How to Get Started as a Coach
It was a cold and cloudy day in Toronto. Jason, Mike and I sat at the long table, pushed back our plates, picked up our mugs, and finished dinner.
Want to listen? There's an audio version below
Throughout the conversation that followed, the three of us discovered that combined, we'd spent over $20,000 on conferences, classes, and training, and had spent almost 15 years studying our craft. We'd each traveled to multiple countries, touched multiple coasts, and ended relationships (but built way more), all in the pursuit of the knowledge and experience that would help us build our businesses.
The reason I share that story is to illustrate how three entrepreneurs and owners have built successful businesses by investing in their learning. If you're not investing in yourself, oftentimes with money (and sometimes with money you don't have), you will struggle in life. And, more specifically, if you're not learning, you shouldn't even try to get started as a coach.
Licensing & Certifications
About a year ago, one of my coaching clients asked me if I thought she should get certified as a Life Coach. In fact, she asked me if I wanted to split a 2-for-1 deal, that would certify us both for $197.
Before declining her offer, I asked,
“Suzy, have you asked me, even once, if I was certified?”
In some industries, you need to be certified. You need to pass a test and get rubber-stamped as having a minimum level of skill so you can do your job. In other industries, you're not even allowed to work until you've gotten the approval of a board, an association, or some other almighty group.
Coaching is not one of those industries. And, that's both a good thing and a bad thing.
In my opinion, most certifications, most degrees, and most certificates of achievement are nothing more than someone else trying to insert themselves into a position of authority over you.
“You either have our blessing, or you don't.”
And that's how most people treat their education. They want and pay for the stamp of approval from a higher power, and the education is secondary. If they can “pass the test,” they'll be worthy of doing what they could or should have been doing all along.
In five years of coaching, no one has asked me if I was certified. My results, and the results I help my clients get, apparently speak for themselves. You do not need a certification or some blessing from on high in order to share your knowledge, teach what you know, or leverage your expertise and experience.
How to Get Started as a Coach
At the most basic of levels, all you need to get started as a coach is knowledge the other person doesn't have. How much knowledge is the question.
In my experience, you don't need all that much more knowledge or experience to be able to turn around and offer guidance to the people behind you on the journey. However, most people don’t want to pay someone who's only a few steps ahead of them. And, the further ahead you are, generally, the more you can charge (but typically you also have more knowledge).
Five years ago, I charged my first coaching client less than $500 for 4 calls. Today, I charge $5000 for 15 calls. However, in the past five years, I've learned and developed, invested thousands of dollars in my education, spoken at colleges and conferences, and spent hundreds of hours working with people to build their businesses.
At the beginning of this post, I mentioned my friends and fellow entrepreneurs, Jason and Mike. If you want to get started as a coach, all you need to do is what they've done, and all you need is knowledge, experience, expertise, tools, or tricks that someone else needs.
Then you sell it to them.
How I Got My First Coaching Client
On one hand, the way I got my first client is NOT in perfect alignment with what I now teach and coach my clients to do. On the other, it's in PERFECT alignment with what I teach.
My first coaching client came to me.
By the time my first coaching client sent me a message on Facebook, I'd been blogging for over a year. I'd been sharing my message of personal development, leadership, and entrepreneurship, on a (semi) regular basis for 15 months. Before she hired me, my first client had had the opportunity to learn who I was, discover what I stood for and what I was about, and whether or not she believed I could help her get her business off the ground.
As I said in this post, and in my book Exit Strategy, content marketing is the most effective way to build a business in today's online and always-connected world. So, in that regard, how I got my first coaching client was in perfect alignment with what I teach.
And just so we're on the same page, the only way this client was not in alignment with what I teach is that I didn't reach out to her and offer her my expertise. What I coach people to do is to think of their products and services as the glass of what thirsty people need, and to go find those people and help them.
If you don't believe that what you have is valuable, no one will ever buy it.
What Your Coaching Clients REALLY Care About
In my opinion, coaching is not where one person makes the other person feel good about themselves. Coaching is not when one person, the client, tells the other person, the coach, all of their problems and the challenges they're facing, and the coach says, “it's ok” “you'll be fine” “It's not your fault,” or any of that other nonsense.
People don't hire coaches because they want another friend…
You can't be successful, at anything, if you don't first accept that you are in charge. You get what you get because you do what you do. Yes, things can and do happen TO us, but, for the most part, we're in charge. Most people simply don't want to accept that.
My approach to coaching has three parts, and each serves the goal, which I'll share in just a moment.
One part whistle – Coaches should make their clients do things they don't want to do. Not only do we only grow when we're pushed (or pulled) out of our comfort zones, but the things we are currently doing are delivering what we're currently getting.
My favorite coaches growing up, the ones who led our teams to multiple championships and to the highest competitive levels, were the ones who made us do things we hated doing but that were necessary for success. They made us do push-ups and run laps in 110-degree heat. They made us practice and do drills and weave in and out of cones when it was 30 degrees.
Who wants to do push-ups until their arms ache? Who wants to do wind sprints until they're gasping for air? Who wants to lift weights until they can barely stand?
Effing no one.
But are we better for it?
Coaches push us further than we would have pushed ourselves, and we are more prepared and better equipped to achieve amazing things because they do.
One part pom-poms – Coaches should also be cheerleaders. They should be the guy on the sidelines rooting and cheering for their clients. A good coach sees what the person on the field cannot see, and helps call plays and develop strategies so the clients can win.
I have very high standards; even my wife will tell you I'm not the most encouraging person. However, when it comes to working with my clients, I try to celebrate every small win and wave my pom-poms with every step forward. I want my clients to want to work with me, and I do my best to cheer them on and celebrate every milestone they achieve.
One part couch – Coaches should also listen to legitimate frustrations their clients are experiencing. My philosophy is that we can't be good business owners if we're all jacked up in the head. I approach every situation with an agenda to understand what caused the issue before we work on fixing it.
“A wise man looks not where he fell, but where he stumbled”
– Chinese Proverb
Some people might think this approach focuses too much on the past and not enough on the future. I think we can't avoid future problems if we don't know what caused past problems, and that we've got to get our heads right before we can get our businesses right. My degree is in psychology, and I bring my knowledge in this area to every conversation, every client, and every coaching call.
To summarize, my coaching method is one part the guy in the gym with a whistle making you climb ropes and run lines, one part cheerleader with the pom-poms rallying behind you, and one part psychologist who has you lay on the couch to talk about your childhood. In my experience, these three components work really well to help people get what they REALLY want, which is…
… People hire coaches because they want results.
If You Want to Get Started as a Coach…
If you want to coach people, you need to do (at least) these three things.
First, you must invest in learning and personal development.
can't shouldn't coach someone about growing a business if you haven't grown a business yourself. You shouldn't coach people about making money with your podcast if you haven't made money with your own podcast. You shouldn't coach someone about how to lose weight if you're overweight yourself.
People do each of those things, and I think they're scam artists.
Second, you must clarify what you can deliver.
If you can't quantify it, you won't be able to charge for it. If you can't articulate how you're going to help someone, you won't be able to sell it. If you want to get started as a coach, spend time getting better at selling, so you can clearly describe how you will help someone achieve what they were not able to achieve on their own. And the further you can progress someone, the more value you'll add, and the more you can charge them.
Third, you must ask for what you want.
For the past few years, I've written end-of-year summaries of what's worked in my business and what I've done to grow. Every year, asking customers to work with me (ie selling) has been a key component.
The world is too big and the internet is too saturated for you to sit back and wait for someone to ask you to coach them. Sure, it happens, but you can't build a business based on the possibility your clients will discover you. If you can solve someone's problem, say so.
And don't be shy about asking for business either. If you truly believe you can help someone out of a jam, but you sit back and let them suffer, you're an asshole.
It would be like seeing someone on the side of the road with a flat tire, but, instead of stopping, you drive by slowly while waiving your jack out of the window and talking about your own tires.
It would be like watching your friend lose their house to foreclosure while saying, “Aww, that sucks,” all while having the ten-step guide to getting out of debt and saving money sitting on your desk.
If you want to get started as a coach, you've got to study, know what you can deliver, and offer to help.
A lot of people think they can be a coach, but most of them can't. Coaching is hard. Working with people is hard. Selling knowledge instead of a product is hard. And, telling people what they need to hear, not just what they want to hear, is, you guessed it – hard. But it's also very rewarding.
If you'd like work with me, you can view my coaching page and submit your application at https://www.ellorywells.com/coach.