We go into coaching because we love it. We have experienced the power it has and are eager to work with our clients so that they can experience it too. One guesstimate is that there could be as many as 15,000 independent coaches in the UK. How many of those are making a decent living from it? Probably very few. The barriers to entry are low and this often tempts people in. However, in even the most saturated market there will be businesses that are thriving. When I work with other coaches on how to develop their businesses, I find that many are making the same flawed assumptions and some revamped thinking helps put them back on track.
Myth 1: Coaching can be a hobby business
Truth: it can’t. You are either running a business and serious about it or not. If you have a comfortable income from other sources and imagine that you can pick up a bit of coaching now and then, forget it. You need to see a coaching business as just like any other small start-up, meaning that it will take roughly 18 months to get to take-off, during which time you will be working all day, every day on business development, for instance investigating competitors, expanding your network, building your coaching hours through offering free sessions if necessary, burnishing your website and finding out for real what clients will buy.
Myth 2: I can coach anyone on anything
Truth: possibly you could but the market does not believe it. Coaching has become specialised. It is better to do what other businesses do: segment your customers then target them. Where are you credible? What type of coaching do you love? How would you define your typical client (age, role, sector, region)?
Myth 3: My former company will feed me clients
Truth: yes, they often promise this as a way of helping you get started, but you can’t rely on a continuing stream of clients beyond about a year. Sooner or later you will seem too associated with the past to know what the current issues are and too lacking in experience of other organizations to be useful. Start with those former colleagues but then use them as a platform to find clients elsewhere. Ask them: who do you know outside this company? Can I use your name as a recommendation?
Myth 4: Clients will be impressed by my qualifications, tools and techniques
Truth: they are not. Very many coaching websites are eagerly clotted on their home pages with mention of the Myers Briggs and other psychometrics, NLP, the names of the coach’s qualifications – and so on. Clients do not care about any of this. In fact they will rightly resist any idea that you are practising ‘techniques’ on them and will not know one way or the other whether your diploma from the University of Tschichwawa is any more impressive than one from the College of International Super-Coaches. Take all mention of this stuff out of your home page and avoid coaching jargon such as ‘unleashing the client’s inner resourcefulness’. We coaches know what that means, but to a potential client, I promise you, it is a turn off. No client comes to a coach in order to release their inner resourcefulness. Talk instead about the practical results your clients get.
Myth 5: I’ve got the qualification, now I’m launched!
Truth: congratulate yourself on getting the qualification. The best of them involve hard work and dedication. But you are just at the beginning. The qualification makes you safe to practise, it gives you the basics, but now you will find that in the RealWorld, clients do not conform neatly to what you learnt on the course, they are trickier, more varied, more rewarding and less rewarding. Their motivation may or may not be strong, they may disappear without a word despite your emails and phone calls. This is the first tough test of your own motivation, to keep going despite such setbacks. When you reach 200 hours of experience you will feel more aware of what you don’t know and what you can’t do and may decide to invest in some further training and to get a good, tough supervisor who will be honest with you. At 1,000 hours you will know who you can work with well and who scares the pants off you. At 5,000 hours you will understand the limitations and the power of coaching and there will be few surprises in what clients bring you. You will have prudent confidence in yourself and in the coaching process. But it takes a lot of grit to get to that point. If you do, well done: coaching is a word of mouth trade and your business will be thriving.
Myth 6: I can earn a living just from coaching
Truth: probably not. Most successful coaches mix coaching with facilitation, training and consultancy. These feed you coaching clients and vice-versa.
Myth 7: A low fee will give me a competitive edge
Truth: Pricing is a fine art. If you price yourself too low, potential clients may assume that you offer poor quality. Also, if you start low, you will find it hard to raise your fees later. When you do sell your time cheaply, you will find that you have to work very hard to make a living. But if you price yourself too high clients may decide that, much though they would like to work with you, they cannot afford you. Look carefully at your competitors: most will tell you what they are charging and to whom. Listen to what the market is telling you: the market decides your worth. In the end it is all about what clients will pay to have their problems solved. This is why, incidentally, it is pointless to drone on about the processes you deploy in coaching. These are features, not benefits and clients don’t pay for features, they pay because they believe they will find solutions.
Myth 8: There is a big market in ‘life coaching’
Truth: there isn’t. The market for coaching is in executive coaching and this is normally reserved for the most senior people in organizations. This is why to be a successful executive coach you ideally need to have been a senior manager yourself, plus have deep knowledge of organization behaviour and culture and feel confident that you can deal with the giant egos that so often conceal vulnerability and uncertainty.
To learn more: you can order my book Developing a Coaching Business, published by the Open University Press. Email [email protected]; price £18 plus £2 p&p