When we finish our accreditation and finally have the piece of paper that tells the whole world we’re a qualified coach, it feels wonderful, doesn’t it? It’s that ‘freshly minted’ feel we get from a new qualification that is quite unlike the thrill we get from any other success.
Our whole world to-date (coaching-wise), has been immersed in the how-to of coaching. Learning how to ask those powerful questions and how to listen to what’s not said as much as what is. Coaching is a heady skill to learn and when we have it, it feels like a superpower. We can help literally anyone, with anything that requires them to reframe their thoughts – isn’t that incredible? It’s why I think we should be able to wear our knickers on the outside – because we’re superheroes!
It’s when we finish our qualification and launch ourselves into the real world that it starts to get tricky.
No One Understands What Coaching Is
We are unique as providers of a professional service, in that we have two coaching-specific problems.
- No one understands what coaching is.
- They think they do, and they’re wrong.
These are problems that just don’t exist for any other provider of a professional service. Think about it – lawyers, dentists, accountants, architects, therapists, physiotherapists…. the majority of people understand what they all do. The biggest mistake a client could make with one of these, is that they don’t know the particular area of a profession that someone specialises in (think – ‘I want a divorce’ and ‘sorry I’m a conveyancer’ – right profession, wrong specialism).
With coaching the problem is different. The people who think that they know what coaching is are usually thinking of sports coaching. They think that a coach is positioning themselves as an expert in a particular area and then will transfer knowledge to their clients about that area. I once heard someone speak angrily to a coach who had introduced themselves as a life coach and say ‘what’s so bloody wonderful about your life that you think you can tell me how to live mine?’.
I must add a caveat here that there are some people with corporate backgrounds that absolutely do understand what coaching is – I’m not talking about this tiny group of people, I’m talking about the general population.
Interestingly, I have conversations with coaches from all over the world and they invariably tell me that it’s different in their country from the UK. That in their country, no one understands what coaching is. Spoiler alert – it’s not different. Precious few in the UK understand what coaching is either.
From Qualified Coach To In Demand
Just being qualified – sadly – isn’t enough.
To move from being a qualified coach to being in demand involves a coach being visible to the kind of people they want to work with (but ‘anyone who…’ isn’t a good enough description!) with a well-crafted marketing message that shows the understanding and empathy of the coach.
Coach Training -v- Marketing Training
A major problem that coaches have is that they simply don’t understand that their coach training is only 50% of the skill sets required to run a business.
They don’t know that when they finish their coach training, they have only the delivery skills in place. Even if a coach-training organisation delivered a session or two on client acquisition, their students don’t leave them with the skills and knowledge to go out into the world and start to acquire clients in any meaningful way. Remember, delivery skills are only 50% of the skills necessary to run a coaching business. A coach-training organisation would need to spend equal amounts of time on both coaching and client acquisition for their students to be ready to start building a business – and they don’t.
Coaches are lacking not in the delivery skills area of their business, but in the creating the opportunities to do the delivery skills area.
To be crystal-clear here, adding more and more coaching qualifications isn’t the answer to the lack of clients. Additional qualifications are wonderful things, but they only add to one side of the scales; the delivery side.
In Fairness To The Coach-Training Industry
The role of a coach-training organisation is to teach you how to coach. Even more, its responsibility is to teach you how to be the best coach you can possibly be – but the responsibility stops there.
In the same way that your university wasn’t responsible for what you did once you graduated, a coach-training organisation is not responsible for your next move. A university may have a jobs fair (is the milk round still a thing?) which is their ‘nod’ at what you might do next. The session or two on client acquisition is the equivalent from a coach-training organisation.
The Problem With Client Acquisition Training
The problem with the client acquisition training provided by coach-training organisations that I hear of when I talk to coaches, is that it’s a bit vague at best and just plain wrong at worst.
The reason for this is – I think – that the people who are teaching it are teaching the theory of client acquisition. The people who are delivering coach training don’t usually have their own coaching business too, and if they do, it’s usually one that they built based on monetisable credibility. (I wrote a whole article on this, which the link will take you to, but a single sentence summary of what I mean is that some coaches who have had a stellar corporate career already have credibility and authority with a group of senior people who are in a position to offer lucrative coaching contracts. They use this network to build their coaching business and can’t understand why everyone else isn’t doing the same thing.). What these teachers are not, is coaches who have a solid, repeatable marketing process for generating inbound enquiries.
Client Acquisition Training Is Limited
When I say that the training is vague, it may mention finding a niche, or creating an ideal client, but there’s not much detail on the how. More often, the client acquisition training is limited to the following bits of advice;
- Deliver strategy sessions (free coaching sessions). Make them wonderful and the client will want to pay you to reach the goals they discussed.
- Then, if your coaching is good enough, you’ll get endless referrals
- Network – tell as many people as possible about your coaching business.
- If your coaching’s good enough, your clients will find you.
Each of those pieces of advice is a rock upon which countless coaching businesses have foundered, for the following reasons;
- It is entirely possible to pick up the occasional client from a strategy session. however, it’s labour-intensive and unsustainable. Eventually, a coach will run out of people to deliver strategy sessions to and that’s a problem.
- A referral from someone who has had free coaching is almost always a referral to someone else who wants free coaching.
- Networking is a great marketing tool providing it’s got a strategy behind it. As you may have already discovered, blindly networking at every available place and then trying to describe the coaching process, leaves most coaches incredibly frustrated and leaves the recipient of the information nonplussed.
- This is simply nonsense. If no one knows where you are, how can they possibly find you? This is how coaches end up being a ‘best-kept secret’.
So, What’s The Answer?
Unsurprisingly, the answer is that you need coach-specific marketing training. The reason it needs to be coach-specific, is that (as mentioned above) we are the only professional service that no one understands, or worse, they think they do and they’re wrong.
What coaches need to do is to choose a particular target audience (or niche – they’re the same thing) and focus all of their attention on understanding that group, what they’re struggling with (that coaching can help to resolve) and how that problem is manifesting itself in the lives of the people in the niche. Then, they need to position themselves where that niche is – on and offline – and be empathetic. Explain that they understand and that the individual who is struggling is not alone.
Learn From Those Who Are Actually Doing It
The Coaching Revolution is unique in that our mentors – the people teaching coaches how to market – are actively marketing themselves. It’s not possible to be a full-time mentor for The Coaching Revolution – because then the mentor wouldn’t be actively marketing themselves.
Everything we teach – absolutely everything – has been tried and tested by us before we teach it. All our mentors are all actively marketing and building their coaching businesses all the time.
What marketing for coaches boils down to is talking to people that you care about, about something that’s very important to them. That’s never what’s being taught in coach-training organisations. (If you are the owner of a coach-training organisation, or have influence within one, we should talk about a collaboration.)
If you’d like to talk about anything you’ve read here, book a call – I’d be happy to talk.