10 Tips for Starting a Training Business

10 lessons learned in the first 10 years of starting, sustaining, and growing a training and development business.

This year, Newleaf Training and Development (newleaf-ca.com) celebrates 10 years in business and now serves more than 180 clients across 28 states, China, India, and Western Europe. What makes this achievement even more extraordinary is that as the owners, we moved to America from the UK having never run a business before, let alone ever having worked full time in the learning and development industry.

We’d like to share with you 10 lessons learned in the first 10 years of starting, sustaining, and growing a training and development business here in the U.S. I hope they’re reminders of good common sense and I hope they inspire you if you are thinking about starting a business or are an encouragement if you already run a business.

1. America is still a land of opportunity. Most Americans don’t appreciate how great America is. What I love about this country is that if you work hard, do the right thing, and have a good idea, you will be successful. There are many countries in the world where this is just not the case.

2. Principles endure. We teach principles, not techniques. Principles are universal; they’re objective and exist without our agreement or permission. In training and development, we teach principles such as the Golden Rule for customer service or how, in leadership, people don’t like to be managed but they’re open to follow leaders they trust, and how organizations thrive when employees treat the resources as if they were their own. Our observation has been that principles endure whereas techniques come in and out of vogue.

3. Love what you do. We can honestly say if there weren’t bills to pay and kids to get through college we’d do what we do for nothing. We hope our love for professional development shines through to our clients and the participants. My observation has been that can’t be said for most trainers.

4. Understand numbers. Most small businesses fail due to a lack of financial intelligence. We have found that it’s vital to understand margin and that cash flow is king. We run our business frugally, which enables us to sustain the quieter months and reap the rewards fro the busier ones.

5. It’s less crowded at the top. I remember an ad for a product and its tagline was “reassuringly expensive,” which I found intriguing. We’re not the most expensive, but we’re up there. We’ve found that clients will rarely negotiate on pricing if you can back it up with quality of service. We have found that most training companies are either mid-priced or too cheap. We believe clients are wary of vendors that are too cheap.

6. Engage high-quality talent. We pay our employees well, very well (see #5 above). In a service business, your people become your brand, so if you’re shooting for high quality, you have to engage high quality talent. Talented people have plenty of choices: Pay them well, so they choose you.

7. Delivery is just one part. Ask yourself what your clients actually are buying from you. We’ve come to realize that the actual training delivery is just one part of it. It’s the most important part, but it still is just one part. They’re also buying trustworthiness, administrative excellence, and attention to detail on logistics, etc.

8. Just focus on being of service. I remember my parents saying two things to me as a kid regarding business: The first thing they told me was to get rid of the mullet. I protested, saying it was “business at the front and party at the back,” but they disagreed. So the mullet went. The second thing they said was a little more profound: They told me to not worry about making money but just to focus on being of service.

We have found this to be so true. We don’t sell—we just really listen to the need and then try to explain clearly and concisely how we may be able to be of service to our customers. When we listen well, we serve well. When we serve well, we find the relationships moves from just being a transaction to becoming a partnership.

9. Build the brand. From Day 1, we focused on the brand of our business rather than “The Paul Butler Show.” What this enabled us to do was bring in high-quality talent (see #6 above) because our clients bought into the brand promise rather than become magnetized to one person.

Ten years later, this enabled us to engage our first license agreement with MRG Development, which has an exclusive territory across Florida and Georgia. The owner of this license agreement, Mark Griffiths, shared this with us:

“My dream, like that of Paul and his family, is to move to ‘the land of opportunity’ to deliver high-quality staff training and development. When I learned about Newleaf and its presence in the United States, it seemed like the perfect match. Being able to open the Florida office (also covering Georgia) is an exciting prospect as it means we will be able to work with businesses and professionals to enhance effectiveness and impact results. Our strategy to offer on-demand e-learning beginning at the end of this year is also a great prospect!”

10. Focus your time. Time is a resource that has to be managed. We can either invest it or waste it. We tend to do is keep track of how we allocate time in four areas: strategy, marketing, sales, and delivery. We monitor this weekly and compare this year to the prior year. We have found that by focusing on it, we have changed our behaviors to get better results. For example, as business owners, we personally want to allocate less time within training delivery. Every dollar of time we save, we can reinvest elsewhere, for example, within strategy or marketing to grow the business.

Paul Butler is one of the founders of Newleaf Training and Development, a staff training and development company based in Los Angeles, CA. Originally from England, Butler is a Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA). As such, not only did he move 5,000 miles to start his own business but he also completely changed fields of work. Newleaf Training and Development serves nearly 200 clients across 28 states, China, India, and Western Europe. Its first franchise opened this year with an exclusive territory over Florida and Georgia.

Mark Griffiths is a client partner of Newleaf Training and Development and founder of the Florida and Georgia office. Originating from the UK, Griffiths is an experienced senior leader who has fulfilled a variety of roles across the training, recruitment and education sectors including business development, and learning & development (L&D); he previously served as a vice principal. Having worked with large international companies previously, Griffiths is looking forward to bringing his energy and experience to help companies and individuals be the very best they can be across Florida and Georgia.


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