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setting-up and delivering an open training course – how to begin ?



One of the goals I've set myself this year is to create and deliver my own 'open access' training course.  By this I mean - something along the following lines ...

1) create the course (I have a few subjects / topics in mind)

2) somehow attract some delegates to pay to attend the course

3) deliver the course

4) have a bunch of very happy delegates at the end of the course

I was wondering if anyone would like to offer their experiences in doing this ... e.g. common problems, pitfalls, things that work, things which are essential to get right ... perhaps time-scales I should be thinking about...

My main concerns are...

1) the marketing - attracting the delegates

2) arranging a venue - would a hotel work for this sort of thing ? a conference centre ? ... should I provide catering ? ... perhaps a local hall ?

3) ensuring I have enough delegates to cover the costs ... to break even ... or better still, to make a profit :-) ..I was thinking 15 to 20 people

I currently do some face-to-face training / associate work with a couple of firms, and also quite a lot of on-line teaching / tutoring ... but have very little marketing experience

Any ideas you have, experience you would like to share would be most helpful,

Thanks for your time, Ian

7 Responses

  1. Business and Marketing Plan Essential

    Hi Ian

    I tried to do exactly what you are doing back in 2007 – and unfortunately didn’t succeed. I don’t want to be negative, just share some lessons here.

    I did  break into the freelance world in 2008 but only through gaining an Interim L & D role first. But back to my experience!

    I planned to run some Train the Trainer workshops using some specific resources I had developed on effective learning. I designed the 1 day workshop, put the details and booking proforma on my website. This was in Kent and I booked a really good venue at a local university that had rooms going at competitive prices plus catering. If it had been successful I had planned to go UK wide.

    I then advertised through my local CIPD network through word of mouth, placed an advert in the local CIPD Newsletter that had a 2,000 plus circulation.

    I got a zero response and cancelled the venue booking before any fees were due.

    Lessons here – I should have put together a proper marketing plan. I should have done a much more thorough testing of the market and looked at what competitors were doing. I was trying to compete with the big boys and girls like Mind Gym and the like. I needed someone with marketing expertise to help me get started but could not afford it ! My brother, also in HR and Development was sceptical about the whole thing and was proved right!

    If you already have the contacts from existing work then it may be possible, but from my very limited experience it is quite challenging to get Open Courses off the ground. The larger companies such as Capita, Hemsley-Frazer and the like that are already in there have more substantial marketing budgets, higher profile, reputation and leverage.

    I’m not an expert, just sharing my one off experience. Hopefully the more seasoned trainers out there can come up with some more advice that will help you succeed!

    Best of luck,



  2. Keep the topics in mind but focus on the delegates

    What information do they need?  Where can they be reached?  What are their expectations as to delivery?  Who is going to pay? Look at every dimension of each of these questions.
    Don’t generalise or follow generalised advice.  Advice on design, venue, promotion and pricing is only meaningful in relation to the picture that you create based on answers to these questions.


  3. Know your competition and marketplace

    I’m afraid to say you have set yourself a very difficult goal. You will be entering a very crowded marketplace. Many established open course suppliers are advertising courses which they cancel due to insufficient numbers of attendees. Undertake research into the existing marketplace and competition. What size and how established are the companies offering courses? What do they charge? What courses are they offering? How do they advertise, where geographically and what is their likely marketing budget? How many of their courses actually go ahead? They may not be prepared to give an honest answer so try calling them to see if they are able to get you on a course due to run in a few days time. If they tell you the course is fully booked and offer you alternate days, there is a good chance the course has in fact been cancelled. See if you can check with the venue if it is still booked.

    Before going ahead put together and cost a realistic outline marketing plan. What is your unique selling point? How will you show you are different or better than existing well known and established providers? What will your pricing policy be? If too low you may be signalling low quality training and find covering your overheads difficult, too high and people will opt for better known suppliers. Where will you run your course geographically? Will people be able to get to the venue easily, are other providers already offering similar programmes in that part of the county? Are your courses generalist or specialist? If generalist the competition will be very high, if specialist, how will you advertise to the right people?

    Unless you already have people seriously interested in attending the courses you are considering, I would think very carefully about the practicality and profitability of your venture.


  4. Look on it as a loss-leader

    I tend to agree with Ian.  We’ve never made a profit doing open access courses, but we have formed relationships which have gone onto be worthwhile.  If you know that your product is good, and that therefore it is a worthwhile marketing exercise for your other, more profitable activities, then you could look at the net cost of putting an open access course on as an investment equivalent to that you might make in advertising or any other form of promotion.  If you get it right, it’s much more effective than advertising.  If you get it wrong, might as well go and bury your head in the garden.  But I agree that it’s extremely hard to make these profitable in themselves, especially for small operations.  Good luck!

  5. Marketing and Selling your Training Service

    As Andrew and Iain have said, it’s a tough and crowded market.

    While your services may well be much better than the competition it may still take a long time to break in, especially in this present market when established trainers are having to cut their rates – persevere.

    Your service has to be different from the competition, more effective, or delivered in a different way, or more convenient, more interesting to the potential clients. Be ready to answer the question from a prospect ‘Why you ?’

    Remember that to get a princess you may have to kiss a lot of frogs.  You will probably have to spend a third of your effort on getting customers, a third of your effort continually developing and redeveloping your material, a third actually delivering the training. Keep your offer fresh – there is a lot of tired old material out there – look new and better..

    Identify a sector of the market which you understand and where you know that your services can help them improve their business. Check that  that sector has  money. to spend.  Get out – see a lot of people, go to the places where you are likely to meet potential buyers, promote yourself – people buy from people. Turn those contacts ito friends. Keep them well informed – even if they haven’t got a need or the money they may recommend you to someone who has. Keep making new contacts and keep yourself visible to them. Build a web-site where you can publicise your expertise and experience and give some advice.  Write articles for Training Zone and get a reputation.for the quality of your contributions so that others say they want to meet you.

      My book ‘Winning Consultancy Business’ has a lot of ideas in it . It could be a good  investment. I ‘went independent’ nearly 40 years ago.  I wish you the best of luck


  6. Free Offer

    Hi Ian


    I agree with the others about it being a crowded market.

    One strategy I’ve tried when launching a new course is to offer to run it free for a company in your target demographic.  Obviously matching your offer to their needs. 

    This gives you the opportunity to try it all out on some guinea pigs – ironing out any hitches or problems and also (if all goes well) gives you some excellent up to date testimonials you can use to publicise the open course.

    Usually the company will provide the venue and any catering – so it’s a low cost option apart from your time.

    I did this successfully with a "Coaching for performance management" aimed at new (or under performing) line managers and supervisors.

    Good Luck – and happy new year.



  7. thanks for your comments … looks like a marketing problem….

    Hi all,

    these comments, and your advice are really interesting – thank you … some of the comments support my fears really. On the face of it, it seems like a reasonable endeavour  – but the reality of it …hmmm….

    I think it’s the marketing which would be the problem – and as has been pointed out, … it is a very crowded environment. The suggestions about offering the course for free – as a way of meeting people and getting a reputation…. I had considered this – the thing is though … if it’s free … it’s not valued …..hmmm…

    From reading about your expriences of this type of work, and the issues you’ve raised … I think I have to sort out my marketing very carefully … up until now my work has come mainly from a few people I know (with the occaisional job cropping up from contacts of friends), but I think we are now in a position to offer what we do to other people on a much wider scale ….

    Yes, I think – from reading these really useful comments … I’m going to do some homework … I have got to sort out exactly who would want to attend the course…. and who is running similar courses already…….. as Iain, John and Andrew have said – it’s getting the marketing sorted (and for me, that’s a new skill).


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