(But you really need to know to build a successful coaching business.)
Starting your own coaching business can be one of the most exciting and scary times of
your life. On the one hand, most new coaches are often ecstatic to have finally found
their calling and the possibility of making a difference doing something they love.
Yet on the other hand, so many new coaches are anxious, if not downright terrified,
about their ability to build a successful business and support themselves through
If this is you, take heart; you are not alone. There are some 50,000 coaches who have
felt the same way as they walked this path ahead of you. Almost every possible way of
building a coaching practice has been tried and the potholes and dead ends on this
journey are well-known. In an effort to share a bit of the collective wisdom of the many
good souls that have come before you, here are 5 tips that might minimize your
suffering and shorten your journey:
Pay Attention To The Business Side
Yes, you do have to learn to master the coaching skills. Fortunately there are now
dozens of wonderful fully ICF accredited coach training programs around the world that
will help you do this. And even though the journey through your coach training can be
lovely, meaningful, and even intoxicating at times, please do not make the mistake of
putting all your time, effort and money into studying only the coaching skills. That is only half of what you need to know to make a good living as a coach. Please do not forget about learning some of the key business and marketing survival skills you will need to make and build a successful practice.
It is a sad fact that there are simply far too many well trained coaches out there
struggling to fill their practices. It is not fun. In fact it can be heartbreaking to have finally
found something you love to do but find yourself having to get unrelated work because
you never learned how to successfully market yourself as a coach.
Every independent coach has to put the time into learning what they need to learn to
become self-supporting. As to practical guidelines, I have noticed that even the busiest
new coaches (say transitioning into coaching, often balancing their day job, family
commitments and their coach training), that can average at least 2 hours a week on the
business side of their practice – learning skills, finding a niche, networking, giving talks,
writing articles and newsletters, giving sample sessions, working social media, creating
a website optimized to the keywords their ideal clients type into Google, etc., generally
manage to get past the predictable obstacles and build a viable practice. Obviously, the
more time you put into learning marketing best practices and actually performing productive marketing activities that fit your personality, the quicker your start-up will be.
Find A Niche
When I talk about having a niche for your coaching practice, I am simply talking about
having a focus for your marketing. Having a niche is just about being really clear on
who your ideal clients are, so you can know where they hang out, what they care about
and how to best talk to them about the problems/challenges/changes they want to
make, in a language they understand.
Having a niche gets you away from the frustrating and fruitless exercise of trying to
describe coaching to people who aren’t interested in it or can’t afford you. Having a
niche allows you to focus your marketing on people you understand and care about and
allows you to talk to them about topics they are interested in. Having a niche makes
your marketing and practice building life a whole lot easier. Literally, it can be the
difference between starving away in obscurity and enjoying ease and success in your
As to the process of finding a niche, remember a good niche has two parts, a “who” and
a “what”. The “who” is a specific group of people. The “what” is a logical cluster of
challenges those people face and want to resolve.
There are thousands of proven niches in professional coaching, you do not have to
reinvent the wheel or feel you have to come up with something no one else has thought
of. I have yet to find a good niche where the market is saturated. If you are well
branded and positioned and give your ideal clients good reasons to work with you, you
will be able to find enough clients. Look for groups of people you are called to work
with, who have challenges they are spending money on now, who are relatively easy to
market to (because they belong to the same groups, could be accessed through the
same keyword phrases, read the same books, go to the same conferences, frequent the
same social media groups, etc.).
When you identify a place you are interested in, go out and interview enough people to
confirm what they are struggling with, what they are trying now that is not working, what
their payoff is, what the best way to market to them is, that enough of them really are
willing to spend money to get the results they want, etc. Once you do a few interviews,
you will know enough about any group to know if they are a good fit for you. And if it is
a great fit, you will know enough to do very effective marketing.
Focus on Problems and Solutions
One of the biggest mistakes new coaches make is trying to sell coaching. The problem
with this is that many potential clients have never tried coaching and if they don’t know
what it is, they cannot value the service; and few people purchase what they don’t
understand. So rather than trying to sell such an intangible, difficult to describe thing
called coaching, look for opportunities to market coaching as a great solution to the big
challenges, problems or changes people are struggling with now.
Look for the changes they really care about, the ones they cannot seem to solve on
their own. When you know what someone is trying to achieve, understand the payoff
they will receive, help them recognize that they are not making the progress they want,
it is far easier for them to see coaching as a valuable means of support. And indeed coaching is an extremely effective means of support to help them keep focused, on track, grow past their current doubts and actually change the mindset and behavior they need to change to get the outcomes they want. And wherever possible give them an experience of coaching, (rather than just a description of it) and make it really easy for them to start with you. (Because once they start coaching and feel the benefits, they will stay with you for a very long time.)
Offer More Than 1 to 1 Coaching
While coaching can add great value and a high return on investment to many clients,
the cost of 1 to 1 coaching remains out of reach for millions and millions of people. If
you are well-marketed you will eventually be able to attract as many 1 to 1 clients as
you want. However, you do yourself and the world a favor if you package yourself in
other formats that lower the price of working together and dramatically increase the
range of people who can work with you. For example, if you offer a small group
coaching program you can materially increase the number of people who can afford to
work with you.
This is good for you, as it helps you build revenues, and it is good for the world as it increases the number of people that benefit from your coaching. Also, this is actually quite easy to do when you have a niche where many of your clients have similar backgrounds and interests and want help/support/coaching on many of the same topics.
It’s A Mental Game
Having seen hundreds and hundreds of new coaches come into this lovely young
profession, I am convinced that the biggest challenge most of them face is mental.
Seriously, I do not believe most coaches struggle because there is a lack of knowledge available about the business or marketing side of coaching. These days there are so many books, courses, talks, articles, recordings, videos, workshops, trainings, etc. where any reasonably motivated coach could learn all they need to learn to build a successful business.
The biggest roadblock to most coaches’ ultimate success is their inability to move past
the ubiquitous distractions, doubts, limiting thoughts and conditioned behaviours that
keep them thinking and feeling that they are not ready or worthy to succeed as a coach.
This of course is quite ironic, in that we coaches are so well trained in helping others
past their inner critics. However, our knowledge on this topic simply does not make us
immune to the very same challenges our clients face. If you are serious about
succeeding as a coach, do not appease your doubt and fears and for heaven’s sake do
not put your gremlin in charge of your marketing program.
In summary, the success, freedom and independence you seek in your coaching
practice is always just beyond your current comfort zone. Get well trained, put the time
into your business building, get the support you need, (if you cannot afford a coach full
time, set up a coaching circle with some colleagues), manage your stress, (stress
makes reactive, distracted, cowards out of us all), and get out there and share your gifts
with the world.
Affordable Business Development For Coaches
I believe coaches do important work in the world, and that they need more affordable and effective business training. Too many coaches struggle needlessly.
So I have always reserved a portion of my practice to work with coaches and run affordable business development programs for coaches. These programs have legions of fans, and fill up quickly by word of mouth.
Like all my work, each of these come with a money back guarantee.