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How to Build a Coaching Practice with a Blog

Todd wanted want to know how I have always had a steady flow of coaching clients going back to when I started my business, despite not always having a big list, not always having traffic, and all my shyness/introversion psychological limitations!Β If you are a coach who struggles with sales and marketing then this article is for you.

The reason I am writing this is to help all the coaches out there who want to attract more clients, or maybe start their coaching practice. From my conversations with my own coaching clients and online forums it seems more and more people are looking at coaching as a service that they could begin offering but are frustrated with a lack of take-up.

I’m likely to go long so this will be split over two parts (more if you need it, let me know your questions in the comments). In this article we will cover some ground work, and in the next look at the sales and marketing factors.

First we need to understand what we are discussing …

What is Coaching?

Different people want different things from coaching, and different coaches use different definitions. Also every industry has coaches who target different challenges. I am not big on definitions, I am more concerned about results.

So while people might consider my coaching to be in fact mentoring, consulting, training, and so on, it is a mixture of all of the above. In my view I do whatever it takes πŸ™‚ In your practice the client is paying you to achieve a result. That is the whole point. If that means giving your client ideas, motivation, information, a blueprint, or the traditional “drawing out of the answers” then that is what you need to do.

Don’t worry if another coach would be snobby about what you do. Results are how you get client successes and therefore testimonials and referrals, so it’s not just good for your customer, it’s good for business!

Why Would You Coach?

I have friends and mastermind partners who think I am crazy to spend so much time doing 1:1 coaching. If you haven’t added coaching to your service offering, then we should discuss the rewards you can get out of it.

For a while I stopped taking on coaching clients but I found I really missed it. It helps me stay grounded in reality and tap into any number of markets and niches that I would otherwise not be exposed to. Besides, I enjoy helping people and seeing them achieve their goals. Yes there are financial benefits, even if I am being told my coaching is too cheap (my prices are going up when I get ten minutes) but the human interaction and the sense of accomplishment is as great or greater reward.

Let’s talk about the financial side … is it profitable? In pure hourly rate terms, it can be. I put a lot of thought into my coaching clients over and above the hours they spend on the phone, plus I send materials and answer a lot of emails, but it still works out worthwhile financially. You know what the coolest thing is though? The questions, challenges and solutions that come out of the coaching is how I build my content and my information products! That is when you get to see the real financial benefit and why I have kept my prices low for so long. I have customers who have been with me for three years or more who are still paying 2007/2008 prices, but I am happy to keep them on that level because while I am helping them I am getting great insights.

Obviously you are still selling your hours so as demand grows you have to balance things, have too many clients taking up your hours and it loses sustainability. That’s the situation I might get to before long if I am not careful.

The solution to that issue is either put prices up or build a group coaching practice in addition to or instead of your 1:1. That’s what I am doing with the forthcoming Authority Blogger 2011 launch – in addition to my 1:1 coaching it will be possible to have a structured, group program. It means while people don’t get quite as much individual attention, they still get tailored advice, and the group dynamic can actually be a real benefit. Of course, time wise, it scales much better.

Technology

What do you need to be a coach?

  • At the most basic, you just need an email account. You can do quite a lot over email, with the advantage the client gets detailed notes and can scroll back through previous conversations/
  • I use Skype and recording software to capture the calls in case the client wants them to reduce the need for detailed notes. I use Ecamm recorder for Mac, there are various Windows alternatives but I hesitate to recommend one because I am not familiar with them personally.
  • For web technology you absolutely MUST build an email list. I use Aweber and recommend it to anyone.
  • If you are doing group coaching then you have to build a membership site. You must share previous calls and notes, and it is really shabby to cobble something together, not just because it looks unprofessional but because the more difficult it is to find stuff, the worse your chances of getting clients the results they are looking for. Avoid all the complicated software out there, you don’t need it, and I would avoid paying a monthly subscription for something you don’t own. Use Wishlist, which is a WordPress plugin. It’s robust, industrial strength, but very easy to use. I use it for all my courses and membership sites now.

Putting it Together

People will want to what is inside your head in a way that is tailored to their particular situation. The more in-demand that advice is, and the more people who know you offer help, the more customers you will get.

The mistake most people make though is they expect people to buy on their first visit. That is unlikely to happen.

This, of course, is where blogging and content marketing come in.

Use your content to draw people to you, and then introduce them to your offer. We will discuss more on this topic in the next article. For now understand you need to talk about your client challenges in a way that allows you to impart ideas and experience while getting people to want to hear more. This builds your subscriber list and allows you to get in front of your prospect multiple times.

So at the very least, build a list (use Aweber as mentioned above), build a page where you discuss your offer, and take their money (use PayPal to begin with). Easy! Well, ok, “simple” might be a better word.

If you have done all that and are not getting customers, or are impatient for more but can’t wait for the next article, most of my customers come from three different places.

  1. Referrals – Do Β great job of wowing your existing clients and they will bring friends. Again, it is about results mostly, but also their relationship with you. When they praise you, ask for referrals.
  2. Networking – If you are looking for business people then use LinkedIn. Lewis has a brilliant video course that will make your LinkedIn work rock. I already learned a great deal from watching a couple of his videos. Life coaches could find many people in Facebook. I have picked up a fair few clients from live events and workshops – relationship is so important that seeing you face to face makes a huge difference.
  3. Forums – By answering questions and showing you “have the right stuff” you will build a reputation, and again, allow people to get to know you.

In all cases, the prospect will check you out, because they are doing due diligence on something that requires commitment. Make sure your blog has these vital elements:

  1. A great first impression that presents you in a positive light.
  2. Content that speaks to their challenges.
  3. An effective subscription capture mechanism.

Summary

People see coaching on service pages and rush into offering it without thinking through what elements you really need. Yes, it can be a very profitable way to generate an income by helping people, and that income can be generated with a much smaller audience than, say, advertising, but you do need to put in some good foundations first. In the next entry I will share some marketing approaches so that you can fill your coaching practice more easily.

Let me know if you have any questions about this, and share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below …

 

 

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Comments

  1. This is a great post Chris. I fully agree with the member site but never really put much thought into Wishlist. So you would recommend it over Ning? I’m about two weeks away from starting a member site for my coaching and this post is extremely awesome timing! Thanks!

  2. I once read that even successful people have coaches for all areas of their profession and life. Look at athletes. Any hall of fame baseball player had batting coaches, fielding coaches, and managers to guide them through their playing careers.

    I don’t think it’s crazy to be doing 1:1 coaching. I want to be at that level one day in my field doing that.

    • Benny, I have heard that as well: successful people purchase mentoring and coaching when necessary. Your analogy with athletes is apt.

      • Yup, it might be used as an accelerant or to get out of a hole, but I have found being coached very valuable. I have bought whole products just because one of the bonuses was even 1hr of 1:1 coaching – it is worth it.

    • “I am not big on definitions, I am more concerned about results.

      I agree in large part with that Chris and I get so frustrated with a lot of coaches that think co-active coaching is the only way forward. Coaching is a balance of what is right fro your client and not following rigidly to one way of doing things

      However, that flip side of that is that the brain is wired up to be more acceptable to ideas it has discovered (or thinks it’s discovered) itself, which is why self help books don’t work very well for some people.

      It’s a fine line and I think the key to great coaching is flexibility. What works well with one client could very well blow up in your face with another.

      @Benny – You would be stunned if you knew how high that percentage was, I mean, really stunned. Unfortunately, business people have their coaches very much in the background and they are often invisible to the general public unlike athletic and performance arts coaches.

      • Yes the nature of coaching is that it is tailored. Too rigid an approach will only work for certain clients and not at all for others. But then we get the audience we attract – people certainly don’t come to me looking for a drill sergeant πŸ˜‰

        It is rare that someone will have the confidence to admit to having a coach, which is unfortunate, and then some people keep their coach as a prized secret in case they get too busy and popular πŸ˜‰

        You might be surprised who have been chrisg alumni but alas if I want to keep my reputation I have to keep the list in confidence, heh πŸ˜‰

    • Yes and everyone I know who has broken through a plateau in their business has had some coaching, be it informal or formal – sometimes we just need an outside perspective and to be held accountable to our goals

  3. Can’t wait for Part II. Will you be talking about pricing? How to start with pricing?

    I get asked for coaching from people that I meet or teach in the classroom, or from referrals from those people. In fact today I’m having a phone meeting with a possible new client, which is a referral. They want to talk money.

    I also recently surveyed my subscribers and the number one thing people wanted was personal attention from me, in small groups or individually.

    How do you quantify years of experience plus preparation time when giving a quote? Is hourly the best way, or best to give a set price for a block of sessions. This particular client has a specific project they need help with.

    Also, do you need to prepare much or do you find you have enough experience to cover most of the topics you get asked about.

    So many questions . . . but this is a topic that is front of my mind for many reasons, so good timing.

    • I will cover all these off but a lot of it is tailoring to your audience and market. One thing you will quickly do though is put your prices up or go group as demand goes up because 1:1 just doesn’t scale past a certain point. Prep varies from client to client, I do anticipate a fair amount of what I will be asked but there is almost always a lot of prep in the beginning because I have to get elbow-deep into each unique situation.

  4. Chris,
    Great post. This is definitely something that’s been on my mind as well. Would you be able to sort-of break down some of the best practices of advertising your coaching & consulting services? For example, how do you introduce it to your audience/email list, and or peeps on social media networks like Facebook? Are there any do’s and don’ts to launching a coaching/consulting practice? Also, with regard to membership sites, how much content do you recommend we have on hand to offer prospective members prior to launch? Do you recommend some sort of free offer like a 30-minute free consultation or something related? Thanks for the rich info!

    • Great questions, thanks πŸ™‚

      I will certainly get to all those!

      In general though the content and networking angles are similar in that how much you need to do depends on your authority, how well you are known, how much proof is required and how visible your results are. So for example whenever I do public blog critiques here on this site I get enquiries from people who want to be next – the deliverable is its own marketing. Referrals are often the best source of new clients. On the other hand most of my coaching clients will NEVER let it be known they have had coaching so their results will not be visible and they will not send referrals because it would mean admitting they were my client. Make sense?

      So if people are already coming to you with questions then you can gently steer them towards your offer page, if not then you need to build up some awareness and warm people up much more first πŸ™‚

  5. I like that you aren’t heavy on defining coaching. Although it can be problematic when explaining to people what you do (in general or as a prospective client). But coaching often does take on so many different roles that it can be hard to define.

    Coaching is a great thing to add to repertoire as a professional. The rewards are wonderful both as the coach and as the client. Worth it and not just for the money!

    • I loved coaching when I started out and wasn’t charging for it (I had a day job, I’m a bit slow on the uptake when it comes to being a natural entrepreneur, heh)

  6. I think coaching can make sense for just about everyone – its a way of being paid for doing market research for your next product.

    Apart from all the benefits of working with someone else on something you both care about.

    Thanks for the recommendation of wishlist too.

    • Wishlist is EXCELLENT, plus they really support customers.

      They spent a great deal of time and effort diagnosing a problem that turned out to be my fault πŸ™‚

      (hint, don’t try to run a community of 5,000 people on shared hosting …)

  7. Chris,
    Thanks for addressing this subject and sharing your resources and ideas on how to add coaching to a business model. I’m particularly interested in checking out Wishlist; thanks for that!

    I’ve been coaching since 1999 and am certified through the Coaches Training Institute (the aforementioned co-active coaching model!). I LOVE working one-one with clients, and also lead small groups.

    I have a lot to say about this subject but will try to keep it succinct and useful. πŸ™‚

    When I started out the opportunities for promoting online were much different. I’ve got about five years before social media and five years using it.

    My web site has always been my main referral source for coaching clients. I also offer workshops, speaking, e-books, a newsletter. That was before the blog, twitter, Facebook, etc.

    In my experience, it can be a long ‘sales cycle’ from the time someone signs up for my newsletter to the time they hire me.

    But once they do, they’re enrolled – they’ve been watching and reading and learning from me for awhile, so when they call, they’re ready to go.

    My videos have gone a long way toward shortening that cycle – it’s much easier for people to ‘grok’ me and what I’m about when they see me speaking.

    One problem I see in the current model of content marketing is that a lot of people who consume my free or inexpensive offerings are not the same people who are hiring me to coach them. My clients are also often not reading blogs or accessing information online the way people looking for free or cheap are.

    A huge value of coaching is that it is customized to the client’s agenda. Programs, memberships, courses and e-books are great, but once you’ve amassed a certain amount of information, what you really need is someone to support and champion your real-world efforts.

    The programs I create always have this coaching or customized element. In that way, people at all levels or phases of the creative process can still get a lot of value that’s pertinent to them and their issues.

    This is where I see coaching being a real hit for people – customized work that truly drives you over the finish line in your goals.

    People always hire me for coaching mainly because of the accountability. Bottom line, that’s what people need most, followed by the perspective and habit changes that happen when you hire a coach.

    I’d like to see more membership programs and courses offer one-one coaching as an upsell, to really ensure that the participants are taking action and not just consuming information.

    Lastly, it is more than just an email and phone that’s required to coach. You have to be a people person – an excellent listener and someone who can easily connect, care, and guide someone past their inner and outer obstacles. If you’re considering coaching, it wouldn’t hurt to get some training to give you those communication skills that are such a part of the coaching relationship. Not only will you be a better coach, you’ll be a better communicator all around!

    Thanks again, Chris. Lots to think about here, as usual.

    • Chris,

      One of the things I have always appreciated about your posts and your webcasts is helping coaches and any online business folks understand the fine balance between sharing enough of yourself as a coach yet always toeing that line. I am sure it comes into play in any discussion on sales and marketing, but any continued help would be appreciated. I am launching my site this week and there are elements of it where my background has to be present to offer legitimacy but I am really anxious about over-sharing. I did take your great advice of having a picture on the home page and I highly encourage everyone to think of the power of the visual connection. You have offered me really profound insights as I have launched my coaching business, and I am grateful for you for your consistent sharing of information.

    • Wonderful comment, thanks for taking the time to give such a detailed response Cynthia πŸ™‚

  8. Excellent advice Chris. I’m eager to look into Wishlist. Thank you again.
    David

  9. Great post thanks, very usefull info especially likes the tip about Wishlist as I have a training/coaching client who could do with this. Thanks again!

  10. Hey Chris,

    This is a great post and probably what I needed to hear about now. A LOT of people that I talk to tell me that I should be coaching because I love helping people and I explain things in simply terms. You know, for those that just don’t get all this techie stuff.

    Because so many people have told me this, I created a free training site that will teach them how to do certain things pertaining to internet marketing. But I wouldn’t know the first thing about going in that direction, how much time to spend with each client or what to charge. Hopefully I can learn more in your next post.

    Thanks again for this and I’ll be back for part 2.

    Adrienne

    • Unfortunately there is no one size fits all for how much time, plus if your audience are technically phobic how you deliver will be very different (eg. I use membership sites and skype, two things that might intimidate less proficient tech users)

  11. Great article. Coaching is both an art and a science. Listening to the needs of the client is key!

  12. Great Post Chris, I think having good coaching is required to have happy customers. I plan on creating a membership site so I better have good coaching.

  13. Very interesting. Would love to know more about Coaching.

  14. I’m just getting started, so this is a godsend. Thank you so much!

  15. Your blog and this article in particular has been very interesting for me. The truth is that it makes me short and very pleasant reading. I will back soon. I need to read good blogs, It enrich the soul.

  16. Michelle says:

    Great support! I enjoy reading your advice and tips. I ALWAYS leave your site learning something new. I appreciate it!

  17. Hi Chris – a question about technology.

    You recommend using a membership site a la Wishlist rather than a pay monthly service (for example using Basecamp to communicate with/exchange files with clients.

    One thing I haven’t figured out is how to use such a setup to allow clients to upload files or leave messages for you as you can do with the normal collaboration tools.

    I can see how you can create (say) private pages that only a specific client can view. And so you can upload notes and files for them.

    But what if you need them to upload something for you? Do you have a tool/plugin for the membership site to allow that to happen or do you use something external like dropbox?

    Cheers,

    Ian

    • I use email and dropbox, I don’t allow people to upload unless that is a high trust relationship and they are technically happy to do so. I have a mastermind site where everyone has publish security, but that is not something I would roll out to wider audiences!