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Risk management tips for freelance trainers

If you've ever signed a contract to provide training for a firm, you know how many things can go wrong. Revisit your contract with risk management in mind and cut down the number of potential problems while increasing your chances for success.


When most of us think of “risk” (if we do at all), we think of it as a specific danger to life or limb—the kind of thing that could happen to us but probably won’t. Managing risk sounds like something an insurance agent or government agency would do.

In reality, we are all at risk every day when we use:
  • Public or private transportation.
  • Recreational facilities.
  • Tools and equipment.

If you insert the word “safe” into any of these activities, you lower the level of risk involved. This is called mitigation, or risk management, which involves reducing the risk of an unfavorable outcome. Achieving zero risk for these activities is virtually impossible, but risk management is the next best thing. This article will explain how you can use risk management to win more contracts and reduce the risks that come with freelance training work.

Risk management for trainers
Most training activities are planned well in advance, so we have more opportunities to reduce the risk level and reach our goals. However, training can be more risk-prone than other professions, particularly for freelance or traveling trainers. In these situations, there are a lot of variables involved—many that the trainer has no control over—and as a result there are many things that can go wrong and affect payment for services rendered. For many years now, doctors, lawyers, and other professionals have had malpractice insurance to protect them from their on-the-job mishaps. Risk management is a tool that can be used by trainers in much the same way.

Good trainers are already familiar with the two cornerstones of risk management: planning and preparation. Applying these fundamentals to the business of training is only a matter of viewing a familiar practice with a different perspective. Trainers can successfully apply risk management to at least two areas of concern: getting the job and writing a contract.

Using risk management to win a bid
Most contract and in-house trainers put in a lot of solid planning and preparation time before they walk into a classroom. This same type of preparation should be used when you are selling yourself as the right person to conduct either in-house or freelance training.

In the current job market, clients often look over your resume or project proposal and then ask you to meet with them to discuss your proposal.

The practice of having trainers deliver a “preview” of the desired class has always bothered me. So, I decided to try to change the odds—manage the risk—in my favor by making the format of my first contact with a client a class-style presentation on what I was proposing and how I would complete the job.

I discovered it was a welcome relief from the traditional "first interview, then present" approach—for me as well as the client. Since most trainers are performers at heart, we show our best traits when we’re “doing.” I felt more comfortable and did a better job because I wasn’t worried about "selling"—I was just doing what I do best.

Revising the approach
I soon found that the audience (my prospective client) had an easier time following my sales presentation if I provided a hard copy or “playbook” of the proposal. I expanded my contract/bid document to include all credits and certifications, as well as testimonials. I made sure to follow the playbook by confirming that what I said and what I did were there—in writing.

By following the feedback I received from these presentations, I began to address terms and conditions in my contracts, which resulted in improved presentations. Before long, nearly all contingencies had been addressed. I'd found a way to present my bid and contract in the best light possible, while (quite literally) training the client to hire me. By simply applying the cornerstones of risk management in my sales presentation, I found that I landed most of my new jobs without having to return for a second "preview" appointment.

Apply risk management to your contract
If you are a contract trainer, you probably have a bid form of some kind. But is it also your contract? Does it do all it can do to mitigate risks to your performance and ensure payment? Does it say what you do? Does it have recourse language for both you and the client for unplanned mishaps? Is it clear about what constitutes performance failure for both parties?

Boilerplate contracts are not sufficient, nor do they sell or solidify the trainer’s position in today’s competitive world. I started out with a simple letter of agreement, then moved on to a generic personal service contract supplied by an attorney. It wasn’t until I experienced a mishap or two (like lost compensation) that I began to really wonder what I could do to exert more control in my vocation. The planning and preparation that trainers apply to classes also needs to be visible in the contract. In accord with your fee schedule, your contract should include fair definition, recourse, and remedy for issues like cancellations, missed classes, missed deadlines, expenses (including travel), and, most important, the definition of a finished product.

Protection for the client also
While it’s true that potential clients may avoid some of these issues by using computer-based training (CBT), it’s also true that your planning and preparation protects their financial investment in the training and helps to guarantee satisfaction—a couple of guarantees they won’t get from a CBT module. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve trained after a company has used unsupervised CBT without satisfaction. Don’t get me wrong; I love CBT (probably more than most trainers), but I'm convinced the best use of CBT is as an addition to classroom sessions.

The Boy Scouts' motto is a good rule
In the end, in addition to being prepared to do a good job, you should use all your knowledge, skills, and abilities to sell yourself. I've added an addendum to my contract/bid, which is a checklist of the information I want to confirm before training at any location. I’ve found that clients really appreciate seeing evidence of this kind of preparedness. I know it has resulted in my getting training contracts I might have lost when all other considerations were equal. Even better, I feel confident about taking jobs anywhere, now that risk management is a regular part of my professional life.

Kadi Morand is a freelance trainer.

How much do you try to cover in this document? Every possibility? The top 10? How do you decide what to include and what to leave out? Tell us how you constructed your training contract so we can share your tips with other TechRepublic members.

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