A Research Paper By Shawn Harvey, Life Coach, CANADA
The Impact of Coaching During Pandemic
On May 1, 2020, I found myself unemployed and trying to determine what career path to take. From conversations with friends and mentors in my life, I started on the great adventure of coaching through ICA to become a Certified Professional Coach. Once I completed my training in April 2021, I went looking for new clients. I attempted through marketing on social media, product creation leading to coaching services, and through word of mouth to grow my business. I had seen people “make it” and others struggle. As I looked around for information about starting a coaching practice I found very little actual information that wasn’t attached to purchasing someone’s product. My goal became to find information that wasn’t associated with a sales pitch.
Client Acquisition Through a Pandemic An Interview With Three Coaches
To get relevant information I had two criteria. First interviewees needed to be from a similar schooling background, and second, they needed to be operating in the local region. For diversity each coach is at a different stage in their journey, side hustle, starting and established.
The interviews were conducted in person, via zoom, and by email. The interviewees all permitted me to share their information in this format. I am grateful to Nate O’Hara, Gina Balzer, and Mike Poulin for their contributions to this work.
Lessons and Information From the Three Coaches During the Pandemic Acquisition
NateO’Harawas looking for a career change and decided it was to be found in coaching. Nate became ICF certified through Royal Roads University, Graduate Certificate in Executive Coaching. Before he could fully establish a coaching career the need for a steady income arose when Nate and his wife prepared to welcome their first child. Nate chose to step back from coaching full time and stepped into an administrative role in a local business. Nate has continued to look for new clients and is hoping to slowly build his career to make it full-time. Nate’s niche clients are mid-career individuals (solopreneur, owner, employee), looking to make the most of their next 15-30 years. Nate connects with his clients in person, masterminds, zoom, and phone and all his clients were referrals based on direct relationships.
Gina Balzerbegan her journey working part-time alongside a counseling office helping with non-therapeutic counseling. As the counseling office continued to grow, she developed her clients. It became evident that there was a need for coaching to become a full-time offering. Gina then went to school and became ICF certified. Once she graduated and before she was able to start practicing, the lockdown started. At the same time, Gina was laid off from her other job. Coaching became the full-time occupation and financial need for her family. Gina’s niche clients are Christian Women, looking to integrate their belief in God with their everyday life. Gina meets with individuals and runs group sessions that focus on biblical study.
Mike Poulin has been coaching and training for over 10 years. His work has been primarily through Global Priority Solutions and John Maxwell material. Mike has specialized in round table discussions and corporate settings to help develop people from all walks of life. While Mike has done coaching and motivational speaking locally, his primary focus had been on a global stage. Mike has been invited by multiple countries to lead masterminds, and help people turn their lives around. He has worked with prisoners to heads of state. Before covid, the majority of Mike’s work was done in person, whether in individual or large group settings.
The Impact of the Pandemic on the Three Coaches and the Current Situation
Nate has continued to build his clients through word-of-mouth referrals. During the height of the lockdown, all Nate’s meetings were via Zoom or phone. Since his clients had come through referral there wasn’t any change. He has expanded his offerings with ‘Course Development’ services – helping organizations pivot their traditional learning and development to an online platform. Growth has been strong over the last season and Nate is seeing an increased demand for coaching as leaders and teams are navigating a new way to function.
Gina’s business started as the pandemic shut everything down. Many of Gina’s clients are referrals and people who have found her blog posts online. She was very shocked to see the unique paths that each person had taken to find her, and in almost every case it has been a friend of a friend that they have in common. There was one person in Gina’s network that was influential with many crossover connections. One of the services Gina initially offered was group coaching through masterminds. The masterminds were set up with a six-month commitment, with 90% of them happening via Zoom. Unfortunately after 5 months, the system broke down due to family issues with some of the participants but it did give a proof of concept. Gina has done some marketing but the majority of her business is through word of mouth. Also, Gina posts a couple of times a week on Facebook and Instagram and writes occasional blog posts. Some clients have commented on having read all her blog posts and because of that reached out for coaching. At the time of the interview, Gina had finally grown her business to a full supplemental income for the family, meaning that Gina had replaced her previous salary with the number of clients she had.
Before the pandemic, Mike was refreshing his French to coach an international company in their primary language. Once the lockdown began Mike found himself ready to work but without the ability to travel abroad. Instead of waiting for things to open, Mike started offering Zoom meetings to his current clients. These group conversations created trust and inroads with his clients that then started one-on-one meetings with executives. What had started as a predominately large group practice became individual conversations and coaching to help sales representatives with business and personal issues through the pandemic. The success of these one-on-one meetings means Mike has not had to look for new work at this time. The ability to shift offerings to the current demands proved to Mike and his clients that more can be offered and beneficial to the organizations.
Skill Development During the Pandemic How to Take a Positive Attitude Towards Coaches in the Post-pandemic World
All three coaches had a positive outlook towards coaching in a post-pandemic world. All three acknowledged that their success in this last season was predominately based on who they already had in their social circle before the start of the pandemic. While each was hoping to expand with possible advertising their primary hope was in the strong and weak ties already established. Of the three Nate is the most content to continue building using the same methods he had used before the pandemic.
Gina continues to look for new opportunities. If business continues to grow organically Gina will not look to advertising yet but hope that referrals will do enough to build her base. There are thoughts of offering other products or services in the future but presently social media and blog posts seem to be enough.
Mike is ready to travel once borders open. The companies that currently have Mike on retainer are excited to have him back. Mike also has recognized that if he could create products that are a hybrid of teaching and training offset with personal coaching it could increase his influence and be able to have a larger impact.
The pandemic stopped “business as usual” dead in its tracks. Many companies and people locked down and removed all perceived non-essential personnel and services. And in many ways, coaching was perceived by some as non-essential. Those coaches that had already proven the value of coaching survived or flourished through the lockdown. While those starting have had an uphill battle to prove that coaching is valuable and essential. The ability to pivot from life to online or group to individual coaching created opportunities for those willing to do the hard work. The biggest factor to success has been the social ties created before the pandemic and how well people were able to leverage or develop those ties. In his book Friend of a Friend… author David Burkusexplains that those who sit between different groups of people have the greatest ability to connect with others. In Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell calls these people Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen, and their ability to influence and promote creates momentum and acceptance. Gina has at least one of these in her network. Mike has quite a number of these connectors as well. And it is these connections that help create openings for new clients to come in already in a position of trust.
Additional products and services to offset coaching appear to be a “Chicken and the Egg” debate. From all three conversations, I can see the need to have products (books, courses, lectures, webinars, etc.). The primary question is: are products promoted as an introduction or continuation of the relationship?
The better question appears to be: how do I create better connections within my spheres of influence? Answering that question will help clarify what products and marketing deserve your time.
One last key point I see between my three interviewees and David Burkus’s book is the idea that you don’t need to do more networking events, all the people you need to know you have already in your network, all that needs to happen is to unlock them. Nate, Gina, and Mike have all proven this especially through the pandemic and it has changed my perspective on how I will market going forward.
 Mastermind is a term used to describe a group coaching experience as described by Napoleon Hill in his 1937 book Think and Grow Rich
David Burkus Friend of a Friend . . .: Understanding the Hidden Networks That Can Transform Your Life and Your Career
Malcolm Gladwell Tipping Point: How little things can make a difference