Coaching

If you like talking with people, you might consider becoming a coach.

The most rewarding thing about coaching is that it’s about helping people get what they want. They may hire a coach to improve an athletc skill, but more often, coaching is about personal transformation, or attaining goals such as a successful business, learning to have more fun, or attracting a lifelong mate. Maybe you’d enjoy helping people attain these things.
Even though there are many schools for coaching activities, such as business coaching and life coaching, most coaches aren’t credentialed. In most communities, and in most types of coaching, no licensing is required. This is good and bad. The bad is that anyone, even if they’re totally unqualified, can call themselves a coach. On the plus side, you may find that you are a very good coach, and there is nothing to stop you from helping people. Of course, if you can attend a coaching school, you’ll become an even better coach.

What is at least equally important as learning specific coaching techniques is an understanding of the field in which you are coaching, and an understanding of human nature.

As a coach, you are expected to teach the ins and outs of your specialty. If you are an ice skating coach, it is essential that you know the difference between a Lutz, a toe-loop, and an Axel jump.

If you are a business coach, it is more important that you have had some actual business experience, than to have simply attended a business coaching school. You have to know how to tell your clients when an idea needs shaping before it will be profitable, You need to be able to guide them into proper forms of advertising and publicity, avoiding those that would just waste their money. You need to know the difference between a good retail location, and one that will sink their business.

Yet some of the business school graduates just lead their clients through meaningless exercises, when what the client really needs is real-world business guidance.

It is important to know how to motivate people. In the old days, some coaches just yelled and nagged. Oh, they got the job done – sometimes. But modern coaches are generally more about the carrot than the stick.

Sometimes, what stops clients from doing what they need to do is deep in their subconscious. Sure, a person wants to lose weight, intellectually. But what if the weight is important to them in a hidden way? For instance, a person who may have been abused as a child may have learned that when overweight, they were no longer of interest to the abuser. Interestingly, as adults, although we can’t articulate these long-lost motives, they linger on levels we don’t normally access. The exceptional coach has some understanding of these underlying or core issues.

I recommend many of the self-help books by people like Dr. Phil McGraw and Bob Proctor. I’d also like to suggest a course in NLP – Neuro-Linguistic Programming.

Many kinds of coaching can be done entirely by telephone. A typical arrangement is one-hour weekly phone conversations, billed at $300 per month.

Many clients have trouble with that. Their business and their lives are unscheduled. Forcing them to be ready for a phone call Wednesdays at 2pm might be a hardship.

For these clients, I have developed a different arrangement. What I have done is offer 1/2-hour weekly phone conversations, not necessarily scheduled, but when they, or I, have the time. In addition, they can call or email any time as questions come up.

You see, the decisions a client may face can pop up at any time, often urgently. Waiting until Wednesday, just doesn’t make sense.

If you are coaching a sport, music, or something else locally, one of the best ways to get clients is word of mouth. You need a few clients to get things started. Putting a flyer on local bulletin boards, especially if there’s one at a natural food store in your area, and handing out business cards is a good way to start.

If you want to coach by phone, perhaps to a national or international clientele, you can build a website. However you also need people to discover your website. Most websites are cul d’sacs. They get three visitors a month, one of which is the author’s mother. It is better to create a simple little website so people can read the details about what you do, and find your phone number. Then, come up with other ways to bring people to your website. One way is to have a catchy phrase on a business card that you put into as many hands as possible. For instance, if you sell things on eBay, you can include a card with each item. Of course most business cards are thrown out right away. But perhaps one percent will bring people to your website – if your text on the card is attractive to the people you want to attract. You might also consider Google AdWords as a way to bring potential clients to your website.

Another way is to just have phone conversations with anyone who is a potential client or who knows potential clients. Your calls don’t have to be sales pitches. In fact, they shouldn’t be. There is a concept that’s been called “Selling With Heart,” in which you really want to benefit the person with whom you’re talking. You can offer free advice, or just be a friend and listen. In time, if the coaching you can offer is something that will benefit the person with whom you’re talking, it will be almost entirely natural to talk about that, and ‘close the sale.’ That’s because you both will have discovered that you will both win. You get the client, the client gets the coaching. No high-pressure pitch was ever required, and probably wouldn’t have worked anyway.

The same thing can be done with email. You can be curious about everyone you exchange email with. You might wonder whether they are interested in advancing in their field. If so, you might wonder whether they’d be interested in coaching enough to pay for it. If so, you might explain that you’re just starting out as a coach, and would love to take them on as a client. If it doesn’t work out, you can just enjoy the conversation. And, interestingly, they’ll remember who you are and what you do. When they have a friend who needs your coaching, they’ll make the initial contact for you with enthusiasm.

You can enjoy gathering your local clients using the same general ideas. Once you make contact with people, the rest can be as easy as falling off a log. To meet new people with whom you might have conversations, it helps to be out in public as much as you can. Join activities at your church, chamber of commerce and other business networking groups, go to talks and lectures – lingering to talk with people afterward, actually talk with people you bump into at coffee shops, supermarkets, and so on.

This kind of networking can be horrible, if that’s your mindset. Or, it can be a lot of fun! Who can you remember that really enjoys talking with strangers? What is that person getting out of it? Why is it so enjoyable for that person?

Once you have perhaps three clients, they’ll start telling their friends about you, and business can grow, often quickly. But more often it grows slowly.

Whether you’re coaching by phone or in-person, you can do some things to speed up your business.

First, you’re probably in contact with a number of people who have an interest in what you can coach. You can offer them free advice or even coaching for a little while. You can imply, or state outright, that you’d like them to tell their friends that you’ve hung out your coaching shingle. I tell clients to ‘tell the truth’ about my service. I want them to be honest and forthright, since that’s the best kind of referral. Ultimately, most referrals come from friends, associates or family of clients.

You might consider teaching at community adult education centers or offering workshops and seminars. These positions often pay little, or nothing, but it can be a great way to pick up your first few clients.

The first clients are the only hard ones to get. One reason is that you may be nervous about doing everything right. Here’s a little trick that will help:

Start with friends and family (Keep good, clear boundaries) if appropriate, working for free. Or, advertise. If your first potential clients bulk about the price, or your lack of experience, offer your services for a very low cost, while letting them know that later on, if they’ve grown from what you’re doing, you intend to charge the full price.

Many practitioners frown on reducing prices or even working for free as you are starting out. They say that this only encourages the low-economy people, and you’ll find yourself stuck in that class forever. Not true. Well, it could be true, if you let it. But in fact, as you fill your schedule, you can start charging more, dropping or graduating clients who can’t pay the full amount, and only taking new clients who can afford to pay the full price. That will happen, guaranteed, if you wait long enough. Also, while you’re working with the free and low-price people, you’re gaining experience, so when the full-price people do come along, you’ll be more experienced, and they’ll be getting their money’s worth. And, as your practice builds, your confidence will build. Trust me on that!

Those coaches who refuse to offer discounts at the beginning typically spend their first year with very little to do. You might as well be busy getting practice and helping some people, don’t you think?

Most experienced coaches offer a free initial session, or a free introductory phone call. When you’re starting, one technique that works particularly well is to extend that into an entire free month.

My version was to offer a free month. Then, at the end of the first month, if they liked it, or felt they were benefitting, they could pay for it, and then I’d give them the next month free, and so on. So, in a manner of speaking, they were always paying for the previous month, not the upcoming one.

This worked quite well. In fact, I had a number of clients that I thought had gotten nothing out of what I was offering (this was before I learned NLP). I was almost embarrassed, but they went ahead and purchased month after month. Some had smaller breakthroughs, but were happy with the progress. Others just liked having a professional to talk shop with. Some simply needed someone to listen.

Really. I had one fellow who I wanted to drop after three or four months because I was sure I wasn’t doing him any good. He made no measurable progress from one month to the next. He practically begged me to keep him on. Seems he really enjoyed the phone calls and was totally happy paying for my time.

That’s a reason that coaching builds exponentially for most people. The coach with one year of experience asks the 5-year coach, “How did you get so many clients?” The 5-year coach, forgetting how few and far between his first clients were, tells the 1-year coach, that it’s like falling off a log. The clients just come out of the woodwork.

Like many other businesses, it is easy to be discouraged at first. I have seen many cases of self-sabotage, even among business coaches, who you would think would know better. I myself, have suffered from it. The coach with one year experience still feels various forms of low self-confidence. (I won’t go into all the reasons here, see the NLP information.)

To tell you a brief story, when I was starting out as a business coach, I thought it would be great to have a business coach for myself. Of course I’d make more progress in developing my coaching business, plus I could learn techniques from my coach. So I called around. I called the people who I thought were the six best business coaches for me, based on their websites. I never reached a live person in my phone calls. It was answering machines every time. Of the six, four never called back! One did later in the day, and was apologetic that he didn’t know more about this, wasn’t useful in cases of that, and so on. OK, thank you very much! The last guy called back three days later, was brusque, and acted, well, like he was acting. I’m pretty sure he had very few clients, as do most people who call themselves business coaches. But, for the life of me, I couldn’t get him to tell me what he could do for me, how he could help, what he had done for others, etc.

So, why do so many coaches have few clients? Self-sabotage, the biggest form of which is patience. If you continue to put yourself out there, continue to treat everyone who calls well, and do it for a year or two, you will, eventually, have a full clientele.

There are other forms of self-sabotage. One version is “I don’t enjoy this sort of work.” You’ve got to ask yourself if you’d rather keep doing what you are doing, or visit an NLP practitioner and see what’s going on in the deeper levels so you can discover what’s stopping you from doing the work you love, or at least enjoy somehwat.

Another version goes something like, “I’m not good enough.” Or, “They’ll will figure out that I’m an impostor.” Or, “They’ll find out that I’m a fake – that I dont’e relaly know what I’m doing!”

Much of that is rooted in childhood issues. But let’s drill into the cognitive here-and-now part for a minute. First, I’d like you to imagine lining up in your imagination 20 men and women who are successful in the subject you’d like to coach. Now, point to the ones who know everything about everything in their field. Right, no one knows everything.

I was once on the set of a Warner Brothers movie. At one point, the very famous and powerful director asked the director of photography a question about the lighting. The director of photography answered back, “I don’t know, Joel.” Just like that. No embarrassment for not knowing. Just simple truth. Did the director fire him? Heck no. This director always works with that director of photography. He appreciates the honesty, knowing he won’t get a story when he needs facts.

Honesty is the best policy. If the director of photography took a guess or made something up, he might wreck the shot, and that would cost Warner Brothers thousands of dollars.

So what if you were always like that with your clients? At first, some might balk. You might even lose some that need more than you know. That’s OK. There will be others who like you very much, and respect and need the things you do know.

“Those who can, do. Those who can’t teach.” I’m sure you’ve heard that saying. I take it to mean that the real skill is teaching in many cases. And a coach is often a teacher. However, often a teacher is only a chapter ahead of the class. Teaching isn’t really about passing knowledge along. It is about setting the environment up in such a way that students can learn. It is about inspiring and encouraging. Of course it helps to know the subject matter well. But there have been so many cases where students who are taught in the most general terms learn exactly what they need to learn.

A. S. Neill, who had an experimental school for children called Summerhill, never taught the children to read. Instead, he made books available, let them feel how exciting it would be to read, and just let the kids learn on their own. And they all did! It was the same with math, interpersonal skills, history, and so on.

So, a coach, like a teacher, makes learning possible. Many coaches really go to great lengths in letting their clients discover things for themselves. The coach asks properly designed questions, so that the clients feel they have discovered things and made their own decisions. Therefore, the clients own their actions, and can be proud of them, which of course encourages more productive actions.

In fact, a coach isn’t a teacher. At least that’s not the coach’s primary duty. First and foremost the coach is a supporter, encourager, confidant, cheering section, even a professional friend – everything it takes so that the client feels fully empowered to move forward confidently and successfully.

So, if you have a reasonable knowledge in your field, and if you have great people skills, you may not be an ‘impostor’ at all, but the very best person to coach others.

In fact, I have heard of coaches that graduated from coaching schools that were fired by their clients because ‘they just didn’t get it.’ These coaches presented all the techniques. They ran the clients through exercises, played little fun games, and talked the way they were taught. But they didn’t move the clients forward. Then there are coaches who are really unqualified – well, OK, they have a lot of experience in, and know the details of the field they’re coaching, but they haven’t been trained professiosnally. They just have a good handle on human nature. These are often the coaches who have clients that attain their goals.

You can see this all the time in sports. The best ice skating coaches are former ice skaters who have never learned a single thing about coaching. This is not to say that learning coaching skills wouldn’t make these coaches even better, of course.

So, do you have people skills? Do you have knowledge in a specific field? Maybe coaching is for you.

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