. Recently, by chance, a neighbour (who didn't know about my 'proper' career) asked me if I did this sort of thing for other people. In true spirit, I answered 'perhaps', and we sat down to discuss his project - to smarten-up the ageing frontage of his Italian family pizza restaurant.

Although a little nervous about stepping outside of my comfort zone (conference rooms, flipcharts, and groups of corporate professionals) I submitted a proposal and quotation. The dialogue moved on to how to 'lift' the image of the business, and soon three generations of the family were excitedly involved in the conversation. I realised that they too were facing the same uncertainties as I, and that we had a working relationship based on mutual trust.

At this point, I also realised something important: That my skills and life experience are truly transferable - let me explain:

Relationship skills: The client was delighted when I turned up on time, listened, asked questions, and gave advice without condition, or pressure to spend his money. I was welcomed like a VIP – (something I've not experienced as a training contractor for some time).

Consultancy skills: Small businesses don't have large budgets, and need to trust their suppliers. The client was totally trusting, didn't ask for references, put me through an assessment centre, evaluate my work using metrics, or ask for a guarantee of ROI.

Presentation and influencing skills: No powerpoint or auditions - just sketches, thoughts, a chat over a cappuccino or two, and getting to know my client and his values personally.

Communication skills: I shared my experience around corporate communication (in this case, the design and wording of 'messages' on signage and menus). The client was delighted, and asked me how I knew so much about the restaurant trade. 'It's all about communication', I replied.

Facilitation skills: Balancing and guiding diverse opinions within a small family business can be as demanding as those of an international sales team. But the skills and process are the same, after all.

So, what are the advantages of diversification? In my case:


  • To use my skills in an alternative context

  • An appreciative & trusting client who takes things at face value

  • No organisational politics

  • No lonely hours spent in business hotels, airports & stuck on grid-locked motorways

  • Being in charge of my own destiny

  • Knowing that the results will be visible for months and years afterwards

  • Oh, and being paid immediately!

Many readers will be asking: surely this type of work doesn't pay anything like even the more modest contract rates earned as a trainer or consultant?

I did the sums:

A recent trip to deliver a one-day training workshop for a corporate client in Europe earned me £600 in fees. Profitable enough, you might say? But then I worked out the 'support' time to deliver this (initial meeting, telephone calls, travel and transfers, materials preparation and familiarisation), the total time input was equivalent to three days. And, I didn't get paid until nearly three months after...

My logic was that I had actually sold my time for less than one third of the rate invoiced. Guess what? - this worked out exactly equivalent to doing my alternative work - locally, and without the hassle.

"I now have as much of the 'alternative' work as I want through recommendations and referrals. I'm told that this is as much for my reliability and communication skills as my practical ones."

You may also ask, isn't this an unreliable way to earn an income? My answer is simple. How many freelance trainers and consultants are enjoying a reliable income in the current economic climate?

Ironically, I now have as much of the 'alternative' work as I want through recommendations and referrals. I'm told that this is as much for my reliability and communication skills as my practical ones, and am seriously considering setting up a new business to satisfy customer demand.

The skills which we take for granted in the training and consulting industry are not only high-level ones, but also truly transferrable - they revolve around communication with people, trust, building relationships, and influencing - whatever the business context. Just link them up with another skill or interest you have, and hey presto, you are in a new place of opportunity.


Surviving the recession – my golden rules


  • Consider alternative contexts for your skills - many of us have connections with people outside of our profession who can benefit greatly from the wealth of life and business experience we bring

  • Think laterally - remember the saying 'If you do what you've always done...'. Take a risk, and
    apply yourself to something different - it may be just what you need right now

  • Don't be too proud to offer your skills and wisdom to the most unlikely people. Smaller businesses, friends and family can be the most appreciative and trusting, and the most reliable to do business with, especially in current times. The training marketplace will still be there long term

  • Do the financial and emotional sums - how much are you really selling your time for, and are you personally getting value from this investment of your time?

  • Remember - you are in control of your own destiny...if you choose to be!

Follow these guidelines and not only will you survive the recession, you may even find a new and exciting niche for yourself.

So, I have to be off now, clean overalls at the ready, paintbrush primed, and a spring in my step.

Happy days, and good luck!

Training consultant Mark Benjamin training consultant can be contacted at mark@uniquelearning.freeserve.co.uk or on + 44 (0)7850 711803

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