How to stand out as a coach

How to stand out as a coach

What Founding Course Creators and super coaches Sara, Siobhan and Karen have to say about finding your niche in this increasingly crowded profession…

Everyone wants to be a coach these days. Why is it so popular? Because helping other people to move forwards in their lives and work with confidence and self-knowledge is a pretty good use of time. Plus, for those of us with one of those trendy portfolio careers, it’s a great way to fit a rewarding source of income around the ‘other stuff’ – making it a sneaky move towards changing the course of your own career without having to dive in feet first by quitting the day job.

But, it’s pretty crowded out there. So, after a dramatic start involving a superhero / Anneka Rice (urgh, we’re showing our age here) moment from Isabel, we had a brilliant conversation with three of our Founding 50 Course Creators (who also happen to be coaches) about how to find your coaching niche so that you can stand out of the crowd. Wealth Coach Sara Maxwell, Transformational Life Coach Siobhan Goffee and Career Coach Karen Hudson also shared their tips for both finding the right coach and becoming a great one.

First off, what is coaching and – importantly – what is it not?

Professional coaches help people to define their goals, in life, work or both, and guide them through a supportive process that will give them a better understanding of the tools, skills and strengths they have or need to reach that goal. Coaches are not there to provide the answers, they are there to help people find answers themselves (by asking lots of brilliant questions and not doing that annoying, ‘Oh yep, me too! So, like, what I did was blah, blah, blah’ thing…). 

This process is sometimes referred to as ‘pure’ coaching. But, as Sara points out, “It’s important to know what you’re looking for in a coach. If you are looking for an expert in a certain area who can teach as well as coach you, then look for someone who can do both”. Great coaches, no matter what their area of expertise will, as Karen puts it, “coach first” allowing people to “unlock themselves” before offering any advice. The process of coaching should always be primarily client led. Otherwise it becomes more of a mentoring relationship. 

Oh, and, it’s not therapy! “Forward momentum is the thing that always comes up for me when I think about coaching”, says Siobhan. It’s not about analysing your relationship with your mother (though clearly that comes up in all things for some of us…), it’s about finding a positive route to where you want to be in your life, career or both.

Group vs. 1:1 coaching – what’s the diff?

Group coaching programmes are on the rise. Working 1:1 is specific and personalised but, for coaches, it can be a slog to get enough clients to make a viable business of solely coaching 1:1. This means that most 1:1 coaching is simply too pricey for most people. Group programmes are a great way to make coaching a more accessible form of development. They can also act as an introduction to the coaching process for those who want to give it a try but aren’t sure where to start (or if they are going to like it).

There are other benefits too. Group programmes, “can become a really supportive community and [the format] helps the group learn to coach each other” says Karen whose course, Working Mum: Re-evaluating Your Career, includes elements of group coaching.

Sara, Siobhan and Karen all have a coaching ‘niche’. How did they narrow it down?

“For me it was simply what I thought I would enjoy and what I thought would make a difference to people’s lives,” says Siobhan. She goes on to describe what she calls her ‘eat, pray, love’ moment (where she goes off to live in South America for a year) where she found a sense of joy that she wanted to help other people recreate in their own lives. Siobhan now runs the group coaching programme, Joy As An Act of Resistance

Sara, whose Intensive Money Mindset Programme helps people to shift their perceptions of money so that they can create better spending and saving habits, found her niche during her 20 years working in Financial Services. She felt that that world of finance was too exclusive, so she built her coaching business, “with the intention of it being inclusive”; helping people to find some ownership and joy in connecting to and understanding their own finances. Oh how we could have done with more Saras pre-2008, eh?

What advice do they have for fellow coaches who haven’t yet found their niche?

“Choose something that you feel really engaged with and that you really care about,” says Sara. Considering the career or life choices you have made so far is a good place to start with this or, as Karen puts it, “go back to your ‘why?’”. Think about, why you have made the choices you have so far, what is driving you and what is most important to you. Chances are, there will be plenty of other people out there with the same values and drivers as you who are in need of support.

“Think about who you have enjoyed coaching”, says Siobhan, “you’ll find that there are links”. The relationship between coach and coachee is crucial. So, think back to those people you have really enjoyed working with – are there any commonalities between them like similar roles, similar goals, similar life experiences? Of course, profesh coaches can build a rapport with anyone…but, let’s face it, there are always people we have enjoyed working with more than others and, in a coaching relationship, acknowledging this really matters.

However, if you’re just starting out, “feel free to coach everyone and anyone”, Karen says (“with their consent of course”, we say). “Don’t try and niche it at the start”, says Karen. To be a professional coach, your first job is to learn how to coach; what your style is, what you enjoy and don’t enjoy about the process and how to build your identity and skill as a coach because coaching, in itself, is a profession.

Top tips for starting out as a coach?

You don’t need to invest in a fancy website right now, “just coach”, says Karen. Learning how to be a coach first, telling people you already know about what you’re doing and getting to know more about what you want out of your career as a coach is the most important thing to focus on first.

“Be yourself”, says Sara. Your clients will be drawn to you because of who you are and your style of coaching so stop worrying about asking the ‘right’ question or how serious / warm / professional your ‘listening face’ looks (“as long as it’s not bitchy resting face” Karen points out) and remember that you are a human who happens to be a coach, not the other way round. Because that would be weird.

Finally, social media can be useful but you don’t have to have a presence straight away. If you do, focus on building your community rather than using it to tout for business from randoms. Most of your business, to begin with, will come through word of mouth but, when you are ready to put yourself out there remember that, “It’s none of your business what other people think of you!” says Siobhan. You will find your ‘tribe’ (hopefully on Discoco, obvs) and your best coaching relationships will be with people who enjoy your style of coaching and appreciate your unique approach.

Why train to become a coach, can’t I just get on with it?

Whether you complete an accredited programme, get certified with an accredited coaching body or become personally accredited, going through the training process to become a coach can be extremely valuable. 

“Continuing to progress through certification can be a great way to reflect and improve as a coach”, says Siobhan. Karen was keen to become a certified coach with the ICF because she felt it would give her coachees piece of mind to know that she was operating under a code of ethics from a recognised coaching body. Personally, “I feel more of an authentic and more of a  ‘true coach’ by being associated with them [the ICF]”. Sara adds, “there’s a definite benefit to being coached yourself and if you do any coaching programme you will invariably be coached by other people on that programme. Being coached gives you the experience you need to become a proper coach”. 

So, if all of this has inspired you to become a coach, shop around. Certifications differ so pick one that’s going to be right for you. Take a look at some of the accredited courses from the ICF, ILM and EMCC to start with and why not browse Discoco to see where some of our brilliant coaches trained? 

And remember, to stand out as a coach doesn’t mean having the best and brightest Instagram account or the most specific niche (although if you want to become a ‘coach for left handed cyclists’ then be our guest). Learn what it takes to be a coach and how to do it well, find your style, get coaching to develop your skills and figure out what floats your boat before committing to one area of expertise. 

Thank you Sara, Siobhan and Karen for sharing your wisdom with us.

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