Helping Others Help Themselves: 4 Expert Tips on How to Start a Successful Coaching Business
With a coaching business, you are the brand and the product, so you have to market yourself in a way that reflects your approach
Coaching can take many forms—life, executive, career, skills—but all share the same mission: to help people unlock answers. As human beings, we are often the biggest block to ourselves and our progress, unable to realize our potential without someone else shining a light on it. The result is that coaching businesses have been booming.
In the professional sphere, one survey found that almost one in six entrepreneurs were using business coaches for self-improvement. The life coaching market in the U.S. alone is worth $1 billion. While there is high demand for coaching, newcomers hoping to get traction in the industry are heavily dependent on establishing a reputation and starting new conversations around wellbeing, critical thinking, and positive action. Unlocking that uniqueness is a bold endeavor in a highly-saturated business.
Nonetheless, the coaching landscape is constantly in motion, and there is always potential for disruption. Here are four tips to start a coaching business, with insights from leading coaches themselves:
1. Establish your own personal brand.
With a coaching business, you are the brand and the product, so you have to market yourself in a way that reflects your approach. The first thing you need to ask yourself is, “what am I seeking to achieve?” and “how can that resonate with people?” Creating a brand is not solely about presenting yourself to the world, it's about finding ways to open people up to listening to you and trusting you.
Your story is fundamental to your brand. As coaching has grown in popularity over recent years, you'll need to cut through the noise and position yourself as a compelling and magnetic human. The more open you are about your experiences, your motivations, and your shortcomings, the more you'll be perceived as sincere.
Sean Callagy, chief visionary officer and co-founder at UNBLINDED, says that "people love authenticity, and being yourself is what resonates most with them." Try to focus on the parts of your story that separate you from other coaches and make you an authority in your specific field—for example, instances that propelled you into a certain profession; times that made you question what you believed; or events that made you decide to change the course of your life.
Once you've nailed down your story, hire a team of like-minded people to visualize it. Throughout this process, avoid using humor or cynicism as these will be an immediate deterrent for people and will dilute your status as a coach. As Callagy notes, "influence is the only real superpower."
2. Create a business model.
It's easy to think that building a for-profit company somehow negates your desire to support people, but that's not true. There are a whole host of coaching companies that have profound effects on their clients and still prioritize revenue streams and growth. The reality is, to help the most people, your business has to be self-sustaining and prepared to scale.
A common misconception is that in the early days you have to offer coaching services for free. Again, that's not true. People value what they pay for, and services that cost nothing are often seen as low quality. Trust your capabilities as a coach and charge people for your time from the very first day. This is also smart in terms of gaining social proof—you can ask clients to leave you reviews that will be more credible because they actually spent money on your services.
Some coaches choose to set up a value-based payment structure, where clients are charged according to how much value they get out of sessions. This model doesn't always apply to startups that need fast revenue streams, however, it's a brilliant way to ensure you have a client-centric mindset and can quantify exactly how much you help people.
3. Get your ideas out there.
There is nothing more powerful than a stage and a microphone. Whether it's a TV appearance in front of 10,000 people, a Zoom call with six people, or a post on social media, the most effective way to get your ideas out there is to talk as much as you can. Marketing is just as important for coaches as it is in other industries, and being a conversation starter will show people that you're a curious thought-leader. Your strongest selling point is you, so embrace all the platforms at your disposal.
Start by creating quality content. Blogs, videos, and podcasts are digestible and allow you to speak directly to audiences. You could also invite people from your network to join you for discussions on certain topics and leverage their audiences at the same time.
Gabe Zichermann, chief executive of Failosophy, who has coached and mentored hundreds of founders about public speaking and building startups, argues that the power of thought leadership in building a personal brand should not be underestimated. Prospective clients are looking for people who have a wealth of knowledge and experience that will guide others through stormy waters, be they personal or professional.
By publishing short instructional videos on Facebook; Medium or LinkedIn blogs offering actionable insights for a better lifestyle; or long-form “contributor” articles (such as this one), coaches can focus their messaging on offering real tips that can add value to consumers’ lives before they’ve even met.
Remember, you have to be active on social media to engage people. Make a conscious effort to follow people and organizations who share your vision or who you take inspiration from. Reshare and comment on their content, or tag people asking them for their thoughts on articles and updates—this is a great way to stimulate discussions and give your philosophy visibility along the way. Callagy stresses the importance of making people feel like they're seen, and that by inviting people to come together (online or offline) to talk about new ideas, you make yourself the link between them and change.
Events and workshops are another option to spread the word and can initiate a community following for your brand. Sharing tips and advice in-person can steadily build trust and enables people to get to know you on a personal basis. It could also be a chance to collect early feedback about what works and doesn't work for people, and to direct your ideas toward their most pressing needs.
4. Make your clients your ambassadors.
Being a coach offers the opportunity to guide others through particularly challenging or stressful periods of their lives. Coaches who go the extra mile in offering support during times of need - for example by making themselves available for crisis calls out of office hours, opening up about their own personal challenges, or simply adding a fresh perspective to their client’s challenges - can build long-term relationships and attract plenty of referrals.
“Coaching is a relationship business,” Zichermann adds. “You have to be able to connect with people, demonstrate empathy, listen well, and be vulnerable when needed.”
Zichermann argues that if having a strong background in your coaching field is the most important requisite for success, then strong networking and relationship-building skills come in a close second.
In the coaching world, word-of-mouth is king. Your clients aren't simply paying customers, they're your ambassadors. Of course, that decision is theirs, but there are things you can do to encourage them to promote your ideologies and services. As with most elements of business, it comes down to value; more specifically, a mutual value exchange.
The value you offer clients goes far beyond the services you provide. Value can come in the form of ongoing support, flexibility, personalized feedback, discounts, advanced resources - really anything that makes people's lives easier and better. The more value you give your clients, the more they'll reward you by recommending you to others. Win-win.
Special referral packages are useful too. You could offer clients upgraded services, free consultations or extended access to your knowledge resources in exchange for introducing someone to your program. It doesn't hurt to showcase what makes your coaching business special either. Your clients could love what you offer them, but may need a gentle reminder of what exactly that is. Make a point of maintaining regular communication that informs them about the impact you're having, and how you want to expand your influence in future.
Although the coaching industry is competitive, it has some of the strongest impact on people's lives. Start attracting people by framing yourself as an expert, but also don’t shy away from making your business model confidently profitable and turning your most loyal clients into brand ambassadors. A strong company means having the robust foundation needed to guide others through tough times.
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