5 Steps for Coaches to Build an Effective Personal Brand and Stand Out in a Crowded Market As a coach, how do you differentiate yourself from the sea of other coaches and build visibility that can attract the right clients to you? Here are a few tips.
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The coaching industry is growing exponentially across the globe. According to ICF, the size of the coaching industry can be estimated at over $2B USD already. Such interest is not surprising, as coaching is directly tied to clients' growth, with studies measuring coaching as producing 200-500% ROI and a survey of 100 executives showing that the average ROI of executive coaching was nearly 600% of its cost.
As a coach, you are certainly glad to see such growing interest in coaching and the validation of the value your line of work brings. 1.5 million searches are made every month by people and companies looking for life coaches, business coaches and executive coaches. And yet with growth in demand, there is certainly an exponential growth in supply.
On LinkedIn alone, between 2020 and 2021, the number of executive coaches increased by 1,092%, the number of business coaches increased by 2,220%, and the number of life coaches increased by 1,567%. This was likely fueled not only by the increase in demand for coaching services but also the ease of access to coaching services via online and virtual programs, accelerated by the pandemic.
As more coaches are trained and as more people brand themselves as coaches to supplement their income, how do you differentiate yourself from all the rest? Whether coaching represents 100% of your income (on average, it is between 40% and 50% as most coaches are supplementing their income with multiple revenue streams) and whether you are part of a corporate brand that enhances your credibility, you are certainly faced with the need to build your own visibility and to stand out from the sea of others. Regardless of how well your coaching practice is doing, you want to ensure that you have a consistent and steady stream of inbound leads. Better to have a waiting list than an empty calendar, wouldn't you agree?
If you struggle with the idea of branding and marketing yourself, you are not alone. Many coaches struggle to adapt to fast-changing marketing trends. To GenX'ers and Baby Boomers (the most experienced, and on average, the most credible of coaches), social media marketing comes less effortlessly. The idea may be daunting, and yet the opportunity to stand out and differentiate yourself is ripe for the taking. To simplify it, here are the five steps you need to take to get started:
Step 1: Figure out your positioning (a.k.a. your angle)
Brene Brown is immediately associated with "courage and vulnerability." Oprah Winfrey is immediately associated with "personal responsibility." Gary Vaynerchuk is immediately associated with "hustle."
What would you like to be associated with? As you see with the three examples I just gave you, it needs to be a word or a concept that represents you (not your work!) most authentically. There is an exercise that can help with this, and it is called "a lifeline." Take a large sheet of paper, turn it horizontally, and draw a long line in the middle. Then, on it, map out all of the most significant moments of your life (the "highs" that will go above the horizontal line and the "lows" that will go below it). Look for patterns. What keeps emerging for you over and over again?
Step 2: Define your brand descriptors
How do you want your brand to be perceived? Many coaches believe that they will be perceived in an authentic way as long as they are "themselves" at all times. True. Yet, it is also true that we are complex human beings and can be perceived in a hundred different ways, all authentic to us. A brand, however, is about two things: a clear positioning (which is what we discussed above) and a consistency of associations. You don't want people to only perceive you in ways that are authentic to you — you want these perceptions to be consistently the same ones.
Here is another exercise that will help. Write down a list of adjectives that would accurately describe you, and then cut it down to 3-5. If everyone were to perceive you uniformly, how would they describe you: Profound? Light? Accessible? Caring? Confident? Smart?
This list is important: Hold onto it, and use it as part of quality control when creating any type of marketing or social media content to make sure that you remain "on brand."
Step 3: Narrow down your audience(s)
As coaches, we want to serve everyone we possibly can. After all, so many people could benefit from our expertise. And yet, when we speak to everyone, we speak to no one. I encourage you to think of two audiences: the first one consists of your ideal clients. The second one consists of people who carry no transactional benefit and yet are the audience you would connect with the most on an emotional level.
Why is it important to have a second audience? The brand-building process can be arduous at times, and it can even feel too self-promotional or uncomfortable. When we have an audience that we address and yet don't sell to, our brand adopts a bigger meaning, and we are more inspired to continue putting ourselves out there for the world to see.
Step 4: Determine your key content pillars
One of the biggest questions I get from people who want to build their personal brands is what to talk about: on their website, on social media and on all other platforms. I recommend defining 2-4 key content pillars and sticking to them, foregoing all the rest: 1-2 topics that are directly tied to your area of expertise and 1-2 topics that have nothing to do with what it is that you do but will humanize your credibility.
How do you decide what your humanizing topics should be? Pick something that you are truly passionate about and could talk about for hours on end: a hobby, a cause, a deeply rooted belief. This part is key in ensuring that you build an emotional connection between your personal brand and your audience.
Step 5: Choose your platform(s)
And finally, your platform (or multiple, perhaps). Many coaches start here, but this should be the last stop in your brand strategy journey. There are so many platforms to choose from: a personal website, a newsletter, social media platforms, a podcast, public speaking, etc. It is natural to want to do it all, but I would recommend starting with as many platforms as your time permits fully committing to and going all in. It is better to start with one and be consistent than spread yourself thin and build no momentum as a result.
When deciding which platform to focus on, pick it based on your highest degree of comfort. If you are a strong writer, leverage platforms that reward that. If you are comfortable on camera — great, go all in creating video! There is no right or wrong medium or type of content that you must force yourself into adopting. Rather, choose the platform that resonates the most, and work to be as consistent as you possibly can on it.
Building a brand takes time. It takes time to figure out your strategy, and it takes time to build the visibility and name recognition you are aiming for. Most people quit along the way, so if you remain consistent and do not allow self-limiting beliefs to cripple your action, Google search rankings and social media feed domination are truly yours for the taking!