Episode #7

9 ways of scaling a training business. Part 1.

In this experimental solo episode, the host of the Training Business Anatomy podcast, Sergey Kotlov, explores five ways of scaling a training business.

  • Hire trainers
  • Sell workshops of others
  • Publish a book
  • Create a physical product (game, set of cards, etc.)
  • Develop a subscription-based service


Sergey Kotlov

Hey everyone. I’m your host, Sergey Kotlov, and this episode is different to the previous ones. I have no guest for you today and the episode is just fifteen minutes long. This will be a solo talk where I share my insights from working with various agile training businesses for more than seven years, and creating Workshop Butler - a training management platform - along the way.
The topic of this episode is important for most founders of training businesses no matter at what stage you are right now. You may just be starting your journey or you may have a solid business for many years. It doesn’t matter because all good entrepreneurs constantly ask themselves: how can I scale my business?
And scaling here doesn’t mean increasing the number of employees or trainers. For me, scaling a training business is about increasing the impact you make on the market, leading to an increase in your income.
So how can you scale your training business? What options do you have? There are nine different approaches I can think of and today I’ll cover only five of them. In no way I can do it deep within the next fifteen minutes; that’s why I’ll briefly describe each of them, give their pluses and challenges, provide an example or two. If you want to hear more about a specific one, you can drop me a line at hi@trainingbusinessanatomy.com, and I devote a whole episode to it.
You still here? Great. Now, back to scaling. There are two directions of business scaling: vertical and horizontal. When you increase the amount of money for doing the same job, you grow vertically. In the training business, you achieve that by increasing your hourly rate for consultancy, for example. The main downside of vertical scaling is that you still very much need to do the job regularly. No matter how much an hour of your work costs, the final amount is zero if you don’t work for that hour. You grow horizontally when you do some work, in many cases unpaid, first, and then get money without any time involvement from your side. Kinda a passive income but with a few tweaks. Prominent examples are writing a book or creating a game.
Of course, these approaches could and should be used together as they support each other. Let’s say you are writing a book, which is definitely a horizontal scaling. However, the book makes your personal brand more robust and a strong brand allows you to raise prices for your services like fees for speaking engagements. And again: speaking engagements are perfect opportunities to promote your book. As you see, two different groups of scaling - horizontal and vertical - go hand in hand. Used wisely, they can deliver fantastic results.
Now, it’s time to stop talking about generic stuff and dive into details. And I start with three ways of horizontal scaling for the training businesses.
Number one: hire more trainers
Probably, it’s the most commonly used way of growing the business. Many trainers come to it when they have too many gigs coming their way, which they cannot handle all by themselves. Its most significant advantage is that it’s very straightforward - as soon as you have enough work to delegate, you search for a buddy trainer open for new opportunities and… and here comes the first question - how to find a good one, right? The ultimate question almost any business owner tries to answer, and always makes a mistake answering it. But okay, you know several good choices for a job and at least one of them is available, so… should you hire them as an employee or as a contractor?
A contractor is way less risky because you don’t need to worry about what to do after the gig ends. At the same time, it’s also much more limiting - you cannot expect a contractor to be available for the next gig, and you may need to waste your time again looking for a new contractor.
Hiring an employee has its advantages as well. First, money is better as you usually keep more in your pocket. Second, now you have a person on a payroll who is 100% available for any job you are able to deliver - consultancy, training, speaking engagements. And here lies the biggest disadvantage as well - now you have a person on the payroll. Let’s put aside that you may need to incorporate a company first to start hiring and concentrate only on the payroll. Now it’s your responsibility to sell their services. Are you ready for it? Do you want that?
These are valid questions to ask yourself, as hiring someone is a huge step. It often leads to you doing less training and consultancy and more sales.
Let’s say that you’re good at selling workshops but have no desire to hire anyone. There is an option for you - sell workshops of other people. By inviting prominent figures in the community by organising and selling out their workshops, you create new valuable connections and earn money. This approach has numerous benefits. First, as I’ve already mentioned, you establish new relationships with professionals in your industry. Second, you increase the network of potential clients. People who join a workshop of an invited trainer might never have looked at your offerings. But now they are familiar with you as an organiser and less sceptical about what you could offer. Third, you improve a personal brand by bringing well-known figures and giving a local community a chance to learn from them.
So, option number two - sell workshops of other trainers.
Opinion number three is also quite common yet very difficult to achieve - writing a book.
The process of writing a book could supercharge your business by itself. In many cases, you need to run a series of interviews which opens more opportunities for growth through consultancy gigs and speaking engagement. However, a published book is a new level. First, you get a source of passive income, which is always good to have. Then, the existence of the book makes you an expert in the eyes of the audience and considerably improves your brand, helping sell workshops and getting more speaking gigs. Third, you create another point of contact for a low price. Buying a book for 20-30 bucks is way easier than participating in a workshop for fifteen hundred bucks. So the book becomes a perfect channel through which new potential clients learn about your work, become familiar with you and, in some cases, become fans. After that, they are more likely to take the next step and buy a workshop or online course from you.
There are many examples of training businesses that scaled after publishing a book. In Episode One, we talked with Jason Little, who links his initial success to a printed book. In episodes, two and three, my guests were Pia-Maria Thoren and Lisette Sutherland, who also think that their books helped them bring businesses to the next level.
The biggest downside of this approach to scaling is that it’s tough to do. Not everyone is a writer - I am not -, and it takes a lot of time and persistence.
I agree that writing a book may be a challenge for you at the moment. If the amount of effort needed scares you and blocks any progress completely, consider something faster to deliver. For example, a game, poster or a set of cards. Physical products that you sell separately or upsell at your classes, free webinars and various gigs, are a good addition to your offerings.
Compared to a book, they are relatively easy to create - you just need the right idea. After that, the first rough version could be done in one evening. Then it’s testing, testing, and testing one more time. As soon as you have a final iteration ready, invite a designer to make the product looks awesome.
The biggest challenge with physical products is distribution. It may take a few steps before you get to the process which is mostly autonomous and doesn’t eat much of your time. I won’t give any advice on that, as I’m not an expert and each country has its own specifics. Yet I’m quite sure you can find a lot of useful information about it on Shopify and similar websites.Creating a physical product is number four on my list of nine ways to scale a training business.
The obvious alternative to physical products is digital ones. Here we have a range of options from printable versions of games, posters and cards to subscription-based services. In the agile training market, printable versions of a physical product usually come for free so you may find it challenging to sell something from this category. Yet it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try. After all, your market may have a different view on that. Comprehensive online products are much rarer. Because of that, they stand out. Good examples, again, from the agile training market are Agility Health and Scrum Team Survey.
Building a popular online product is a challenge in itself as it would require a lot of your time before you can make it self-sustainable, or even sell it. I recommend thinking twice before you decide to make a move.