Part 1: how to pick a good coaching course, a personal coach and a supervisor, how to find your first clients, how to start charging for coaching etc.
So you want to become a coach.
Maybe you got inspired by Tony Robbins or Marie Forleo (she’s my favorite, I must admit). Maybe you got ‘high’ during one of the self-development seminars you attended and would love to keep this feeling of freedom and creativity in your daily life. Maybe you’ve become an expert in your field and think coaching will be a logical (and less stressful) continuation of your career. Or, perhaps, you just want to give to others all that love and care inside you.
Anyways, you want to start earning a living through coaching and are looking for entry points.
I've been in your shoes a few years ago. Coaching is my sixth career. I’ve worked as a professional pianist, a business journalist, a political PR person, a digital marketer and consultant and an international entrepreneur. I’ve also changed five countries, so I know a thing or two about transitions. Yet, my transition to coaching has been far from linear and, let's face it, somewhat bumpy.
This is why I would love to share with you today some tips on becoming a coach that will hopefully save you time and effort and help avoid typical pitfalls of an early coaching career.
Coaching is the least standardized of all highly paid businesses. You’ve got hundreds of good coaches and thousands of those who think they are good coaches. Find good coaches and talk to them (hint – they are likely to have worked with reputable Fortune-100 organizations, and not only once). Ask them about what they do, how they got into coaching, which coaching courses they would recommend to attend, how they got their first clients etc. Be curious and open-minded, you never know where useful information will come from.
I’ve got my first coaching apprenticeship before I knew precisely what coaching was because I met somebody who was running a multimillion coaching business – and we simply happened to be going to the same dancing group!
Ask people who are already working with coaches and have worked with them in the past about their opinion and referrals.
Try visiting coaching community groups in your city (you can usually find them on Meetup, Eventbrite or similar sites). In London, the London Coaching Group is opened to all people interested in coaching and sometimes have interesting events at the charge of around 10 pounds. I prefer to attend monthly events of ORSC and The CTI Hub, which attract a great community, but they are more for people who have had some training.
Do you research and find people you like. I have visited a lot of different coaching groups before I stumbled upon those that seemed professional and valuable to me, so if you are not lucky from the first attempt, do not exclude coaching as a whole from your radar. Just keep on looking for more relevant communities. Again, coaching is the least standardized of all businesses, so you are likely to encounter a great deal of unprofessional people and organizations before you find your gems (but you will find them).
What NOT to do: coaches you’ll be talking to are very likely to try selling you their services. Good coaches will do it the way that you won’t notice you’re being sold anything. Bad coaches will simply be annoying. Do NOT buy anything from any of them yet – you need to have a clear picture of what’s out there first and see with whom you resonate the most.
Tip 2. Find a reputable school and visit it for a trial session (Hint: it won’t be cheap).
It's easy to get lost in the abundance of coaching schools offering all sorts of coaching courses. If you want a good school, you need to take into account the following:
- Accreditation the school has (the industry standard is ICF – International Coach Federation - accreditation, and I would be very careful with programs that do not have it or another recognized body accreditation).
- How long it has been running (the longer, the better - they have been out for a long time for a reason)
- Whether it has offices internationally (chances are, if it’s big and more established, the quality of teaching and community is better)
- How many alumni it has (again, the more the better) and what support the school offers after you’ve graduated. This is very important – I have personally discovered that staying in touch with your coaching community after the graduation is at least as valuable as the course itself! This is especially relevant if you live somewhere where there are no big coaching communities - make sure you pick a school that has a huge online community you can get in touch with at any time.
- What value you will get from your taster course (most schools offer one for free or at a lower price than a regular course). A reputable school will deliver some value during the taster course (and they are likely charge for it). A junk school will mostly use the course to sell you other trainings.
- How interactive your course is (you don’t want a lot of theory, coaching is all about practicing your skills).
I found my school (CTI, which turned out to be the biggest and oldest coaching school in the world) by pure chance through one of the coaches I talked to during my ‘research’ phase. Funny enough, at that time I stopped looking for a coaching school after a few months of continuous disappointment over the quality of other schools. CTI was charging even for the sample two-day course (which other schools didn't), provided a ‘moneyback guarantee’ in case you didn’t like the course (I obviously did). I got to my second school, CRR Global, having seen their presentation at one of the coaching group events.
The duration of the course should be less of an issue for you, although a standard coaching course will likely be something between 4 and 6 months (allow the same amount of time for accreditation). It also matters less whether the school is focusing on ‘life coaching’ or ‘career coaching’ or coaching for business, the basics are likely to be the same. You'll be able to customize the tools you'll learn to create your own coaching and marketing program.
To sum up, look less at the marketing and more at the substance. Unfortunately, some really good coaching schools in the UK considerably fail at self-marketing, at least online, whereas those selling aggressively offer less value.
What NOT to do: Watch out for schools that aggressively oversell and try to manipulate potential students (there are a few of them out there!). Signs of manipulation are as follows:
- Loud music/flashing lights/other room setup you cannot change or avoid
- They make you do things that an adult person normally wouldn’t do (i.e. cheer the course leader, repeat phrases after him) that regress you into a child
- You are not allowed to leave the room at any time (run away fast if this happens!)
- You are asked about intimate or painful episodes of your life at the first few hours of the course without a special setup or permission (in coaching training, these topics might come up at some point, but a professional course leader will always set up a safe environment to open and close such conversations)
- You are promised quick and powerful results instantly if you buy the course (no professional coach will ever guarantee you success and try to sell it to you)
- The course leader is making fun of or making humiliating remarks about one or more of the audience members
- If you resist doing something, you are told that you are just defending yourself (you are a coward etc) and pushed to do the exercise you don’t want to do
- You don’t feel well or comfortable at any point, although not sure why (our body is very wise and knows something is wrong before our brain gets it).
If the coaching course you attend shows one or more of these features, make sure you leave it as fast as you can, as it can be harmful for your mental and physical well-being. Again, I happened to visit a few of such courses and events, but luckily I had considerable psychological experience and was able to get out with no damage to myself. Such events have nothing to do with quality coaching and are often run by unprofessional people who never overcame their own traumas and try to compensate for them in the public space by offering such 'trainings'.
I personally would not recommend coaching courses that are built around the personality of one person as opposed to an organization, unless this person is very famous. In my experience, a one-man workshop substantially (although not always) increases the risk of a non-professional communication and abuse. However, this last one is a personal observation and might not be true for everyone.
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If you want to be a coach, you have to experience what it’s like to be coached. Unless you do so, you will have no idea about what it feels like to be a client, and how (s)he sees the dynamics of the coaching relationship (very different from the coach!). Walking your talk is crucial for a coach. If you believe that coaching works, you want to be your own example of its power. If you don’t think that coaching works, why do you want to be a coach in the first place?
So get yourself a coach (ideally the one your really like and who makes you inspired). I would also recommend getting the supervisor from the moment you get your first client (even if they are unpaid). The fewer mistakes you make at the beginning, the fewer ‘bad coaching habits’ you will get. I wish somebody told me from the very start not to be writing down every word my client is saying during the session as this only helps me lose the connection with the client.
You can also combine a coach and a supervisor at the early stages of your career. A coach is somebody who will look at all aspects of your life, whereas a supervisor will only look at you as a coach and how you work with your clients.
Your supervisor or coach can work with you either by skype, phone or in person (it doesn’t generally matter, although I prefer starting to work in person and when I know people better, move to Skype or phone).
How do you know someone is a good coach/supervisor for you or not:
1. You like them. You like how they talk and behave, how they make you feel, and you find them credible and respectful. There’s a chemistry between you two (this is by far the most important of all – you need to like your coach and supervisor and trust them).
2. They are very clear and transparent about what you can expect and not expect from working with them. Everything is well defined from the very start and nothing is left for ‘let’s get back to this conversation later’
3. They spend a considerable amount of time at the first meeting discussing what you are trying to achieve
4. They have a well-written contract (written in good English, no typos, everything is formulated in a concise and clear way understandable by a simple person)
5. They probably have a good website (good doesn’t mean complex, but they have clearly invested some time into building it)
6. They have a social position, and not just their own practice (i.e. a leadership role in the coaching community, teach somewhere etc) - not mandatory, but usually is a sing of a highly professional coach.
7. They continue their own self-development and regularly attend different courses
8. They are certified by at least one international professional body (i.e. ICF)
9. They are not over-promising or creating false expectations
10. They give you practical tasks and exercises and not simply talk during your meetings. You also get work between the sessions
They might be part of a bigger company or very likely running their own small practice (in the UK over 60% of coaching companies are one-man/woman shops). The ‘watch for’ signs for individual coaches are the same as for coaching courses and coaching schools – make sure you get a professional one!
What NOT to do: don’t try to get great service for free. Coaching and supervision is expensive, and good coaches know that and set their rates accordingly. They all have different pricing tiers though, so if you cannot afford a top one, you can still try to negotiate a lower one. Another option is to offer to the coach of your choice a barter agreement (which worked in my case). This is likely to work if you have a unique skillset or connections valuable for your coach. Do not let the price stop you, there’s always a way around. Just remember that what you pay is what you get and if someone is offering their service at a very cheap price, they are likely not a good coach for you. At the same time, just a high price does not guarantee that the person is a good coach - make sure you take into account all written above.
Tip 4. Practice makes perfect (especially when you charge for it).
Don’t think that having a coaching diploma (or two, or three) will make you a coach. What makes a real difference is hours (weeks, months and years) of practice. Like in journalism, you can graduate with a top-tier diploma, but you only become a journalist once you actually have your articles published. So make sure you get as much as practice as early as you possibly can. Some ideas where to take your clients from: friends of friends, colleagues and ex-colleagues, families and friends of your colleagues, local bartenders, community groups incl. online groups, charities. Offer them sample sessions. Schedule at least a couple of new ones every week.
Do NOT coach your close friends or relatives. Just don't.
I’ve got my first free clients posting among my contacts on Facebook and Linkedin and would have never thought that my first clients would be those who eventually signed up. I also had a chance to do some volunteer work for Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, which gave me confidence as a coach and mentor. Next clients came from the word of mouth, blog and networking events (it’s usually a combination of a few and can take some time - do not give up!). Getting your first non-monetary and then a first monetary client are by far the biggest milestones, which you want to pass as early as you can. After you've got the first person paying to you, everything becomes much much easier - so don't think too much and just go out there and do it. You already know more than any of them, even if you are not 100% professional yet - share it with the world!
What NOT to do: Do not offer your service for free even at the very beginning of your career. People tend not to value what they get for free and as a result, their progress (and discipline) will be lower. If you don’t feel like charging any money for your effort (why not though?), ask them for recommendations, or a box of chocolate, or anything symbolic in exchange for your time, if not your experience.
How do you set up the price? One of the best pieces of advice I’ve been given was to increase your fee by 5 pounds every time you pitch to a new client. So you start with something quite low (typically a price of a dinner in a good restaurant) and add 5 pounds to the price the next time you pitch to a client. You only increase the price next time once a client has accepted the previous price.
Tip 5. Forget about yourself. Forget about fixing your client, too.
Coaching is not about your ego, background or wisdom. It’s also not about how coaching someone makes you feel (although you have probably been attracted to the profession by this wonderful ‘state of the flow’, as many of us). Coaching is only done in service of your client and it’s only and always about your client, not you. This is by far the most important thing any decent coaching school or individual coach will teach you (and if they didn't, they are not a professional coaching school or coach, go away asap).
So if you think that as a coach you will get to teach people how to live, you’d better review your career plans. A milder version of self-centrism is thinking that there’s something wrong with your client and you can help him/her ‘fix’ it. Fixing is a very typical (and a very toxic) mistake that ex-consultants, ex-lawyers and other 'fixing' professions make when they first switch to coaching. If you try to 'fix' your client, you take all the responsibility for their progress on yourself, so don’t be surprised if your clients starts sabotaging their work.
At CTI, we’ve been taught to deal with it by repeating the mantra ‘People are creative, resourceful and whole’, which I find very useful. You will still make these mistakes as I do as it's a matter of habit, but at least become conscious of it.
What NOT to do: do not think that you are the smartest guy/girl in the room and can ‘fix’ your client. Remind yourself that people are creative, resourceful and whole. They don’t need to be fixed. They are perfectly fine just as they are. You are simply a mirror that helps them see their true self – make sure not to become a false one!
This is it for Part 1. In the next blog post, I look forward to sharing with you more tips on how to become a successful coach and avoid typical traps.