Enlighten others—and get paid for it: How to launch and run a training business—Graham Young (EAC conference 2014)

Graham Young has taught more than five hundred seminars on writing and public speaking, and at the EAC conference he shared some of his insights about the business of training others.

Should you start a training business? The pros and cons

“The number one reason to be a trainer? It beats working!” Young joked.

The benefits of running a training business are many: You’re helping people solve a problem, and you can change their lives. Once you leave the classroom, you’re not beholden to anyone. You don’t have to deal with bad bosses or eccentric coworkers, and you can tell well in advance what your schedule will look like. Training is also a great way to learn: “If you want to remember something, it’s best to say it aloud,” said Young. And if you’re already self-employed, adding training to your menu of services is easy.

Income from training, though, just as in any other self-employment situation, can be sporadic. It can get repetitive, and you might face quite a bit of competition.

How should you launch your training business?

If you decide that the pros outweigh the cons, Young suggests the following approach to launch your training business:

1. Pick a subject

Employment and Social Development Canada lists nine “essential” skills:

  1. Reading
  2. Writing
  3. Document use
  4. Numeracy
  5. Computer use
  6. Thinking skills
  7. Oral communication
  8. Working with others
  9. Continuous learning

Many employers are willing to pay for their employees to receive essential skills training.

2. Do a business case

Do some research on the competition, and figure out how your business would fit into the training landscape. Try to articulate how your business would fulfill an unmet need.

3. Choose a business structure

Should your business be a sole proprietorship, a partnership, or a corporation?

4. Select a business model

Should you work for yourself, for a training organization, or both?

If you work for yourself, you can charge as much as you’d like, you have to answer only to your clients, and you can update and change content to customize it for your clients. However, you’ll have to do all of your own marketing, respond to requests for proposals (RFPs) and handle contracts, and you might have to make all of your own arrangements for refreshments, printing, and AV equipment.

If you work for a training organization, you may have steadier work, someone else may take care of marketing and administrative tasks, and you might have the opportunity to add more courses to your portfolio. However, you may have to use someone else’s material that you can’t update, and the training organization may not share your professionalism.

You could get the best of both worlds by working for yourself and for an organization, but if you do, make sure you don’t compete directly with the organization, and be aware that any prospects you come across while teaching on behalf of an organization belongs to them.

5. Get qualified

If you’d like to start a training business, said Young, learn how adults learn. Young recommends The Art of Teaching Adults by Peter Renner.

Professional certifications can give you credibility, and real-world experience in the field you’re offering training for is a source of anecdotes that can help you turn a theoretical concept into something people can understand.

6. Cut your teeth

Gain confidence by speaking in front of a crowd. You might want to start out by teaching college courses or attending Toastmaster meetings.

7. Attend workshops

How do others teach, and how do you learn? Seeing how other training sessions are run can tell you what works and what doesn’t.

8. Find a mentor

If you can, find someone who has experience in training to guide you.

How should you run your training business?

Young encourages using the ADDIE model:

  1. Analyze
  2. Design
  3. Develop
  4. Implement
  5. Evaluate


What problem is the training supposed to solve? (And is it really a lack of training that is causing the problem?) Who needs the training and why do they need training?

Understand that adult learners are autonomous, goal oriented, and knowledgeable. They want relevant information and solutions to their problems. “Adult learners come with certain expectations,” said Young. “Meet those expectations.” Otherwise you risk frustrating people.

Different people have different learning styles, so you should vary the way you present information to cater to different types of learners.


Create a lesson plan, which should include the expected learning outcomes. Select the topics and content, drawing from personal experience, books, reports, journals, websites, social media, and interviews. Choose what teaching methods—lectures, demos, videos, discussions, exercises, role-plays, presentations—you’d like to use. Consider icebreakers or energizers to keep the participants engaged. Don’t forget to plan a strong closing, where you wrap up and summarize the key points.


Assemble the course material, including notes, exercises, and solutions. Balance theory with real-life examples. “When training,” said Young, it’s best to “show people examples in the context they’re familiar with.” Create your slides and other visual aids.

Try to limit class sizes to sixteen people, advised Young. In larger groups, you lose intimacy, and people are more reluctant to speak up.


Be prepared! At least a day ahead of time, confirm the location of the session, security arrangements, and AV requirements. Arrive at 45 to 60 minutes before your session starts so that you can set up. Always have a back-up of your presentation and notes. “Respect Murphy’s Law,” said Young. You may have to contend with double-booked rooms, missing manuals, malfunctioning AV equipment, or other problems.

Once the class starts, greet the participants and have people introduce themselves.

Establish your credentials and explain your role. Create a supportive environment, and be enthusiastic. “Be prepared to meet some great people,” said Young. (That said, some audiences may be hostile—maybe an employer sent them to a training session against their will—and you’ll have to adjust your training approach accordingly.)

If you don’t know the answer to a question, admit it—but follow up with one. See if any of the participants have the answer, and encourage participants to learn from one another.


Hand out evaluations at the end of your course, and adjust your course or delivery as needed. You may be able to use some of that feedback as testimonials, with permission.

Young closed with the top three things trainers must do to succeed:

3. Help solve the problem—whether it’s through imparting knowledge or honing a skill.

2. Instill confidence. “Behaviour is more likely to be predicted by what people believe they can do than by what they actually can do.”

1. Entertain. “If you haven’t got your audience’s attention, nothing else matters,” said Young.

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