Workshop facilitation: Teach workshops for profit or promotion

Copyright National Lilac Publishing, LLC

Workshops provided on the farm or in rural communities, can both promote the farm or rural community in general as a form of agritourism, or simply as a sideline stream of income on its own for an individual. There are dairy farmers who offer home cheese-making classes, CSA farms that host chef workshops on their farm, and flower farmers offer flower arranging workshops. These, and many more, can be paid, or instead offered for free to CSA farm members or as an enticement to draw customers to purchase other products on the farm.

But it can also be unrelated to the farm products in general and serve as a stand alone sideline income stream for a rural citizen. For example, farm owners who operate a wholesale farm don't sell direct to individual customers, so have no added reason to entice customers to their farm. Yet, their rural location can enhance a workshop put on by one of the farm owners, for example, a one-day writers' workshop, or a photography workshop. Farm owners with other talents such as writing, photography, knitting or woodworking can offer a workshops as a sideline.

Here’s Amy Rose’s template for starting a DIY workshop facilitation business.

People from CEOs to senior citizens to children want to learn the following, and may enjoy driving to the country to learn it:

  • ancient folk arts
  • new computer skills
  • herbal cooking
  • Personal journaling
  • public speaking
  • flower arranging
  • entrepreneurship
  • making wreathes
  • yoga
  • how to build an outdoor brick oven...
  • (As we can see, the list is endless)

Create the rough draft time frame

You may not yet know exactly what will be included when you teach workshops, but you do know it has to start, stop, and have breaks every 1 ½ hours, plus a lunch break if it's an all day workshop. Write down your start time, end time, and the chunks of time between breaks you have to conduct the workshop uninterrupted. If you don't know this part yet, just estimate. If needed, study other similar workshops' time frames.

Fill in the time chunks

Start a rough draft of what you think the content could be to fill in the allotted chunk (or chunks) of time. Then, for every one hour of workshop, choose an estimated 15 minutes of something that could be cut if it had to without destroying the workshop. Then create an estimated 15 minutes of something that could be added but wouldn't destroy the workshop if left out. With workshop facilitation, you want to be covered if things go faster or slower than planned, and group activities such as these are somewhat unpredictable.

Choose a proper title

When you teach workshops, a good title is a huge asset. Avoid a romance title that doesn't tell what the workshop is or what its benefits are (such as "The Wings Shall Forever Light the Way") unless it's a play off a nationally known term that will draw students and that you're allowed to use regarding copyright and trademarks. Avoid using your own name in the title unless you're already a popular household term ("Joe Smith Workshops"). Instead, title the workshop with the exact targeted benefits the workshop attendees will receive. ("How to Write Cowboy Song Lyrics").

Practice teaching workshops before charging fees…

… but do begin promotion at this stage. Teach workshops for free for friends and family, a local charity, or as a one-time tithe to a senior citizen or low income group. When there is less pressure because you're not taking people's money, you can feel more relaxed while you build up confidence, and not feel so bad that there really were first time quirks that you just can't see in the planning stage that were worked out during the practices.

But, make the practices seem real. Set a specific time, location, and workshop timeline that must be followed. Learn from what went wrong, but also begin promotion for paid or more serious promotional workshop facilitation by taking note of what went right, and using that in your future promotion. Did people leave satisfied? Did they contact you afterwords about what a difference it made? Ask for privately written feedback with a place to check to give permission to use any positive comments as a testimonial.

Take care of legalities and liability protection

Either contact for free legal assistance or your own attorney for getting a formal business name and license if that would be required for your particular type of workshop and situation. Also, contact your property/homeowners' insurance company to make sure you would be covered. If not, ask what additional coverage would be for a one day workshop on your property. While you don't want to risk the farm because of someone spraining an ankle as they walk into your barn for the workshop, it may be quite inexpensive to have a large "insurance rider" that covers a very large amount when it's only for one day. You can also ask your attorney and insurance company about a proper waiver that participants sign before being accepted into the workshop.

Start small and off-location when it's time to teach workshops for profit

Once you're ready to charge for giving workshops, consider starting small and off location only temporarily while you build up word of mouth promotion for future workshop participants. For example, give a half hour talk and quick demonstration of hand painting on cloth before your full, all day workshop on hand painting silk scarves. Naturally, some workshops that must be held at the farm can't take this step. But if a shorter version can be off location just once or twice at first, it allows you to use a location that already has liability insurance (check with them first), and often they will do the promotion for you, while you simply walk in to a group of pre-paid participants.

Such locations include: The Parks and Recreation department of the town closest to you that's large enough to have one, the nearest food co-op, the closest hospital, the closest senior citizen center, or the continuing education department of a community college if there's an extension close enough to you. The idea of teaching at a hospital may seem strange, but some small town nearby hospitals, including our own, offer classes if they relate to wellness, such as yoga or mindfulness. Your talk and demonstration at the hospital can include a slideshow from your laptop showing how much fun yoga with goats or mindfulness walks around your farm will be if they sign up for a full day's workshop.

The pay they give you for these off-location shorter workshops can range from medium to only receiving money for your materials, but many cases you will get your first paycheck and, again, the facilities themselves do much of the promotion for you, which is important when you're first starting out on a low budget. Some small town Parks & Recreation Departments send out lists of upcoming classes to every resident in town. Hospitals and food co-ops also often have very large readerships, as well as online presences.

You'll want to find out how they handle money, if they choose the fee amount participants pay for your workshop and give you a percentage, or if you simply charge your own fee and collect the money yourself at the time of the workshops.

Promote and grow

Now you have a more solid foundation, possibly even testimonials and participants signed up and paid for your full workshop on your own farm.

After your first real on location workshop, assess if it's something you want to do on a regular basis, for example, once a month, twice a year, weekly.

Questions to answer include if there are enough potential participants who might sign up for the workshop after this first one. Would their word of mouth generate new participants? Is the nature of your workshop's activities that they're new enough each time, so past participants might want to join in again?

Will extra promotion via your local church members, a bulletin board flier at a farm supply shop, and perhaps a small online presence generate new participants and keep workshops filled?

Perhaps doing an off location shorter workshop once or twice a year might be enough to keep new participants coming even without a larger online presence and social media promotion. But if you're hoping to attract people who live outside your area -- perhaps your rural location is part of the draw for them to experience new surroundings -- then most likely, the larger online presence and social media promotion may be necessary to reach people further out. But there are far reaching entities such as statewide agriculture associations that help rural people who can't or don't want to go the route of spending too much time online. Extension services sometimes publish u-pick and agritourism farm route maps, with times specific offerings are available (such as hand sheering demonstrations starting at 10 a.m. on Saturdays through April.) If you grow wholesale and don't fit into such categories, it could be your workshop might if it's related to farming, gardening or folk and rural skills.

There's no one size fits all template for all the wonderful workshops rural and small town folks might offer. But such folks are usually self-sufficient with a strong independent streak and the ability to observe, make adjustments, and adapt to their own unique situation.

Happy workshopping!

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