I’ll be teaching SEO 101 at General Assembly in Hong Kong on April 22nd, 2014. This will be the second time I’ve taught at General Assembly, and I think they have an intriguing business model that may be a large part of the future of adult professional education. But first, some background.

The way I heard the story, General Assembly started out as a co-work space in New York. They noticed people were renting the space at night to teach classes, so they decided to forget renting office space and focus on education. Now they move into a market and rent space and teach classes. But the best part is they don’t actually teach the classes at all. General Assembly is a match-maker or marketplace, sort of like eBay in a sense, in that General Assembly connects those who want to learn with those who want to teach. They currently have nine campuses around the world including New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Boston, London, Sydney, Brooklyn, Berlin, and of course, Hong Kong.

When General Assembly enters a market they contact practitioners and invite them to create a class and be an instructor. General Assembly provides the venue and helps market the class, and the instructors shows up and teaches. Then General Assembly and the instructor split the revenues 50-50. This creates an incentive for the instructors to get the word out to maximize attendance and his or her own pay, which also helps General Assembly. It’s a win-win-win in that the attendees get relevant information and knowledge in a personal setting from an expert, General Assembly gets revenue, and the instructor gets paid.

But in reality, getting paid is the last reason I’m teaching at General Assembly. For me, it’s a lot of things, including:

  • Speaking practice. I like speaking publicly and doing presentations, but I need more practice. General Assembly gives me the opportunity to hone my skills.
  • Exposure. I teach about what I know, and that means I teach about online marketing. Since I run an online marketing firm, there’s a good chance an attendee at one of my classes may turn into a client.
  • SEO. I can’t ignore the fact that by becoming an instructor for General Assembly I get a link from their website to my own.

And yes, to get all this and then get paid a little bit on top isn’t too bad of a deal.

General Assembly also has enterprise education courses. Whereas most of the courses are open to anyone who wants to attend and are targeted to a general audience, the enterprise courses are more targeted and customized for the audience. Clients of General Assembly’s enterprise education courses include American Express, GE, NYSE, The New York Times Company and PepsiCo. Getting involved in creating and teaching these courses is of even more interest to me because in my business I am targeting C-suite and VP level executives. By teaching courses of this nature, to these types of individuals, I can get in front of them as an expert and “sell” my firm’s services without any sort of actual pitch.

In Hong Kong my first class was taught at The Hive and was on the topic of DIY online PR for startups. General Assembly Hong Kong has now relocated its offices to The Garage Society, a new co-work space in Central. About 25 attendees turned up for my first class, despite the rather niche focus. I expect my SEO 101 to get quite a bit more interest. The format was that I spoke for about an hour, maybe a little longer, and then we did an extended Q&A. There were also some questions while I was speaking. It’s a casual atmosphere with no rules other than those the instructor gives. This freedom is motivating because I know I have control over the class and can teach what I want, how I want, within reason. This is the same reason I do a lot of writing for Forbes, even though I could write for a lot of other publications. Forbes just makes it so easy to post content and get it out there fast. For both Forbes and General Assembly this means becoming vulnerable and letting go a bit, but it seems to have worked out well for both of them.

Have you ever taught at General Assembly or attended a course there? What did you think?