Dwayne Hodgson

A Portfolio

The work and adventures of Dwayne Hodgson,
+ Learning Designer & Facilitator at learningcycle.ca
+ Storyteller & Photographer @ thataway.ca

Show Me the Money: The 10th $tep of De$ign?

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In a recent post, I suggested that we need to have an 8th and 9th step of design to predict and design for the expected changes in the learners' behaviour and condition that result from the successful application of their learning.

Now, I'd like to suggest a 10th step -- the How Much? -- as I think describes a reality of organizing and designing both in-house (i.e. funded) and public courses. Yep, that's right! Money, filthy lucre, the bottom line, baby! It's all about the Benjamins (or the Lizzie's if you're Canadian like me). 

1) In-House Courses:

If you work for an organization that has a budget for in-house training, you obviously need to work within the resources available.

But if you work as a consultant like I do, you are sometimes asked to provide a quotation to a client for an in-house workshop. In either case, to arrive at the true costs of your workshop, you need to consider how the other steps of design factor into your calculation of the bottom line:

WHO? The participants

How many people will be attending your event? What is the cost per person for their materials, handouts, food and beverages, etc. Do you know how many are coming right away, or is there a range of possible numbers? If so, be careful to assume that you'll have a reasonable number of people -- not too low or high. 

How many facilitators will there be? For groups larger than 10, I have really appreciated having a co-facilitator to work with, but can the budget or the client afford this? And keep in mind that the costs are not just the days that they are working with the group, but the time the facilitation and logistics teams will need to design, organize, host, facilitate, evaluate and follow-up the workshop. 

WHEN? The time, and the date

Venue rentals can vary according to the time of year, and what else is going on locally (e.g. a major academic conference, a marathon race weekend...). And obviously, the number of hours or days that you need increase the costs both for the items mentioned above. 

But also ber sure to include a fair charge for your time as the organizer, learning designer and/or facilitator. Generally speaking for a Dialogue Education workshop, I find that the prep to workshop time ratio is at least 2:1; or even more like 3:1 if I am designing something from scratch. You also need to include some time for writing up a workshop report and capturing any of the learning of the workshop (e.g. photos, video, typing up charts, etc.)

WHERE? The venue: 

If the venue is provided by the organization, great. But if not, be sure to think about all the costs associated with renting a venue, including: 

  • room rental, naturally -- by the hour or by by the day
  • insurance - sometimes required to be purchased separately from the rental
  • Audio/Visual rental for LCD projectors, screens, microphones, speakers, pyrotechnics, etc. 
  • renting additional break-out rooms, 
  • flip charts and papers (if not included with the rental)
  • internet access, either if required by your learning design or as a courtesy to your learners
  • custodian fees to clean up the room for the next day
  • additional fees if you need the room later in the evening or if you want to leave things in the room overnight, 
  • the cost of any catering services, either an outside caterer or perhaps one that the venue requires you to use as their exclusive provider, to provide beverages and food for snacks and/or lunches -- be sure to budget more for fair trade, local, organic ingredients, if possible, as well as re-usable plates and cutlery! 
  • parking for your bike (or car), etc.  
  • the super-automatic espresso machine and cinnamon buns -- a key to any successful workshop, in my humble opinion...

Often when these are factored in, the location costs may be considerably more than at first blush.

HOW? The Program

They type of activities that you are going to do in the learning event also has a bearing on the space requirements. An event in which you are simply asking people to come and "sit" in rows normally requires less space than a highly-interactive learning experience with different sitting arrangements (e.g. both tables and chairs, and a circle of chairs), room for kinaesthetic activities, breakout rooms, and lots of wallspace.

Learning through dialogue also may require slightly more time than simply "delivering the content" through a lecture. But generally I find that the more time for learning, the better. Be sure to budget so that there is enough space and time for learning. 

WHAT? The Content

If you are writing a quotation for a client, you are obivoulsy already billing for your time. But be sure to also include a per person charge for the intellectual property of your workshop -- both the content and the learning design. After all, what you are offering is obviously worth something to the learners, and the more learners who are there, the more the client should pay for access to your content and the chance to learn through your design. 

Make sure that the contract, however, is very clear about who owns the intellectual property of your learning design. With larger organizational clients, I've sometimes find a clause on page 27 of their boiler plate contract that assigns all ownership of the IP to them in perpetuity. If you're not careful, you technically might be selling your design as well as the service of your workshop. Supplier beware!

2) Public Courses

Having worked for a few organizations that provided workshops to members of the public as a revenue source, I always found it challenging to calculate what to charge individuals from the public to attend.

Start by adding up all of the above costs (as above), but be sure to add some additional days and costs for marketing the workshop as this can take a considerable amount of time and effort. Then divide the total by the number of participants you expect to attend assuming say, 75% capacity

Easy enough, but once you have that number, consider: 

1) Is There Too Much How Much for the Who?

Once you arrive at a nominal per person charge, you need to ask whether a potential participants can actually afford that amount. In one workshop that I designed, it became readily apparent that the per person cost of our ideal workshop was just too far out of the range of our expected non-profit and self-employed participants.

This meant that I had to go back to the drawing board and adjust the Who, When, Where, etc.... and then run the numbers again to get a per participant charge that worked. 

If your nominal charge is too high for some of your participants (e.g. students or unemployed people), consider granting a reduced fee or scholarship to them. Of course you'll then have to raise the prices for the for-profit or funded clients. 

2) How Do Your Cost Compare to the WHO ELSE? 

How do your per person rates compare with your competition?

What? You don't think that you have competition? Of course you do! Technically, competition is any alternative to taking your workshop, including: going to someone else's workshop, reading the book by a notable author, downloading a free resource guide or toolkit, taking an e-learning workshop, attending a free or cheaper webinar (and thus avoiding travel costs) and even just doing nothing. (And in some cases, your organization may be creating internal competition from other offerings).  

Be sure to look at all the other options that are out there, and take a hard look at what you're offering for the money. Are you competitive? 

Think Like A Customer

Also give some thought to the all the real costs that your participants will need to pay, including:

  • travel costs to get to your location if they don't live there (e.g. airfare, train, bus, gas for their car)
  • local travel costs to get to your venue (e.g. parking, subway fare, bike rental)
  • accommodation (e.g. hotel, B&B, hostels)
  • food & drinks (for any meals not provided at your workshop)
  • incidentals
  • costs for any additional materials they may want to purchase

Whether or not this is a deciding facgtor, of course, depends on whether they have to pay for these themselves vs. having their employer pay. 

Their Time Is Money

Also remember that there is always an opportunity cost for your learners to attend your workshop -- i.e. the time at the office or at home with their family that they are forgoing to be with you. Even a relatively cheap workshop might require giving up too much for people to attend. 

This is even more critical if your participants are self-employed like I am: not only are they paying to attend your session and all of the associated costs, they may also be forgoing a couple billable days of work! So give folks like me a break...include a discounted, self-employed price category along with your non-profit or student rates. 

The Bottom Line? 

Dealing with money is not the fun part of designing a learning event, and often times I wish that it would just go away. But in many cases, it is the de facto 10th step of our design process, so let's be sure to name it and tame it. 

What has been your experience in dealing with the financial aspects of learning events? Any pro-tips to share? Please leave a comment below. 

Dwayne Hodgson is an Ottawa-based learning designer and facilitator. Please subscribe to this blog and contact me if you need any help in designing your next learning event. Cheers, dh