Building a Successful Coaching Business

So, you want to be in the coaching business. Excellent! The world needs more coaches. You’ve probably been working at building your coaching chops – reading, taking training, joining professional associations, etc. You’ve been building your SME (subject matter expertise).

It’s not enough.

Why do 50% of businesses fail within their first five years? it’s not because the owners didn’t have SME. It’s because they didn’t know the business part. Among other things, coaches need to learn to market and sell their services. Remember, no one gets coached until you make a sale!

But wait! Most people who like to coach hate marketing, and are terrified of selling. Fortunately, these barriers can be overcome. It just takes some learning, a plan, and perspective. Let’s get that done.

We’ll begin by defining marketing and sales:

Marketing is simply letting the right people (your target markets) know that your business exists, and piquing their interest enough to meet with you for one or more conversations.

Sales is a negotiation process in which you and your client organization agree to terms of engagement that are mutually agreeable and beneficial.

Today let’s study marketing. Next time we’ll talk about sales.

Two decades ago, I developed a six-step marketing process designed for human service professionals like you and me. I used it to build my own successful coaching business (from scratch, while living in a small city) and have taught it to thousands of others worldwide. You can follow these steps to make your own unique plan.

Step One: Determine what services you want to offer. The term “coaching” can cover a lot of ground. Maybe you want to work with folks in the C-Suite. Or maybe you want to work with front line supervisors. Perhaps team coaching is your cup of tea. Do you want to help people build their EQ skills? Do you have another model that fits you? Are you more of a business-skills coach? Don’t be limited to one service. List all of the coaching services that currently appeal to you


Your list can change over time. Just don’t try to be all things to all people. You will be so unfocused you won’t excel (SME does matter), and potential customers won’t be able to identify you.

Step Two: Identify your target market(s). What kinds of organizations do you want to have engagements with? Maybe you like working within a specific industry, such as healthcare or financial services. Maybe you want to work with non-profits or Fortune 500 companies. How about specializing in small businesses or family businesses? As you clarify your target markets, your ability to sharpen your marketing messages will be enhanced.

Step Three: Articulate the value of the service(s) you want to offer. Here’s a hard truth. No one will hire you simply because you are nice, or because they like you. You have to identify the value your particular coaching services have for organizations in your target market(s). How does your coaching enhance the health and welfare of their organization? For example, let’s suppose one of your target markets consists of engineering firms. Engineers are super smart people . . . about engineering. But by nature and training, they often are severely low in EQ skills. Fortunately, EQ skills can be learned through working with a good coach. As a result, engineers who lead the firm will be far more skilled at eliciting top performance from those who report to them. Not only that, they will relate better to customers, hearing their needs more accurately and not alienating them with socially awkward behavior.

Step Four: Strategies to reach your target market(s). Now that you know which services you want to provide, which kinds of groups or organizations you want to provide them to, and why those groups or organizations might care, you are ready to figure out how to reach potential customers. If, like me, you are on your own or have a very small firm, you will not do this the same way major consulting firms like Deloitte or PwC would. Fortunately, we small fry have big advantages. We can be nimble, quickly customizing our messages and approach to fit each potential client. We don’t have to spend a fortune on mass communication.

What do we do instead? We work relationships. Who do you already know who is a potential client? No one comes to mind? No problem. Over time, you will think of some. In addition, think Six Degrees of Separation. Who do you know who knows potential clients, and who might be open to making an introduction? Who do you know who knows someone who knows someone . . . ? Trust is everything. When you have an established relationship with someone or are referred by a trusted source, you are halfway home. So make a list of possibilities.

Step Five: Strategies to communicate value. Now it’s time to figure out how you will communicate the value of the kinds of coaching you plan to offer. This is the step most marketing neophytes start with. You can see the folly of that – they haven’t done the planning required in steps one to four. You will have, which will give you an edge.

These days, social media is a key to many marketing programs. A website will be essential, so that people can explore your offerings. The trick is to draw folks to your site. (Unless you’re knowledgeable about these things, or have a friend or relative who is willing to help you, you may need to hire someone to get you started.) Posting on business-oriented sites like LinkedIn and Facebook about topics of interest to your target marketing can help. Or, you might “hang out” at business events or other venues where individuals in your target market tend to congregate.

Step Six: Differentiate yourself from your competitors. The last step is to establish your particular credibility in providing your services so that potential clients select you rather than a competitor. Do not bash your competitors. It’s cheap, and it backfires.

Instead, talk about your credentials and experience. This may seem tricky to new coaches just getting started, but you probably have more to offer than you realize. For example, I transitioned from being a psychotherapist to being a coach. In my early days, I couldn’t tout a list of impressive clients as I can today. But I could talk about my ability to listen for deep understanding, my ability to help relationships that have gone awry (as many supervisory relationships do), and my expertise in creating sustainable behavior change. What have you been doing in your life that helps to prepare you as a coach? Let your target market(s) know about it.

Conclusion: Professional marketers tell me “Yep, these are the steps all right.” Still, in a blog post, we can only hit the highlights. Maybe this is enough to get you moving. If you’d like more detail, you can find it in our EQ Leader Program2.0 manual, which you can explore here. Or feel free to reach out to me for consultation. You can do this!

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