Plan training in advance. Your office undoubtedly receives a regular stream of brochures in the mail announcing various training programs. It can be hard to resist the impulse purchase when something good comes along. Reduce the temptation by conducting an assessment of your staff’s training needs every 6-12 months, and budget accordingly. Pick specific training programs in advance to the extent possible.
Utilize local colleges. Most colleges have departments that offer training services at costs substantially lower than private-sector suppliers. Some of the best bargains can be found at your local community colleges, which are increasingly providing high-level training in areas such as management, marketing, and technical skills. In some cases, the same trainers used by the pricey private sector firms also work through universities at a fraction of the cost.
Share the cost with another company. Rather than pay the full fees for having a training firm come to your office, split the cost with another company or two interested in joining you. This can be an especially useful strategy for small firms that lack the staff size to warrant a volume discount or an attractive per-person cost. There are also intrinsic benefits in training with another firm, such as sharing ideas on issues of mutual interest.
Control incremental costs. Ask the training vendor for a cost breakdown for their program, then seek to negotiate specific items. For example, the vendor may charge $30 each for three-ring binders. Offer to buy your own. You might be able to make copies of the program materials yourself at substantially less cost. It’s also a good idea to look into training at your office, or another economical location, rather than leaving the meeting place arrangements to the training firm.
Use “real-time coaching.” Provide on-the-job instruction and encouragement so that staff members can learn and be billable at the same time. Instead of sending them to a seminar on how to do better project planning, for example, bring the trainer in to teach them as they are planning an actual project. Besides saving money, this approach increases learning and practical application.
Train your own internal trainers. You may already have employees who competent in training and mentoring others. Take advantage of their skills. Others may need outside help in developing their training abilities. This requires an upfront investment, but can save money down the road. Plus internal trainers offer the benefit of being more familiar with your firm and your business.
Create or purchase computer-based training programs. This self-directed option has grown tremendously in recent years. While I'm less confident in the effectiveness of this method compared to other options, it probably still deserves a place in your training arsenal. Like training the trainer, this may require a substantial initial investment, but in the long run this can be a very cost-effective alternative. Computer-based learning works best when coupled with some kind of live follow-up like testing, on-the-job exercises, or discussion groups.
Another computer-based option is the internet. Despite its sometimes overwhelming variety of information, the internet can be a very useful training tool. There are many online training programs, as well as forums for exchanging ideas and networking with other professionals.