There has never been a better time to join the online training industry. With the respective market surpassing the 150 billion dollar mark in 2016 in the US alone — of which close to $65 billion was outsourced by enterprises to third-party training providers — it’s certainly not a niche industry anymore.
It’s only poised for further growth, too, as traditional educational channels and institutions are disrupted by the online training wave and the possibilities for learning on demand and on the go. And that’s before we’ve seen the first mature virtual-reality based training solutions coming too — when these arrive, they will certainly revolutionize training even more.
All in all, this is an excellent time to join the online training industry. Of course starting your own training business is not easy, but only in the sense that starting any kind of business can be daunting.
On the positive side, the market is booming, the tools at your disposal have never been better, and a little passion and talent can get you a long way.
What’s more, you have this handy guide we’ve made for you, with everything you need to know on how to start an online training business. And so, without further ado, let’s go through our 7 tips on starting a successful training and development company.
1. It takes a lot of grunt work
We know that you are passionate about teaching or writing instructional material, but that’s not enough. To run a successful business you will also need to be passionate about running a business.
This means you need to be willing to do all the business related things that might not have anything to do with your core mission – training people.
Things like taking care of your business books, doing your taxes, buying office supplies, managing people, dealing with state bureaucracy, and –most importantly– generating leads and promoting your product.
In this sense, setting up a training company is no different than setting up any other kind of business: there’s always a lot of unrelated grunt work involved.
You should not view those things as necessary evils, but as essential parts of running a business. And while at first, especially if you start with a small team, those will all fall on you, as your business grows you’ll be able to hire other people for those roles (secretaries, sales team, etc), to focus on the parts of the job you love.
2. Communicate your value
Contrary to the well known saying, if you built it, they won’t come. Not unless they know about your service, and why they should go for it rather than with some competitor’s offering.
In this sense, the real question you should have been asking all along is not how to start your own training company, but rather how to promote it.
Even if you believe that your product “speaks for itself”, you still need to promote the heck out of it.
Start with a beautifully designed website, spread the word through blogs and social media, buy some ads. Even more importantly, study the market you’re in, not just the training industry in general, but your particular niche (e.g. corporate training for maritime businesses) and for your particular region and language.
It’s also important to approach prospective customers directly, but also to talk to prospective partners and other industry players (conferences and other such industry events are good places to do both, but for the former, cold calling can also be an option – just don’t be spammy).
3. Fill niches that the big guys can’t
There are some 10,000-pound gorillas in the training industry that get the lion’s share of the profits. If you’re just starting up, and unless you have plenty of VC money to back you, we advise that you don’t go directly against them.
Instead, try to find a niche that they don’t cover – or that they don’t cover well. It doesn’t have to be some special training topic either, it could also be a novel approach to training or some way to cater to an audience that isn’t normally catered by the big players.
Your advantages as a smaller (at first) player are your agility, and your ability to go to directions that a big training company, one that aims for the mass market, can’t or won’t venture in.
And while some software for training companies is of the one-size-fits-all variety, leveraging a customizable LMS platform will allow you to shape your services based on the needs of your customers, rather than constraining them to match the limited abilities of your software.
4. Know your clients
Another thing that the big players can’t do well, and that you should use to your advantage when starting a training business, is knowing your clients.
While there are no guaranteed-to-work secrets on how to sell training to companies, a little personal touch and a willingness to meet a client’s particular needs can go a long way in building your customer base.
With this in mind, where the big players use generic marketing materials and one-size-fits-all deals, you should meet with, discuss, and offer custom-made solutions for your customers.
Where they outsource their customer support to some third party call center operator (and/or to a remote country), you should strive to provide excellent support with a personal touch, answering your customers calls or emails, and having someone go through the specifics with them (as opposed to merely following a support script).
Having a direct line with your customers will give you lots of insights into their needs – even things that they don’t know they need yet. It’s catering successfully to those things that will differentiate your offering and drive your future growth.
5. Always be prepared for your next stage of growth
You might be small and nimble today, but as your company matures, your business will inevitably grow to.
Your task as the founder is to prepare your company for the next stage of its growth. If you’re a two-person team working out of your home today, you’ll need to plan for renting your first office space, and hiring 2-3 more people.
If you are already in the dozens, you should be considering whether opening an office in another city or working with some partners makes sense.
At any such growth step, you should also re-evaluate, and re-invest into your product. Especially at any time that your growth seems to hit a plateau, you should consider some pivoting around, each time adjusting your business model.
You should, for example, look at what aspects of your offering brought you the most success thus far, or at what training industry trends look more promising, and invest in these directions.
6. Find partners that multiply your business value
As a small company, you can’t do everything by yourself, and you shouldn’t be doing everything by yourself anyway.
For example, as a smaller business, you don’t need to build your own marketing department like Apple or Google have. You can always hire a marketing firm to work on promoting your products. Later, as your revenues growth, you might decide to invest in one or two specialized hires, that will oversee your marketing efforts.
Similarly, there’s little need to build your own training platform – which can be a huge, costly, multi-year endeavor. Not when there is already existing LMS for training companies, complete with white-labeling capabilities, that can do the job just fine, and has a proven professional record like eFront.
By cutting such costs and not venturing into unknown territory, you not only save money, but you also get to focus more on your core business.
7. Prove your worth
This advice goes without saying: you’ve got to be passionate about training people, and you’ve got to have a good product.
This advice, of course, doesn’t just apply to those that want to start a training business, but to any entrepreneur.
The training industry, though, is even more sensitive to bad products and bad service.
If you can’t successfully train a business’s employees and improve their ROI, you are of no use to them – and they will know it sooner rather than later. You should always be prepared to justify and prove your value to existing and prospective customers, and you should always strive towards more effective training.
In other words, measure everything (an LMS with good reporting capabilities will help), and take advantage of training features that increase engagement (things like gamification, interactivity, micro-learning, etc).
The plus side is that if you’re passionate, and if you have built an effective training service, the training industry is not only a great industry to be part of, but also one that’s only now starting to show its full potential.