I’ve been training coaches for nearly twenty years. My estimate is that I’ve trained two to three thousand people in that time. My other estimate is that about two-thirds of them have the potential to be good or great coaches. My third estimate is that less than one percent of them are earning income through coaching.
All of this estimating begs the question: why are so many competent coaches not coaching professionally? I’ll answer the begged question with one more estimation (i.e., my educated guess): many people can learn to coach effectively, but far fewer can learn to get clients.
What is the secret to getting clients? I’m not sure there is a secret, but I am sure that it’s not rocket science, magic, or luck. In my experience, the coaches who have plenty of paying clients apply a few simple rules. Here are five of those rules:
Rule 1: People do business with those they know, like, and trust. As coaches, we tend to place a lot of emphasis on the “trust” part of that statement. But would-be coaching clients tend to place more emphasis on knowing and liking. If you want people to hire you, let them get to know you and be likable. There are few substitutes for likability. You don’t have to be prince charming, but you do have to be likable. Find and share common interests. Take an interest in the other person. Get to know them, and let them get to know you – and not just the version of you that is a professional coach.
Rule 2: You have to be willing to seek out and ask for business. Honestly, the more others know and like you, the easier it is to ask for business. That said, asking for business is rarely “easy” as in “effortless.” The kind of clients who would want you as their coach are those you are willing to seek out and ask for their business. Seeking out clients is a serious and essential aspect of being a professional coach, not an unwanted appendage or afterthought. Given its importance, you’ll want to develop some simple, repeatable, and reliable systems for seeking out and asking for business. A system for getting clients can include activities for networking, asking for referrals, following up, preparing proposals, and onboarding new clients.
Rule 3: There is power in true confidence and conviction. You’ll never convince others to hire you as their coach if you doubt the effectiveness of the coaching relationship. Many Christian coaches seek to be humble, but unfortunately, they confuse humility for a lack of confidence. I wouldn’t want my dentist or doctor or landscaper to lack confidence. I wouldn’t hire any professional service provider who demonstrated a not-so-confident presence. How can I trust someone who seems uncertain about his or her ability to be effective? The people with whom you offer a quiet, client-centered confidence will want you as their coach.
Rule 4: Action almost always beats waiting. Coaches who have plenty of clients are coaches who identify productive activities and do them. While there are times when waiting and giving things time to develop is the right thing to do, there are far more times for taking action. Please don’t misinterpret this rule as saying you should nag or harass potential clients; you must develop timing to know how best to engage a particular would-be client. No, the bias for action is in the big picture scope of things: you must identify productive activities and do them. You must master your schedule, your energy levels, your motivation, and your attitude so you can stay engaged in the right things. Getting clients requires doing many, many small things consistently and with excellence, not putting forth sporadic Herculean effort and then stepping back and waiting for results.
Rule 5: Regularly top off your optimism and positive motivation fuel tank. Getting clients takes work. Working requires energy. You must manage your energy and attitude in order to do the work that produces results. Professional athletes have zero problem getting motivated for the game. When the crowds are in the stands and it’s a win-lose competition on the line, they show up ready to play. The best athletes bring that same intensity to practice, to their workouts, to their eating habits, and to their inner world. They know that to be their best on game day, they have to be highly engaged when the game is not being played. The same principle is true for coaches. We all want to coach. When the client is on the phone or in our office, we are dialed in and ready. But highly effective coaches who have plenty of clients bring that same motivation to the behind-the-scenes aspects of their coaching business related to getting clients. They are motivated to network, they are disciplined to follow up, they embrace the challenge of asking for referrals, and, perhaps most important of all, they schedule business development activities with the same rigor as scheduling client coaching sessions.
One more word about motivation. Reaching and maintaining professional-athlete-level motivation is not easy and it doesn’t come naturally for most of us. You must feed your optimism and fuel your motivation. For many years, I was a bit too cynical and skeptical about maintaining motivation. I found books like The Power of Positive Thinking or recordings such as The Strangest Secret unsophisticated. I dismissed them for being too rah-rah and lacking substance. My problem was that I expected such resources to be something they were not. These (and similar motivation tools) are not ultimate guides for living or the 67th book of the Bible, they are resources for replenishing motivation. I’d encourage you to humble yourself and allow these resources (or others you find) to serve you and your clients by keeping you motivated as you seek out and ask for clients.