Marketing helps training company to thrive during recession

Until the recession forced many of her clients to slash their training budgets, Alison Miles-Jenkins thought using marketing to get clients for her management training company, Training To Achieve UK, was unnecessary.

After all, for nearly 20 years, she’d attracted enough large corporate clients via word-of-mouth that she hadn’t needed to spend money on any kind of promotion. Since she set it up in 1990, Training To Achieve has become one of the UK’s leading training companies, well known for its professional management development services and training for insurance and re-insurance professionals, local authority employees, housing association managers, NHS managers and medical staff, private sector businesses, regulators and SMEs. It also provides professional management training, consultancy and coaching to other professionals too.

“For 19 of the 20 years we’ve been in business, we got on very well without any kind of conscious marketing or sales activity whatsoever,” she says. “We didn’t have any kind of marketing strategy at all and expanded through word of mouth and repeat business, and we always had more than enough work. I was bringing up three children, and I thought ‘This is giving me a good income. Everything is going well. I don’t actually want to expand it.’”

In fact, Alison thought any kind of self-promotion was a bit like ‘showing off’. “I always thought it was boastful to promote yourself,” she admits. “For the last 19 years, I was in a position where, if people knew about me, they would use me, and they loved what I did and they recommended me and my company to other people.”

So when the UK economy went into recession, she wasn’t too concerned.

“When people started talking about the recession, we thought we were quite recession-proof. In fact, 2009 was one of our best years ever in terms of our gross revenue.”

But the following year, the company’s major clients reacted to the economic downturn by imposing bans on all in-house training. Suddenly, the company’s major source of business looked like it might dry up and after so many years of relying on recommendations, Alison was forced to find new ways of attracting clients.

“In 2010, a lot of our clients were really hit financially. We could see our income rapidly going downwards for reasons that we couldn’t influence in any way.

“At the beginning of the summer, we started to look into marketing and that opened our eyes to all of the things that we had not been doing but should be doing to give our best support to our business other than repeat business and referrals.”

After hearing about Digital Lighthouse from a client, she attended one of its marketing events in early autumn and then joined the Business Development Programme.

Alison soon realised the merits of actively marketing the business, rather than relying on the much slower word of mouth advertising. She also began to appreciate the value of promoting her expertise to her market.

“I think the most important thing for me is that I have actually become more self-promotional – showing off about what you’ve achieved and that sort of thing is not something that I’ve ever done. However, I have learnt to have much more of a PR hat on to promote myself as the leading expert that I know that I am – and that’s given me confidence.”

A graduate of Warwick University, Alison has a degree in Business Studies and German, has numerous post graduate management qualifications, is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and has taught Chartered Management Institute courses at the highest level.

She is also a Corporate & Executive and Personal Performance Coach and often works with those most senior in organisations on a one to one basis.

“I made the decision to promote my personal brand as a way of getting my company known, rather than the other way around because at the moment in our field, there are literally millions of competitors. So if you try and differentiate a training and management consultancy on the basis of the company, I think that’s really hard. So something that Digital Lighthouse led me into thinking was to promote my own personal brand more and so that’s what we’re doing. For the wider audience out there, we really did not have a presence at all, and I’ve definitely got a much higher profile now.”

The impact on her business has been dramatic: after using what she learnt from attending just two Digital Lighthouse events, the company enjoyed its busiest January ever.

“We’ve got five or six quite big formal proposals out there in the market now with a variety of different clients and sectors. We’ve never had that just after Christmas and that is definitely down to the techniques I’ve learnt from Digital Lighthouse.

“I think if I hadn’t acted on the ideas I got from my first Digital Lighthouse seminar, we’d be having a very tough time now. So many training companies are going to the wall and I think it’s quite a major achievement that a company of our size that never really publicised what it did at all, is still here.”

Another of the Digital Lighthouse-inspired changes Alison made was to repackage some of the company’s products to suit clients with limited budgets.

“We looked at the different products that we would normally supply to our clients and then thought of innovative ways to supply the service to them at prices to suit their current budget–in other words, we looked at their needs and used quite inventive ways of delivering our products for much less cost. For example, we reduced the number of contact hours we offered for training. That brought in a lot of revenue over the autumn period and saved us from having an disappointing year.”

The company also offered free coaching sessions to entice prospective customers. “We got quite a lot of income as a result of doing that.”

Following the advice of Digital Lighthouse’s PR Expert Paul Green, Alison sent out a press release to promote the company. After it was published in a local newspaper, she was invited to enter the 2010 Colchester and District Business Awards. The company won the coveted ‘Education and Lifelong Learning’ Award, and Alison reached the finals for the ‘Business Woman of the Year’ Award.

“We received lots of high-profile coverage in the area too.”

Alison has also changed all the company’s online and offline written material. “We’ve moved from an academic stance to a much more marketing-led approach in terms of how we’re putting our information over to our clients. That’s permeated through offline as well as online.

“We’ve changed our website from an information portal into a sales tool. It’s meant lots of work, and I think we’re just starting to see the benefits of that now really. We looked at what was on the site in terms of our services and products pages and re-wrote it. For the first time in 20 years, we’ve put together a really polished portfolio of almost 60 pages that contains our rationale, our core values, why we’re different, as well as all our courses, products and services and our testimonials.

“We’re on to version three of our site now. We also invested quite a lot of money in some professional videos. We’ve got six video clips on our site, which are also on YouTube and with yBC (your Business Channel). And we’re up there with some of their leading industry experts.

“At the same time, we’re also raising our profile in social media – I’d been writing a blog for some time before joining Digital Lighthouse, but we’re now on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Ecademy. In fact, I’ve now become one of the first Ecademy accredited digital coaches.”

Digital Lighthouse has also influenced Alison’s intentions for the company. “I’m looking at it from a very different perspective now. My ambitions for the company have grown – I want this to be a company that I can sell or manage from a beach somewhere in 10 years’ time.

“I’m determined to make Training To Achieve a leading edge training company within the UK and beyond. Our target this year is to have five times the income that we had last year. And that will be a 200% increase on our most profitable year in 20 years. Obviously, that’s a projection but that’s what I’m aiming for. If we miss that target, and we just go back to what we had in our most successful year, that would still be brilliant given the economic conditions.”