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Help - I Want to Ask my (Music) Employer to Pay for Training. Where Do I Even start?

Have no fear, this may feel daunting but it might just be easier than you think. Let’s see what we can do to get you confidently asking your employer to help support your professional growth.

We will get to negotiating and Return on Investment in a minute, but before we get into the big, obvious but maybe a bit scary stuff, let’s get into some of the inner, less obvious but possibly also pretty scary stuff first.

Let’s break down the process of what you will in all likelihood have to do to get your employer’s buy-in into steps.


  1. Decide why *you* want to do the training. What’s in it for you?

  2. Decide you’re having it.

  3. Establish if the company is open to or has a budget for training for their employees.

  4. Think about what the employer gets out of you doing the training. What’s in it for them?

  5. Have a think about why your employer might say no - and come up with good reasons why that needn’t be a concern for them.

  6. Establish who is the person with the budget and who has the power to say yes definitively.

  7. Get clear on the case you’re making before you raise the subject

  8. Figure out the best way to raise this as a subject of discussion with the individual who can say yes.

  9. Ask.

  10. Negotiate!

But before taking any of those steps, look at that list again. Are there any steps in this list which look especially daunting? Which one is The One where you’re the most likely to get stuck. Have you ever tried, unsuccessfully, to ask for training before? Where did it go wrong? Did you actually manage to ask? Was your request met with an immediate lacklustre response? Did things fall over at the negotiation stage? If it’s clear where it went wrong - mark that step in some way and add a note saying - Get Support in front of that step.

Often when we feel daunted by a task it’s because it looks so big. Or brings up awkward or unpleasant feelings. But usually it’s only one step that is really the sticking point. Get help with that one. Do as much as you can up to the sticking point, then find a friend or colleague who you know is good at getting training or generally getting buy in for their ideas and ask them to talk you through it from their perspective.

OK. Now let’s take a rummage. I’ll go through each of the points above one by one.

1. Decide why *you* want to do the training. What’s in it for you?

Why has this particular training caught your eye? Does it build your ability to do your current role? Does it prepare you for the next role up from where you are? Is it a technical skill you’ll be acquiring (for example project management or a type of software) or a soft(er) more widely applicable skill (for example leadership training)? What is it about this particular training that speaks to you? Do you know someone else who has done the training with great results? Is it a well respected training in your sector (for example the Clore Fellowship)?

Once you know why this course, are you clear why now? Why is this the perfect moment?

Once you’re as clear as you can be on What’s in it for you, you’re ready to think about what’s in it for your employer.

2. Decide you’re having it.

And commit to being open to and able to see whatever opportunities come along to support you getting what you want.. (Honestly deciding is practically the most important point on the list. Second only after - Ask!)

When we decide we’ll do what it takes to have a thing we want and resolve to not get stopped or fall into imagining it’s a sign to give up when we meet the first roadblock, the universe has a well proven habit of arranging itself around that decision and helping us bridge the gap that stand between what we want and getting it. Decide. It’s powerful.

3. Establish if the company is open to or has a budget for training for their employees.

Before thinking about this, it would make sense to find out what the lie of the land is with your company’s attitude to paying for training. Is there any provision in your contract? Get the facts.

Do they support training of their staff? If not, do some research, what is the value in them starting? Can you do something altruistic like offer a document or share an article on why investing in staff training pays dividends. Include statistics.

4. Think about what the employer gets out of you doing the training. What’s in it for them?

As a general rule your employer will want to know what you assume or the training claims the Return on Investment (ROI) is going to be for them (the company) if they pay for you to get training. Will you be able to:

  • Bring in more business and impact turnover/the bottom line?

  • Work more efficiently?

  • Manage a new team member? Or manage one better?

  • Stop outsourcing a particular service and bring it in house?

  • Take on some of the responsibility that is currently on the shoulders of a team member who is doing more than one person's job/more than their fair share?

  • Do something else that you know is required in your department or team and would be valued?

  • Grow your confidence?

  • Meet people from your wider industry that will be useful contacts to add to the business’ strategic network?

For every point on your list write “And that means…” and follow it with the implication for the employer of your action or that benefit. For example let’s say the benefit is you can stop outsourcing a particular service and bring it in house. Bringing it in house means: lowered costs associated with completing that task, faster turnaround of that task, greater transparency about how it's going. “And that means”...Greater team morale and reduced frustrations around this task, more money in the budget for something else, reduced wait times so the entire team can be more efficient. “And that means”... a happier team. Keep going until there is not further “And that means” possible.

If this is where you need support and the Music Leaders Network is the programme you want to get your employer to pay for - please don’t hesitate to reach out to either Remi or I, we’re both delightful, and we’ll give you any support we can. We even have a document to explain the ROI of the Music Leaders Network here [LINK].

5. Have a think about why your employer might say no - and come up with good reasons why that needn’t be a concern for them.

You may know someone else in the department or organisation who asked for training and got turned down. Maybe take them for a coffee and find out what went down. Some employers worry that if they train you then you’ll be off with your new shiny skills looking for a new job elsewhere.

In my experience there are two ways to deal with this - 1) explain why that’s not the case for you, or 2) practice imagining having a successful conversation with the person who can say yes - more about them in a minute - where you picture them clearly listening to your case and agreeing to it. Imagine the setting, the words you say, the expression on their face, the energy you share between you (good energy) and stay picturing the scene until it feels as if it’s done. It can help to notice your breathing whilst you do this. If you get tense or distracted, just come back to your breath and try again. Seems too simple I know. But it can work wonders in reducing your belief that it’s a doomed mission. Which will certainly increase the likelihood of you asking in the first place. Repeat the exercise until you let go of that particular worry or until you feel complete.

6. Establish who is the person with the budget and who has the power to say yes definitively.

(You may also like to pay a trip to HR to see what the current company policy is on investing in staff training. Not every boss is up on this. You want to be the best informed you can be). They may also know who holds the training budget. It might not be your direct boss.

It is important to know this because if it isn’t your line manager and you don’t know that before spending time making your case to them, you’re just going to have to make your case again. Or they may promise you they will raise it with the one with the say so, and then you have to trust that they a) will do so in a timely fashion and b) will make a persuasive case. This may be your best way forward if the lines of communication between you and the decision maker are weak. Otherwise, it might be better for you to handle it.

7. Get clear on the case you’re making before you raise the subject. I recommend doing this in writing. With statistics or course testimonials/case studies where possible.

It would be well worth you putting your case in writing to make life easier for your boss if they are the decision maker and even more so if they aren’t and will have to raise it with their boss or beyond. It will also show you’re serious about this. It’s not just a fleeting fancy if you took the time to write a one pager on the course credentials, when and where it’s happening, why you, why now and what’s in it for them. It wouldn’t hurt, if you’ve had other training, to show how you’ve been applying it successfully with evidence to prove your case. But don’t let not having any such evidence put you off. You deserve to be professionally developed. Ask.

8. Figure out the best way to raise this as a subject of discussion with the individual who can say yes.

This part is a little bit of professional psychology based on the DISC personality profiling tool. I’ve been helping clients understand their boss and colleagues using DISC for 15 years. I’m giving you the good stuff here - but it’s going to make this article even longer. If you want my insights, you’ll find them laid out separately here.

And if you don’t have time - the short version is this. At this stage it’s not about you any more but all about the person you’re trying to persuade. Think about when and how they are most persuadable. Are they the sort who needs a spreadsheet and data and time to think about it or are they a water cooler impromptu chat person? Do you need to make a formal time in their diary? Do you need to ask over after work drinks. Not sure? Maybe deliberately observe them for a few days to establish their persuadability style. What can you see works? What definitely doesn't work? Choose your strategy.

9. Ask.

You are prepared. Make your case. Go for it. Ask for what you want.

10. Negotiate!

First of all, don’t panic if they say No. Can you get them to qualify it? No, because no budget? No, because there is another training they’d prefer you to do? No because you can’t be spared the time off? You can’t effectively negotiate without all the information.

If you know the key issue is money have a think about solutions. Can you pay a percentage? Can you agree to pay additional expenses out of pocket. Travel and accommodation for example.

If the key issue is they think you’ll leave - Can you agree to golden handcuffs, where you do the training and then agree to work so many months or a year or two to ensure the ROI is enjoyed by your employer for a reasonable period?

If the programme is going to make you unavailable during office/normal working hours or a traditionally busy period, can you mitigate this in some way to show willing? Work before and after work? Use holiday? If you’re not sure what the reason is for the no, or the I’ll have to think about it - try asking “What would I need to do for this to feel like a worthwhile investment to you?” That usually reveals what the sticking points are quite effectively.

And if you know the training is one you really want to do and your boss/the business says no, don’t get stopped. Are there bursaries for the programme? Is there a fund that will support someone in your part of the industry to get training? The Music Leaders Network offers its own part bursaries to those working in Small and Medium-sized Enterprises and up to full bursaries for freelancers and small music charities. We can also advise if there are any pots of money available to support payment of fees. For example Help Musicians has a fund that is suitable for Musicians.

So please, if the Music Leaders Network or any other training is speaking to you, don’t be afraid or too daunted to ask for what you want. If it can support your growth and development in the industry, it’s worth asking. What’s the worst that could happen? More importantly, what’s the best?

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