I owe you an apology. In November and December’s columns I discussed strategies and steps for building a training company. I promised to wrap up this training trifecta with a final segment, but circumstances prevented that until now.
Everyone We Reach
For this last installment, I want to share some thoughts on the actual mechanics of putting together a class. Again, I’ll look to Lifeline Training—run by Lisa Gitchell and Jim Glennon—for their experience and expertise to balance my own (www.LifelineTraining.com).
One of Gitchell’s comments really struck me: “Every one we reach becomes part of the Lifeline family.” It’s a healthy approach to running your training business. The way you support and interact with the your students is, of course, an important aspect of this.
But there’s another viewpoint I’d encourage you to consider. The people who facilitate a department’s training classes are typically civilian employees working in the training unit or the finance section. As part of their job, they often have to ask for information so they can process training requests and payment. A W-9 request is common. Another common request is that your training company acquire approved vendor status with that municipality. How you treat these people, and their requests, speaks to your integrity and professionalism. Treating them in a positive and helpful manner—“part of the family”—is the right thing to do.
Let the Word Go Forth
Presenting a specific class begins with getting the word out. The use of an email database is one way. However, Gitchell cautions against hammering agencies with a ton of these. People get enough email as it is these days. If you have a level of activity that justifies it, an “email blast” that bundles updates on courses is better than sending out multiple emails announcing each class.
You can also work with the firearms training facility or police agency hosting the class to generate interest and attendance. Ask the host to put out a teletype to nearby departments announcing the class. Also, post course announcements on your website and law enforcement websites.
Important: But before you do any of this, make absolutely sure that the details of the class announcements are accurate. While I was working for one training presenter, a slight mix up resulted in my home address appearing on the course information distributed to some of the students. Much to the early morning delight of my wife, the first day two students showed up at our front door looking for the training and wondering why it was at our residence. If I’d been home, I might have asked: “Does this look like a firearms training facility to you?”
But it wasn’t the students’ fault—it was the responsibility of whoever put out the incorrect address to have made sure it was right. (It was possibly the same quality-control inspector who rejected a batch of M&Ms because of all the Ws on them.)
Once a class is available for reservations, it’s a good idea to track who and how many have signed up. I typically ask for the student’s name, cell phone and email address, as well as the same for the person making the reservation. Sometime prior to the start, send out an email reminding the individuals that they’re confirmed for the course. Included in this should also be any course-specific information, like required equipment and directions to the training location.
If it’s not obvious, it can be helpful to include a map designating where to park and where the classroom is. The easier it is for students to find the class, the less frustration there will be for them, as well as the instructors. When needed, it also helps to post directional signs that first morning guiding students to the class.
You must be organized to teach. One method that’s kept me organized is to have specific storage options for each subject.
This typically has three components. First, there’s a computer file for each course. Within it are sub folders for separate presentations and a generic folder for documents, such as the manual and PowerPoint, course forms and related materials.
The second storage component is an actual—not digital—expandable folder that travels with me to the first day of class. This contains sufficient hard copies of various documents necessary for managing the class, including blank name tents, rosters, lesson plans, hold harmless agreements, written tests and evaluations. (These forms and the manual are also on a CD dedicated to the course in the same expandable folder.)
The third component consists of at least one large plastic storage box that contains the logistics for the course. For example, our diversionary device instructor course box contains inert devices and other training aids. When preparing to leave for the class, I pull out that box and load it in my car along with the expandable file. Usually, I’ll throw in a fold-up luggage cart too. This works well for getting bulky items into the classroom.
But Wait, There’s More
It’s a given that some of us suffer from CRS—Can’t Remember, um—Stuff! Once, after driving for hours to a training venue, I realized I’d left an important item behind. The scrambling I had to do to fill this instructional void prompted me to develop a course-specific checklist, which has since become standard protocol.
There are some things you just can’t train without. Leaving the students’ manuals or the course PowerPoint presentation at home would be a definite problem. The checklist ensures you don’t. Other must-haves include an emergency medical trauma kit and electronics, like laptops, thumb-drives, portable speakers, extension cords, etc. Identify what you need for a perfect presentation and then build your list from there.
If you’re just starting out, you probably don’t have a dedicated training site with the company’s name on the deed. So you’ll need to build good relationships with locations or police agencies that serve as hosts. My suggestion is to have another checklist of facility and on-site equipment requirements, so you can go over them with the department in advance of the training.
Usually the agency assigns one person as the point of contact. This individual is extremely important to the success of the class. Help to guide them as appropriate in the various aspects of hosting the training. You’ll encounter some who have been in this role before and are confident about what needs to be done. But there will also be those in this role with little or no prior experience.
Of course, you’ll need a quality classroom, preferably with audio visual equipment already installed, and enough room to accommodate the maximum number of students anticipated. Creature comforts, such as heating and air conditioning that work, as well as clean bathrooms, are obvious needs. I think you get the idea.
I consider myself fortunate to have developed some good friendships with hosts who are willing to go the extra mile. Again, such partnerships contribute to successful training. In addition, they can lead to future invitations to teach more classes.
If you haven’t been there before, you want to make sure of the training site’s physical layout. When possible, visit to confirm that the facilities are adequate. If that isn’t possible, the host may be able to send you photos or a video of the classroom and other facilities.
Horror story: Teaching for the NRA Law Enforcement Division, another instructor and I arrived the day before the start of a five-day class at an Army Reserve base. The point-of-contact host had assured our NRA coordinator that the facilities were adequate. Beyond that, we had NFI—no further information.
The host led us to the designated classroom. There, our initial concern turned into full-on shock—the “classroom” was the living room of a house that had been converted to military use. Even with liberal amounts of Vaseline, we couldn’t have squeezed our 20-plus students into that small area. Some quick thinking saved us, and we moved to a nearby county sheriff’s facility.
But our problems were amplified when we drove to the range facilities. The classroom issues became extremely trivial in our minds as we realized that we were literally in the middle of a rattlesnake round up. Honest to God, they were slithering around in the road as well as the firing line when we arrived! Although this serpent surprise was apparently something that our host accepted as the norm, we should have known about it in advance—it sure mattered to us! (For the record, I don’t like snakes.) He half jokingly mentioned that it was rattlesnake hunting season, but soon it seemed like they were hunting us.
Pro tip: If you’re using shooting range or other training facilities, get sufficient information about the location prior to the class. As a backup, I’ve even used Google Earth to get an idea of where we’ll be training.
It’s a Set Up
Whenever possible, the classroom should be prepared well before the students walk in. This includes arranging chairs and tables as you want them.
On the tables, position manuals, name tents, business cards, etc. in an orderly uniform fashion. Their first impression should be a positive one based on how organized the class appears. In addition, a systems check of the audio-visual equipment, including a test run with any PowerPoint presentations to confirm that animations and imbedded videos work properly, is a must before the students arrive.
You are—or will be—the company’s CEO (chief executive officer). However, there’s another translation: chief everything officer! As you may have already found out, it’s not an easy job running a training business. You must be able to multitask well.
You must also have good people work with you to help lighten the load on your brain and shoulders. I’ve had some very rewarding experiences—which I attribute to these folks as much as anything—and some real “bonehead” times in my training career.
Let’s close by recognizing that law enforcement needs good training and police agencies don’t necessarily have all the answers to this problem. If you want to tackle this challenge, I encourage you and hope this helps. Final advice: In whatever form that works for you, be organized and proficient in providing quality instruction. Good luck!
Train safe. God bless America.