Invest in your brand
While you are establishing the direction you want to take your training business, it’s important to be ready to invest in its development. The word “investment” can be interpreted in many ways. For instance, you could offer free taster workshops or webinars to prospective learners or clients, or volunteer for ELT associations or publish articles about your work. In these cases, the thing you are investing is your time and energy. But when carried out professionally and sincerely, they can greatly enhance your own professional development and reputation in the community.
Another form of investment is your money. This may be more difficult in the beginning, but it is absolutely crucial. Developing professionally could involve paying for further teacher training and/or going to conferences. Or, if you have a well-established niche, consider getting the same corporate training as your clients. Sometimes finding clients means attending networking seminars, trade shows, and other non-ELT events - most of which have a cost. In addition, while there are many free ways to communicate your services to prospective clients, you will also have to be prepared to spend money on sales and marketing, if only in the form of business cards and some printed information about you and your services. This is why, in your business plan, it’s important to calculate how much you can set aside towards your own professional development and marketing.
Your online presence
As you gain more experience and invest in getting your name out there, remember, most people’s first instinct is to look for you online. Paying a web designer can be costly but there are many inexpensive or free online sites that allow you to describe your experience and the services you provide in one central location. Setting up a LinkedIn, Aboutme.com or other professional networking profile that lists your entire up-to-date experience as well as how to contact you is a must. Consider paying a translator so that your profile is in the language of your clients.
Since your current and prospective clients will be searching for you online, so too should you. You should be aware of what can be found when Googling yourself.
If nothing comes up, try adding the name of your town or city, and possibly something like ‘English teacher’. If you still don’t see any results, neither will those who are searching for you. Is this what you want? Ideally, they’ll be able to find your online profile as well as details of workshops you’ve given, local events you’ve attended, conferences you’ve spoken at, articles you’ve written, or even a blog that you write. And what you don’t want them finding are any inappropriate Facebook photos that you forgot to take down.
Nurture your reputation
The sign of a high-quality trainer is one who is getting referred. If you’re not getting referred ask yourself (and even others) why. Collect honest and constructive feedback from your clients, learners and peers, and take it seriously. Handle negative feedback or problems immediately and professionally. Very often people will remember how well you dealt with the issue rather than the issue itself. Gaining respect and building a reputation takes time, but fixing one takes even longer. The ELT industry is a small world, and you want those you’ve done business with to think of you (and talk about you) in a positive light.
As you weigh the pros and cons of going freelance, remember your brand is your name. It’s what people think when they hear your name. It is your reputation, your work ethic, your beliefs and values, how you make others feel, and the results you get. And while developing your freelance business requires an enormous amount of dedication, time and resources, you will ultimately develop skills that will make you a better trainer and a better professional.
Further reading to get you thinking:
Cyr, L.A. (2007) Creating a Business Plan. Harvard Business School Press.
Sivers, D. (2011) Anything you want. The Domino Project.
How to Write a Business Plan’ (2012) Retrieved from http://www.entrepreneur.com/businessplan/index.html (accessed 31.08.2012)
© Cagnol & Hogan 2012