How to guarantee being offered more work

The majority of instructors work freelance, this is mainly because most schools have a very variable demand and can not employ staff on a full time basis.

Most instructors who have made a few contact in schools, will find that during the busy periods in the summer and at weekends there is plenty of work. However, outside of the main season the amount of work drops off drastically.

There are a few simple rules to ensure you are in demand as an instructor during the quiet periods.

  • Make sure your past clients ask for you specifically when they book again.
This is easier than it may seem. Many people who start to work in the sailing industry are there because they want to have a good time and see it as a route to being able to sail, relatively few treat it as a profession and provide a professional service. Those who do care for the needs of the client, who work hard and encourage their students (whether they like them or not) will always be in demand.

This may mean going a little further and trying harder than is easy, but after all it is a job! If it was easy, we would not get paid to do it.

If an instructor can encourage students to return (and pay the school money) they will always be offered more work by the school!

  • Learn how the school operates and fit in to the system, this makes you very easy to employ.

All sailing organisations have an operating system, they may be very different. That does not mean that one of them is wrong, it is just the way that organisation has decided to work. The variations may be because of local conditions, or because of previous experience of the senior staff at the school.

Factors to look out for include:

  • How the boats should be moored up.
  • The school's paperwork system.
  • The dress code, if any.

Whatever the system is do not fight it, if you do you are too much trouble to offer work to when the school is not desperate.

  • Promote the school's products.

The more courses the school sells, the more instructors they need to employ. If you are able to promote the next relevant course to your students you are ensuring your future work stream.

It makes sense to learn which courses the school offers and how they fit your students needs.

  • Be reliable.

Schools go to a lot of trouble to book instructors, when an instructor cancels a course at short notice, the school then has to prioritise finding another instructor as a replacement.

Instructors who develop a reputation for unreliability soon find that they tend to be ones who are booked last instead of months in advance.

One of the reasons instructors cancel previous arrangement is because they have been offered more lucrative work elsewhere, although it is tempting to go for the immediate gain, this approach will backfire in the long run.

If you say you are going to be there, you need to be as good as your word!

  • Never accept work directly from clients.

If you do your job as an instructor, you will frequently be asked to work on student own boats. Whilst it is very tempting to take the work (usually better paid than working for any school), if you do, and the school or any other learn about it, they will no longer employ you. The argument is, they spend a great deal of money to find the customers, if you then take them off them, they have wasted their money.

If you are asked to do work by clients, refer them to the school (perhaps you can negotiate a commission).

  • Never pass the blame on to the school.

Having looked at a wide range of complaint letters from students over the years, you can always spot when an instructor has been passing the buck, instead of supporting the school.

One example was where everyone on the boat complained about the standard of maintenance of the boat. When questioned specifically, the points were:

  • They ran out of cooking gas on the first morning. (A good skipper would check before leaving that they had at least one full cylinder)

  • The shackle attaching the mainsheet to the boom had come undone and the boom had flown out of control (A shackle working loose should have been spotted in the skipper's pre-course check, or during the daily deck check-were they done at all?).

  • A bolt supporting the tiller was sheared off. (The skipper could easily have fitted another one from a chandlers, or returned to base).

It was very easy to see that, when anything went wrong the skipper had blamed the school instead of accepting responsibility and dealing with the problem in a positive manner.

That particular skipper will not be offered any more work! Partly because of several errors in procedure but mainly because they took the easy route and passed the problem up to the school.

Another example, of the skipper causing the problem can be with food.

Several boats can go out with identical food supplies aboard, at the end of the week the feedback may vary from the food being excellent to inedible.

Allowing for different tastes, this says more about what the skipper has said about the food than what the students may have though of it. If the skipper says something like: "Oh not ............, again", or "this............. is always terrible, let's go the the pub to eat". The students will respond like wise.

  • If you have a problem with anything at the school, it is none of the students business.

The old rule of: "If you can not say something positive, say nothing at all", is vital.

If you have a problem with the school, the students should never know. Either take it up with the management and change things or have the integrity to go and work elsewhere, don't whinge about it.

One incident I heard about was when an instructor who felt he was under paid, kept talking about his pittance during a course. One of the students eventually said, " I've been sailing a long time, but I've never come across the boat's pittance, can you show me how to use it?"

  • Never criticise any other sailing organisation.

All criticism does is bring down the whole industry. All sailing organisations are different, that does not mean that different is necessarily better or worse, it is just different!

If a client asks you about another organisation, and you can not say anything positive about them, be as neutral as possible.

  • Only promote the school you are working for at the time.

It is common sense to avoid promoting a school other than the one you are working at at that time.

Even offering your students places as crew on deliveries or arranging for them to sail with your contacts will be unpopular with any commercial school. The school's view will be that the student have only a certain amount of time in which to go sailing-they would like all that time and money to be spent with that school!

  • If you want to be treated like a professional, behave and look like one.

If you wander around in clothes with paint or oil on them, looking scruffy, people are not going to take you seriously.

Many of the people who come sailing are very successful in their own fields, they have expectations about appearance and behaviour. If you want them to feel comfortable with you (possibly teaching them on their own boat), you need to appear to be the kind of person they want to spend time with.

This probably means a minimum of wearing clean clothes and shaving every day (unless you have a beard). If you have any metal work showing, consider that most people will make up their mind about the kind of person you are in the first few seconds of meeting you. They will not wait to discover that despite the rings and studs you are actually perfectly normal underneath.

  • Give up smoking!

Over the last 25 years crews have changed from a situation where most of them smoked, to one where the majority do not. Many non-smokers do not like being near people smoking, and will actively avoid sailing with them if possible.

Especially when working on clients own boats, a smoker is less likely to be offered the work than a non-smoker.

  • Moderate your drinking during courses.

Because sailing instructors spend so much of their time with clients, they tend to relax and socialise during the time they are running courses. You should moderate the amount of alcohol you drink even when you are "off duty", for two reasons.

  • The first one is the clients need you to appear to be a person who can be trusted and who displays a responsible attitude.

  • The second is that, if anything happens on the boat, everyone will look to the skipper to take command. Incidents I have come across are, a student having a heart attack at 3am, a student falling down the forehatch and suffering a compound fracture of the lower leg (in France!) at 1am, and a crew member falling between the pontoon and the harbour wall in a position where she was unable to reach the pontoon, again at 1am.

You must be ready for interesting things to occur, and can not afford to be in a condition where quick action is impossible.

  • Develop your understanding of people.

Most novice instructors focus on developing their technical skills. In fact, most of the time, the instructors personal technical ability is never stretched. The most important aspect for most of us to focus on is our ability to handle and relate the many different people who pass through our courses.

The instructor who develop their people skills to a high level will have far more offers of work and recommendations than the best technical sailor.

Books all instructors should read are:

How to Win Friends and Influence People. Dale Carnegie.
Positive Personality Profiles. Robert Rohm.
Skill With People. Les Giblin.
Balcony People. Joyce Landorf Heatherly.

  • Ask the school if there is anything you can do to improve.

If you are humble enough to ask how you can improve your service to the school (after all, they are your real customer), most schools will be prepared to offer you the chance to prove yourself. There are plenty of instructors who, when they have run a few courses, behave like they know everything and become fixed in they ways.

We can all improve, sometime someone else can see those improvements better than we can. A little change in some minor area can work wonders in the impression a school has of a member of staff.

  • Have fun!

If you are enjoying your work, looking for new ways to operate, ensuring that your clients have a good trip and that they are not just this weeks product on the conveyer belt you will remain enthusiastic and interested in the job. This in itself will ensure repeat business.

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