I’m nervous writing this post. It’s going to offend some people. It’s probably going to hurt some people’s feelings (I’m sorry!). But it has to be said. And the ones who are ready to hear it, will listen.
If you’ve been trying this coaching business for a while and it just doesn’t seem to be working – pay attention.
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. I love you coaches!
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.
Ok let me slightly edit that – it CAN BE a business, but it needs a few other things paired with it to make it a business that actually makes money (because a business that doesn’t make money is a hobby, and I’ve seen many life coaching hobbyists in my day)
3 month business building checklist
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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 (or some other generic version of the typical life coaching message)
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.
Let me be clear — it’s not the fact that they are coming to me asking for help that drives me up the wall. 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 it enough, 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 on my iphone). 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! I mean, everyone I have talked to about this seems to think life coaching sounds pretty cool. Bring it on entrepreneurship!
But here is the thing (a thing you may have already learned) — something sounding cool, and people telling that life coaching sounds interesting, or inspiring, DOESN’T mean that those people will be willing to pay you for it.
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 yet 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’re a new coach and starting to feel defeated, keep reading – it gets better and there IS hope for you as a coach!!
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, keep reading).
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 fear of speaking
- If you’re a marketing and branding genius, combine your focus with that to be a badass branding ninja who helps people develop brands from the inside out by bringing their whole self to the table
- If you were in charge of hiring for a major organization and have experience writing and reviewing resumes that get you hired – use your coaching to help people find their dream jobs
- 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 coach other people just like you
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 (most successful life coaches I know don’t just PURELY coach), 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: Many coaches who you see 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. Other life coaches will pay for that. So will organizations. But regular folk – not so much.
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.
The other way to make a killing with your coaching business? NICHE IN AND NICHE IN HARD.
There are definitely other coaches out there who are working with ‘regular’ people and making it work. It IS possible. I have many clients who have reached the coveted 6-figure mark coaching people on relationships, or mindful eating, or confidence.
But the thing that makes those coaches business work, is that they have chosen a very specific niche, and not been afraid to build a brand around a very specific problem.
The riches are in the niches, as they say (and that will only rhyme is you actually pronounce niche, “nitch” instead of “neesh”)
I also guarantee that those coaches who are making it work (and making a killing) have:
- paid their dues (this stuff takes time!)
- combined other skills with coaching and don’t offer just PURE coaching
- created custom packages
- and worked their asses off learning everything they could about how to run a business and market themselves
… 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.
3 month business building checklist
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As my friend Kira Sabin (who has had her relationship/singles coaching biz for over 8 years, and went full-time with about 3-4 years in) 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 marketing. 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 amazingly for herself.
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
- be willing to take some time to excavate what your true expertise really is
- match that up with a PROBLEM that people have
- and then use all that to develop a clear brand in a particular niche
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.
I go through all of this (and more) in my 3-month Business Building Checklist, a resource that walks you through step-by-step what you should be focusing on when you FIRST start your business.
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.
But passion and enthusiasm, despite what you have read, is NOT enough to turn a profit. Especially in the coaching world.
Here’s to amazing coaches everywhere, doing what needs to be done to make their business work, and changing the world one client at a time.
PS. If you’re a coach struggling to get clients, check out my program Uncage Your Business, where I help you get clear on your niche, message, packages, and online content that will help you get noticed in the coaching industry and get clients sooner. Click here for more info.