Clients! They’re the foundation of any successful coaching practice. But how do you attract them when you’re just starting out? And once you’ve got some experience under your belt, how do you continue generating new leads?
These questions keep many aspiring coaches awake at night. While coaching may be a profession that’s trending, that doesn’t mean we instinctively know how to shift an emerging practice from a side gig into a lucrative full time business. If you want to build a coaching business with staying power, you’ll need to develop a following. Step by step, we’re here to show you how!
STEP 1: NAIL THE BASICS
Know who you want to serve
Imagine a restaurant that served dishes from every imaginable cuisine. Think they would execute equally well across the board? Unlikely! Every so often, you might encounter a talented chef who can pull it all off. But for the most part, successful businesses specialize.
Why? Because people go in for Italian to get good pasta, Indian when they’re craving tikka masala, and Mexican if a chile relleno is what they are after. A restaurant is most likely to bring in regular customers when it’s clear what they are offering, and the cuisine itself showcases what the chef is best at. It’s no different with coaching.
People hire a coach to address a specific issue, interest, or problem. If you try to appeal to everyone, you’re less likely to attract new clients. Prospective clients want to know you have expertise in working through situations just like theirs.
As a coach, you probably have the skills to specialize in more than one thing. That’s great! But we would still recommend that you keep it simple for messaging purposes. Narrow down to 1-3 specialties, and focus the majority of your messaging around those. It’s likely going to get you better results over time than casting a wide net.
Convey your value clearly
Let’s talk about how you describe what it is that you do. If someone wants to work with you, where can they find information about your services? And what will they discover when they get there? The blunt truth is that you can have a gorgeous website and active social media presence, but still not connect with potential clients. A lot of coaching sites don’t actually say very much about the coach’s background, services, and results they can deliver.
Here’s the thing: it’s super fun to design logos, choose brand colors, and build a website or Facebook page. Unfortunately, that’s where it stalls out for many new coaches.
Investing in style over substance will not attract clients. If you want to stand out, do the hard work of laying out your value proposition in terms that potential clients can understand and relate to. Here are some questions to consider as you evaluate your messaging:
- What problems or challenges do your ideal clients have?
- What are they hoping to change or achieve?
- What skills, background, and personal experience do you have that qualify you to coach in those areas?
- Why is this important to you - what makes you want to serve people in this particular way? Did you face a similar challenge in your own life and overcome it?
- What is your personal style - what makes you unique?
- Does what you publish sound like something you would say in real life?
Today’s coaches are building profitable businesses entirely online, and you can too. It requires presence, a willingness to be visible, and consistent effort. One of the most common mistakes we see new coaches make is to set themselves up across every conceivable social media platform. In an effort to build an audience, you can easily end up spreading yourself too thin.
That’s why we recommend choosing 1-3 primary platforms and sticking to them. If you're using social media consider posting several times a week, at minimum. Some coaches post several times every day! If you try to do this across seven different channels, you’ll end up spending all your waking hours creating new content.
Think carefully about what you can maintain over the long haul. If that’s just one platform, perfect! Commit to doing that one thing exceptionally well, and you’re likely to see better results than someone who single-handedly attempts to maintain an active YouTube channel, blog, Facebook page, Instagram account, and weekly podcast.
Never underestimate the power of email
With so much emphasis on social media, a lot of coaches are skipping out on email lists entirely. While this might be a viable approach for you, we encourage you to have a clear philosophy about what that might mean for your business in the future.
Consider this: as you develop an Instagram or Facebook following… who actually owns your audience? Do you have any direct contact information for the people who like and follow your work? If Facebook were to suddenly close down, would your followers know how to find you? Would you have the ability to contact them?
Social is important, but it’s only one leg of a sturdy stool. Building an email list on a platform that you can control remains a smart business move for many coaches.
STEP 2: SHOW UP
Connect with fellow coaches
Have you come across the Instagram hashtag #communityovercompetition? With more than 4 million posts and counting, it’s clearly an idea that resonates. At JRNI Coaching, collaboration is a core element of our philosophy and approach to coaching. We’re committed to providing ongoing support to our coaches long after graduation because we know that being in community increases a coach’s likelihood of success. You can learn more about why having a coaching community is important here.
But wait, won’t connecting with other coaches dilute my business? Not a chance! In fact, networking with fellow coaches is a great way to showcase your skills and increase your credibility.
Building mutually beneficial relationships with others practitioners opens the door to innovation and partnerships of all kinds. You’re likely to get fresh ideas, exposure to new resources, and have the opportunity to see your work amplified in return.
Participating in a coaching network is also a potential source for referrals. And you never know when a coach you met in an online group might turn out to be the perfect co-facilitator for a group program you want to launch.
Offer your expertise... for free
Sharing your knowledge and skills on social media is a simple way to begin building an audience. Think about it: how many times every day do people you know repost articles and quotes on Facebook and Instagram? Where does that content come from?
People like you, that’s who! Creating bite-sized, shareable content that showcases your expertise, philosophy, life hacks, and unique perspective can help to expand your reach and grow your following.
Want to take it to the next level?
Consider offering a free giveaway - an e-book, webinar, guided meditation, or something else that can stand alone and give people a substantial taste of what you have to offer. How about a class, boot camp, or month-long group program that delivers real value to participants, with a next step if they want to go deeper into the work with you afterward.
You never know how offering a freebie or short program can reverberate down the line in referrals and future bookings.
Personal coaching is centered on human connection. This isn’t a business that you set up and then wait for the clients to come walking in. To build a robust client roster, you need to be out there actively delivering your message every week.
It’s been said that it can take 7-10 touches before a sale happens. When it comes to coaching, it often takes even more than that. Some people might follow you for a year before they reach out to schedule a session.
You want to be top of mind when someone in your audience decides they are ready to take action. So show up regularly online, post engaging content, respond to comments, participate in groups. It’s a busy marketplace, and there are many voices competing for attention out there. If you aren’t present, you can quickly fall off your audience’s radar (and their feed!)
Yes, it may feel like a grind sometimes. You might think you’re producing a lot of content and nothing is happening. Keep at it. For most of us, success doesn’t happen overnight. It requires that we have a plan, and stick with it long enough to see the seeds that we’ve planted begin to sprout!
STEP 3: EVOLVE
Throw out the rulebook
There’s no one way to do this. Some coaches have virtually no online presence, building their business instead through local connections and word of mouth referrals. Some create massive followings on Instagram. Others host popular podcasts. There’s a pathway that’s right for everyone, and no two coaches look quite the same.
Not having a formula can initially make building your client list and launching your practice feel harder. But the freedom to do things your own way is also part of the attraction! If some recommendation, technique, or approach doesn’t feel like “you”, trust your own intuition. It’s critical to approach marketing your coaching services in a way that feels authentic. One of the things most coaches love about this profession is the opportunity to do it your way.
It’s okay to change
We’ve recommended that you have clarity about who you want to serve. To choose a niche, and build your messaging around it. The purpose behind that is to help you connect with the people you want to serve right now. But it should never trap you inside a box.
You want to be solid about who your ideal client is so you can communicate with those people effectively. It’s also healthy to give yourself plenty of room to grow and expand. Life coaching is a dynamic and creative business. Many coaches begin in one specialty, and shift their focus over time. It’s completely normal!
Check out what JRNI Coaching founder John Kim (“The Angry Therapist”) has to say about the evolution of his own niche over time here.
STEP 4: AVOID COMMON PITFALLS
Beware of overwhelm
Growing a business from the ground up is no cakewalk. There’s a lot to do and some days it’s hard to know where to start. So what separates successful entrepreneurs from the ones who get bogged down and fail? Consistency, and learning to focus on just one thing at a time.
Ever heard the saying “there’s only one way to eat an elephant”? That’s what we’re talking about here. On days when it all feels like it may be too much, just take one small bite. Then another. Then another. That’s it. That’s all you have to do.
There’s no such thing as a shortcut
Sorry to disappoint, but we've yet to discover a secret formula for building a robust client list overnight! It’s best to avoid gimmicks that promise amazing results.
It all comes back to two very simple ingredients: discipline and hard work. Start with a solid grasp of your niche and messaging. If you need help defining these things, there’s a reputable array of quality training programs out there that can help.
At JRNI, our coach training program features a robust curriculum that walks students through how to do this in a meaningful and sustained way. We offer business development classes, essential sales skills and a host of marketing assistance for all our graduates. We also offer an abundance of free resources available for all coaches, whether you’ve participated in our programs or not.