I’m often asked by people launching their coaching business, “Jay, what did you do to start yours? What should I consider as I step out on my own?” Since I first launched my business coaching practice in 2013, the coaching industry has changed dramatically. No longer do companies hire business coaches as a last resort to address toxic leadership behaviors in the C-suite. Instead, companies hire business coaches to develop new leaders, facilitate transitions, ask hard questions, offer expert advice, and strengthen teams.
Today, businesses large and small recognize the value of coaching. However, that doesn’t mean starting your own coaching business will be a breeze. Starting a coaching business requires investing in your own business strategy.
What Is a Business Coach?
Business coaches help owners and executives run and grow their business. They help clarify the business’s vision, mission, and values, which then inform the business’s strategic plans.
Coaching offers a more holistic approach to problem-solving that focuses on creating and strengthening key systems and strategies. Consultants solve problems for their clients. Coaches, on the other hand, help business owners solve their own problems. They ask questions that reveal larger structural issues which, when addressed, will solve multiple problems at once.
A coaching business should cover a lot of ground: strategy, marketing, leadership, talent acquisition, operations, and more. It should prioritize efficiency, effectiveness, and evidence-based decision-making.
Solve, Don’t Sell
At the heart of a coach is a desire to help. When people ask me if they should become a business coach, I always tell them that if they’re in it for the money or they’re not interested in helping people, they should do something else.
Successful business coaches position themselves as helpers. As I always say, “Solve, don’t sell.”
Still, it’s going to take time before business owners trust you to help them solve their problems. Building a successful coaching business requires both endurance and consistency. If you know why you want to be a coach, you’ll be able to sustain your business for the long haul.
Training & Education for Business Coaches
Coaching is a unique field in that you don’t need to attain a specific certification or set of credentials to open your own coaching practice.
However, that doesn’t mean that anyone can be a business coach. While you’re welcome to open a practice with zero training or credibility, you likely won’t make it very far.
There are many training programs you can take and certifications you can attain to deepen your understanding of business coaching. Most business coaches align themselves with certain frameworks and receive certifications to teach specific tools or methods.
For example, I’m a certified StratOp facilitator. StratOp is a strategic planning process created by Tom Paterson over 40 years ago. In addition to offering strategic planning services, I can also use my StratOp knowledge to strengthen my executive coaching, business management coaching, and team coaching services.
Challenges of Being a Business Coach
Before you start designing your new business logo, it’s important to ask yourself if business coaching is right for you. Sure, the flexible schedule is appealing, but there are real challenges to starting your own coaching business, such as:
- Finding and maintaining clients: Entrepreneurs of all sorts know the pressure of being a one-man band when it comes to marketing your brand, finding new leads, selling your services, delivering on your promises, and retaining clients. If you’re not ready to take this on, you may want to consider joining an existing coaching business or agency instead.
- Navigating certifications and credentials: There are countless business programs out there offering certifications for coaches and consultants. Which will you invest your time, money, and resources in? Which methods, tools, and systems will be most beneficial to you and your clients? How will you diversify your credentials so if one training program goes belly-up, you won’t, too?
- Selecting your coaching services: Did you know that the Universal Coach Institute has identified more than 100 different types of coaches? It’s impossible to fill the coaching needs of every single type of person or business in every single circumstance. You’ll need to determine which coaching services you want to offer and why.
- Managing your credibility: Unfortunately, the lack of standard certifications in coaching can lead some people to develop negative views of the industry. It’s important to only list services you’re qualified to offer, whether you have the related certifications, the necessary experience, or a combination of the two.
5 Steps to Start a Coaching Practice
Once you’ve decided to start a coaching practice, you’ll need to take action to create your own business. As a business coach, you’ll want to be as strategic and intentional as you advise other businesses to be. Specifically, there are five steps that will help you take your new business from a pipe dream to a reality.
1. Determine Your Financial Model
Your coaching practice isn’t just a hobby or something you do for fun—it’s a legitimate business that offers real value to companies. You need to determine how you will be compensated for that value. That means you’ll need to choose a financial model for your business.
To find a financial model that works for you, you’ll need to ask yourself some tough questions, such as:
- Expenses: Will you have a physical office, or are you working from home or online? Do you need a website, and if so, how much will it cost to build and maintain? Can you afford to offer any services for free or at a discount to entice potential clients? Can you do everything on your own, or will you need to hire freelancers, contractors, or assistants?
- Revenue: How much will you charge for your services? What will you do if someone refuses to pay, is late on a payment, or does not pay in full? Will you create and sell other business resources, such as books or access to webinars?
- Clients: How will you get clients? Can you rely on word of mouth alone, or will you need to pay for some kind of marketing or advertising services? Are you part of any networks that will promote your services for free? How will you solicit reviews from previous clients? Are there opportunities for repeat customers?
2. Prioritize Training, Education, and Experience
Prioritize your credibility so potential clients feel confident hiring you for your services. Since credibility through experience is built over time, start by investing heavily in education and training.
When it comes to education, many new coaches already have degrees in other fields or industries. Business degrees or related degrees are easy proof of experience and credibility. If you have an unrelated degree or no degree at all, you can still find creative ways to tie those experiences into your story as a business coach.
Regardless of your educational history, training is where you can make quick progress when it comes to establishing your credibility. Decide which frameworks, methods, or schools of thought you think will benefit your coaching strategy most, and start taking courses, applying for membership, and/or getting certified.
3. Select Your Services
There are literally hundreds of different kinds of coaching services. Which will you offer? Common types of business coaching include:
- Executive coaching
- Leadership coaching
- Skills coaching
- Financial coaching
- Career coaching
- Performance coaching
- Group coaching
- Entrepreneur and new business coaching
Once you decide on which services you’ll offer, decide where you will specialize. For example, although I offer a wide variety of coaching services, most of them are deeply informed by my StratOp training. Ask yourself these questions:
- Where am I most competent?
- What problem am I trying to solve?
- What is my unique benefit to solve that problem?
- What is my focus or niche?
- Who is my focus?
- How will I reach my “who” with my “what”?
- How will I keep in contact with my target audience?
4. Market Your Coaching Business
Now you’re ready to start offering your coaching services to the world. But where will your first clients come from?
Often, small businesses get started by offering free or discounted services to close friends, family, and connections. However, that will only last you for so long. You will need a marketing plan to keep your coaching business going. Common marketing tactics for business coaches include:
- Networking: Join local business associations to meet other business leaders in your community. Attend seminars and workshops to meet other coaches. You never know who may have a lead to send your way.
- Digital marketing: Establish an online presence. Make sure your website makes a good first impression, informs visitors of your services and credentials, and offers educational resources to boost your credibility. Decide which social media platforms will help you stay active in your industry.
- Advertising: Determine which advertising methods, if any, are best suited for promoting your business. Will you reach more clients with a social media ad or a local radio spot?
- Community: Get involved with your community. Sponsor a children’s sports team or participate in a local charitable event to make a difference while increasing brand awareness.
5. Scale Your Coaching Business
Even as you start your one-person coaching business, it’s important to start thinking and planning for more. You may be a single-person operation for a while, but at what point will you start expanding? What goals will you need to achieve to hire another person? How do you envision your business in a year, five years, or 10 years?
It’s important to apply the same strategic planning processes to your own business as you encourage your clients to apply to their businesses. Don’t get so bogged down in the day-to-day grind of entrepreneurship that you forget to dream about how you want your business to grow.
Coaching for Coaches
If you’re thinking about launching a coaching business, I’d invite you to try my approach. Have more questions? Feel free to reach out, and we can talk more about the rewards and challenges of being a business coach.