5 Hacks to get the MOST out of a Tiny Training Budget

Are you trying to get your team training on a shoestring budget? Nicole North of Whiteboard Consulting shares her insider knowledge on how to get the most bang for your buck.

Professional training on a budget

I used to think that training on a budget wasn’t possible.  If I had a client didn’t have the right budget, I would almost refuse to train them because I felt they couldn’t get a good product for the price and that the learning would suffer. If they can’t customize, it’s not going to resonate, it’s not going to be effective.  If they can’t do a full day, a half-day isn’t enough to get results.  If we can’t have simulators they can’t apply the learning “live”.

I felt like I was turning clients away because they couldn’t afford to deliver the “PERFECT” training program.

So I had to start thinking creatively on how I could keep the engagement and learning high while keeping the costs low – and not sacrifice  my morals so to speak. And while my ultimate dream is that the fiscal environment and demands for training go skyrocketing, my second place dream is that everyone gets to benefit from learning in their organization. Even if it isn’t “perfect” by my standards.

I still firmly believe that at the end of the day, really good training:

  • meets the needs of your client (so it SHOULD be customized and tailored to the client),
  • has great content and really good learning application,
  • has multiple touch points with the learner to embed learning into the culture,
  • offers live simulation opportunities to practice the skills,
  • is in-person for greatest impact, and
  • has a variety of teaching styles to appeal to all learners.

Great.  I may have used dollar signs as the bullet points in that last list.  Those are all the reasons why training gets expensive. 

Here’s how things have been going with clients the last little while:

Client: I want XX training for my team.

Nicole: What’s your budget?

Client: We don’t really have any idea.

Nicole: A ballpark? A range? A number in your mind?

Client: Nope, nope, nope.  No idea. Send us a proposal with lots of options. And we only have half a day of time and we want this to really impact the whole company. 

Nicole: [goes on a creative brainstorming session and comes up with the Lambourghini of all training programs that she knows will engage the client perfectly - has customized material specific not only to industry but to the organization, has multiple trainers and simulators for active application of learning, has multiple in-person touch points to help retain and revive content and train new staff that have come on board, included consulting services and process work that helps embed it into the culture….]

Client: Sees price of option 1 (Lambourghini) and passes out. Does not look at option 2 or 3.   

This has been frustrating. Probably for our clients, and for me.  And I don’t like being frustrated, so I needed to start coming up with options that met my standards for good training, while truly exploring new strategies to meet budgets.

We started to recognize where our in-person value is most crucial, and when we can offer alternative solutions.  So even though I’m scared to post this, I know that deep down everyone should be learning and growing in their organization

And I’d rather have more people learning and growing, than people think that training is too expensive for their budget.

5 Hacks to Maximize Your TINY training Budget

1. Use “off the shelf materials”, customize only the application/exercises.

I can’t believe I put this in here because I’m also always saying that there is no such thing as truly “off the shelf” and perfect for the client. But usually we are pretty close.

Maximize as much “off the shelf” content that you can, and put ALL of your training design budget into a few crucial and exceptional custom case studies, activities, and simulations.  Examples and application need to resonate with the employees.  Generic examples don’t challenge learners enough to change behaviours and impact culture. Spend your $$ wisely. 

2. Blend “On Demand” online training with in-person application

I hate online training.  There I said it.  It’s boring. I always want to fast forward or cheat my way to the end.  That’s why this used to never be something we offered.  We are different, we are engaging, and we can’t get engaging through online training?  Well. I had to eat my words there.

If done well, we can do all of those things.  And while I don’t recommend online courses for EVERY subject area, I do recommend it for learning pure content like definitions, introductions, history of xyz, theory, models.

We would be lecturing using slides for these segments of in-person training, so what’s the difference if we are there in person or there live?  In this strategy we are able to offer off-the shelf content from #1 in an online format (with SOME customization) that people can do in small chunks of time.

The other HUGE benefit and value proposition of this option, is that you can add additional users to the training after the fact. As your organization grows and changes, new staff can get up to speed learning the same language and concepts that their peers do.

The content is already online and likely you will just have to pay a per-person fee to add another participant into the online learning platform.  Once you have a critical mass of new staff, offer the in-person application portions and you are saving money year over year.

3. Virtual Training (reduce travel costs)

We recently had a client with a number of international offices around the world.  While I was secretly counting on an excuse to fly business class and escape the cold winter and my terrorist toddler for a “work” trip, we were also proposing a large team for delivery.  Those travel dollars for the entire team to travel to Dubai would rack up fast.

Perpetually in search of the best use of the budget for the best learning, we took advantage of their superior video conference services to host virtual “live” training.  Taking all the travel budget out meant we could have MORE time training with the client.   

4. Ask for a volume discount. Daily rate for 1 in person training vs 10 training days.

So let me be real with you.  I have a daily rate.  I’m pretty firm about it.  Especially when it’s for a really short engagement like ½ a day or 1 day of off-the-shelf training.  But, if you are hiring me for a program that might repeat itself multiple times in a year or with other groups in your organization, I will entertain the idea of a lower per-diem knowing that I have more days to do what I love.

5. Reduce the # of trainers

So, I love training with my business partner, Ruth. We have a blast and I think our personalities and training styles really complement each other.  I think you get the absolute best training experience when we are both there.  We are awesome individually as well, it is just a super special experience when you can put us together, we really feed off one another and you get a “performance” built right into your training.

While some projects and sessions that we do (mostly depending on size) require two facilitators to ensure that we engage larger groups or are able to do simulation work, many of them totally work with one facilitator.

So, when you are reviewing your training proposal, see if you can maximize your budget here with more sessions instead of more facilitators.


6. HAVE A BUDGET or RANGE in mind

This is really a personal request.  If you have a number in your head that you don’t want to exceed, please share it.  If you have a range, give it.  If you have a previous training engagement that looks similar to this, use that as a benchmark. We can work with almost any budget, range, or concept. Giving a budget helps everyone, I promise. 

Thank you for coming to my TedTalk about training budgets and how to haggle with your facilitator. In all seriousness – training can be critical to the health and culture of an organization, we’ll save that for another article.

- Nicole North,  VP Training and Learning, Whiteboard Consulting

Nicole North - Whiteboard Consulting

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Whiteboard Consulting offers a range of flexible on-site training options to companies in the US and Canada.

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