Thursday, November 7, 2013

Trials in the life of a freelance trainer

Being a freelancer in any field has both, advantages and disadvantages. As a freelancer myself, i can vouch for the the fact that the biggest perk of being a freelancer is the flexibility it offers to plan your work around other things in your life. You can decide how much work you want to take on. And also appraise your own worth as you gain experience over a period of time.

When i tell people that I am a freelance corporate trainer, their eye brows go up in admiration (God knows why?) possibly because it’s not exactly a mainstream career. A whole retinue of trainers have spawned only in the recent past. A whole bunch of freelancers I should say. This happened because a lot of companies woke up to the new fangled idea of having training sessions organized for their staff.

On an individual level, i definitely feel passionate about training - meeting new people, handling new content and ensuring that the training is a success at the end of the day. The thrill begins with stepping into a training session with participants i set eyes on on the same day. And to not just build rapport with them but also be able to get the learnings across through building credibility by the end of mere 8 hours of a day. The failure to rightly assess the participants at the beginning of the session can spell doom for the rest of the session.

In all the years that I have been freelancing, i have come across certain challenges which are unique to freelance training profession. Especially if you are an individual not affiliated to any organisation. First of all, as a freelancer, one is perennially a job seeker, you might get assignments faster and better ones with experience, but work doesn’t land on one’s lap unless there’s constant effort towards it. If you are new to the field without much experience to boast of, it could be a rough ride.

We all work in exchange for money. As a freelancer, you earn as much as you work almost on a pro rata basis. Consulting companies, who are mediators between the client and the trainer, definitely get work for the trainer. But at the expense of the fee that the trainer’s work and worth deserves. Since the consultant does the majority of the work, the trainer ends up with a very small percentage of the deal. This might sound fair but the expectations from the trainer to get excellent feedback after having steeped into the scene on the day of the training far exceeds the compensation given for fulfilling them.

The dates for training programs have to be committed in advance to the client. So one has to ensure that uncertainties in life don’t interfere with them. This is a bigger difficulty since there are no substitutes for a freelancer. If i commit dates to a client a month in advance, its pretty much a commitment on which my integrity towards my work rests. i better have a really strong reason for calling them off, if the need arises. So suffering from fever etc are definitely paltry reasons to jeopardize your relationship with the client by canceling the session.

This brings me to the next big challenge. A trainer is as good as his or her last session. i have done great programs for consultants but got dropped out suddenly because one session didn’t fetch good feedback. That too because the training needs analysis wasn’t done well and hence the content was unsuitable for the group. And i could have done precious little to save the day having just stepped in at the training stage in front of live audience. The consultant refused to take the blame and expected me to have done something to keep the participants happy! So, one slip and you might lose the rapport built painstakingly with a client over a long time. The feedback based on the preliminary perceptions of the trainees is more critical to the career of a trainer than the real long term benefits a company might gain from the program. Sad, but true!

Another thing that is generally never mentioned as a hardship in training is the physically strenuous nature of the sessions. The trainer is on his or her feet for almost 8 hours of the session to sustain the energy levels of the group. This can have a huge effect on a person training on an average 4 days a week. The back, legs, soles of the feet are just a few areas that bear the highest brunt apart from vocal chords that can get harmed with constant talking. i speak from experience of one of the assignments I had worked on for 6 months. It’s not just mentally arduous but also takes a toll on one’s body.

i have tried to put forth an insider’s view of a trainer’s life. It is great to interact with new people and do exciting assignments. But it’s not as glamourous as it looks. It is, sometimes literally, back breaking work. It is worthwhile only for the satisfaction it brings to a trainer’s life of having made some difference to people’s lives, albeit for a short while.