Research Paper By Olivia Cheung
(Life Coach, AUSTRALIA)
Sales, Marketing, Networking, Admin… business skills may not be the most exciting part of the coaching journey but it’s essential for your business development.
“A coaching heart and a business mind – that’s the formula for a successful coaching practice!” I read this piece of advice on an online coaching forum where someone had asked “I want to be a life coach but I have no experience, where do I start?” I was intrigued to read several responses that suggested when it comes to starting a coaching career, passion, knowledge and experience are obviously important and needed; however what coaches really need are business skills – in particular, sales and marketing training – and the business mindset to help develop and sustain their coaching career.
Business in coaching; aside from obvious niches like executive coaching, money or career coaching, we don’t often hear or talk about the business challenges during the course of our coaching programs, and it’s not a commonly discussed topic amongst coaches, especially in non-corporate niches such as life coaching, relationship or spirituality coaching. Most coaches I know seem to be driven for social reasons, such as “I want to help others”; “I want to make a difference”; “I don’t want to work in this job anymore because it sucks the life out of me”; “I want to do something that aligns with my values”; “Coaching is a rewarding role because I get to see lives changed” and similar responses.
As a life coach, I too relate with the above ‘change the world’ sentiments, but I’ve found myself feeling ‘stuck’ in my coaching journey lately almost graduated from my coaching program at ICA; pondering on ‘what’s next’ and asking myself why I’m struggling to increase the client numbers or my coaching pay rate, despite consistently improving on my coach knowledge, skills, networking and joining forums and coaching associations.
It turns out I’m not alone in this – many coaches struggle to make enough even to pay the bills, let alone earn a proper living. According to the ICF 2012 Global Coaching Study, the median annual life coach’s income in Oceania is US$36,700. The average global life coach salary as of 2013 is $47,900 (Sherpa Executive Coaching Survey 2013), and the average hourly wage for life coaches in the United States is $29.03 per hour (Payscale.com). In reality, many coaches have to find other ways to supplement their income, either by taking on another job, or worse, going back to their previous job, which is the primary reason why they left in the first place.
So what’s missing? Simon Smith, coach and founder of Southern Cross Coaching & Development, says we’re spending our energy and time in the wrong area – we need to put the business back in coaching. It’s a mistake that many new coaches make when starting out: not making money a primary motivation. To be a successful coach, coaches must obtain a business mindset. “If you don’t have the attitude that you are in business to make money,” he says, “it is extremely unlikely to happen. You know this as a coach – if you don’t have that as a goal, how can you achieve it?”
Because of the social nature of coaching, having a ‘money mindset’ is not a talked-about topic. In an interview with money-expert coach Rebecca Tracey, she says this is the very reason why struggling coaches come to her: “…because they are not equipped with the marketing and entrepreneurial skills required to build their business. But there’s nothing noble from being broke. And there’s nothing bad about wanting to make not a good living, but a damn good living!”
Which brings me to the crux of this article: How much time and energy are you spending on your business development? How successful is your business currently? What are you doing to make your coaching successful – or what are you not doing?
Here is a collection of practical tips from successful coaches who learnt to put the business in coaching:
- Stop thinking like a coach and start thinking like a business.
Firstly, you already are a coach – the intrinsic qualities, thinking and behavior will come naturally to you, it’s part of who you are and what attracted you to coach in the first place – however, if you wish to make a living, that requires wearing a different hat. How much do you need to earn in order to live the lifestyle you want?
For example, to earn $100,000 per annum. you need to earn approximately $133,000 to cover your wages and business expenses. That equates to income of $3,023/week (44 working weeks: 4 weeks holidays, 2 weeks over Christmas, 1 week of Public Holidays, 1 week sick/miscellaneous – and that’s being generous).
Translate that to hours worked: that equals $75.57/hour for coaching 40 hours/week
Look at those figures – is that what your diary is looking like? A 5 hour week earning $604 per hour or a 40-hour full time week at $75 an hour? If it’s a yes I’d be surprised!
If you can’t work out your hourly rate or annual salary on your own, ask a financial advisor or use one of the many online calculators and programs such as hourly calculator that can help you work out your rate based on your desired income.
Remember a more realistic business week involves coaching hours spread throughout the week, travel time, preparation and debrief from coaching, online and offline communication, proposal writing, updating profiles and online content, invoicing, networking functions, emails, writing content for your blogs and newsletters, I.T issues etc. Many coaches forget this is part of running your business – but these are absolutely essential tasks to keep your coaching business alive.
- Sales – you have to do it
No one likes the ‘S’ word but everyone has to do it – if you’re not selling a product or message, you’re selling yourself. You’re telling people why they should pick you over anyone else because you can provide what they need. You are a salesperson first and coach second; even if you have a professional looking website and great networks (which you need), if you can’t sell yourself, you won’t get to do much coaching.
Sales is 1% inspiration and 99% hard work. There is no magic formula. There are techniques and tricks you can learn, but none of them are effective unless you put in the hard work. That’s both online and offline. You already have an advantage – your coaching skills are extremely powerful sales tools. If more sales people were trained as coaches, they’d be a lot more successful. Listen and hear what people are telling you they need. That’s the core of sales.
Look at what’s happening in your life – where can you sell your services? Are there events happening in your area where you could promote yourself? Are there are organisations or businesses that offer coaching to their employees – who can you get in touch with? Brainstorm a list of potential avenues where you can communicate and engage with your potential clients.
- You are not selling coaching – you are selling a solution
Again, you are a coach – people know that already when they seek your services. What they are looking for is a solution to their goals or problems and they have come to you because of your experience and expertise. That’s what clients pay for: Solution (desired) + Experience (proof) + Expertise (proof).
Coaching in the real world is rarely the pure coaching taught in coaching courses. In reality when a client says “coaching”, what they mean is a combination of coaching, mentoring, consulting, expert advisor, etc. You may have left the sporting industry to find a new path, and whilst you are able to coach in any industry and in any niche, the reality is clients will want and will pay for your sporting industry expertise and experience, so it’s advantageous for you to use that as a selling point and start coaching from there.
Ellen and Becca from Coaching Business Jumpstart believe in ‘Expertise first, niche second.’ Being specific about what you do and having experience and proof to back that up means you can apply it to different groups and transition rather than rebrand. Developing your business around your expertise means coaches are clear about their positioning and about the results they offer.
Remember, if you have to teach people what coaching is, you’re wasting your time and money. Don’t do it. Sell to people who know what coaching can do.
- When selling, stop using ‘Coach-talk’ – use language your client actually understands
Coaches understand what ‘reframing perspectives to align to your higher purpose’ mean, but that’s because we’re coaches – we’ve studied and done the coursework! When you’re selling to the audience, listen to the language they use and use the same language. Especially with life coaches – cut out the fluffy, coachy language. This is in particular with organizational and business clients – use the client’s professional business language so they know what you’re talking about.
The key to great marketing is remembering that even though you know what you’re talking about, if the audience doesn’t understand or get your content, then it’s pointless. If you’re having trouble learning their language, do some study. Hang around and talk to people in that sector or business. Like any first date, getting a second date depends on you doing your best to learn more about the other person; how they speak, what they’re interested in and directing the conversation in that direction in a language they feel comfortable and can engage in.
- Develop systems and processes to compliment your services and products
Before you reach for that coaching book in your spare time, have a look at your welcome pack and payment setup. Do you have all the documents, contracts, payment processes in place? Are they ready on hand? If not, spend time on developing tools and protocols to compliment your coaching products and packages. This includes all the agreements, legal and financial contracts and forms, payment systems in a place that is accessible to you and receivable by the client.
By having them in place it will allow you to guide clients through a smooth and logical path, delivering results in a consistent, efficient manner. The last thing you want is to lose credibility to a new client because of slow or inefficient administrative procedures which could have easily be solved by being organized earlier.
- Understand the differences between social media platforms and how to use it
Successful entrepreneur and social media expert Gary Vaynerchuk says knowing how to utilize your social media is life or death to your business. There’s no point in having all these networks if you don’t understand how they work, who uses them and how to communicate to your potential clients on them.
You have to know who you want to reach and go to the platform where your target group is spending their time. Understanding the nuances of that particular social media platform, you can create quality content about your business that are a perfect match and therefore engage with your audience.
As Gary says, “tell stories native to the platform – you can tell great content, just know where to tell it”
Here are some of Gary’s tips on the essential social media networks: