What if, as a profession, our beliefs around marketing are wrong? This blog is all about confirmation bias and marketing for coaches.

Historically, the perceived wisdom around building a coaching business has been that to grow a business, you need to have meaningful conversations with people. The theory goes that if we can add value to people in a coaching conversation, then they’ll want to pay us for coaching.

Except they don’t. Well, not often enough anyway.

It would be wrong to say that ‘discovery’ sessions don’t occasionally result in a client because they do. As part of an overall marketing strategy they are a useful tool. In isolation however, free coaching sessions are an ineffective client acquisition strategy because coaches can’t live on what they generate, it’s not enough.


There are two basic reasons why the idea that having meaningful conversations has become so enduring as the only client acquisition tool necessary to build a coaching business.

One of them is that a small, but very influential group of people who become coaches have come from a stellar corporate career and the people with whom they can have conversations are in a position to offer them coaching contracts. The reason that they would do so isn’t necessarily because the coach is outstandingly good, it’s because the coach already has credibility and authority with them that they built during their career.

The Power Of Coaching

Among our profession there is a belief that coaching is so powerful, and so unique, that we are the only professional service providers who don’t need to have a process for finding clients that is separate from our delivery processes. And that’s just not true.

All businesses need clients. In fact, it is true to say that if you don’t have clients, you don’t have a business. It’s irrelevant whether you have a limited company, a beautiful website complete with expensive branding and professional headshots – without clients you don’t have a business.

If you’re going to find your own clients rather than coach someone else’s, then you need a process for finding them.

Associate Work

Many coaches get work via associate relationships or from the various platforms that exist. I think it’s fair to say that the level of pay offered by the platforms bears very little resemblance to the levels of remuneration we discussed at coach training school.

Many of the more experienced coaches that I speak to have reached a point where they feel fed up that they are doing all the work and the platforms or associate companies are taking the lion’s share of the revenue.

They want to build a private practice, but have realised that simply having powerful conversations just isn’t enough. And this is where confirmation bias kicks in.

Confirmation Bias

The reality is that coaches who want to find their own clients are struggling to do so via discovery calls. Yet the belief that it’s the only thing necessary is very strong, and is endorsed by all the ‘names’ in our profession. The fact that these people have the privilege I mentioned has been missed, because of course, privilege is invisible when it’s our own.

And so coaches will pounce upon the ex-CEO who lands a big corporate contract straight out of coach training school and say ‘See! S/he just had powerful conversations!’ and it’s held up as an example of what can be achieved if your conversations are good enough.

Better yet, once this coach is delivering their programme, they have opportunities to network further and again, their strong career history gives them credence. ‘Oh’, they subsequently say ‘I get all my work by referral’.

Academics from the coaching world decry the concept of marketing (whilst simultaneously promoting their latest book or webinar) and they have powerful voices.

The very odd thing is that the attrition rate for coaches is very high indeed. It’s around 80%. The number one problem that any coach I speak to tells me they have, is that they can’t find clients. If powerful conversations were enough, neither of these things would be true, which makes it even stranger that marketing is so sneered at among our profession.

Good Marketing Is Invisible

The perplexing thing from my point of view is this: In the same way that nobody understands what we do, but they think they do and they’re wrong, coaches don’t know what marketing is, but they think they do and they’re wrong.

  • Marketing isn’t shouty or braggy.
  • It doesn’t involve selling yourself or putting yourself on show.
  • It’s not pushy or grubby/grabby.

BUT – and here’s the rub – that’s what coaches think marketing is, because they see other coaches doing this and they feel repulsed.

Here’s the thing… That grubby/grabby, pushy/braggy stuff doesn’t work – it’s not good marketing. The coaches that you see doing it are not succeeding, because what they’re doing is not effective marketing.

Good, effective marketing is invisible. It speaks quietly only to the people it’s focused towards and it doesn’t speak to other coaches at all.

Good marketing is ethical and authentic, because it comes from within the individual coach and not from some sparkly playbook that says ‘stand on a (metaphorical) chair and shout the loudest’.

It is simply talking to people you care about, about things that are important to them.

Challenge Your Thinking

We coaches are all about challenging thinking, until (apparently) it comes to our own.

The confirmation bias that exists means that we seek out things that confirm our belief that marketing is dreadful and choose to ignore the fact that all business owners need to have a client acquisition process (also known as marketing).

Let me ask you some questions:

  • What if we as a profession have the wrong idea about marketing?
  • What if effective marketing is comfortable?
  • What if learning how to market means that we can find our own voice in the noise that is the coaching world?

May I challenge you to challenge your thinking?


Should we talk? Here’s my diary if you would like to schedule a conversation.