Here’s about 100 years of collective wisdom from many successful coaches to help you build your coaching business. Good luck. – Steve
The Need For Marketing
If you’re like most coaches, you were drawn to this profession because you like helping people. But the truth is you can’t help many people if you don’t stay in business. It’s an unfortunate fact that way too many good coaches struggle to fill their practices. It’s also a fact that not every one is cut out to succeed in self-employment. (NOTE – In my experience less than half the general population has the combination of attitude and drive to succeed on their own – regardless of how much knowledge they accumulate.) If you are not a self-starter, if you are not deeply committed to succeed on your own, perhaps self-employment is not the path for you. Save yourself some suffering and explore other possibilities. A partnership? Internal coaching within an organization? Etc. However, if you believe you have what it takes, and what you’re doing is not getting you the results you want, here are some tips to help you create a successful practice.
Have A Vision For Your Practice
There is a quote from Yogi Berra something to the effect, “You got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.” If you don’t have a compelling vision (i.e. one that is clear and really excites and motivates) for your coaching practice, odds are you’re not going to end up where you want to. A good vision for your practice may include:
- why you want to coach and what sort of impact you want to have with your clients.
- what is it about coaching that makes you feel more fully alive.
- a description of what is the material, emotional or spiritual benefit you will receive from a full practice?
- a description of the type of clients you are most attracted to.
- a description of the clients that will benefit the most from the skills and experiences you bring to your practice.
- the income you want to earn per month.
- the number of days/hours you want to work each week.
- the number of clients you want to work with each week.
- the average fee that you need to charge to reach your income target.
From this work you will be able to come up with a clear vision along the lines of “I want to coach 25 individuals* at an average fee of $350 per month, so I gross $8750 a month.” (* It will pay to clearly specify your ideal client such as – open-minded, motivated, professionals/brain-surgeons/belly-dancers/etc. who earn more than $60K per year.)
Depending on who you are (i.e. introvert or extravert), what your experience is, who you want to work with, where you live, etc., you’re going to find several marketing strategies more powerful than others. But in general terms, in descending order, here are some of the strategies that work the best for the hundreds of coaches I have known. Note – The strategies that involve you actually connecting with people, so that they can get to know you, appreciate you, and trust you, are generally the most effective.
- Directly contacting prospects, 1 to 1, in person, by phone, by email.
- Referrals, from your contacts and clients and other coaches.
- Going to networking events – clubs, associations, etc.
- Creating a referral network with complementary professionals, physical trainers, accountants, lawyers, massage therapists, etc.
- Mini workshops – 1 to 2 hour mini group sessions with targeted groups.
- Web site marketing.
- Public speaking.
- Article writing / on-line communities / publicity.
- Trade shows.
- General advertising in targeted periodicals.
The Goal – At The Start
Your goal in all your contact strategies is simply to give your prospects a great experience of you and coaching. When they have that, they will see and value the benefits. Do not waste your time describing coaching. It is the experience of coaching that gets clients. It is through this process that a prospect sees and thus values the benefits of coaching.
Notwithstanding any particular niche you may be targeting, you are generally looking for open-minded adults between the ages of 25 and 65, with a minimum income level in the $45K range.
You are always free to price to market. However, generally new coaches target the $200-300 per month range. Certified coaches range between $300 and $600 per month. And experienced certified coaches, or those that work with executives or entrepreneurs start at $500 and go up from there.
If you’re going to price to market, remember this rule of thumb. If more than 20% of your prospects balk at your rates, you are priced too high. If less than 20% object, you are priced too low.
At the start of your practice, don’t get hung up on price. If a client wants to work with you, but can’t afford it, find a way to make it work. “I want to coach you, how can we make this work?”
Branding & Positioning
These are the marketing buzz words and they are very important. In its most basic terms this is all about how you stand out from all other coaches in your prospect’s mind, and how memorably you communicate the value of your service in terms of the specific benefits your prospect recognizes. Don’t try to be all things to all people, you will get lost in the crowd. Get to know your target clients well. What are their unique needs? What are your competitors offering? What unique qualities and benefits will set you apart from your competitors? How can you consistently communicate this message to your clients.
When you choose to focus your marketing effort on a particular group of people who are most likely to value and accept your services, it is called choosing a niche.
When you target at a well-chosen niche and develop a strong brand, you tap break into the marketing Promised Land, where you will have more clients than you ever dreamed of. So let’s look at what is involved in doing this right.
To Niche Or Not To Niche
If you are just starting out, you don’t need to worry about a niche yet. If you have one, great; but if you don’t know what your niche is yet, don’t worry. In fact, I believe it is unwise for many coaches to select a niche too early in the process of building their practice. You may not know who is particularly attracted to you yet and you may not know how deep, enjoyable, or sustainable a particular, narrow group of clients might be.
A true and very productive niche is something that evolves over time. And it can take many months to really brand and position yourself firmly within a niche. If you are just starting out and want clients quickly, my best advice is to focus your marketing on the people you already know and let your niche, if you choose one, develop in time.
If you are well trained as a coach and put in the requisite ongoing marketing efforts, it is possible to coach without a niche. However most coaches experience significant advantages in focusing their marketing efforts towards a particular set of clients. In other words, if you choose the right niche – that is a great fit for your passions, expertise and experience – for a given investment in marketing you will receive a much better return. And as the profession of coaching grows it will be even more important to have a niche.
The rationale for choosing a niche is that if you focus on a particular group-who understands and values your expertise-you can become a well-recognized big fish in a small pond. Further, because you know their particular challenges, the solutions they are looking for, the lingo, and habits of your target niche, you can focus your marketing efforts and achieve better returns for a given marketing effort. Ultimately, as you become established in a niche, more and more clients will come to you.
For example if you happened to have 10 years of experience working in small business, you would know what the top challenges small business owners face. You would know how to recognize their strengths and weaknesses. You would know what associations or trade fairs they go to. You would know the periodicals they read. You would talk their language. And most importantly you would know how to package and price your coaching services so they were seen as an attractive solution to your niches’ most common existing problems. Finally, you would appear a much better choice to the members of this niche, than another coach who did not have the same depth of experience.
In professional coaching, there are some broad and clearly defined specialties such as life coaching, career coaching, business coaching, corporate coaching, executive coaching, etc. Within these general categories hundreds and hundreds of niches are evolving. New niches are appearing all the time.
Marketing At The Very Beginning
When you are just starting your practice, concentrate on giving coaching away to people you already know. Don’t try to coach your family or close friends, but anybody else you either enjoy, or can afford you, is fair game. It can be done as simply as the following mock conversation. NOTE – this is just an example of a sample dialogue for demonstration purposes. Any real dialogue must always come from an authentic place with full integrity.
Prospect: Hi (Chris) how are you doing?
Coach: Really well.
P: Wow, what’s up?
C: I have finally found what I am meant to do.
P: What’s that?
C: I discovered Professional Coaching. I have taken my training and now I am loving coaching people to accomplish some amazing things.
P: How does it work?
C: It would take me 10 minutes to describe what I do, and you still might not get it. I would rather give you a complimentary sample session. I would love to coach you on some big goal or change you are working on. That is how you would really get a feel for what I do. When will you have 20 minutes?
The point is to as quickly and naturally as possible, give away experiences of coaching to people you would like to work with. If you give away three sessions to qualified prospects you will end up with a client.
The Elevator Speech
For networking, as well as the general marketing of your practice, you will want to have a good answer to the question, “What do you do?”
You will find it useful to prepare a short, memorable description of who you are, what your do, and how you benefit your clients. Since very few people have ever had a coach, be sure to emphasize the benefits of working with you. (In essence this is a short description of your brand.)
These brief descriptions are called an Elevator Speech, because they should to be short enough to deliver in the average elevator ride – or networking introduction.An elevator speech can be as simple,“I am a Business Coach who works one-on-one with independent professionals, helping them market their business and enjoy their success.”
Good elevator speeches start with a focus on the target audience. What are the needs, challenges, or changes they want to make?
The more memorable and benefit laden your Elevator Speech, the better.
Here are some examples of good elevator speeches. The first comes from Coach Ken Mossman CPCC who contributed a tip to my book. Ken’s speech is, “I specialize in coaching ‘Business Dads’ – men who had their first child in their mid-thirties or later, own their own businesses or are senior executives, and are passionate about connecting with their own children… So not a moment is missed.”
In Ken’s elevator speech you clearly see whom he coaches, and what the benefits would be. Because Ken’s speech is specific it is a far more effective and memorable elevator speech than, I am a coach that helps people balance work and family.
The second example of a good elevator speech can be seen by another Coach that provided a tip to my book. Coach Jan Marie Dore PCC describes herself as a “Marketing Coach and Personal Brand Strategist who encourages solo professionals to be confident, successful self-promoters so that they stand out, get noticed, and get hired.”
Again, this descriptor is specific on who she works with and what benefits she delivers.
My general elevator speech is “My name is Steve Mitten. I am an experienced Master Certified Coach and Business Development Strategist who helps Independents, Professionals and Leaders find their niche, be their best and have an impact.” And depending on the particular interest of the group I am saying this to, I will typically emphasize particular words or benefits.
For example, if I am talking to a crowd interested in life coaching, I will insert “Life” in front of Coach, and substitute “path” for niche.
For most coaches creating an effective elevator speech takes time, because choosing a good niche takes time. Until you get your ultimate elevator speech, simply try to focus your description on the most relevant (life or business coaching) benefits of interest to the group you are being introduced to.
Daily Success Formula
On average, as a new coach, you need to give away 2 to 3 experiences of good coaching to qualified prospects to get a new client. So if you want to get a client a week, you need to give away 3 sample sessions a week. If you want to average 2 new clients a week, you need to give away 6 sample sessions. That means you have to set up a system for identifying, contacting, and coaching (or presenting to) the prescribed number of prospects each day. If you complete the required number of calls or sessions each day, the weeks will take care of themselves. As a coach, you know the value of structure. So create a daily/weekly worksheet or structure to keep you on track. If that doesn’t work get some other support.
You are only 60-80 good conversations away from a full practice. If you give yourself a few months, and choose the strategy most natural for you, this is not only doable, it can be enjoyable.
The Being Side
I have saved the most important piece for last. If you get this right you will find the process of building your practice far easier. If you don’t, all your best laid plans will come to naught; for who you are will always speak louder than anything you say.
Be authentic. Be who you are with 100% integrity. Have your attention on the prospect and what they want, need, are doing. Do not become emotionally attached to getting this client or that. Just go out into the world seeking to add value at all times, with everyone you meet. If you plan enough seeds of value, you will reap an abundant harvest.
One final note. In order to succeed as a coach, you will have to routinely step out of your comfort zone. (That is where all the growth occurs.) If you are like most of us, this is hard. So make sure your surround yourself with a good support team that keeps you from climbing back into your shell when the going gets tough.
Higher Levels of Achievement
I don’t believe there’s any reason why a competent and dedicated coach cannot achieve a 6-figure practice working less than 25 hours a week, enjoy their coaching, and live a balanced, fulfilling life. Others do it. You can do it.
I believe higher levels of success as a coach boil down to working towards mastery in 3 areas:
- Mastery of the art and science of the coaching skills themselves.
- Mastery of the marketing and the business side of coaching.
- And self or being-mastery, that continuing journey towards more presence, more awareness, more compassion, more intuition and the ability to add more value.
(I emphasize the words working towards mastery because it is a moving horizon. The more you learn, the more you see there is to learn.)
If you want to achieve higher levels of success as a coach, steadily strive to advance in these three areas.
As to improving your coaching skills, you can take advanced coaching courses, take some programs from other schools of coaching, experience coaching with coaches from different schools, arrange some supervision calls with a senior coach, etc. The ICF offers some great free programs through their virtual community.
Regarding mastery of the business side, there are some good books on marketing like C.J. Hayden’s, Get Clients Now or Seth Godin’s, Permission Marketing. There are also dozens of free marketing newsletters out there, sign up for some. And if you look around the web you will find a number of senior, certified coaches that market themselves very well. Talk to them, and hire one that will get you moving.
As to the being side, this is a big one. We all start from a different place, and find different paths forward. The bottom line here is to ensure that you are developing a practice or routine that sees you growing. It will involve some reflective practice. And whatever you choose, you will know it is working if you are getting more peaceful, more loving, more forgiving and more interested in the welfare of those around you.
Roadblocks To A Full Practice
The main reasons coaches fail to fill their practice are; fear, lack of coaching competence, lack of business knowledge, lack of follow-through, and lack of support.
Fear is a very natural human reaction to doing something new, something we may fail at before we become good, something in which me might face rejection. For new coaches this presents itself in a variety of common forms including:
- “I’m not ready yet.” In this common and understandable phenomena a new coach lingers too long in the belief that they don’t know enough to coach. With good training and mentoring there is no reason why a new coach cannot begin to work, and add value to clients within 2 months.
- “I don’t have my cards, brochures, website yet.” This is another fear based variation on the number one reason. You don’t need much to begin to get clients. Over time, as you gain clarity on who you most want to work with, and how to best reach them, your supporting information will evolve.
- “Once I get my office together I will get right on those cold calls.” Who likes making cold calls? This is a fear of rejection situation. You can work through this with the right support, but at the start of your practice you shouldn’t be making too many cold calls anyway. Go after the warm calls, or people you know (or know of you), and don’t wait for your office or anything else to be ready.
2) LACK OF COMPETENCE AS A COACH
Yes coaching may be a very intuitive process. But you still need to be trained. I believe there is a direct correlation between the quality of training you experience and your ability to add value to your clients. And the more value you can add to your clients, the more clients you will have. Thus, if you haven’t already, make sure you check out the fully ICF accredited coaching programs. (Such as The Coach Training Institute.) They have passed the most rigorous accreditation process in the profession.
3) LACK OF BUSINESS KNOWLEDGE
You may have come to coaching for reasons of the heart, but it is a business. And to really succeed in business you need to be good. Budget the time to learn all you need to know about marketing. Budget the time to apply what you know, and keep marketing.
4) LACK OF FOLLOW-THROUGH
Even if you have successfully identified your niche and chosen your most effective marketing strategies, you still need to execute consistently and sufficiently. Too many coaches just dabble with marketing and wonder why they do not have the practice they want. If you are getting favorable feedback from your prospective clients, keep marketing. Make it the priority of your week until you get your practice full. You have a gift to share with the world. Don’t hide it.
5) LACK OF SUPPORT
None of us are meant to make it on our own. We are meant to learn from each other. We are meant to grow from those interactions. If this weren’t the case, there would be no need for coaches. I believe that higher levels of success are directly related to the quality of the support team we create around us. Whether you hire a good mentor coach, create a support group of like-minded coaches, or talk to your dog, don’t try to do it all by yourself. You won’t see your blind spots, it will take you much longer, and it won’t be as much fun.
Coach Survey Results
To get a wider perspective on some key marketing issues, I sent a brief survey to over 100 successful coaches. The response was overwhelming as dozens of coaches took the time to share their experiences for the benefit of new members to our profession.
There is no way I could capture all the great tips and advice in this page, but here is a sampling of some of it:
How long (in months from the time you started as a coach) did it take you to get your first 5 clients?
The average amongst the coaches was 5 months. (Many stated it was only with the pressure of having to have at least 5 clients to enter a certification program, that they pushed and got to 5.)
How long (in months) did it take you to get your first 20 clients?
The average was 20 months.
What was your average monthly fee in your first year of coaching?
The average was $200/month.
What was the best marketing advice you ever received?
Here is a selection of the most common answers:
- Talk to people wherever you go about what you’re doing and the benefits of coaching.
- Ask people what their dream is and then get curious about it.
- Hire a certified coach for a mentor.
- Identify the people you know and contact them first to offer a sample session
- Create a workshop about something you are passionate about, then take it out and share it with everyone.
- Get quality coach training.
- Learn to network well.
- Get a web site, brochures and cards.
- Go to a network event twice a month and talk to at least 3 people about the benefits of coaching.
- Give away 3 free demo coaching sessions a week. And if the prospect does not decide to hire you, ask them who else they know would benefit from a free coaching session.
- Give a talk once a month. Write an article once a month.
- Give a gift certificate for any referrals.
- Network with HR people.
- Don’t sell….enroll.
What was the best advice you ever received?
Here is a selection of the most common answers:
- Developing your business is ultimately about developing yourself.
- Believe in yourself – find someplace else for the Gremlins to go.
- Focus on what you can give not what you can get.
- The best time to market is when you don’t need to.
- Be unattached to the outcome.
- Don’t try to do it all alone.
- Be yourself in your practice, let your light shine… people see your life change through your actions, not just your words.
- Stay in touch with what you are passionate about.
- Work with a great mentor coach.
- It’s not about what I am doing, but rather who I am being.
- Trust in the process.
- See the higher purpose in what you do, and then allow for success to come to you.
- Have a daily practice or routine to center yourself in that confident, unattached, open, helpful, client focused and authentic place.
Many thanks to all the coaches who participated in this survey. May your kindness be richly rewarded!!
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