Earlier this week I had a chat with a coach who wants to grow his coaching business. His coaching business has been around for a few months and he’s had less than a handful of clients. They are all from different sources and each with a different problem they want to overcome.

“I want my clients to come by referral, like one of these did” he told me. I agree that getting referrals, especially when you don’t have existing monetisable credibility, feels great.


Whilst referrals are wonderful both as a way of getting clients and as an ego boost, the problem with referrals is that you don’t manage them. What I mean is that it’s very hard to plan when they’ll come, or even where they’ll come from.

There’s a stubborn myth amongst coaches who haven’t run businesses before. The myth says once you find your first few clients, the rest come by referral. It’s a lovely idea, but sadly it is a myth.

The coach was talking to me because he wanted to talk about learning to market his coaching business. I explained that all good marketing is focused marketing and that marketing for coaches is the same.

I also explained that marketing for coaches is unlike marketing for any other professional service because a) no one understands what coaching is and b) (even worse) many think they do and they’re wrong!

In addition, this coach agreed that they had experienced trying – and failing – to engage the interested of a potential client by describing the coaching process.

I explained that because of the misunderstandings about what coaching is, marketing for coaches speaks to a particular target audience about a problem that they’re struggling with. The challenge with which this target audience grapples is one which coaching can help them overcome. Good marketing for coaches speaks of the outcome that this target audience is striving for and which has to date, been elusive.

A Misunderstanding About What Marketing Is

“That’s not ethical!” the coach exclaimed. “I can’t promise an outcome to anyone, because it depends entirely on the individual and the dedication and commitment they have to the coaching process.”

Interestingly, I never said that marketing promises an outcome, because of course, it doesn’t. What I’d said is that it speaks directly to one target audience about the challenges they face and empathises with them. It also says that we as coaches can work with them to help them find solutions.

The coach told me that he doesn’t believe in the marketing that I described. He said that he feels that marketing is slippery and that it’s not something he wants to be involved with.

(As an aside, I always find it fascinating that coaches know that the majority of people don’t understand what coaching is, yet they can’t accept that they may not understand what marketing is.)

Marketing Attracts

“How did you find me?” I asked

I’ve been following you on LinkedIn for some time now, he explained. You talk sense and you seem to really understand what I’ve been struggling with.

That’s because my content on LinkedIn is marketing content, designed to attract coaches like you, I explained. I asked him if he’d felt tricked into booking a call with me, or that I had used false promises to encourage him into a call. He accepted that he hadn’t, and yet…

This coach couldn’t shake the belief that promising outcomes was unethical. (Which it is, of course and it’s why we don’t promise outcomes in our marketing!)

The coach told me that he couldn’t learn to market in the way I described, because he had so many bad feelings about it that he just knew that he would sabotage himself and get nowhere. This is such a fixed view and it’s an interesting point of view for a coach, don’t you think?

We Can’t Help Everyone

I can’t help every coach. I certainly can’t help coaches like this chap, because of his closely held and fixed belief that marketing is unethical and slippery.

What my team of mentors and I absolutely can do is help coaches who want to learn, those who can accept that what they perhaps believe to be true about marketing may not actually be true.

We are looking for a growth mindset in our potential clients, because that’s all they need to start. We can provide the knowledge, the support and the accountability coaches need, to succeed in building a financially viable coaching business, providing they arrive with an open mind and growth mindset.