Since the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, hundreds of training companies have been established to capitalize on government money for training a variety of federal agency personnel. The terrorist threat demonstrated a need for so many people to be trained in a very short amount of time that shooting schools were popping up everywhere.

But now that we have changed our course as a country, those fly-by-night companies are quickly dropping off. More established training operations like my company, International Training Incorporated, which was formed in 1989, have weathered the ups and downs.

So how does a company succeed in a market of uncertainty and sustain business, growth and development?

Diversifying your target audience is how you get through the cycles of an unstable market. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.” You have to go out and find other ways to keep people, business and cash flow coming in. For training companies, this could mean training more than just military and law enforcement agencies in the use of firearms.

According to the ATF, there has been a steady increase in firearms sales in recent years. There could be a lot of reasons why, but regardless, a lot of people are buying guns — and from a training perspective, this could prove to be very profitable for companies that are willing to open their doors to responsible civilians. So the question arises, how do we tailor training from government clients to fit the civilian market?

Let’s first look at what a good training facility should have to meet your needs. A training organization has a responsibility to provide life-saving skills to the students that attend. The organization should have all the basics plus a little “wow” factor to support a good learning environment.

Let’s first talk about the facility. Classrooms, visual learning aids, safety equipment, policies and procedures, written curriculum and above all, subject matter experts on staff to deliver the information are the core ingredients to making a world-class training facility.

Understanding how people take in information is important to being able to provide them the training they need. Students retain only about 10 percent of what they hear. So if you only get up and lecture your students, expect to repeat yourself a couple of times during your class.

I encourage students to take notes during a class as well. This helps them remember the points of instruction in their own words, even though this only helps retain another 10 percent. So how do students get the most out of your teaching? They learn by taking in the information visually.

We’re all human. Experience shows that we retain about 80 percent of what we see. Think about this: How many times have you drawn a map for someone who asked for directions instead of just telling them how to get there? So what does this mean for your instructors? How do we convey information to people so they may have a full understanding of what you are teaching?

This means that you need to have visual learning aids to accompany your classes. Power Point presentations, videos and live demos aid students to retain information you are giving. If they can hear it, see it and do it, they are likely to retain it better.

Another key component for a training facility is to have written curriculum that you stick with. How many times have you attended a class where the instructor says, “What do you want to do now?” If this is said in a private, more intimate setting of a class, it might be ok. But if you’re attending a course with several others that you don’t know, the instructor should know what’s next. The course content should be outlined for all to see and for the instructor to follow. This ensures that the points of instruction are being met and your customers are being given the level of instruction they paid for.

While all this is well and good, what really makes or breaks a training company is the instructor team.

The core of any training operation is the instructor delivering the information. These are the individuals dealing with your clients face to face on a daily basis. And just because they might be a former “operator” doesn’t automatically make them a good instructor. So what makes a “qualified” instructor? First off, your cadre should have firsthand knowledge of the information they are teaching. However, just as important as having experience, an instructor needs to be able to speak in front of class, convey information in a clear manner and create an environment for learning.

There are a lot of firearms instructors that can be found on the Internet. Some are legit and some have no business teaching. I was searching around the ’net the other day and stumbled upon a gentleman who advertised IDPA classes, so I decided to look into what was being taught.

The course title was labeled as advanced handgun skills for IDPA. I decided to look deeper into the instructor’s background. As I came to his bio, I found that he was an IDPA Sharpshooter. For those who don’t know the classifications in IDPA, the top shooters are Distinguished Masters (someone who has won a National Title or came within 3 percent of the winner), Master, Expert, Sharpshooter, Marksman, and Novice. Clearly this individual’s course might not be so “advanced” if all he achieves is a classification of Sharpshooter.

So many people who have limited knowledge go out and take an instructor-level class from somewhere and then believe they can teach. Depending on the curriculum being taught, it can take much more than just that.

When it comes to teaching law enforcement or military personnel versus civilians, there are some differences that you need to be aware of. Shooting a gun is shooting a gun — meaning no matter what the purpose is, safety, proficiency and being able to hit what you are shooting at is all the same. Rules of engagement change based on application, but when it’s time to use your firearm, whoever hits the other guy faster and with better accuracy wins.

What about tactics? Should we be teaching the average Joe how to clear a building, how to evacuate from a vehicle or how to stop an active shooter? I believe the students must have a clear purpose or reason for knowing how to solve those problems. If everyone knows how you are going to solve each of these problems, then they are able to identify weaknesses in your tactics.

At ITI we teach a wide variety of firearms courses — but we don’t teach tactics to civilians without a specific purpose. This might keep us from making more money on civilian courses, but sometimes you have to draw a line in the sand.

So what makes teaching civilians different? One of the biggest differences between teaching LE/military personnel and civilians is that civilians pay their own money to be there. This means they choose to be there. Sometimes LE/military personnel are attending training for “in-service” or are required to attend before deployments, and they don’t have anything invested other than their time. Civilians have a lot more invested in a training session. They have to take off work, pay for their equipment and ammo, pay for travel and pay the cost of the class. So looking at these three elements, how can you cater your training to accommodate their needs better?

Remember, civilians had to buy all the required equipment for your course, and that includes ammo. If they have to travel to your training, include airfare, rental car, hotel, and food. So your price point should be competitive with the courses you are offering. Consider doing a market analysis of the surrounding training companies that offer close to the same type of training. Be sure to cover all your costs and be able to stash a percentage away for further investments in the business.

Training should be safe, informative and fun. The skills you’re teaching someone could save their life. Be organized and well prepared, and have a plan of attack once your students arrive. Be sure that the “qualified” instructors have all the tools necessary to carry out the curriculum you have set forth.

And remember, people spend a lot of money before they ever step foot on your facility to attend a class. This will be an experience that they will never forget.