No Image Available

Stephen Walker

Read more from Stephen Walker

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

Business development for the freelance trainer


Stephen Walker looks at the needs and demands of running a successful freelance training operation.
Setting up as a freelance trainer is a dream that for many people has turned into a nightmare.
If you are to make a success of being a freelance then you need to be clear about many things. This article looks at the 'who, why and what' and gives some pointers that I hope you will find useful.
Whether you want a full-time career as a freelance trainer, or are just looking at working a few occasional hours, the future is interesting.

Why choose to be a 'freelance trainer'?

'Freelance training' is an easy choice for those who have just had their job taken away from them and now need a new source of income. If you are newly redundant, divorced or relocated it makes a lot of sense to use the skills you have to deliver training. It is a lifebelt as you flounder in uncertainty. It helps keep up your spirits in that difficult time.
Alternatively, you may love delivering training so much that is all you want to do. What would be more sensible than to set up in your own business so you can do exactly what you want? Great fun and more cash too! There is an osmotic pressure from government for people to start up their own business too.
"'Freelance training' is an easy choice for those who have just had their job taken away from them and now need a new source of income. If you are newly redundant, divorced or relocated it makes a lot of sense to use the skills you have to deliver training."
Unfortunately, being a good trainer and being a good training business owner are two very different things, with very different skills and outlooks required.

What is your unique selling proposition?

You might wonder how many Unique Selling Propositions (USP) there can be. The smaller your niche market, the more specialist your product the more easily you can create a USP.
You can also have a USP that is based on the delivery options – 'all our training is delivered between 8pm and 8am' for example. Whatever your USP is, it needs to answer the unasked question in your prospective client's mind which is 'why buy from this trainer?' As a freelance you have at least one USP – you. Make sure you make the most of 'you'.
Be careful of your brand and make sure your personal brand is coherent with your professional one in case of any bleed through.

Which business model?

The management guru Peter Drucker wrote about the end of the job-for-life corporations. He recommended we all get used to a portfolio of jobs, worked either sequentially or contemporaneously.
You can chose from several models:
  • Lifestyle business
  • Sole trader
  • Franchise
  • Contractor
  • Own business
Any of these can sell through an intermediary like a training company, or direct to businesses or consumers. You might expect to blend more than one model with part time employment, or domestic caring or...the possibilities are endless.

Business development

The notion of portfolio working extends into business operating models. You can work in coalitions with others, more or less, temporary in nature. You can form alliances to create a breadth of abilities to map onto a specific need, a public tender for example. You can form partnerships, joint ventures and a whole range of business relationships.
Make sure you read the small print, that you trust the other party and get independent (it was paid for by you) legal advice before signing.

What skills does a freelance trainer need?

The training delivery is separate from the technical content. So to succeed in delivering training you need to be competent at the content AND the delivery. For most of the business models above you need to be a good salesperson. If your model of choice is a business then you need to be competent at business development.
How many people newly liberated from the rigours of a 9 to 5 job have skills in the technical, delivery, selling and business development?

What about marketing?

A key success factor of business development is a good grasp of marketing. Marketing will take you from your strategic goals through market research to campaign planning. Marketing provides the background platform on which you can build sales activity. A 'marketing campaign' may seem like a big phrase for a small business but it is essential that you plan.
The campaign can be as simple as leafleting, tweeting, networking, or many things. If you do not plan a campaign, carry it out and measure the results you are wandering in the dark.

Why does everything have to change?

If you are of the opinion that change is bad you should keep away from the training sector. Innovation in training is running at high levels driven by technology, psychology and the changing costs of travel and IT. As a small business or sole trader you have the ability to innovate new solutions instantly. Your client wants the manual in red with green stripes? No problem. You do not have to take the proposed manual to the brand committee to authorise the deviation from the 74-page brand manual. The freelance trainer has speed on his or her side.
"As the key asset in the business, you have to look after yourself. Your health, motivation and education drives your business."
You also need to have high levels of creativity to be able to innovate. Your ability to think creatively and innovate feeds directly into your USP.

Where do I fit in?

You are the focal point, the store, the operator, and the deliverer, of the freelance training business. You have to provide all the functions necessary for success or pay someone else to do them. As the key asset in the business, you have to look after yourself. Your health, motivation and education drives your business. Stephen Covey says you must make the time to 'sharpen the saw'. If you fail to learn new things, fail to upgrade your skills, your competition will zoom ahead!
One final point, if you are starting a business it will need a lot of your thought, time and energy. It is like having a spouse, a significant other. Make sure any existing significant others are happy to bring this competition for your time into their life.


I wanted to get over three points to those in or starting a freelance training lifestyle. 
  • There is a lot more to being a freelance trainer than there is to being a corporate employee who is a trainer
  • You will need to focus all your energies to be successful
  • You need help to run a business, you do not have all the skills yourself!
The financial crisis has shaken corporations to the core and not all have survived. Drucker made a good point with his portfolio approach to a working life. You just need to know what that means for you, and what should be in your portfolio.
Stephen is a co-founder of Motivation Matters, set up in 2004 to develop the management of motivation to inspire greater performance. A published author of articles and Conference speaker, Stephen delivers workshops on personal, management and leadership skills across the country. You can follow Stephen on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Blog


Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.


Thank you!