I have an uncle who says, “Honey, when you’re up to your ass in alligators, the trick is — not to get in any deeper.”
And I am up to my ass in alligators around coaching. But I am going to get in deeper. Sorry, Unk.
I coach people everyday. I coach groups frequently. I teach people how to become a coach. I talk to people who are thinking about becoming a coach. I design coach events. Coaches are my business partners. I’m a Master Coach, for crying out loud. For fun, I talk to other coaches. In my spare time, I read books about coaching.
Ass, meet alligators.
But it’s OK — see I’m passionate about the field of coaching and the power it has to unlock the locked, and to free people to live lives of their own design. In fact, part of living a life of MY own design is coaching. So I am immersed, and that’s a good thing.
Over the last five years, I’ve seen good people go into coaching with excellent intentions and terrific skills — and a few years later they’re not coaching full-time. Or part-time. Or at all.
And I have seen people move out of training right into booked solid practices, and create a national reputation seemingly overnight. Amazes me.
When you consider that 80% of all small businesses fail in the first five years, and that only 20 percent of coaches can actually live off of their coach earnings — why would anyone become a coach?
I’m going to suggest that the right question to ask right here is not why — but who? Who becomes a successful coach?
And what is success? Here’s my working definition of a successful coach: someone who has no difficulty attracting her ideal clients and keeping a schedule as full as she wants it to be. See, I’m not saying, “a success is a six-figure coach” or “a success is being a public figure” — nope. I’m saying that success is when you get what you want. Whatever that is. For you.
So, let me tell you what I have observed in every successful coach I have ever encountered:
Entrepreneurial: Every single successful coach I know has an entrepreneurial spirit. She’s open, she’s agile, she’s willing to take a risk, she’s comfortable working in her own business by herself. People who like structure and belonging often find great jobs working as internal coaches. But people with their own practices succeed because, at heart, they are entrepreneurs.
Self-Starter: Successful coaches make opportunities rather than wait for opportunities to arrive. Reflection is dandy, but action is what makes money. Successful coaches know this.
Extroverted: Let me refer to the Myers-Briggs here — Extroverts get energy from being around people. Successful coaches get energy from being around people. Ergo, successful coaches are Extroverts, which is what allows them to network, give speeches/presentations/workshops, ask questions in crowded room, I can go on. And on. Can an Introvert be successful? Sure. But all other things being equal, an Extrovert makes the time and space to really connect with people and that’s how you attract clients.
Expert: The old adage is “anyone can coach anyone about anything” which is, to some degree, true. However, if I want to start a business efficiently, it would behoove me to work with someone who knows how to do that. If I want to write a book, the smart thing is to get a writing coach. If I want to cope with divorce, how about a divorce coach? Every successful coach I know has an expertise which is a huge part of their positioning and marketing. Generalists can’t differentiate themselves in a crowded market — experts can.
Empathetic: When I think about the great coaches I know, each of them is wildly empathetic. They relate more to their clients — and less to their own ego. But. As empathetic as these great coaches are, they don’t carry the pain of the people they work with and challenge their clients straightforwardly and honestly. From the clients’ perspective, a good coach understands them but doesn’t allow them to get away with murder.
Visionary: Successful coaches see into the future and are constantly designing programs and products and ideas that will move them there. They also share that vision with others, and create a community around their view. Community = a client funnel. It’s that easy.
Creative: Nearly every great coach I know gets a total rush from being creative and finding novel and new ways to solve problems for themselves and for their clients. Great coaches are like great jazz musicians — they can riff on a theme and improvise staggering tools.
Focused: Maybe this should fall under Entrepreneurial, but the coaches I know are focused on their practices. Sure, they may be someone’s partner, someone’s mom, someone’s child… but at their core, they are coaches and they focus their energy on coaching. Middling coaches have a lot of hyphens — Mary Kay saleswoman-realtor-massage therapist-coach. A successful coach, however, puts her professional energy around coaching first and foremost.
Communicator: What sets great coaches apart is the ability to communicate. You gotta do it some way — you write, you speak, you Tweet, you post, you something. The bottom line: successful coaches are able to communicate how they can help a client. If you can’t do that, you won’t get clients. At all. Coaches who excel are comfortable communicators. If you’re not comfortable, you’re probably not going to get the clients you would otherwise get. Sorry to say it, but it’s true.
If you want to be a successful coach — on your terms — evaluate how you stack up to these characteristics, and if you have a muscle or two that needs a workout and strengthening, then put your laser-beam energy there. Or partner with another coach who brings to the table those things you lack. Get what you need, one way or the other. I assure you that if you have every one of the things I have outlined, there won’t be any question — you will be a sure-fire success.