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When I grow up I want to be.........

I have realised that becoming an freelance IT trainer is not an obvious career choice, it seems to be just something you fall into.

A number of people have asked me how and why I became an IT freelance trainer, the secret to my success and the pitfalls.

How long have you been within the IT training industry?

For 15 years, including approximately 3 years working for Parity Training, and then rest as a freelance trainer.
How did you become an IT trainer?
I have always tutored Biology, Chemistry and Maths during university as a way earning extra money to supplement my grant.
While studying for my PhD at City University, I was asked to deliver an Introduction Microsoft Access course to their Continuing Professional Development Department evening classes.
I designed and delivered a 2 hour per week ,10 week course, to 24 mature students.
The following term I was asked to delivered Advanced Microsoft Excel and Advanced Microsoft Word courses.
I was then asked by the London Enterprise Agency to design and deliver a suite of 1 day Microsoft Offices courses, for new business start-ups, to use the functionality in Access, Excel, Word and Project to create business effective documents.
And the rest is history
What made you become a Freelance IT Trainer?
The great thing about being a trainer, is that you make people consciously aware of their true potential.  I feel that I have one of the best jobs in the world, and this is why I am passionate about what I do.
There is nothing better than the buzz you get when at the start of the course, you have a group of delegates who are either nervous, unconfident or unresponsive and would rather be anywhere than in that training room, metamorphosis into energised, excited confident group of people, who cannot wait to try their new knowledge back at the office.
What I did not like was the quality of the courses being delivered and the service provided by the training company to their customers. For them it was a “bums on seats” exercise, and invariably delegates were getting shoe horned into the nearest fit courses that suited the company and not the customer.
As a trainer I felt undervalued and exploited by the company, my career options were severely limited, and when my line manager threatened to physically attack me, and it was seen by the company that he was joking, I then realised that it was time to make a very quick exit!!!
I always thought that customers deserved better, and I wanted to be able to provide my clients with better solutions, that was customer focussed job and organisation relative which includes real support both pre and post course, to meet their needs, rather than the needs of a  sales person.
What was the thing that made you finally leave a secure paid full time job?

I had decided that I wanted to leave Parity in Jan 2001, as I did not feel safe or supported by the company.
I started applying for other training jobs, but I kept on getting the same answer, “We would like to employ you, but we do not think that you are worth the salary you want”
I started asking, “What is it that you are doing that I cannot do for myself?”
It was at this point, I started working on setting up Maximum Impact Solutions, in April 2001.
The final push came, after delivering a Introduction PowerPoint course, I was buzzing, excited, really happy and energised, as the course had been really fun.
I was walking through the corridor of the Manchester Parity office, and felt so alone and unsupported.  I asked myself, “What am I doing here?”
Before I left the office that day I wrote and handed in my letter of registration.
I remember driving home from work that day, with tears of joy in my eyes, so relieved that I would not have to work in such a corrosive and toxic environment for much longer.
I have never regretted that decision.
How did you get your first contract?

Penny Kan Hai and I started at Parity Training Ltd, on the same day, and became great friends.  She left about 3 months before, with the plan of becoming a freelance trainer, but went on to work for another company.
When Penny learnt that I was thinking of becoming a freelance IT trainer, she gave me her list of 15 names that she was going to contact, but never did.  My first client from calling those contacts.
They were a London based training company, that was delivering national training contracts, and wanted a trainer based on the North, to deliver their training.
What was it like in your first year of trading?
It was a roller-coaster of emotions.  I was scared, relieved, happy, elated, lonely and excited.
I knew I had a fantastic reputation as a trainer, both within the company and the IT training industry.  I already had some training lined up with another training company.
I also knew that with my wide portfolio of courses, and that most training companies did not have in-house trainers delivering these courses that it would make it easy for me to get ad-hoc associate training work.
My main marketing strategy was going to be networking, as I felt that as I offer a face-to face solution, I would be more effective is I met and talk to prospects.
The hardest for me was the uncertainty of work, as someone who goes from a salaried full-time job getting a regular income, to a situation where my income varies month to month, but I like the fact the harder I work the more I earn!
I also found that I spent less, as I was not having to commute on a daily basis, incurring petrol parking charges and dry cleaning.
The first year went well, I had more money to live on, less travel,  I felt free!  I had a better quality of life as I was in control of my life and my destiny, but most importantly I was really happy.
What would have done differently?

I would have left Parity earlier, but I would have taken more technical courses on before leaving.
What has been the biggest challenges being a freelance trainer?
Initially it was to keeping up to date with the large portfolio of courses I delivered, I resolved this by becoming more niche.
Building my reputation as a independent IT trainer, under my own brand.
Staying ahead of the competition.  Needing to work out what is the next hot end-user application, which still compliments my niche.
What do you attribute your success to?
Primarily I am extremely passionate about what I do and I love doing what I do.
I absolutely love training people, there is nothing like it when you see a delegate suddenly “gets it”, and the pride,  sense of achievement and the confidence that comes with that.
My passion and excitement about training means that I have very high exacting standards with regards to the quality of service delivery.
It is important for me to deliver an effective strong enjoyable learning experience for my clients, as such I am always looking at ways of improving the service delivery, adding quality and value to the service where possible, this has lead to my really good reputation.
What are top things freelance trainers should definitely do to give themselves the biggest chance of success? 
  • Know what your business model is, i.e. associate work, long term projects and/or direct clients
  • Make sure to keep up to date with the versions of software you deliver training in, it is important to know more than just the course, but to also to know the software,
  • Ensure that you are be able to train software to advanced level,
  • Ensure all your clients are aware of any changes in your course portfolio.
  • Specialise where possible
  • Network – both face-to-face and virtually, tell people what you do.
  • Collaborate – help others, they can also give you some insight and ideas that you had not even considered.
I was recently conducting a survey for a seminar for freelance trainers, and I asked a number of other established successful freelance trainers for their views and experiences.  One of them declined, saying that if she shared that information, that she would “lose her competitive edge”.

And is there anything they should NOT do?
  •     Do not under sell your services, know and charge what you are worth
  •     Never assume anything, if you do not know or understand something ask.
  •     Do not make it up as you go along!!!!!
A freelance trainer, I know, claimed to be able to deliver Microsoft Access training to advanced level for over 4 years, asked me to explain relationships and how they worked. I was initially shocked that she did not know this fundamental feature of MS Access, and this has lead me to question how good she is as a IT trainer, and as a result I would not be able to recommend her for courses I cannot deliver.
How do you see your future in the training industry?
I enjoy and love what I do, so I have no real plans to leave the training industry.
There are a lot of opportunities out there for freelance trainers to exploit, so the future is really positive.
More and more companies are looking for alternative to the traditional training companies proposal, especially with the current economic crisis.
At some point I may move either into inspirational motivational speaking and/or consultancy, but I will stay within the arena of the development of people.


Chrissie Lightfoot

Hi Julia LOL. Fabulous! Helping professionals grow and develop and bringing out the very best in people has to be the ultimate high ... Thanks for sharing. Clearly, you love what you do !

John Dell' Armi FCIPD ACII

Hi Julia. loved reading the blog. You're so on the money with what you think about the need to have passion & you so clearly have it.


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