Maybe it’s the desire for freedom and flexibility in summer, maybe it’s a recent spate of corporate downsizings – in any event, I’ve had a recent uptick in requests for coffee meetings with prospective coaches.
The requests seem, on the surface, reasonably innocuous. “I’m thinking about becoming a coach and would love to get your thoughts.” “I’ve got a friend (relative/former colleague) who’s started a coaching business and they’re struggling and I’m SURE they’re doing it wrong – can I send them your way?” Or “I’m just beginning as a coach and I’d love to work with you and your team.”
But what’s underneath is a desperate hope that there’s a short cut – a way to circumvent the labour-intensive, trial and error-based, build-it-from-nothing, often lonely and confusing process involved in building any business. All of which, in my experience, is particularly true in the still-forming profession of coaching. I’m happy to share what I’ve learned – as long as it’s clear that even hearing about my experiences isn’t necessarily going to make your own path smooth, easy and short.
The thing is – no one can drink THAT much coffee. I sure can’t, anyways. So here are a few of the things I’d tell you if we did meet. And there are no short-cuts. But there are things to understand about entering this profession and building a thriving, sustainable business. Here are a few of my best lessons learned.
- Coaching skills do matter. Just because you’re good with people doesn’t mean you’ll be a good coach. Human behaviour and motivation are complex, and the spectrum of issues and situations you’ll encounter will be vast. You need to be properly equipped to handle it all, and “instinct” and “good people skills,” while necessary, are absolutely not sufficient. Enrol in a good, accredited coach training program. I like Accomplishment Coaching.
- Do your own personal work. Unless you deal with your own personal issues before you get into coaching you’ll be working your own stuff out on your clients. That, and you’ll consistently attract clients who have those same issues and (trust me!) that’s NOT fun.
- Don’t be afraid of money. Coaches who choose to enter the profession because they feel “called” or “in flow” when they’re coaching are missing a key piece of the puzzle. Unless you’re independently wealthy at some point you’ll have to decide what to charge and then you’ll need to ask to be paid. And don’t apologize for your rates.
- “Marketing” and “selling” are not four-letter words. They are a necessary part of growing any business, no exceptions. I’ve heard coaches say “we’re not selling, we’re being of service” – to which I offer that even to be of service you still need clients. And clients need to be able to find you. Think of “marketing” as “being findable.” And “selling” as “ensuring best fit.” Or whatever workarounds you need to do in order to understand that prospective clients need to find you and then you need to enable them to work with you.
- You’ll need to build it. There are very few coaching “jobs” out there. Often a new coach, fresh from coach training and suddenly confronted with the daunting prospect of starting and building a business on their own, figures it would be easier to work for someone else. Sure, it would be easier – but those jobs are pretty rare. Big consulting firms with coaching practices usually use coaches on an associate basis, meaning you’ll get work if and when they choose to send it your way. Which is sometimes not very often. Internal corporate coaches are usually people already inside the organization who have gotten certified after already proving their value to the company. 95% of coaches will have to build an independent practice.
- Just do it. Don’t get so busy on all of the above that you avoid doing the hard thing – which is getting started working with clients. My own avoidance story features my desire to have a great logo and company name, which I was prepared to work on until it was “just right.” Thankfully, my brother – an accountant – told me that if someone wanted to hire me I should be prepared to write the invoice on a napkin if necessary. Don’t let start-up activities get in the way of you starting up.
- Bonus advice – put your systems in place right from the beginning. Track your hours (for your credential), set up invoicing and bookkeeping – you’ll be grateful later.
Coaching is incredibly rewarding work – but being a great coach is not enough to build a great, thriving coaching business. Build two sets of skills – coaching and business – and you’ll do just fine. And put the $5 you were going to spend on my latte towards great training.