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Starting a coaching or service business: Plan for the first 90 days

I’m writing this to help a client of mine test his personal training business idea, but figured I might as well share it for anyone else getting started. This is as simple as it can get when it comes to starting a service-based business, like being a coach, consultant, therapist, masseuse, personal trainer, financial advisor, nutritionist, web designer etc.

This post is for people yet to start, or have just gotten started and feel lost, or even those who have been doing it for a while but can’t seem to get off the ground. Note: if you already have been trying for a while but getting poor results, check out this post about common mistakes.

Sure, one reason I’m writing this is to promote my own coach-training service (strictly limited to two people per year). But as I only want to work with people who have already gotten started and are moving steadily towards having consistent paid clients, this post is to help get someone to that point for free, so that a) they trust that I can actually help them, and b) they’re the kind of person who has enough inner motivation and courage to take the actions needed to move forward.

I’ll keep this simple, and at the end I’ll recommend my favourite business books for new service entrepreneurs.

In brief

Basically, you are going to get your business off the ground by learning how to find leads, reaching out to them personally one at a time, offer them your service, sell it to them (without money being involved at first), deliver the service, and then get feedback and a testimonial/review.

If you can complete this entire process, then you have the basic foundation for running a successful service-based business. This process won’t cost you anything but time, and so at first you won’t need to worry about paid ads, websites, marketing training, or even having to find “cold leads” who don’t know you at all.

If you can make some hours available and find the courage to face a few potential rejections, then you have everything you need already. In fact, you may never need to add any paid ads or other expensive methods if you don’t want in the future. This methodology can take you all the way up to 6 figures per year and beyond!

Warning

If you’re just doing this for the money, I can’t help you. I’m looking to help people who want the perfect combination of meaningfulness, integrity, and making a decent income… in that order.

If you just wanna make money, go learn to be an investment banker or real estate agent or drug dealer. It will be quicker.

Create an Offer

Perfectionism can wait at the door, we need to get moving. So from this point onwards, consider everything to just be a draft, not the final form. You’ll publish and then perfect it, not the other way around.

I promise you: whatever you get started with will change over time. So there’s no point in trying to get it “right” at this time. Aim for “good enough” instead. In fact, you won’t know what is actually good until after you try to get it out there in the real world, so please don’t overthink this.

Spend no more than 1 hour on this following task. Whatever you have by the end of that hour is what you’ll move forward with. But also don’t rush. Make sure you at least meet all the criteria I talk about here.

You need an “offer” to present to your first/next batch of potential clients. An offer is a simple summary of the service you’ll be providing. You can dive deeper into this topic later when you have more experience, but for now we simply need to fill out this offer template:

The [program name] for [specific client type] to [result they will get] within [timeframe]

Name your service, something that focuses on the benefit for the client.

Don’t just say what you do, such as coaching or massage. You must talk about what they get out of it. e.g. Belly Fat Elimination Program, Nice Guy Recovery Program, Public Speaking With Confidence etc.

Note: using the word “program” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s for a group of people; your work might still be 1:1 but we want to avoid people having just a single session. They should be signing up to get enough of your service to ensure a good long term result. If your service is always completed in a single session, then you’re probably not solving a big enough problem to warrant making a business from it.

Then you want to identify who this program is for (it’s never for everyone). Don’t get too hung up on identifying your “niche” – it will self-identify over time as you find your favourite clients and preferred work.

For now, just be specific about who this first program is for. Think about age, gender, and location, as well as situation, context, and psychological profile. E.g. 30+ Dads, C-Suite Executives, Nice Guys and People Pleasers, Stressed Moms in NYC. The more specific the better, but don’t overthink it. Just create a specific enough category so that your people would read it and go “Hey, that’s me!” while the people you don’t want to work with would move past it.

Moving onto the result they will get.

You’re not promising anything more than what your ideal client would get if they put in the work on this program. Think about the end game – where does your client end up in terms of a better life when they’ve completed this program?

Again be as specific as possible without becoming false in your guarantees. Avoid vague results like “better lifestyle” or overzealous promises like “6 pack abs in 6 days”. Think more like: boost your self-confidence; lose at least 1KG or more per week; be brave enough to give a presentation at work; reclaim 10+ hours of free time per week.

And then you give the total timeframe, which is the length of the program you’ll deliver. For now I’d suggest 6-8 weeks, or 12 weeks if absolutely needed – giving you plenty of time to practice without asking too much from someone.

So you should end up with something like:

The Belly Fat Elimination Program for 30+ year old Dads to lose an average of 1Kg or more every week for 8 weeks.

The 6 week Nice Guy Recovery Program for People Pleasing Husbands to 3X Your Assertive Boundary Setting Skills.

The Financial Freedom Masterclass for Boston Medical Professionals: Get a $5K raise within 2 months.

Bonus tip: If you have time, you can add an effort-reducing benefit, usually starting with the word “without”, such as: without having to go to the gym; without causing major conflicts with your wife; without needing to work any extra hours.

6-10 FREE clients

Once you have your offer, your immediate short term goal is to find 6-10 people to deliver this service to in full, for free.

The free part is important to remove your financial shame and fear from this getting-started process, and to reduce the resistance and likelihood of rejection from others. It’s more important that you learn to find people, reach out to them, sign them up, and deliver the program in full, than it is to get paid (for now).

Until you can achieve the delivery of this program to at least 6 people, you won’t even know if there’s a demand for it, or whether you can deliver the results you promise, or if the people you want to work with are who you think they are, etc. This whole process is an experiment, so don’t worry about it going “wrong”. Any results are helpful information and experience.

Instead of charging money, you’ll be asking for feedback and a testimonial or review. So it’s not really “free”, it’s just not paid for with money. They are your test rats, and you can be totally upfront with them about that. You’ll find certain people enjoy being test subjects.

Warm outreach

You’re going to be starting with people you already know, or at least have met or are connected to within one degree of separation. You’ll be contacting them each individually (forget social media posting to large audiences).

Let go of limits. This first group can include friends, family members, work colleagues, and that guy in your dance class. Because they won’t be paying money, any self-limiting beliefs you have about who’s “appropriate” to have as a client can be dropped and dealt with later.

The frame here is that they are helping you create your business. They’re doing you a favour as well as you helping them.

Take a moment to imagine how many people you’re connected to. Think of family, friends, schoolmates, work colleagues (current and past), and other associates. Think of everyone who’s your “friend” on each of your social media platforms. Think of everyone your friends know that they could connect you to, like their partners and cousins and workmates.

Even if you’re an isolated kind of person, there’s probably at least 100 people you can reach out to before you need to start considering reaching out to complete strangers.

“Warm” outreach is the process of making contact with people you already know, as opposed to “cold” outreach which is strangers – you don’t need to know about this until there’s no warm outreach people left at all… which almost never happens. However, if this indeed has happened, I cover cold leads briefly at the end of this post.

What you are going to do next is reach out to as many people as you can until you find your 6 or more test rats.

Start with the people who fit the client ideal in your offer.

It’s real simple: either in person (more effective) or online (less scary), you’re going to approach each person and ask if you can run something past them. If they respond positively, you’re going to make them an offer.

It will look something like this:

“Hey John, can I run something past you? I’m currently experimenting with a free program to test my new business idea, and wanted to see if you are keen to be one of my test subjects – it’s aimed at active dads like you.”

“OK, what’s it about?”

“Cool! I’m looking at starting my own personal training biz, but I want to first run a free test program in exchange for feedback and testimonials. The program is called ‘The Belly Fat Elimination Program for 30+ year old Dads who want to lose average of 1Kg or more every week for 8 weeks’. Sound like something you would be interested in?”

“Sure, sounds good!” 

“Thanks mate! Let’s book a quick call and I’ll tell you how it will work. Much appreciated”

Or he says No…

“No worries, thanks for considering it. Who else do you know that might be keen? I’d love if you could connect me with other potential testers”

Expect a low response rate. It’s ok if only a few people get back to you, and even less are keen. This is all part of the learning process.

Lead > Conversation > Form > Call > Sale > Fulfillment

The simple process for creating clients is to find someone (lead), connect with them and begin a conversation, ask them to fill out an application form (and/or have a phone conversation to answer some questions), sign them up (sales), and then deliver the program to their satisfaction and beyond.

Building a business is simply mastering this process to a good enough level where you end up with enough clients to pay the bills. You will get more No’s than Yes’s, so if you’re unwilling to face rejection then you really shouldn’t bother trying to start your own business. You can’t avoid the No’s or the uncomfortable conversations.

But you don’t need many Yes’s!

A 1% “conversion rate” (percentage of people you contact who become clients) is usually enough to sustain a service business. If you’re ambitious enough, you can contact 100 people per day. That’s one new client per day on average (once you get used to the process)! If most of your clients will be paying for more than a single session (i.e. why we do programs), then you will accumulate more clients over time.

So every day, you want to practice this process.

Reach out to new leads and contact them as per the previous section. Do as many as you can with the hours you have available. Assume a low response rate, so get your numbers up.

For those who respond positively, present your offer. For those who respond but aren’t interested, thank them and ask for a referral (but don’t contact someone who says No more than once). For those who are lukewarm but might be more keen later, make a note to contact them every few weeks to give them helpful information or add them to your mailing list.

Note: don’t take being ignored on your first attempt as a sign of anything. Follow up at least one more time – you’d be surprised at how many people respond in round two!

For those who are interested in your offer, get them to answer some questions about who they are, what they want to achieve, and what challenges they currently face (relating to what your program will deliver), or even better get them on a quick phone or video call to ask these questions in real time. The quicker you respond, the more likely you’ll get a Yes.

For those who answer the questions to your satisfaction – i.e. they are the people you can help – then explain to them what the program is about and what they’ll be doing, and book them in to start the program asap. This is the point you’d usually ask for the payment, but for now you’ll just ask for a commitment that at the end they’ll give you feedback and testimonial.

Book in their first session, and then follow through and deliver what you’ve promised.

This is all you need to know for now! Get out there and take action on this until you’ve found your 6-10 test rat clients!


 

For more on my coach training program, check this out:

The 1 Year Coaching-Training Program for Service Entrepreneurs: Get to $100K/year Without Paying for Marketing

 


Complete, then add $1

Once you’ve successfully run a test program and gotten your feedback and testimonials, adjust the program based on their feedback and experiences (i.e. make it better).

Then do the exact same process again, only this time instead of asking for reviews and feedback, you’ll be asking for money.

The amount does not matter at this stage, because you first just need to get over the fear and insecurities that come up for most people when asking to be paid for their personal services for the first time. Even $1 is enough – any symbolic transfer of money. From there on, you can just increase the number and keep everything else the same (e.g. I recommend you increase the fee by 10% each time you sign up a new client, until you get to a rate you believe is reasonable for an income).

You’ll change your initial messaging as well. Obviously, these are no longer test rats and this isn’t your first time. So just explain that you’ve already run a test, and now you want to offer them the newly improved paid version at a limited-time low investment.

Accelerate with mentorship

You can do this all on your own. I haven’t excluded anything important that you need to know to get started.

There’s more to it when it comes to building the paid version of your service, but the principles and steps for a warm outreach approach are the same. It’s just nuances and slowing down the conversation and sales steps that happens when the fee gets up into uncomfortable levels.

However, this will go a lot faster with a good mentor or coach in your corner, someone who knows what they’re doing and has successfully built a business using this model themselves with real clients.

I am such a person, so get in touch if you want that person to be me. But do not come to me until after you’ve run your first test-pilot program with at least 6 people, or you have tried to contact at least 500 leads directly (1:1 – Facebook posts don’t count!), whichever comes first.

What about content?

For those of you hoping to avoid rejection and discomfort by just posting content or offers online and hoping clients will come to you, I have bad news… it’s not going to work. It’s just not.

Posting content only serves one purpose at this early stage – help you identify warm leads. So if you do post content, it’s only so you can personally message the people who like and comment on those posts. Do not bother posting anything asking people to sign up etc., i.e. don’t post your offer to a broad audience.

You can post asking for people to make themselves known if they’re keen to hear more about something you’re working on, but that will not do the work for you, and reaching out personally 1:1 is more effective anyway.

However, if you plan to create content in the long term, I’d suggest you do that as a side-project, making warm outreach the priority. E.g. you can make posts and videos after you’ve done your 100 reach outs for the day.

Yes, I do content. But it was 5 years before the content started bringing in leads passively (without me needing to do anything but add a call to action in each post). You can’t wait 5 years.

Instead of posting offers, create helpful free content to build a library that will serve your current clients. Answer their questions, give them tips based on what you’ve seen running your program, share their success stories. This is the best kinds of content to create leads anyway.

Cold leads

OK, so if you’ve really reached out to every possible warm contact you have (you probably haven’t), it’s time to create “cold leads” – to connect with people who don’t know you yet, and build a relationship with them.

Think of this as just a couple of starter steps to create a warm lead, and then you’d follow the normal process for a warm lead conversation.

First you need to connect with people.

Online this is very simple: add people as friends on social media, send them connection requests etc. Look for people that match your ideal client as closely as possible. The best place to find them is in special interest groups, or look to connect with friends of your current friends.

In person, this means introducing yourself to strangers. While that can mean striking up a conversation with someone at the bus stop, a more convenient and reasonable way is to meet people at shared social settings. Your work, book clubs, dance classes, meetup groups, hiking. Instead of ignoring people you don’t already know, go introduce yourself to them. The best place again is special interest groups packed with your ideal client type, e.g. I found lots of self-development enthusiasts in my salsa dance classes.

Once a connection is created, either online or in person, get to know them a bit in a normal genuine way. Explore what they’re up to and share your own life.

Once you’ve gotten to know each other a bit, they are now a “warm” connection, and you can treat them that way.

At some point, either during your first interaction or later down the line, a natural segue will be to talk about what you do, in which case you can naturally bring up your new business idea. From here, you’d transition to inviting them to be your test subject.

Favourite books and resources

I’ve read dozens of business books, and these few stood out as actually helpful for beginners in a service-based business:

Alex Hormozi – 100M Leads and 100M Offers

Mike Michalowitz – The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur and The Pumpkin Plan

Rich Litvin – The Prosperous Coach

Michael Port – Book Yourself Solid

Perry Marshall – 80/20 Sales and Marketing

My resources:

Wanna start a coaching business? Here’s some beginner tips

How to Start a Successful Service-based Business like Coaching

8 years of coaching! My top tips

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