Disclaimer: yesterday, I sent this letter to a new client, sharing my experience from the last several years. Thanks to a unique position - Workshop Butler has been a technical partner for 10+ programs since its foundation - I got some perspective in this field. The letter happened to be quite long, and I decided to convert it to an article, with some minor changes.
Launching a new certification program is harder than it seems. Better wording would be
Launching a new successful certification program is harder than it seems.
From my experience, you do need to be committed to seeing the program flying high. Below you find some ideas that may help you structure your approach.
Any certification program consists of four major blocks:
- Administration (business model, license agreement, legal notes, etc.)
- Technology (website, licensed workshops, tracking of attendees, generation of certificates, etc.)
- Learning materials
Though annoying, the administration is easy these days.
- You do not need to invent a business model. It's better to select one from several working models on the market, both for certifications and trainer licenses.
- You do not need to write a license agreement from scratch. Copy an existing one from Scrum Alliance, Scrum.org or any other working certification program and alter it to your needs.
Of course, it requires some initial tedious work, but with precise planning, it could be finished within a week.
Being pain in the ass before, technology is not a problem any more, thanks to Workshop Butler. You configure the rules for the business model, add event types and certificates, integrate it on your website and... it just works.
- Certificates? Checked
- Tracking of expiring trainer licenses? Checked
- Calculation of fees for workshops? Checked
- An up-to-date list of trainers and courses on your website? Checked
- Attendee registrations, payments, email sequences for trainers who do not have own websites? Checked
You spend a day or two tuning your account, adapt to the platform a bit, and then stop bothering at all about it. The flow is the same if you have 10, 100 or 1000 trainers.
Learning materials are the first block that does require all your creativity and expertise. You cannot find anyone to replace you here as it's the knowledge you sell. It's also the part that all brand owners care about a lot and enjoy developing. Again, because it's about creativity and expertise. My only advice here is to hire a graphic designer to create a distinguished brand style to use everywhere:
- learning materials;
- marketing materials;
Do it earlier than later, so people could easily recognise your brand and associate the materials with it.
Last in the order, but probably first in the importance, is marketing. Many creators of certification programs underestimate how vital to work on that part from the beginning or get mediocre growth during the first 1-3 years. Let's dig into it.
You launch a certification program because you want to scale the knowledge business horizontally. There are other reasons as well, but we concentrate on this one.
Successful scaling includes both a growing number of trainers and an increasing number of workshops, run by these trainers.
You must be an authority in a selected field to run a successful program; otherwise, no one would want your certification. It's obvious. It takes time to earn that authority. You usually achieve it through helping businesses or individuals, publishing books, speaking at conferences, running webinars, writing blog posts, etc. When people hear the topic of your program, your name pops up in their heads. You're associated with it, so people are ready to pay you money to get knowledge.
However, licensed trainers are not you. They do not have your authority, and they are not associated with the topic in people's minds. As a result, it's hard for them to sell courses. Put on top of that lousy marketing skills most trainers have, and you get a sad picture of being a newly licensed trainer. Even if that trainer is well-known on the market.
About four years ago, when I just started Workshop Butler and Management 3.0 was already an established brand, I talked to a Management 3.0/Scrum.org trainer. He ran only one Management 3.0 workshop every two months, but several Scrum courses every month. He told me that while Scrum courses sold themselves, he needed to put many efforts into selling one Management 3.0 class. He did it anyway as he loved the content and its ideas.
How to overcome that issue? My take: Do not trust your trainers to make their sales. Make your brand to sell itself.
From the experience of other certification programs, there are three most potent ways of achieving this goal.
Tip 1: Become a cheerleader
First, you must become an outspoken cheerleader of the ideas behind your certification brand. Search for the most effective ways to increase brand awareness, because your trainers will need it. Social media, webinars, conferences, you name it. Depending on your network and your sources, you need to select the approach that is working for you. Because of the pandemic, some traditional channels are temporarily closed or ineffective. That's another challenge :).
I know that it's a basic marketing strategy. Still, many creators forget about it and concentrate too much on giving as many workshops as possible and onboard as many licensed trainers as possible. As a result, they have a bunch of licensed trainers who run no courses as they cannot sell them. And that's not what you want to achieve.
Tip 2: Easy-to-share marketing materials
Second, create easy-to-share marketing materials for your trainers: colourful images, case studies, citations, testimonials, exercises. You cannot expect trainers to be marketing gurus, but you can help them promote the brand and their services with ready-to-send items.
Tip 3: Thriving community of trainers
Third, invest your time and money in creating a thriving community of trainers. Listen to their needs: what obstacles they have, what challenges they experience. The sooner your trainers start marketing the brand themselves, the faster you get the results you want. It's better to have 5-10 very active trainers than 40-50 passive one.
Money is always an issue. In the beginning, it's a way faster to earn more by running workshops yourself, and it could be the only source of income. This may lead to the situation when you spend no time on nurturing the community as you're busy running your courses. Though it's alluring, your goal is to scale horizontally, not vertically. Remember that and keep the balance. If you have enough resources, I would recommend hiring a part-time community manager as soon as you have more than five trainers.
Some of the things I'm saying are obvious, but it's important to remind you about them. When you're in a startup mode, you may get distracted and lose focus.