Stop thinking like a coach and start acting like an entrepreneur : how to build your coaching business and enjoy it

It was a day that we all remember, one that changed our lives forever and it was also the first day of my new business. It was 11/9/2001.  I didn’t work at all for the next three days, glued to my TV like the rest of the world and yet I knew I had to do something as this was the first time in my life I didn’t have a salary. So Blackberry at the ready I launched what has now become The Coach House.

It turns out that my previous career in media sales was what helped me most in the early days and its this and a few other realizations that I want to share with you, to help you develop and grow your business.

1. Get comfortable selling yourself. If you’re not, go and work elsewhere because people are going to spend money with you- not the logo, not your carefully crafted and laminated values but with you because of what you can do for them.

Years ago at a huge pharma company I was one of 20 exec coaches going through a selection process and we were asked to outline our coaching philosophy and specialist skills, one coach said they felt they shouldn’t have to do this and that it felt boastful. One down, 19 to go…..

Being able to articulate your offer, demonstrate your capability in action and talk with passion about what your achievements are is essential. Your clients and organisations need to understand how you would add value. If that feels like a step too far at first ask yourself

“what do I love about being a coach?” and those answers will often help you develop your pitch.

2. Have a plan even if its on a post-it note. Plans scare some of us, I definitely have a foot in that camp. But we do need a direction, a purpose, a way to decide how we will spend our days if nothing else.

Plans don’t have to be forever, and writing it down doesn’t mean it can’t change and shift along with your vision and ideas. Harvard Business School cite adaptability, risk tolerance and comfort with failure as three of their top ten characteristics of entrepreneurs and for me that’s where these sit- in planning.

Create a plan that outlines what you’re trying to achieve, evaluate the risks and get honest with yourself about what you feel you can tolerate and know there will be some bumps in the road. Then get excited about this plan, its your plan this time and no one else’s!

3. Don’t be niche at first. I’m going against traditional views here but hear me out. When you go it alone its daunting so if you can get your first contract doing a bit of what you did before coaching as a way in or some entry level assignments despite your executive experience, then do it.

I peddled my wares as a sales and management trainer in the early days with coaching as my new secret weapon. Once clients could see the benefits from some of those conversations it became the larger part of what I did and less of a risk for them to invest in. Demonstrate your value in every interaction.

Then start to define your offer, I think a broad offering to begin with can help as it opens up more opportunities. As you take on more work you can decide how you might specialize based on the enjoyment of the work and/or the revenue it generates.

4. Invest in you. For maybe the first time you get to choose what you learn, who from and how. If you want to learn about cognitive psychology on a retreat in Bali, you can. Choose things that interest you as making time for learning can be hard alongside the rest of life but when its something you like then you find the time.

I benefitted from getting a few tools like psychometrics in my toolbox, allowing me to offer different solutions, a new perspective and variety for clients. Along with tools you might enjoy a deeper dive into the psychology that underpins coaching or become accredited in a coaching methodology.

So just keep learning. It enables us to do more, be more and charge more.

5. Play nicely with others– a phrase my mum often used and she was right. You will have worked in teams before, managed them probably and even if that’s something you want to leave behind in your new entrepreneurial life you’re going to need support.

Join business or networking groups that are interesting and then be a good member, contribute and find your tribe. Those connections will help you build your confidence and be your marketers, and you can do the same for them.

Demonstrate your values as a coach and role model the behaviours that are important to you, you’re more likely to get that in return.

You will be a good coach, a great one even but you have made a decision to start a business so shifting into that start-up mentality will be what increases your success.

Even in the toughest times: 9/11, two recessions, COVID, losing my folks.. creating this business has been the best thing I’ve ever done. I get to dream a bit bigger, work with people and clients that I genuinely love and do more of what makes me happy.

Now its your turn.

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