In the last of my three posts on coaching, I'm considering this question: is becoming a coach is a good idea?
As you may have read in my post the F word, I trained for three years with respected coach training company Coach U. Despite working my socks off for those three years and already being a freelance trainer, I was unable to get a coaching business off the ground.
I'm not alone. If you're thinking of becoming a coach, you'll want to read this blog post 'I've got my coaching qualifications, now what?' by successful business coach Heather Townsend, which starts with:
"I heard yesterday that from a class of 22 coaches, from a big respected coaching training provider, two years after graduating only eight were still pursuing a coaching career. Out of those eight, most people were scrabbling around for clients, and no-one had cracked how to earn a six-figure income as a coach."
So what's going wrong? Heather says that you need a relationship and a trusted brand to get clients and I completely agree. But there are other hurdles faced by new coaches that are rarely mentioned in the coaching community.
1. There is a huge number of trained coaches out there
Listening professions are popular, because it's a wonderful feeling to be able to help others and understanding how another person ticks is fascinating. Similar professions such as counselling and psychology also have more trained practitioners than there is work out there.
Unlike the other listening professions, coach training isn't a academic qualification, so entry onto a course is virtually guaranteed if you have the money to pay for it. Hence there are so many coaches out there.
2. It's a difficult service to sell
Ten years ago people would have said "So you're a coach? What's a coach?" because it was so new. Following many television programmes and magazine articles, people are familiar with the term 'life coach' but still don't really understand what coaching is. TV and magazines cannot demonstrate the intense listening and skill involved, so what you see being delivered are advice and quick solutions. "So you have a problem with over-spending? Sounds like it's because your parents split up when you were a child".
Even if people understand the value of the coaching process, one-to-one coaching is an expensive service to buy. This limits who is able to afford it. It also means that prospective clients need to trust that you will really deliver the goods before they part with that much cash. Which takes us back to Heather's point about building a relationship.
So what are 'the goods' when it comes to coaching? You'll hear coaches using phrases like 'fulfilling potential' (true enough), but if I offered to help you fulfil your potential, would you give me several hundred pounds a month to help you do it? Not very convincing, is it? Now if I offered you a personal development course with a list of lessons, aims and objectives and explained that if you did all the homework I set, you would almost certainly get a pay rise of a few thousand pounds a year, would you be more inclined to get out your credit card?
My point is not that training is better than coaching – you could achieve similar objectives with both. Just that with coaching it's hard to explain what you're going to do and what your client will get for their money, let alone get them to buy. As most newly trained coaches have no business or marketing experience, this is a big problem.
3. There isn't much demand
Coach training providers will tell you that the potential for coaching is huge because everyone wants to be happier and more successful. The problem is that you can get the same kind of 'stuff' as is covered by coaching in other formats – TV, magazines, self help books, websites and so on. And all for a tiny fraction of the cost or for free. Not only do most people not have the money to pay for one-to-one coaching, they don't see the need. And as I said, explaining the benefits is very difficult.
A friend may ask you if you know a good plumber or accountant. But have you ever been asked if you know a good life coach?
You could try to create a demand, but that's an uphill struggle compared with giving clients what they actually want.
It sounds rather bleak doesn't it?
It's not impossible, just very tough. Hard work and being good at coaching are not enough.
There are successful coaches out there and this is how you could join them:
- If you have a strong human resources, learning and development or senior management background, you could use your network and reputation to build a corporate coaching business.
- If you have a marketing or PR background, you have an advantage as you know how to reach potential customers and convince them to buy your service. Plus businesses will always want to know how to get more customers, so you have knowledge to share.
- You could coach people on your field of expertise e.g. a writing coach, weight loss coach, marketing coach. Providing there are enough people who are interested in that subject and they want to pay you.
- If you have a lifestyle or attitude that people aspire to e.g. you made a fortune and retired before you were 40 or you have a spiritual or philosophical outlook that others want. This is a tough one, as you've either got that something special or you haven't.
- You are already a successful consultant and add coaching as another technique in your toolkit.
It's rare to find a coach who has had a complete career change. Most have added it on to skills, experience or a business they already had. In other words, they already had marketable skills before they became coaches. Coaching is just another way of delivering their expertise.
Got any thoughts on this? Let me know what you think.