Editor Note: This article is designed for all coaches who either have a personal practice or looking to create and/or expand their current practice. Many of the topics I discuss can be used outside of the context of coaching or building a coaching practice. I don’t believe I am sharing anything groundbreaking nor am I sharing my own personal secret sauce recipe – rather a general overview of what it takes to lay a solid foundation and framework for a successful coaching practice.
“If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.” – Jim Rohn
I am often asked about my coaching practice – specifically around how I have managed to build, grow and scale my coaching practice over the past 15 years. Many coaches (including myself) have struggled at one time or another on how to attract new clients, retain existing ones and earn the income they want while figuring out who they are as a coach and who their target audience will be.
Personally and professionally, I’ve only read one book specifically on this topic which was C.J. Hayden’s “Get Clients Now!” and that was a game changer for me within the first six months of starting my practice. I can now say without any hesitation – that it was well worth the read. Her book, amongst other books, people and support systems allowed me the catalyst I needed to grow my practice from day one.
In complete transparency – what has worked for me, may not work for others and I don’t believe there is one complete or full system that will work for everyone. I realize by saying this, I am going to make some people mad but there shouldn’t be any hard feelings. What works for some may not work for others and visa versa. I am not here to pitch some proprietary system I created but rather share certain principles I’ve adopted over the years (from practice, people, books and mentors) that I constantly tinker with to ensure I am hitting my personal and professional goals while maintaining the health and integrity of my coaching practice.
The landscape of the coaching industry is rapidly evolving every day and there is always room for more passionate and committed coaches in the world. However, to succeed in this field—whether as an internal or external coach — you need to make sure you:
- Know Your Worth (Time/Money)
- Know Your Craft (Skills/Tools)
- Know Your Audience (People/Market)
- Know Your Field (Business/Focus)
Incorporating the above (in no particular order) can provide you the greatest possibility in building a thriving coaching practice.
1) Know You’re Worth
Probably one of the most challenging aspects when it comes to establishing oneself as a business professional and brand. I have seen everything under the sun and nothing these days shocks me but then again it’s entirely subjective and there are no kernel rules or laws written on this topic. For example, Marshall Goldsmith – considered one of the most powerful, influential and sought after executive coaches around, doesn’t charge his clients (for 12-16months) until a measurable behavioral shift is achieved. Granted, he and his team have specific and clear measurements to track this but this is a great example of one way to go about getting paid for your services.
In an Harvard Business Review article “What Can Coaches Do For You?” – their research determined that the hourly pay scale for coaches starts at $200/hr. (on the low end) and $3,500/hr. (on the high end); leaving the medium per their data at $500/hr. This article was published in 2009 when the economy was in a much different place but according to my unconfirmed and completely unscientific studies – this isn’t too far off to where we are in 2015. Remember, your rate should be a reflection of your own self-worth and value that you believe you are bringing to the table and your clients – not what someone else tells you. Use the research and speak to colleagues who are at or near your experience level to gauge the landscape.
Rates will always be a sliding scale based on numerous factors:
- Who is your client (Individual, Team or Company?)?
- Where is your client (Will you be client facing and traveling?)
- Scale and scope of your assignment (How long will it be / what is the overall complexity?)
These are just a few factors to consider as there are a few more but I believe these are the foundational ones most coaches should not only recognize but value when it comes to their time and self-worth. The saying goes, “Time is money” so let’s figure out just what that could look like.
The three basic ways coaches typically charge for their services:
- By the session
Typically a session is 60mins, but I have seen 30mins twice a month and varying other options. When I first started, I tried a variety of formats and times but ultimately stuck with what was proposed by the larger coaching organization which is/was 60mins.
- By the month
If you use the standard rule of thumb, you’re looking at four sessions a month; calculating each session at 60mins per session. This could of course change depending the third option below which is the totality of what you are being asked to perform.
- By the package / engagement
There is no right or wrong way to go here. It’s entirely up to you and what you are looking to achieve but I can’t stress enough the importance of doing your own research on what the trends and going rates are per level of experience. Just make sure you are able to back up what you are offering. The coaching industry is small in nature and it’s predicated on word of mouth and referrals so do what you can to ensure you are always representing yourself (and the large industry) in the best light possible.
2) Know Your Craft
There are hundreds if not thousands of coaching programs currently in existence around the world. It goes without saying that you should do your homework when researching what school or program you wish to take on in terms of training. If you are already coach this could still apply to any on going training or learning you are thinking about down the road. The key is finding a training program, school or organization that is accredited (ACTP) by the ICF or other reputable institution.
Now that we have that piece covered and assuming you are already an accredited coach, lets get into what exactly you are practicing. There are countless models, theories, formulas and assessments on the market and some are quite valuable and effective while others are what I would consider a waste of time. The key is to find what works for you and use it until you find it’s no longer serving you and/or your clients. There is nothing wrong with utilizing whatever tools your coaching program provided and taught you; in fact it would only make sense to gain proficiency in what you learned before venturing off and experimenting with too many different modalities. There is no one or right way to achieve success as a coach and for your clients. In fact, I pull from a variety of backgrounds I have studied across different platforms, models and theories ranging from Neuroscience, Neuroleadership, NLP, Ontology, Psychology and Emotional Intelligence to name a few. I do believe it’s easy to fall prey to believing you know it all or know what’s best. To avoid this trap, remember the following:
- Join some groups on LinkedIn, as there are many to choose from. They don’t necessarily have to be in the field of coaching either; in fact I would encourage you to expand your view (and network) by looking at parallel fields.
3) Know Your Audience
This piece typically frustrates newer coaches who are looking to jump into the field and evokes either a shotgun mentality where they focus on everyone and everything or the opposite which involves finding something too specific that may limit their ability to expand their services and reach whatever goal(s) they have set forth for themselves.
The first thing you want to be asking yourself is:
What am I most passionate about?
Start here because wherever your passion lies, success won’t be too far behind. People who are truly successful in life and as coaches possess an innate passion about what they do. By looking at what lights you up, it’s easy to look for the logical and sometimes illogical connections to what profession and/or field you wish to target. Whatever audience you are looking to target, make sure you do your research. Success in any field hinges largely on the audience and what if any need exists for your services. When you are thinking about who you are looking to market yourself and services towards, think about the following:
- Who are they and where do they reside?
- Can you identify a need and/or trend as a way to position yourself and your services?
- What is the average salary range of this population? (This dials back to the cost and if they can afford you)
- What is the current and future state of this industry?
- Is coaching currently taking place within this field/profession and if so, who, where and how long?
- Who do you know currently in your network (i.e.: LinkedIn) that you can either reach out to or ask for introductions to people in this field or company?
I would start here and if you can’t answer the above questions then take a break and come back to it. When I first started, I leveraged every person, resource and network I had to ensure I had the widest reach and net casted to get my name out there. Don’t rush or push yourself. This takes time and you want to set yourself up for success not frustration.
4) Know Your Field
Similar to your audience, this is all about understanding the larger business landscape of the coaching industry and what’s happening in and around you. You should have a pulse on what’s trending in your respective filed and of course targeted audience. If you are focusing on executives and executive level coaching then spend time researching what the Harvard Business Review and countless other journals are writing about. This will not only aid you in staying current in practice but also in conversation with others. Showing up as a resource to others (both coaches and potential clients) is critical for your own success and the success of your brand and practice.
The second and highly important aspect around knowing your field is to understand how to proactively and effectively run your practice. I thought this may deserve it’s own post but I promise to pair it down to the key essentials. Whether you are a tenured coach or someone starting out on your own, there are some simple steps you can take to make sure you are running a healthy and productive practice versus a hobby in your spare time. Here are the basics:
- Does your company have a name, a logo? What does your brand say about yourself and is it the message you want to convey? Tip: Ask people who know the best to begin to gauge who you are and how you show up at your best with others. This can provide some valuable information you may not get otherwise by picking a random name out of thin air.
- Are you set up to receive payments from others (both individuals and companies alike?)? Tip: Take a look at paypal.com as well as www.quicken.com to name a few, as this will start you on the right path for financial health, security and stability.
- Do you have a marketing plan or some way for others to know you exist? Nowadays you don’t need to necessarily hire a marketing firm to get your message out there but you do need to make sure people know you are out there. If you can’t afford a website right now, don’t worry as there are other quicker and easier ways to get noticed. Tip: Create a LinkedIn (linkedin.com) account and get active on the site from posting articles, connecting with others and commenting on other people’s posts. This will enable others to view you and your profile. Once you have that down, consider getting a www.twitter.com account and connect that to your LinkedIn account (for easier management) and this way you can push your articles, comments and likes across different mediums with ease.
As I have mentioned numerous times already, there is no one clear or right way to go about your business but there are certain key aspects you should have thought out and an action plan in place to ensure your practice is current, relevant and prosperous.
In addition to the above 4 criteria I want to add (and stress) the importance of the “Hustle and Grind” or said in a more conservative fashion – “Commitment” to your craft. Anyone can learn a tool, read a book, go to school but in the end it’s all about what you do with that knowledge and learning. Those who know me well know I am a constant learner and extremely passionate about what I love to do and as a result I am always looking to be better than I was yesterday. That can look like a lot of different things to different people.
My professional credo around commitment and my practice is quite simple: “You are only as good as your last coaching call”. For me, this is a motivator and reminder to never get to high (or low) on myself, remain humble and grateful that I have people who are trusting me with their lives and allowing me into the conversations they are having about their own performance that they may not readily share with others including their significant others.
As coaches, we have one of the most magical roles possible when it comes to supporting others and it’s important to also create that same magic in your own business and brand. Start today by taking a systems check of your practice utilizing the four principles above and see where you can make some alterations so that your practice may grow to be more successful.
Thank you for taking the time to read what I believe is one of the longer articles I have written but there was no easy way to shorten the content without diluting the main messages. There are numerous articles on the internet that delve deeper into the different areas of the topics I mentioned here and I encourage you to research as many as possible and find what works best for you.
As always, I would love to hear from my peers, colleagues and other entrepreneurs as well as coaches as to what’s worked for you, not worked so well or something you are practicing now and seeing success in your practice.
Yours in coaching,