Dear New Coach

Success and how to get it

Congratulations, you’ve finished your training course, your portfolio has been approved, you’re ready to go! But are you?

I’ve seen many hopefuls falter at this stage, despite the financial and psychological investment they have made in their future. Here are 10 proven ideas about how to achieve success:

1) Accept that you are still at the beginning. You’ve stepped majestically over the threshold but there’s still a long way to go on that coaching journey. Training programmes are brief, often no more than five days face to face. It’s impossible to cover everything in such a short time. Your course may have leaned heavily towards the theoretical, in which case the practical will have been subtly sidelined, or it may have done the opposite: much practice and little theory. This will leave you with many gaps. Either way, the most important lesson is to know what you don’t know.

2) You will have worked with other beginners, getting invaluable practice plus well-judged feedback from your tutors. No-one wants to be mean, so most of what you heard will have been positive. When your fellow-trainees were in the client role they may have replayed decisions they had already made, they may have pretended to find enlightenment when there was still none – and so on. Real life clients don’t know these ‘rules’ so they don’t play by them. That can be a shock. You may leave these coaching sessions wondering if you made any difference.

Make it a point of principle to ask clients for feedback at the end of every session, explaining that as someone newly out of training it’s important to hear their perspective:

What has gone well for you in today’s conversation?

What was less successful?

3) It will be helpful to customize the coaching frameworks you have learnt (eg, GROIW, OSCAR) so that you frame the questions using your own turns of phrase. That way you will avoid sounding like something out of ChatGPT. Learn those questions and their ideal order so that you sound natural. In due course you won’t need the frameworks but at the early stages they are invaluable.

4) Get a supervisor. The biggest single mistake most new coaches make is to postpone this moment. ‘I’m not making any money, so how can I afford supervision?’ There is no research that I know of which shows unequivocally that coaches who have supervisors are more successful commercially than coaches who don’t. But anecdotally I see a strong correlation: I am still working with several coaches who first asked me to be their supervisor seven or eight years ago when they were newly qualified. All are now earning high six figure incomes from their coaching. A supervisor will have been through those early phases themselves, will know what to look for, will offer you feedback that is merciful but frank. This could save you from innocently repeating the same mistakes to the point where they become damaging handicaps. Group supervision is a cheaper option if one-to-one is too expensive.

5) Budget generously for continuing professional development, aiming to fill whatever gaps were left by your training. Pandemic conditions meant that a wonderful array of short online events sprang up and is still springing. Usually they are very cheap. Some of the best are aimed at therapists but the essential principles apply just as readily to coaching. Don’t hold back.

6) The company that provided your training may have an alumni community where workshops are cheap and varied. Joining their face to face events can potentially offer you friends and colleagues, offsetting the loneliness that can be such a curse as an indie coach.

7) Build your coaching hours: the priority is to expand your experience – and your confidence – as quickly as possible. Engage your networks in helping you find clients. They can be pro bono at this stage, but tell them that, should they wish to go on, after a set number of sessions you will be charging your proper fee. When you have clocked up 100 hours it will feel different. 500 hours will feel different again and 1,000 hours like a badge of honour where you will know you can deal with more or less anything a client brings to you. There’s no short cut: training, reading, attending conferences can’t do it for you.

8) Ask for a proper fee. The actual amount will depend on your market and what you know your direct competitors are charging. If you charge too little you will be implying that you don’t rate your own skills or, even worse, that you have little faith in the coaching process. You could fall into the ‘profitless prosperity’ trap where you combine being far too busy with paltry income. Perhaps your market can’t afford to buy coaching, in which case you need to reconsider your market.

Setting fees can be a problem for people who have had salaried jobs in the past. ‘I can’t bear the idea of selling myself!’ as many such coaches have said to me, embarrassment spilling out of every word. Think of it this way: you are not selling ‘yourself’. You are selling a way for the client to solve their problems. That’s what clients buy – they don’t buy ’you’ nor do they buy ‘coaching’.

9) Accept that you are running a business. All the usual rules of startups will apply. This means you can’t just ‘do coaching’. You will need to devote at least a day a week to business development and admin. Nor can coaching be a nice little hobby. You go for it full on – or you don’t go for it at all.

10) Keep going. Mistakes are inevitable as you learn your craft, but the rewards are substantial, personally and professionally, for those who persist and who commit to continuous improvement.

Good luck!

My book Building a Coaching Business is available here.