Don’t Keep It to Yourself—Make Money by Leading Workshops

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Posted by The Savvy Retiree on October 30, 2019 in Retirement Finances

As someone who has been a business trainer and workshop leader for more than 40 years, when I say that your most valuable asset is your knowledge, I don’t mean it as a trite platitude—a way to feel better about getting older—I mean it literally. Your acquired knowledge of a subject, skill, or hobby is not just precious in its own right, it’s also a great resource for creating income.

I recently designed and led a strategic planning, goal-setting retreat for the Department of Probation in the California county where I live—an event for which I was paid $1,650.

I’ve been a paid instructor at the annual Writers Conference in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where I’ve led workshops in English, on marketing and memoir writing. Instructors are paid $100 per workshop, plus given admission to the conference and free room and board.

Whether I earn a little or a lot, nothing brings me more satisfaction than leading a workshop or giving a presentation. I’ve been leading groups since the ‘70s, when, in my first career, I taught ESL (English as a Second Language) to Hmong refugees from northern Thailand and Laos. In my second career, I led workshops for people who wanted to lose weight, which gradually morphed into business training. These days, I actively seek out opportunities to lead seminars on a range of subjects, wherever I am—usually in one of my two homes in Eureka, California and Guanajuato, Mexico.

I chose my subjects based on my passions. Fortunately, I have eclectic interests, with lots of potential for interesting classes, workshops, and seminars. If I need to brainstorm ideas, I ask myself, “What problems have I solved?” “What advice or help have other people asked me for?” and “What needs do I see around me?”

For example, most people I meet are interested in fitness, and many want to lose weight. As someone who spent years being out of shape before becoming an “adult onset” fitness buff, I love sharing information and encouragement on that subject. One year I led a three-part series on Mejora Tu Bienestar (Improving Your Wellness), aimed at working-class Mexican moms, in which we discussed walking and exercise, eating mindfully, and managing stress. Another year, at a senior center, I led a group on personal journal writing—a completely new kind of writing for the participants. I provided notebooks and pens, and each week we’d explore a different theme, such as sleep, music, and friendship.

In California, I offer management and communication trainings for local government and other businesses. I call this my “serious” work, because it pays well. But I also teach for a national organization called the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), which offers courses for people ages 50 and up. OLLI is where I teach my “fun” subjects. For example, my husband, Barry, and I jointly teach classes on budget travel, and I lead workshops on downsizing and cooking for the kitchen-averse. I am neither a professional organizer nor a chef, but I don’t need to be. I simply share my own experience, my mistakes, and the insights I picked up over the years. Pay depends on the number of participants per class and is split 50/50 with the organizers.

Though I love that I can create income wherever I go by giving workshops, I also enjoy doing it on a voluntary basis. Sharing knowledge can be rewarding in itself. Last month, Barry and I gave a slide show presentation called “A Taste of Mexico: Its Culture, Customs and Cuisine” to the residents of my 98-year-old father’s assisted living facility, discussing what we had learned from living in Mexico part-time for 14 years. We had a fantástico time, sharing stories and showing photos while the audience members munched on tamales.

Workshops give me the opportunity to meet people with similar interests, to make a difference in people’s lives, and, in Mexico, to improve my Spanish.

Back when I began teaching ESL, I would never have dreamed that more than 40 years later I’d still be leading groups and working with adults. But when you find what you love to do, you never grow tired of it. Any day I lead a workshop is a happy day.

5 Tips for Leading a Successful Workshop

1. Decide on your topic. Your workshop can be based on your professional background, your life experience, or your hobbies. A successful topic will be more specific than general: not, “How to Travel through Europe” (too broad and generic), but “How to Save Money While Traveling in Eastern Europe.”

2. Choose your time frame. How long do you want your workshop to be? For novice facilitators, shorter is better. (Two hours is much less material to prepare than a full day.)

3. Pick your location. Where will you offer it, and through whom? Especially in the beginning, it’s easier working through an existing institution that already has a membership, like a continuing education institute, a community center, a health club, a library, or a senior center. Some organizations have a built-in proposal form on their website. If not, find the name of the person in charge of programs or education and call or email to find out how to propose a workshop.

4. Plan your material. Divide your subject into logically flowing subtopics, including examples, analogies, anecdotes, and interactive exercises.

5. Figure out what to charge. Look around at similar offerings to see what the market rate is. This can vary depending on the organization and the location of the workshop.

Written by Louisa Rogers