5 Steps to Starting a Successful Business: What They Didn’t Tell You In Coaching School
This article originally appeared in the November 2012 Issue of Coaching World
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 coaching.
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. In an effort to share a bit of the collective wisdom of the many good souls who have come before you, here are five tips that might minimize your suffering.
Pay Attention to the Business Side
Yes, you do have to learn to master the coaching skills. Fortunately there are now dozens of wonderful 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. You also need to learn some of the key business and marketing survival skills to 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 can be heartbreaking to finally find something you love to do but you end up having to get unrelated work because you never learned how to successfully market yourself as a coach. I have noticed that even the busiest new coaches (often balancing their day job, family commitments and their coach training), who can average at least two 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—generally manage to get past the predictable obstacles and build a viable practice. Obviously, the more time you put into performing productive marketing activities, 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 makes your marketing and practice-building life a whole lot easier.
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, so you do not have to reinvent the wheel. If you are well branded and
give your ideal clients good reasons to work with you, you will find enough clients. Look for groups of people you are called to work with, who have challenges that 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 niche 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; how many are willing to spend money for 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 thing like 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, and 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.
Offer More Than One-to-One Coaching
While coaching can add great value and a high return on investment to many clients, the cost of one-to-one 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 one-to-one 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, which increases your revenue. 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 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 of a lack of knowledge available about the business or marketing side of coaching. These days there are so many books, courses, videos, etc. that any
reasonably motivated coach could learn all they need 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 get 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 building your business, 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.
Steve Mitten is an award winning Master Certified Coach, a Past President of The International Coach Federation, a yogi and a long-time student of developmental and positive psychology, myth and the wisdom traditions. He enjoys doing transformational coaching work with individuals, leaders and business owners. Steve is also an expert on the marketing of coaching services, a frequent presenter at coaching conferences, and the author of Marketing Essentials for Coaches. His main website is acoach4u.com.