Courses and event production

Although we are at heart a consulting company, we also offer courses and seminars. We run the occasional Public Course – how does that work with our model?

How we do courses

verseworks itself doesn’t really run courses, it just provides the platform.

Anyone at verseworks can organize a course (or any kind of event), and when they do so they implicitly take on the Producer role for that course.

Driving principles:

The Producer doesn’t necessarily have to teach the course (although that’s the most common case). Sometimes a producer will invite a “star” (someone outside of verseworks who is a well-known “guru” within his/her field) and host or co-teach a course.

Example

Here’s a high-level summary of what happens with a typical course:

  1. Tarquin decides to teach an Agile Engineering course.
  2. Tarquin asks the office team to set up a registration page. He has taught this course before, so they copy-paste from last course instance.
  3. Tarquin synchronizes with other producers to make sure his course is mentioned in the next marketing email (see next section below).
  4. Registrations start coming in. Course registrations automatically end up in Google Spreadsheet.
  5. About a week before the course, the office team sends a welcome email to the course participants
  6. Feb 12 arrives. Tarquin shows up at the arranged venue. Breakfast is served, handouts printed, everything ready to go thanks to the awesome office team (or course partner)!
  7. This is also the day when the office team sends invoices to participants. They will also follow up on payment.
  8. At the end of the course, he asks people to fill in a course feedback sheet. He notes some improvement ideas, calculates the Net Promoter Score, and adds a row to our shared Course Log (see Quality below).
  9. The office team sends an email to all course participants with a link to course materials and such. They also add the course participants to our mailing list for future event notifications (they can of course opt out at any time)
  10. Tarquin figures out the course profit and sends an invoice to verseworks (minus the Crisp tax, just like with any consulting).

Quality and customer feedback

We are pretty systemic when it comes to course quality. For every course, the Producer is expected to measure Net Promoter Score (NPS) and post it on the Course Log (a shared spreadsheet listing all courses and basic data such as who produced it, how many participants showed up, NPS, etc).

The purpose of the course log is to provide internal transparency, so we can learn from each other’s successes and failures. It’s not mandatory (very few things are), but we encourage each other to fill it in.

We also do a lot of pair-teaching and informal visits to each other’s courses. As a result, we gradually improve all the time!

Nevertheless, we do expect new and experimental courses (or less experienced teachers) to start with a lower NPS. And there’s no shame in that, as long as you keep experimenting and improving :o)

Marketing

Some of our courses market themselves (as in, previous participants recommend it, or the teacher is famous). Just post the registration page and it fills up!

Other courses are new and need a bit of exposure. So about once or twice per quarter we send an email to our customer list (all previous course participants). We store our customer data in Insightly and send marketing emails using MailChimp.

Typically one of the Producers of an upcoming course will take lead on this, talk to other producers, agree on what should be in the email (usually via a shared Google Doc), and send the email. They will of course also market the courses through their personal networks, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and whatever other channels make sense. If a course needs an extra push they might ask other verseworkers to retweet, etc.

What if people don’t sign up?

Together we have a really big network so most courses at least break even. In some cases, however, the registrations just don’t come in, and if it’s really bad we have to cancel.

Fortunately, verseworks doesn’t charge the Producer for a course if it got canceled. It’s like a small insurance (or failure cushion). As a result, the cost of canceling a course is quite low for the producer (except for damaged pride). Why? Because we want people to experiment with new types of courses, since that benefits everyone in the long run. Make innovation easier by minimizing the cost of failure!

Fake it till you make it

verseworks may put up registrations for courses for which no course material exists. If no one signs up, then no one is harmed. If enough people sign-up, then there can be a mad scramble to create the course the few weeks before the course. This may not sound like a serious way to run things, but in a way it is like a lean startup – make a minimal product and see if it flies. And regardless of how professional a course may seem, the first time it was held the teachers were out on a limb and very nervous about it.

This model works as long as nobody gets too reckless! Too many canceled courses would hurt the verseworks brand (see how we build the brand). So far that hasn’t been a problem though.

Courses and event production -