I’m nervous writing this post. It’s going to offend some people. It’s going to hurt some people. And, it’s going to – dare I say it – crush some people’s dreams. But it has to be said. Because there are things they don’t tell you in coaching school about starting a life coaching business (or any business really, but let’s focus on the life coaches, because you are often the ones who have such big hearts — and dreams — and who are often most defeated by the reality of running a coaching business).
To preface all this, let it be known that I really believe in the power of life coaching. There’s a reason I spent over $8000 getting trained in several different modalities. Coaches do good work and change lives.
Life coaching is a really, really tough sell as a business. In fact, I’m gonna go so far as to say that ‘life coaching’ is NOT actually a business.
Coaching is a SKILL that you learn. Like graphic design. Or organization. Or teaching.
It is not a business in and of itself.
I see SO many people quitting perfectly good jobs and ditching perfectly good skills because they have decided they want to start a life coaching business to help other people realize their dreams and become their most authentic, powerful selves.
And then they struggle to get clients because no one knows what the fuck they are talking about when they explain to people what they do as a life coach, because all of a sudden they’re talking in higher level concepts when most of us down here are just trying to figure out how to get our damn problems solved.
And then they come to me asking me how they can make it work. How they can generate a full time income in 3-6 months (because that’s all they’ve left themselves for savings). How they can become overnight successes like so-and-so.
And it drives me up the wall.
Not the fact that they are coming to me asking for help. I LOVE that my clients are so passionate about building businesses and doing awesome work in the world. What drives me up the wall is that somewhere out there, someone is feeding us all lies about how if you’re passionate about something, you can turn it into a business. That if you just BELIEVE in the power of your dream, you can do anything you want to do.
And I’m calling bullshit.
Passion does not = profit.
And, I totally understand where all the life coaches are coming from, and why they believe that it should be pretty easy to build their new coaching business.
Life coaches – don’t lie. We ALL sat in our coaching school classes with our calculators when we first heard how much we’d be able to charge as life coaches.
$300-500/month for one client? (Does some quick math). You mean I’d only need 9 or 10 clients a month to make some pretty good money? Sweet! I’ll be able to reel those in within the next few months for sure! Bring it on entrepreneurship!
When I first starting coaching at The Uncaged Life, I was stoked to have 4 clients. I remember thinking “5 more, and I’ll be smooooth sailing.”
And then one of them dropped off.
And then one of them kept cancelling and pushing back her sessions, so our one month fee was spread over 2 months.
And then another had to put her sessions on hold indefinitely.
And where the hell were the other 5 clients that I’d thought it would be so easy to get?
All of a sudden, the idea of getting and KEEPING 10 clients felt impossible. Especially if I was going to have 10 clients all the time, forever. It felt like a hustle that I just didn’t want to be a part of.
What they don’t tell you in coaching school? Is that “life coaching” is a really, really hard sell.
I know some excellent life coaches – they’ve written best-selling books, they’ve got 75k+ likes on Facebook, they’ve done everything right, business-wise – they have more of a reach than I will ever have in my business – and they still struggle to get clients. They are still living month to month. And they have to hustle every damn day to find new ways to make coaching a viable gig.
Why? Because they are generalized “life coaches”. And life coaching isn’t something that people really “get”.
The most important thing that life coaches need to understand is that coaching is NOT a business – it’s a skill that you will use, combined with your other expertise, to help solve a particular problem.
If you don’t have a niche, and you’re offering really vague, intangible results, you’ll be hard pressed finding and keeping enough clients to pay the bills. (If that sounds like you, I can help with that).
I’ve seen it too many times – from the time I was in coaching school, to the clients I work with now – highly skilled, intelligent people, feeling inspired by the transformation that comes when you learn new coaching skills (because learning coaching is like a whole personal development course on it’s own!), who decide that they just MUST leave their jobs and become life coaches, so that they can help other people realize the power of coaching.
Do not – I repeat DO NOT – ignore all your past experience and knowledge. And don’t quit your day job just yet.
The other (hard) truth is that any tangible skill is about 10000x easier to market than coaching is, so for the love of buddha, don’t give those up completely to become a life coach.
If you want to make coaching work as a business, you need to bring in all your other expertise, experience, and skill, and use THAT to drive your business. And DEFINITELY being your PERSONALITY and strengths to your business.
If you have tons of experience going speaking gigs – focus your business around coaching other people through their speaking gigs.
If you’re a marketing genius, or a design ninja, or have other skills that are actually marketing and TANGIBLE – find a way to create a business around them, and use your coaching skills to help you develop better client relationships.
If you were in charge of hiring for a major organization and have experience writing and reviewing resumes that get you hired – focus your coaching around that in your business.
If your life experience has been unique – you’ve lost a child, you’ve mastered the art of negotiating for a higher position or salary, you were a successful musician – bring that expertise into your business and use it to carve out your niche.
The truth is that people will be coming to you because of YOU and what you have accomplished. Your story is important. Your skills and expertise are just as important. And while coaching isn’t about telling people what to do – sometimes people will need guidance, advice, and hand holding. And you are 100% allowed to be their coach, their mentor, their teacher, and their advisor.
And yes – you might be veering away from what you learned in coaching school, but you will also be fast-tracking your business success by playing to your strengths and personality.
Let’s call out the elephant in the room: The majority of coaches who are killing it in business are doing one of several things:
1. They coach and/or mentor other coaches
2. They coach small businesses
3. They coach executives within organizations
In other words, they are coaching people who value coaching, and are willing to pay for it. This is not your average person. $500/month for open-ended, undefined results is a hard, hard sell for the average person.
There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with coaching coaches, businesses, or execs. The only problem is that we can’t ALL be doing it, nor do we all have to do it to make coaching work.
There are definitely other coaches out there who are working with ‘regular’ people and making it work. It IS possible.
And those coaches who are doing it – they have realized that their OTHER skills are just as important as their coaching skills, and they’ve been willing to step away from the traditional “coaching rules” (i.e. never giving advice, the client has all the answers, etc etc). and have combined their unique expertise with their coaching skills to help their clients in a whole new (and very specific) way.
I also guarantee that those coaches who are making it work have paid their dues, niched the hell in, created custom packages, and worked their asses off learning everything they could about how to run a business – and then they stuck with it through the ups and downs, made sacrifices and let go of some of their idealistic visions of what it would look like, and gave themselves permission to show up fully as themselves – even if that meant breaking some of the coaching rules.
As my friend Kira (who has had her relationship/singles coaching biz for 6 years, and just went full-time with it within the past 1.5-2 years of that) said to me when I was discussing this blog post with her:
“This is hard as fuck. You have to be willing to throw tons of love, energy, money, blood, sweat, and tears into this before anything actually happens. Give it at least 3-5 years, and in that time, you’d better get to know about business. And don’t even talk to me if you you’re not willing to pick a niche”
^^ Spoken like a true hustler! And someone who doesn’t coach other coaches, or businesses, and has chosen to niche in and has made it work.
You do NOT have to coach other coaches or coach businesses to make it work. But you DO need to realize that life coaching in and of itself is not your business, and be willing to take some time to excavate what your true expertise really is.
Here’s what you can do to make the life coaching business easier on yourself:
- Get specific about who you work with and what problem you solve for them.
- Learn to talk about coaching in everyday language – drop the jargon STAT.
- Stop doing open ended, ongoing coaching. It’s hard to sell and doesn’t get you known for anything. Learn the common mistakes people make in creating packages, and then don’t make them.
- Create ONE specific package for a specific market (based on your unique expertise) and get really, really good at it. Build a solid client base, and THEN you can expand.
- Work with someone who knows the industry and can help you fast track your success – you don’t have to spend year struggling to figure it out.
And in the meantime, keep your day job.
Or, do as I did when I started my business, and go GET a job. The hustle is SO much more fun and easy when you don’t have the pressure of making a full-time income on your shoulders. Especially if you have a family, or bills, or other financial responsibilities that you can’t just drop out of. I beg you – don’t stop doing what pays the bills just yet.
You CAN and WILL build a business that sustains you. But it will take time.
So here’s to celebrating coaches everywhere.
Celebrating life coaches who are ready to take coaching from hobby to business.
Celebrating creating a community of coaches who are changing the world with their coaching businesses in big ways.
Celebrating not having to do it alone.
Because I’m goddamn serious about life coaches turning their skills into a viable business.
Because passion and enthusiasm, despite what you have read, is NOT enough to turn a profit. Especially in the coaching world.
Here’s to coaches everywhere, changing the world one business at a time.
PS. If you are a life coach trying to figure out this whole business thing, join my free Facebook community and connect with thousands of other coaches and online business owners who can help support you. Enter your email here to get in.