How to Evaluate Educational Opportunities for Your Business

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Each Saturday, I post Splendid Reruns on Twitter, which help new readers of Think Splendid catch up on or long-time readers refresh their memory on previous posts. Today, one of the reruns was for a post from July called Ethics, Social Media and Workshops: The Emperor Has No Clothes. The point of that article was that ongoing education in the wedding industry is important, but that it's important to learn from and spend money on instructors and mentors who can actually back up their claims. Khris from DIY Bride suggested that I write a post about how to evaluate each educational opportunity. I think this is an excellent idea, so here are some pointers for choosing who to spend time learning from and where to spend your hard-earned education budget dollars:

1. Read through the workshop instructor's blog archives. Have they provided any information that demonstrates they know the subject matter backwards and forwards? Does the information they share on the blog itself make you think about things differently, or if implemented, make your business better? A red flag, for me, is when a blog starts to share information and then says "to read more, sign up for our class, pay the subscription fee, etc". If the free content is incomplete or doesn't help you, then what assurance do you have that any paid content will?

2. Who is recommending the workshop or program other than the person teaching it? Are the endorsements or testimonials from people you trust and who have businesses you want to learn from? For example, Laura Novak has one of the highest-grossing photography studios in the United States, according to research done by the PPA (Professional Photographers of America). This endorsement carries more weight for her business-focused workshops than simply someone who is popular on Twitter saying the workshop would be fun and you should go because Laura is a really nice lady and the workshops have great snacks.

3. Read reviews about the person's business. What does their Better Business Bureau report or other company reviews say? If there was a complaint, did they resolve it quickly? This is all listed there. If a company is truly remarkable, they will have people who either really love them or really hate them - they won't have many people in the middle on the fence. Remarkable companies will rarely be complaint free, but take note of how they responded to each complaint. Was it professional? Did the explanations make sense?

4. Do a quick search on Google and Bing for their name and/or company. You might be surprised at how many of the people currently teaching how to have financially sound wedding businesses have filed for bankruptcy in the past two years. If the person is teaching how to create art - either how to take more stunning photos or create showstopping centerpieces, that is one thing, but if they are teaching on business or marketing strategy, then their financial reality should be able to back that up. Also, do they come up online at all? I keep receiving emails from someone who claims to be "America's foremost wedding business expert" yet nothing in his emails tell me why he can claim that title and there is nothing online about his accomplishments to earn that title.

5. Have they done what they are teaching? This doesn't mean they do what you do as wedding artist. Sean Low can teach about how to have a better wedding business because he has turned businesses around, from being massively in debt to being hugely profitable. He doesn't need to know how to design the centerpiece himself, he needs to be able to teach you how to make money from designing the centerpiece. If someone is teaching on marketing an offline business through online media, have they done that themselves or are they sharing theories?

6. I don't necessarily believe that number of years in a wedding business is as relevant in some areas. For example, an accountant who switched gears and decided to give up the cubicle to pursue wedding design would still have MUCH to teach other business owners about the brass tacks of crunching the numbers and doing the math related to running a profitable business, regardless of how long they had been in the event industry. When you do anything in life, you bring all of your past experiences with you to the table. Don't completely disregard a person's skillset based on a time frame.

I am 100% behind the idea that companies need to be continually learning and seeking out education. If you think you've arrived, you've stopped trying.  I also believe that you should learn from people who can truly back up what they say and that being popular is not the same as being successful.

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