This week I attended a seminar hosted by my local chapter of the International Coaching Federation (ICF). The ICF is a worldwide organization. Coaches can connect with the ICF through their local chapter for the benefit of engaging with other coaches, continuing their education as coaches, attending discounted events, maintaining credentials, and for business development.
As a coach who is fairly new to running her own coaching practice, I had heard about a seminar on succeeding as a coach from a business perspective, and was curious what I could learn, so I signed up and went.
There are two sides to coaching, or to any business, really. There’s the “product,” and then there’s getting the product into the hands of the people.
I’ve identified two different trains of thought on how to approach these two pieces of coaching/business.
According to one approach, which I identify as the “artist approach,” the key is to be a phenomenal coach, being one of the best out there in the market. The argument is this: there are so many people who think they can coach, but who are not really true coaches. There are also those who don’t take coaching seriously, and who only do it part-time or as a smaller role within their existing job. So, if you stand out as an exceptional coach, and your “product” is seen as highly valuable, the argument is that people will naturally be attracted to it. Treat your craft of coaching as an art form and success will naturally follow.
The “artist approach” focuses primarily on the “product.”
The flaw in this approach is that you could be highly exceptional, gifted even, as a coach. But if no one’s heard of you, your likelihood of having your “product” reach the hands of clients is going to be small. My father was a talented painter, an artist, but was a terrible business person. His art never made it into a gallery and he never got rich from his artwork.
According to the second approach, which I identify as the “entrepreneur approach,” the key is to have a great head for business, marketing, networking and getting yourself in front of your potential clients. If you don’t make some effort to connect with people, you won’t be recognized for what you can offer.
The flaw to this approach is that you can come across as too sales-y and seen as pushing your product in a way that is highly unattractive to those sensitive to authenticity. Clients want to trust you. The quality of your product can suffer due to reputation or your hardball approach to business.
The “entrepreneur approach” focuses primarily on getting the product into the hands of the people.
The truth is that you need to employ both an artist and an entrepreneur’s approach to coaching. You really can’t have one and not the other to be a success.
There is a third thing, however. You could be an amazing coach, and you could talk to your potential clients all day long, but in the end, it really comes down to incentive. What would compel someone who knows you’re good at what you do to become your client?
Business people all talk about this: find out what people want and offer a solution. In the end, the “product” is not the coaching itself. Coaching is just the means to achieve a certain outcome. The outcome of coaching is the actual product you’re offering.
Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, depending on how you look at it, the outcome of coaching is often something that is intangible and ethereal, such as the client feeling happier, having confidence, changing their perspective on life, living according to one’s true values, living well, or making a dream come true. Or it could also be more specific, such as a new job, a healthier body, or a more intimate relationship with a partner.
The speaker at the ICF business seminar I attended talked primarily about the “entrepreneur approach,” using elements I had heard many times before from entrepreneurs or business coaches. Articulate your passion. Have a vision. Stand out using a differentiator. Be committed to a certain outcome. Set goals. Remain focussed. Nothing I didn’t already know.
One thing the seminar did provide me with is a way to look at all of the options, of which there are many, for starting a coaching practice and remove the clutter of distracting ideas. If I came away with anything worth while, it was a reiteration of what I’d heard before: just start doing one thing and do it well, with all your effort and make it measurable, so that you can see progress and an outcome.
I have not attended any course, seminar or talk, or read any books, that specifically teaches what turns a potential client into a client, for a coach. That’s probably because it’s a mixture of so many things. Each coach is different, just like each artist is different. Each has their own style, personality, talents, etc. It’s like trying to teach a musician how to write music that people will buy. It’s impossible. It’s a synergy that simply works or doesn’t work.
In the end, the best advice the seminar speaker said came at the very end of her talk: Be true to you. Be authentic. People will pick up on that. That alone is attractive.
Add to that some business sense, a bit of networking, and a great way to talk about what you do, and I think you’d be well on your way to being a coach with clients who value working with you.