There’s a lot of hypey bullshit out there that targets vulnerable wannabe life coaches and drains them of their scarce financial resources. I want to put this out there for FREE, to provide an alternative to what’s offered by the sharks circling this industry looking to prey on one of the easiest sources of a quick buck: new coaches.
I’ve been coaching for 8 years, and now make 6 figures per year with coaching. My first year I made less than $25k. The next was $35k. Then $50k, and it grew by about 30% each year after that consistently. I didn’t start with any advantages; I’ve never had a piece of my content become a viral hit; I didn’t start with a network of corporate leaders who could hire me to coach their employees; I had no prior business experience or training. I started with fuck all and built it up one tiny step at a time, with plenty of failures and frustrations along the way. I’ve made lots of mistakes and learned from them, and received coaching and training from some of the best in the business.
This post is about how it’s done when you don’t start with any advantages or luck. If you happen to have these, great! It will be even easier. But lucky advantages are not necessary, neither are big breaks. This business can be built one brick at a time if you’re willing to be a) patient, b) focused on what’s important, and c) courageous.
I will keep this as concise as possible, and not go into the deeper confidence and psychological issues you’ll face: just know that you will have your fears and insecurities tested like never before, and that’s just part of the game. Accept that, or don’t even get started. Also, this post is about the business side of coaching – the techniques and strategies for actual powerful coaching are a different discussion.
Let’s have no suspense – in the interest of keeping this valuable and concise, here’s the ONE thing that builds the business, and if you don’t read beyond this next paragraph that’s ok because nothing else really matters:
Everything you need to know to build a coaching business, in one paragraph:
Serve as many people as possible, personally, one to one, and invite them to experiment with a free coaching session. Use audio and video messaging to connect with them through authentic, non-templated messages. Take time to answer the question “How can I improve this person’s life?” before you reach out. If you can fill your week with coaching sessions, even unpaid (at first), then you can create a successful coaching business. Nothing else matters nearly as much as the daily practice of improving people’s lives in a genuine, giving way and escalating the more responsive people into coaching.
Things you need to mentally prepare for
There will be extreme highs and lows. Sometimes you’ll be crushing it, other times it will look like it was all an illusion and you should just give up. This might continue for more than a year or even longer. This is not a sign of doing it wrong. It’s necessary – think of it like a test to ensure only dedicated coaches make it through.
It takes much longer than you think. Your dreams of overnight wealth are bullshit, let them go (and if that’s your motivation for being a coach you should just do something else). This is going to be more like building a house one brick at a time, and sometimes having to knock down entire walls and rebuild them. Forget the hype you see on social media about quick success in this business – that’s just sharks trying to fleece you of your precious capital. If you’re not prepared to wait at least 5 years for this to be successful to a satisfactory, safe consistency, then don’t even start.
You will have lots of flaky, bad-fit clients (at first). When I first started, roughly 50% of the people who booked a session failed to show up. These days, it’s more like 1%, but that’s because it took me YEARS to learn who to say Yes and No to. Just have an alternative plan for no-shows, e.g. use the spare time to create content. You will also have clients that seem good until you start to work with them and then they kill your love of coaching (e.g. dedicated victims). Fire them as quickly as possible. Trust that your clients will improve in quality over time as you get more experienced and confident.
The percentages are low – don’t get attached to any one potential client. You should probably prepare for less than 5% of the people you connect with to become actual paying clients in the near future. You’ll hear No far more often than Yes. Don’t get attached to any one potential prospect – just serve and offer coaching, and then move on. Get through your No’s quickly – don’t even bother analysing them. The Yes’s are the only one’s worth looking into (seek to replicate what works well).
The most important things to do
ABC – Always Be Coaching. There is NOTHING more important than having actual coaching sessions. In the first year or two, you don’t even need high standards (at least for the first session) – coach anyone and everyone who will make the time to have a session with you. Even someone who doesn’t enrol to paid coaching provides good experience and connections (and sometimes referrals). Think of getting your 1,000 hours in, to master coaching. Trust me: after 1,000 sessions of deep coaching you’ll feel like you’re a psychic (assuming you keep educating yourself along the way).
Don’t “sell”; just coach the shit out of them. To this day, I still offer the first session free of charge because I can’t be sure who I want to work with until after I’ve seen them in action, and I don’t expect them to know how valuable I am until they’ve felt the experience. I coach them as if they’re already a high paying client, and this is what “sells” my coaching. You’ll never need to do manipulative sales techniques. Just show them the goods directly by coaching them. If it’s awesome, they’ll ask how to sign up for more.
It’s always about SERVICE. To build up a calendar packed full of coaching sessions, you need to improve the quality of people’s lives. You need to be so consistently valuable that people see your name come up in their inbox and think: “Oh cool, another message from Dan, this is gonna be good!” As one coach told me: “Serve them so powerfully and freely that if they ever think of coaching, they only think of you”. Coaching is just an extension of what you need to be doing at all times in this business: serving people. Recognition, compliments, referrals to helpful resources, advice, personalised videos and blog posts, encouragement, connection with good fit people, adding to your group/tribe, discussing deep topics, and offering a coaching session – these are just some of the many ways you can serve people.
Give freely – if it’s not coaching, don’t charge for it. Forget about trying to make money with YouTube advertising or a Udemy course. Don’t worry that “giving away” your best advice will make people just use your free content and not hire you. Those types of people almost never pay for coaching anyway. If you’re going to be a coach, then COACHING is the product, and everything else is essentially a form of giving that doubles as highly effective yet genuine marketing. Most of my best clients are people who first binged on my videos, podcasts and books. Content will never outshine coaching because it’s never interactive! That being said, don’t give away too much actual coaching. One or two sessions to give them the experience is the most they should get before paying for the service.
Build a tribe/audience. Most of my clients come from my BROJO community. This is something you can start from the very beginning. Whether it’s a Facebook group or an in-person meetup of some kind or whatever, start bringing people together to discuss your philosophy and share your content and ideas. No matter if someone says Yes or No to your coaching offer, always invite them to your (free) community as well. About 30-40% of my clients are “slow burn” connections who I’ve known and served for years inside my community before they enrolled in coaching.
Play the long game. A “No” either means “never” or “not yet”. A “never” is pretty obvious – they clearly don’t like you or your style or they have no interest in getting coaching from anyone, ever. Move on from these people. But a vast majority of No’s are really just “not yet”. Maybe they’re not motivated enough to change yet, or not bold enough to invest in themselves yet, or not convinced of your value as a coach (or don’t even know what coaching is) yet. Be prepared to serve them for months or even years before they’re ready. That said, focus your attention on the most likely and responsive people first – don’t serve everyone equally.
Never pay yourself more than 40% of what you earn. Be frugal and minimalist. Put aside 20% for taxes. Your finances are going to jump around like crazy at first, so behave as if you’re being paid the absolute minimum needed for survival. Don’t be fooled by a good month – wait until you have 12 months of unbroken financial success before you trust that you’ve got it down.
Get yourself a coach, or join a group-training program. For a start, you can’t expect someone to invest big bucks in your coaching if you’re not willing to do it yourself. But even more importantly, good coaching and support from a coach who knows what they’re doing (and how to teach it) will shave YEARS off your journey to success. The ROI is beyond worth it. Some coaches I’ve worked with personally and would recommend are: Phil Drolet, Jacob Sokol, and Rich Litvin. I also train coaches myself, but I promised not to promote myself in this post so try them out first, or ask successful coaches who they’d recommend. Note: be wary of people who only coach other coaches and don’t have “normal” clients as well – it’s basically a Ponzi scheme.
The most important things to AVOID doing
Getting bogged down in creating a website. You don’t need a flash website, or business cards, or even social media. These things help but should only be considered if you’ve already done a tonne of connecting and creating relationships, and your week is jam-packed with coaching calls. If I were to start over, I’d only set up a basic LinkedIn profile and post my content on medium.com.
Stop worrying about your niche. Frankly, you have no idea who is the right type of client for you. They will make themselves known over time – you don’t need to predict it; you will measure it backwards based on people who actually work with you. Just coach anyone you’re even remotely interested in at first, and then refine over time based on who you have the best experiences with.
Saying No on their behalf. You might avoid or deny coaching with certain people based on judging them as either not wanting your coaching or being unable to afford you. I’ve had students get loans to work with me at full price. I’ve had millionaires turn out to be awful clients. I’ve had people I was sure would say No later claim I was the best thing that ever happened to them and they’re so glad I made the first move. Let them say No or prove themselves unfit for coaching; don’t guess and reject them without knowing for sure.
Paying for marketing/advertising. You do not NEED to pay for ANYTHING in your first couple of years, aside from coaching for yourself. Most new coaches pay for marketing support or ads in the hope they can avoid the discomfort of actually talking to real people and risking rejection. Sorry, but it can’t be avoided! People do not sign up to coaches (who are low profile) based on ads or marketing companies spamming them. You’re going to have to do this bit yourself, in fact: it’s the only bit you MUST do yourself.
Hiring staff. You can do this business all on your own until you’re at least at 6-figure level. If the admin bogs you down, use free apps and online services to make life easier. But when you consider that all it takes to build this business is to reach out and serve people and then invite them to coaching sessions, all you really need is an internet connection, a calendar, and probably Zoom or Skype (if you plan to do online coaching). Maybe invest in a decent microphone too, especially if you’ll do video or audio content.
Creating online programs. You simply will not fill up online programs and courses unless you have a big audience already. Ignore the online hype about this – only high profile people make real money with programs. You are a 1:1 coach and nothing else until you make 6 figures a year, I can’t put it simpler than that. Programs and courses are for when you have a waitlist of high paying clients and need to maximise your time.
Running workshops and group projects. Now, this actually can be done in the first couple of years, but know that it will be the exact same process as creating 1:1 clients. You will be reaching out personally to each and every person, and talking with them in real time, before they enroll in your workshop. So overall this is only worth doing for experience and enjoyment because the cost-effort ratio isn’t really worth it until you’ve established yourself as a known name with a network of supportive affiliate companies/partners.
The only thing your business needs is whatever is required for coaching and building relationships through service. Anything else is above and beyond – an optional luxury that is expendable.
You can coach your friends and family. No one is “inappropriate” for coaching, objectively speaking. You don’t need to find complete strangers. In fact, your first 50-100 connections should be people you’ve already got in your network. I’ve had friends, cousins, and even ex-lovers become paying clients. The limitations are all in your head. Imagine living in a village and doing this before the internet: every client would be a friend, associate or family member. It can be done, and is actually easier than finding strangers.
Compromising yourself out of desperation for money costs more in the long run than it’s worth. There will occasionally be “easy” paycheck opportunities, such as signing up that enthusiastic but obnoxious client, or offering steep discounts because someone hesitated on the price. You will pay for this in the longer term with bad fit clients filling up your calendar, and sketchy, low-paying clients draining your bank account. Don’t fall for the temptation: only accept good fit, full paying clients. You don’t have to charge them everything up front, but don’t ever do discounts (you can break this rule later when you know what you’re doing). Payment plans are the way to manage financial limitations.
You don’t need to have your own life perfectly sorted to be a good coach. Fuck Imposter Syndrome. Coaching isn’t about being “better” than your client. At the start, you will often be more stressed and financially insecure than your clients. That’s OK – they don’t need you to be perfect, they need to you to help them find their own strengths to solve their own issues. Even a concrete statue of a coach would be helpful if someone spoke to it about their goals and insecurities once per week.
You haven’t been paid until the money is in your account. Someone saying Yes doesn’t mean anything. A real Yes is the money arriving in your account. Everything else is either a Maybe or a No. Don’t get too excited when someone says Yes. Be brave and check that they really mean it and aren’t just hyped up or people-pleasing.
You don’t need qualifications or other proof of your worth. People who ask for this stuff are, in my experience, usually nightmare clients. Most people will judge you based on the experience of coaching with you. If you’re awesome, they won’t give a fuck about your degree or coaching certification or lack thereof.
A successful coaching day for a new coach
First hour: reaching out to new potential connections and trying to serve them with valuable support, ideas, discussion, content and referrals. Aim for a minimum of 5 per day.
Second hour: serving people you’ve already established connections with. This could mean interacting in your Facebook group, or creating YouTube videos, or sending voice/video messages.
Third hour: self-care. YOU are the product, so take good care of it. This includes education, exercise, rest and relaxation, socialising, and hobbies. Don’t sacrifice these or your coaching will be less valuable.
Remaining hours: coaching sessions.
If there’s time: admin work.
This post was more about the business side of things; it assumes you are actually competent at coaching. But you can always improve, and here are some things I recommend learning about:
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
- Reflective Listening
- Motivational Interviewing Techniques
- The Naïve Enquirer – Socratic Questioning
- Attachment styles
- Imposter Syndrome
- Nice Guy Syndrome / People Pleasing Syndrome
- Triune Brain Theory
- Cognitive biases
- Strength-based psychology
- Eliciting Core Values
- Creating Cognitive Dissonance
- Rolling with Resistance
- Story telling
- Relapse prevention / addiction
- The Cycle of Change
Thanks for reading,
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