Rates

I talk a lot about lesson design and delivery, but when instructors get a chance to ask me something one-to-one, what they often ask is, “How much should I charge?” The short answer is that it depends on where you are and who your audience is; the longer answer is that you can figure out low and high bounds by looking at what you pay and doing a little math.

What follows is personal opinions based on work I have done as an independent consultant and trainer. It does not necessarily reflect the views of my employers.

For example, you might pay $350 for a full-day workshop at an academic conference. If there are 30 attendees, that’s a gross revenue of $10.5K; the venue is probably getting $1.5K for the room, so even if we double that to include coffee and the union electrician on standby, you and the organizers have $7.5K to split. Now, that money might be underwriting the conference, so you might only get travel, accommodation, and free registration, but if the hosts are taking anything home, you should too and it’s perfectly reasonable to ask.

At the other end, a two-day workshop at a medical or financial conference is probably going to cost attendees $2K each (or rather, cost their employers, since they’re almost certainly not paying out of pocket). If there are 30 attendees once again, that’s a gross of $60K; figure $3K/day for a nicer room and $100/day per attendee for food and drink (yes, venues charge like fairgrounds and movie theaters) and there’s $48K on the table. A 50/50 split with the organizers gives you $24K for two days of teaching, which compares favorably with what adjunct (sessional) teachers make at some schools in a year.

Of course, this doesn’t take lesson development time into account. I budget a full day of work for an hour of lesson material if I already know the subject reasonably well. For the one-day academic scenario outlined above, that means I earn (roughly) $3000 for 7 days of prep plus 1 day of teaching, which is very roughly $50/hr. (By comparison, my guitar teacher charges $75 for a one-hour lesson.) For the two-day commercial scenario, the all-in rate is about $160/hr, which is $10/hr more than I used to charge for contract software development.

What about amortization? If I teach the same workshop several times without modification then my effective hourly rate goes up, but “without modification” is a mythical beast you can chase but will never catch. Technology changes, your audience changes, you learn something about your material each time you teach: unless your material has been refined dozens of times (like the Carpentries lessons), you should figure each offering requires 1-3 hours of prep for each hour of teaching.

These numbers are all based on my own experience as a white guy working in affluent parts of the world during a succession of tech bubbles. I don’t know how to rescale any of these factors for other circumstances; what I do know is that sharing data like this helps newcomers negotiate, just as sharing salary figures helps people make sure they’re not being taken advantage of. I’d be grateful for any additions or corrections anyone would care to offer.

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