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Recession beating tips


We asked Rebecca Midgley to speak to some key industry players to ask their advice on how best to tackle the recession. Their message is clear: don't underestimate the power of networking and never skimp on providing real value.

Photo of David GurteenDavid Gurteen
Independent knowledge advisor and facilitator
Gurteen Knowledge
People buy from people they know and trust. I don't do any traditional marketing or sales. I simply get out and meet people and build relationships with them. My main marketing tool is my free Knowledge Cafes that I run wherever I can all over the world (these days there is no reason to limit yourself to just the UK). I usually run my Knowledge Cafes in the evening for two hours. The cost is maybe three hours of my time - that's all! 30-50 people get to know me well and many sign up for my newsletter and from that flows my paid-for work. So my advise: build relationships and go global!

<img src="/files/siftmedia-photolib/editorial/people/169.jpg" alt="Photo of
Graham O'Connell" hspace="5" />Graham O'Connell
Head of organisational learning & standards
National School of Government
There are three things you have to deliver: value, value, and value. Credit crunch or not, this is something you always need to keep in your sights. Some cheaper providers compete on price, and now is when loss leading and bulk buying discounts will abound. Some compete in a narrow market (and if that is banking you will know how vulnerable you can be working in a niche) so get out there and spread your risk. Some compete on quality, and that is often where you get the strongest customer loyalty. With less money around, total volumes may go down, but quality providers will usually still hold a good market share.

There are some obvious tactics to consider such as shorter programmes, more elearning in the mix and bigger group sizes. But these need to be confident decisions, not knee-jerk reactions. And if everyone else is doing this, what makes you special? Take a look at 'Simply Better' by Paddy Barwise and Sean Meehan to find out how to win and keep customers by delivering what matters most. I'm sure that building trusted relationships, offering the right solutions that deliver great results and helping clients with their credit crunch issues have to be right up there. And, always, always: value.

Photo of Roy SheppardRoy Sheppard
Specialist conference moderator
Many years ago I used to do one day seminars for freelancers, some of whom were trainers. Therefore, the first thing I would do is reconnect with every past client –these people are the most likely to re-hire you. Go through your invoices for the past one to five years. I would be very surprised if it doesn't generate some repeat business.

In my experience, most freelancers don't like to pester clients - but ignoring them for years isn't pestering them! It's perfectly acceptable to say that you are looking at the present economic climate and thinking ahead to ensure that you keep a busy diary. Few people would think poorly of anyone who thinks ahead in this way.

Ask them who they know who might be interested in hearing from you. If you have added new courses or subjects to your toolkit, make sure you tell them.

The most important element of this is make it a phone call – not an email. If they're open to a further conversation, suggest a coffee or a light lunch just to 'catch up'. During that conversation, make a point of asking them for their advice, not an assignment. People love being asked their advice and it takes the pressure off them.

Photo of Steve MillarSteve Millar
Business and motivational guru
I believe we are about to enter one of the deepest recessions on record. As a former Sales Director and later Head of HR and Training, I am well placed to understand market pressures and suggest training budgets will be slashed by at least a third next year, and that unemployment will rise to around three million by the end of 2010. But I do believe that training practitioners can make a real commercial difference.

Board directors need to see training departments tightening up the commercial alignment between training activity and business goals. Gone are the days when training managers could afford to spend money on perceived luxuries.

Here are three recession busting strategies for training professionals:-

1. Gain commitment from the board to design and deliver bespoke commercial awareness programmes for all managers and employees. However design them so that delegates take away three practical actions for immediate implementation.

2. Stop wasting money on sales training that makes no difference. Tighten up the content of sales programmes, make it relevant and ensure learning is transferred to the workplace. In short, if your sales training makes little difference to the bottom line then scrap it and start again.

3. Develop commercial and inspirational leaders. Do this by using business simulation training rather than the traditional classroom style. Don't be afraid to stretch and challenge delegates and draft assessment reports at the end of these programmes to support ongoing performance management.

The next two years require training departments to be exceptionally commercially focused, closer to the business, and represented at board level. Otherwise I fear the word 'luxury' will be back on the agenda.

Photo of Gemma MiddletonGemma Middleton
Marketing coordinator
Although budgets are tight and spending is being curbed, it is vital that organisations continue to invest in their people. This may be an obvious statement from a company that sells learning and development but people and their skills and knowledge are the key to succeeding in hard times. If you continue to invest in your people, not only will you provide them with new skills to improve their performance, you will demonstrate commitment to them, which will be reciprocated with an increase in motivation and confidence - both of which can be tested during times of hardship.

The key challenge for both procurers and providers of training in difficult trading times is ensuring that investment in development of people has a direct benefit to the bottom line of the business. The key factor now, perhaps more than ever, is ensuring you get the best value for money from your investment and avoid being tempted to simply go for the lowest cost training solutions.

Spending precious training budget on lower quantity but higher quality training is likely to be a more fruitful strategy for maintaining the strength of your organisation, rather than spreading funds thinly over less effective development solutions, even though you may appear to be getting more for your money. This is because these cheaper solutions often fail to deliver real long-term performance improvements, so you end up simply wasting the budget that you have.

Photo of Peter MayesPeter Mayes
Chief executive
Recent (and not yet fully analysed) surveys suggest that training purchasers are more keen on specialism and expertise than price (this was a surprise to me). Also the training should show a good fit with the organisation - off the shelf is not quite so popular.

From talking with others in the community, many freelance and independent provides are busier now than they have been for some time! Comment suggests that organisations are reducing the size of their internal training departments and outsourcing to keep up with training requirements.

Of course the converse to this is that the population of the freelance market is going to increase, but not necessarily with trainers who know how to sustain themselves in the independent market (£300 per do isn't going to work in the long run).

Another weapon from the point of view of the independent is 'worth' or 'value' of the training. There have been numerous articles on determining what value a programme will add to an organisation. A trainer who can sell and then deliver these benefits stands a greater chance of surviving than those that don't or can't.

Apart from regulatory training which must be undertaken, perhaps a silver lining of this current economic climate is that 'tick box' transactional training (for the sake of it) will be replaced by 'considered' transformational training (because it's worth it).

Journalist Rebecca Midgley is the newest member of the features team.

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