Perhaps you have just become a coach or are considering the profession as a potential career move. If you are, it is likely you are already aware of the multitude of expertise and guidance vying to fulfill your development needs. Much of it will prove valuable, a lot of it is likely to waste your time, but some of it will be absolute gold dust.
Whilst I am not here to tell you what you should pay attention to, I can share with you what I have learned so far in my first year. It is the year that has seen me qualify as an ICF approved professional coach, an executive coach and also seen me grow my client base in the midst of a global pandemic. It has also not been without it’s challenges. As you sift through the mass of opinions, I hope this will provide you with some confidence to follow a path that is true to you as you continue on your own journey.
So here they are, my key lessons learned and little nuggets of wisdom from one new coach to another…
1. Focusing on numbers will not build a sustainable client base; instead, focus on what you have to offer
It is easy to play the numbers game when you first set up a coaching practice: focusing on gaining new clients, wondering how many hours you should be spending coaching by now and how your client base compares to that of other coaches. After a few sprints down that path, you’ll soon stop and look back to remember why you started coaching in the first place. You’ll remember the value you want to bring.
The path to working with more clients isn’t to chase clients. It’s actually to focus on what you can provide them. The best coaches aren’t the ones with a week packed full of consultation calls; they’re the ones who are authentic and having a real impact on the lives of the people they are working with. Be the coach and the clients will come.
2. There is no perfect way to coach; find your niche to find your calling
There is not one type of coach. In fact, there are an infinite number. Every coach is unique, which is something quite beautiful about the profession. If you go down the route of getting professionally trained, you may find your early sessions as a trainee and qualified coach to feel a bit wooden while you focus on ‘getting everything right’. There is no problem with this! Soon you will feel more comfortable with adhering to ethical guidelines and methodologies, enabling you to also weave in your own personality, toolkit and authentic coaching style.
Be kind to yourself as you explore the type of coach you want to become. Many coaches combine coaching with another service or product, such as consulting, mentoring, training or counselling. What often draws these together is why you are doing it. Understanding your own purpose will help you identify your target client and create a portfolio of services that will offer the solution they are looking for. Remember to clearly define and separate coaching from your other offerings.
3. Visibility is about more than just having a presence
I have read and followed so much guidance on increasing visibility on social media. New coaches often spend A LOT of time on social media. I am a fan of Instagram, but the time and effort I put into designing my grid and sharing positivity did not demonstrate a sustainable ROI. I was also sucked into the lie that coaches must have a Facebook group and a mailing list to gain new clients. This is not the case. Gone are the days when I plaster myself across insta-facebook-twitter-linkedin-youtube in the search of new clients. It wasn’t me. Followers and likes don’t equate to clients. An understanding of algorithms will teach you that.
If you’re still unsure, consider this: if you wanted to find a new coach, where would you look? This is where website SEO, google listings, industry networking and blogs are all important.
4. What you do, not what you say you’ll do, will grow your business
There is a phase in the new coach lifecycle when many of us experiment with becoming a salesperson. The average empath struggles with this. One of the biggest problems with the coaching profession is that the most famous coach in the world is a salesperson. I was once asked “how the motivational speaking was going”. True story! But no, I am not and have no aspirations to be the intensely-extroverted Tony Robbins. Yet there are so many coaches-of-coaches out there who will try to convince you that you have to become a money-hungry, cold-calling curator of one-liners in order to succeed as a coach. This is not true.
What do I suggest instead? Be a coach! My ability to sell does not bring me new clients. I am not a salesperson. I just coach. I provide a service and I make a difference. Recommendations and testimonials make all the difference here; they will help attract the right clients for you. If you act like a salesperson when you are not, you will attract clients who want to be coached by a salesperson. Being authentic from the start enables you to have maximum impact as a coach.
5. People are less interested in what you are; more in what you can do for them
Many people do not know what a coach actually does. It can be difficult to connect the idea of a sports coach with a life coach. It can also be confusing when coaches create a pitch based on helping people reach their potential.
If you are a life coach who helps people reach their potential, my recommendation to you is this: really think about your ideal client. Consider what they need, in their own words and focus your marketing on demonstrating how you can fulfill this need. Few people walk around thinking, “I need to reach my potential. I’ll go and get a life coach”, but most people would benefit from working with one. Show them how.
6. Vulnerability is a powerful tool that allows people to connect with you
My role as a coach is to guide my clients through journeys that are often transformational and very personal. This requires trust between us both and vulnerability from the client. From my own experiences as a coaching client, I have learned that the more vulnerable I have been, the more I have gained. Exposing some of my vulnerability has therefore been important to me when building my own presence and brand.
Whilst it may not be relevant or possible for every coach, for me it has helped show potential clients that I understand the experience of being coached and the significance of being vulnerable with another.
7. Ultimately, if you are setting up alone, this requires a tough skin
I set up my coaching practice as a venture into self-employment. I am used to the comfort of the corporate world and understand the politics that comes with it. Being self-employed is a different ball game. There is a wonderful community of freelancers and small business owners out there, but there are also those who are struggling and see you as competition. At times, I found this more difficult to ignore than I would have done as an employee in a large company.
If you experience this, my advice is to have faith in yourself and your own journey. Take imitation as flattery, do not be insulted by deceit, work with your own coach on your journey and always remember why you are doing what you do.
8. Every client has a story and theirs will contribute to yours
I have written these lessons in the order I have remembered them, but this is perhaps the most significant. Every client I have worked with matters to me and I wonder sometimes if my inability as a coach to divulge everything I am thinking allows them to realise the extent of that. Perhaps it matters less.
I have adapted and grown as a coach with every client, but I have also adapted and grown as a person. It is a very personal and special experience when another person allows you to enter their life through a coaching session. I have always been fascinated by what motivates, inspires and drives people. Naturally, I learn more about people and the world from every person I coach. It is a privilege and for that, I am grateful.