Don’t fall into the “investment” trap.
I’ve been talking a lot recently about learning and growth. In 2017, I’ve read a pile of books, attended live training events, and taken a few courses.
I got into a conversation last week about doing this in a smart way. There are so many learning opportunities: Improve your coding skills! Learn my design process! Master your sales strategy!
With all these options… how do you make sure you aren’t overspending your profits trying to get ahead?
I’d like to make a suggestion.
But first, a story of where it came from.
That Thing That Happened At WordCamp
It was October 2016, and I was on WordCamp high.
I was attending my very first WordCamp (Ann Arbor, Michigan), and I had learned so much and met so many people I respected.
I even got to have lunch with my SEO idol Rebecca Gill.
I almost dropped my fork when Rebecca mentioned that she’d soon be holding her very first SEO Bootcamp. It was an in-person, in-depth training in Dallas where she would be teaching her full SEO process. It was coming up in just three months.
I was like a kid invited into a candy store. Give me ALLLLLLL the geeky knowledge! Lemme have it!
As much as I would have loved to go to Bootcamp, though, I had to take away the lollipop.
This was not in my business budget.
It was $2500, plus the cost of travel. I hadn’t built that into my training budget for the year, and I didn’t have a pot of cash sitting around.
The Text Message That Shifted My Thinking
As I was sitting in the auditorium for closing remarks, I texted my co-worker Nancy.
“Today was awesome. Wouldn’t it be amazing to go to an in-person training with Rebecca Gill on SEO?? I wish I could afford it.”
I expected her to commiserate, but instead she said something fantastic:
“Instead of saying you can’t afford it, what would you have to do so you COULD afford it?”
Um, I don’t know? In my head, I thought about profit and expenses and came up with a stretch number.
“If I could sell $18,000 worth of work between now and December 15, I could make it happen.”
Working For the Goal
I only had two months, and it sounded kind of crazy. But I was inspired.
And so I hustled.
I printed out a thermometer-style goal chart and posted it in my office.
I posted about it online (ah, scary!).
— Sara Dunn (@Sara11D) November 4, 2016
I focused on sales efforts, reaching out to prospects who hadn’t made a decision on our proposals. I networked and found new opportunities.
And I started closing more deals than I ever had in a two-month period.
By December 9, with six days to spare, I hit my goal.
— Sara Dunn (@Sara11D) December 11, 2016
Going to SEO Bootcamp in January was an incredible experience. I learned so much, and it was absolutely worth all the work I had put in to make the investment.
Why Does This Matter?
Becoming a specialist means investing in your chosen skill and becoming a recognized expert in it.
But what if training, courses, or learning subscriptions aren’t in your budget?
A lot of freelancers or agency owners tell themselves that these things are “investments” and they need to spend to make more money later.
That may be true in some cases, but you can also waste a lot of money running from one course to the next. I want to suggest a different approach.
Two Methods of Affording Training
Set a realistic annual budget for “Training Expenses”
Take a look at this year’s cash flow and profits. How much can you realistically invest next year on training and courses?
I personally have spent about 3% of revenues on training expenses this year, but that may not work for you. If you’re making a good bit of extra profit beyond what you pay yourself, it may make sense to invest more. If you’re scraping by, you may need to allocate less.
Whatever you’re comfortable with, set a budget and write it down. This will help you prioritize opportunities rather than letting yourself get talked into every course.
Set a sales or savings goal that makes a training course affordable
If you’re struggling to set aside any budget for training or if you want to do a bit extra, do what I did. Set a stretch goal for how much you need to sell or how much you need to save in expenses to afford your training.
This, of course, takes discipline. If you don’t make that goal, you have to take away the lollipop. You can’t just sign up anyway.
The good news is, with either of these methods, you’ll make sure you’re not spending every dime you make jumping at the latest course or conference.
If you want to build a sustainable business, invest carefully and make it affordable. And if you set a goal, share it out—I want to see it!