Over the next 6-12 months, a series of factors will introduce intimidating new difficulties for business, executive and life coaches around the globe. The dynamics are already well underway, and they will affect the way almost all coaches will do business going forward.
The way the world works is changing at a faster pace than ever before. The way business works is changing rapidly, too.
As with any period of substantial change, those who prepare and get into the proper position will benefit from their foresight and adaptability. Those caught unaware will pay a heavy toll.
The coaching industry is facing this kind of massive shift today.
The Tenuous State of the Industry
Coaches charge some of the highest hourly rates of any service providers. But depending on whose surveys you read, between one-third and one-half of all coaches earn less than $10,000 per year and up to 70% earn under $50,000 a year. (“Coach Career Survey 2007.” Suzanne Falter-Barnes & David Wood). These figures speak volumes about the state of the coaching industry.
At the same time, the number of individuals choosing coaching as their profession continues to increase steadily, averaging 20% annual growth. But with as many as half of them will earn less than $800/month, a large percentage of coaches still depend on other sources of revenue to meet their financial needs. Many are also leaving the field, disappointed in their inability to make the business part of the practice operate profitably, in a way that fits their desired lifestyle
Two Reasons So Many Coaches Struggle to Get and Keep Good Clients
There are two fundamental shortcomings that are pervasive among both new and experienced coaches that are the root cause of these startling statistics. The top 10%, the ones earning six figures or more, generally excel in both of these areas. The other 90% needs to improve in either one or both categories if they want to break out of the rut.
Regardless of where they are on the broad spectrum of success, every coach on the planet should be seeking to constantly improve in both areas:
1.) Lack of marketing know-how
Let’s be honest: most coaches are not passionate about marketing. Many are even shy about self-promotion. Many training programs do not adequately prepare coaches to market their services.
When prioritizing how you’ll spend the 24 hours you have to work with each day, marketing usually gets placed near the bottom of the list, if it makes it at all. Or, if you understand the urgency and importance of marketing, maybe you aren’t sure how to approach the subject. How can you put the tactics you’ve seen other use into your own strategy to boost your business?
Don’t buy into the “build a better mousetrap” myth. It’s simply not true. The most talented, experienced coach in the world is likely to get lost in the shuffle if he is not being actively promoted to qualified prospective clients. There are too many voices screaming for attention. No matter how ingenious the shy coach may be, how will she get noticed if she doesn’t come out of the corner and interact in the marketplace of ideas?
Why should a client choose you? It’s your marketing’s job to broadcast that value proposition to the right audience.
2.) Lack of coaching capability or competence
According to Peer Resources, there are 324 accredited coaching schools or programs around the world (as of September 2011). One can only imagine how many unrecognized programs are available for people who would like to enter into the realm of coaching.
An honest assessment of such institutions will show that many of them are top-notch, requiring graduates to demonstrate proficiency in various disciplines before certifying them. Others are simply taking advantage of the popularity and rapid growth of the industry to make profits from would-be coaches. Many release students into the real world before they are ready.
Beyond that, formal training and certification are not requirements for entrance into the field. Anyone can call themselves a coach, whether or not they are capable of providing genuinely valuable leadership to others.
The results, therefore, are mixed. Some people only seek to use coaching to make a quick buck. They view as a simple opportunity to do just that. Most of these fail early and miserably.
Others gained knowledge and expertise through work and life experience. Formal education may not be necessary for them to begin giving valuable coaching lessons to peers or clients right away.
Unfortunately, because of the low barrier to entry into the field, a large number of individuals start their coaching careers with no knowledge of what it takes to grow a profitable practice. They may have trouble finding clients. Or, they may get clients, but fail to deliver quality instruction and insight, so they can’t keep them. They develop poor reputations, which (as you know) is a major obstacle in this arena.
Don’t Get Lost in Transition
The next year is going to be a period of major transition for the coaching industry. There are four dangerous trends that will completely change the way coaches have to operate in order to survive and thrive. Even the big names, the six- and seven-figure earners will need to understand these trends and move proactively to make the appropriate adjustments in their businesses. It will be a tough road for those that wait too long or refuse to adapt to the coming changes.
I believe that we will see some bright stars fade in 2012. Coaches who can read the handwriting on the wall and take action to get in the position to take advantage of the new environment will rise to new heights.
Study, act, and watch your practice succeed, even in the midst of the coming seismic shift in the industry. The following information will place you securely among the prepared, if you grasp the facts and apply the insights.
Death of the Web
Last August, Wired Magazine published an article entitled “The Web is Dead. Long Live the Internet.” The authors describe the dramatic change in the way people use the internet compared to how it’s been used in the past 15 years.
“Sure, we’ll always have Web pages,” Chris Anderson says. “We still have postcards and telegrams, don’t we?”
But as technology evolves and our use of it adapts, the traditional ways coaches and others have used the internet to build their brands and expand their influence will no longer be effective to the same degree. What worked yesterday simply will not work tomorrow. You may have noticed that downward trend is already taking impacting your online efforts.
Take a quick mental inventory of the time you’ve spent online lately. What are some of the traits you notice? Avalanches of information, often conflicting other sources. Mediocre content quality. Spam and scams. Wild pitch fests.
And everyone is an “expert,” even if they’re not.
Do you remember high school economics class? One of the first concepts you learn is supply and demand. As the supply of anything increases, its value decreases. On the internet, we’ve pretty much reached the maximum capacity for information demand, but the supply continues to grow exponentially.
So, you see the two causes for the general decline of perceived value of online information: 1) the low quality of the majority of content and 2) the super-abundance and ease of access.
On some level, everyone over the age of 16 senses this deterioration.
Seth Godin, one of the most popular marketing minds in the world, recently wrote in his blog:
“..the price we’re willing to pay for a digital copy (of a book – DB) is plummeting, and will continue to plummet…Prepare for a continuous erosion of what you pay for digital content, at the same time we’ll see a sticky and upward trend for what you might be charged for the… the scarce or custom.”
The world wide web is increasingly becoming a content flea market, so much so that internet giants like Yahoo and AOL are struggling with their current business models.
Don’t misunderstand. Although it seems contradictory, the internet is more important than ever. The rules are changing, and coaches will have to modify their online initiatives to take full advantage.
Counteract This Trend
To overcome the quality erosion of online information, you absolutely must offer something unique and indisputably valuable. You also have to be able to deliver it to your core audience, the people who can most benefit from what you have to offer. Exclusivity can also to protect the perception of high worth around your content.
Unique – It’s cliché, but you have to be yourself. Do the hard work of getting to know yourself and defining your Unique Selling Proposition (USP). Then you have to get the message out.
A large percentage of your peers heavily model themselves and their business after someone they admire. Modeling makes sense up to a point. Imitation is a problem.
Legendary adman Bruce Barton notes that everyone possesses a “single spark of divinity that sets you off and makes you different from every other living creature.” Nurture that spark instead of copying someone else’s.
Not only to you have to have a one-of-a-kind persona, you have do conduct business in a way that differs from other coaches.
- What can you do that others can’t or won’t do?
- What do your clients experience while working with you that no one else can claim to provide?
- How do you reach your audience that other coaches don’t?
Valuable – Everything you do should be impressive. Your personal brand and your reputation depend on showing yourself to be someone who improves the lives of others, not a peddler trying to sell stuff. (People love to buy, but they hate to be sold.)
Value starts with understanding what your target audience wants and needs, then helping them attain those things. Ninety-nine percent of people online are openly egocentric and their efforts online revolve around trying to suck money out of their clients’ wallets.
Quite a few businesses, entrepreneurs and service providers adhere to an online strategy that emphasizes quantity over quality. The more pages you have on your website, the more visible it becomes to search engines. More articles on more directories put you in front of more potential clients. Blogging every day will keep readers from forgetting about you and help you stay relevant.
That’s a lot of pressure! Placing so much attention to creating large quantities of content makes it difficult to make each piece shine. All of the information you make available to clients and prospects is a reflection of who you are and what you’re about. If your content is highly-visible but unremarkable, what have you accomplished? Not much more than demonstrating to more people that you’re nothing special. As a coach, especially one trying to grow a profitable and enjoyable practice, the last thing you want to be is average.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is another facet of your promotional efforts that can be tricky. Do you write to be attractive to search engines or to have the biggest impact on your readers?
Of course, you want to rank well in search rankings. There are benefits to being on Google’s first page. But, again, if you spend your effort to please the algorithms search engines use (and they are subject to change), you can lose out on opportunities to communicate more powerfully with your audience.
Focus on value. You’d rather have a few superb coaching clients than a lot of pain-in-the-butt ones, wouldn’t you? Remember that quality trumps quantity every day of the week
Exclusive – You are unique and valuable. You are not a commodity. Being too available decreases your sense of worth. Exclusivity gives the impression that your content and services are even more valuable. Make potential clients qualify themselves through opt-ins, purchases or other requirements.
Making some of your material available only to qualified individuals heightens the value and significance of that material.
The same is true for making some of your content or products only available in physical copies rather than electronic form. That increases your fulfillment costs, but that is part of what makes going offline work. It feels more expensive. Your prestige factor increases when your readers and listeners know that you’re “putting your money where your mouth is.” (This will also force you to deliver high-level quality because it costs you time and money to produce these items.)
- print newsletter (free, paid or bundled with another service or product)
- columns in print magazines
This distinguishes you from nearly all of your competitors and everyone else online. Rarity increases actual consumption of your content. Your teachings have little effect if they never enter your clients’ brains and get put to use.
Exclusivity builds a sense of belonging and entitlement. The effect creates a formidable emotional and intellectual bond between your audience and you, even while they’re forgetting everyone else.
Decreasing Response Rates
You may have already noticed that selling and marketing your coaching services online, offline and even in person is getting harder. Lead generators are not performing like they used to, or it costs more to produce the same results.
There are multiple reasons for this trend, but we’ll just address a couple of them.
1.) Lack of attention
As you are reaching out, attempting to attract new clients and grow your influence, you face the difficult challenge of getting noticed. A lot of your stuff runs the risk of never being seen at all by your intended viewers.
Because of the preponderance of content available today, most of your audience is experiencing information overload to some extent, but how you communicate your message is a major factor. What can you say that is impossible to ignore? How can you broadcast that message in a way that can’t be disregarded? Most coaches have something that qualifies, but how many actually find a way to get through and touch the people they want to connect with?
Poor targeting and poorly crafted messaging are more to blame than information overload in this area. As I mentioned, most coaches have compelling things to share, but they aren’t sure how to get the word out. They settle for doing what they seen others do. That’s not the way to stand out from the crowd.
2.) Overused tactics
Simply put, your audience has “seen it all before.” Just like magic, people aren’t impressed or moved to act by tricks that they’ve seen before, much less ones that they know how they work. This is happening en masse today.
The key factor in getting response is messaging. That what you say and how you say it is of the utmost importance isn’t commonly understood, and even less commonly acted on.
As a coach, you understand that better than most. Are you able to translate that comprehension into your promotional materials (including your website, emails, presentations and commercials)?
These days, people never stop getting sold to. Consequently, their mental filters are actively discarding everything that looks the slightest bit like a sales pitch. If you want to help people with your distinct giftedness and expertise, you have to find a way to penetrate through that resistance.
If you’ve been coaching for more than a few years, you’ve probably noticed a dip in the response you used to get from your communications. You have to work harder to get people to take you up on your offers. You’re not alone. Businesses in all sectors are seeing the same slump.
In a period of time when solid life and business coaching is needed more than ever, you have a responsibility to break through to the people you can help.
Side note: People can intuitively sense desperation. If you’re communicating and acting as if you need a particular response, you give off the impression of weakness. That is bad positioning for a successful coach.
You’ll need to bolster the character of your content. Become one of the few sources of information that your target audience doesn’t dare to miss, one of the few emails that doesn’t get trashed before getting opened.
Maybe you’re already there, maybe you’re on your way. Concentrate in strengthening your hold on the attention of your listeners and readers.
- An early definition of the word client is one who comes under the care, guidance and protection of another. Is that how you view your clients? Do your clients think of you as someone caring, guiding and protecting them? With each message they (and others who are not yet your clients) receive, they should get to know you better and trust you more as a caregiver, guide and protector.
- Education is the most powerful selling tool in existence. But you should educate for it for the benefit your students receive, rather than to be a salesperson.
- People are far more concerned with their desires or problems than with your specific solution. The way you portray your offer has tremendous impact. How can you present your offer in a way that meets them where their need is so that you can be of service?
That doesn’t mean you don’t sell. You must sell. Again, it is your responsibility to use your knowledge, gifts and experience to help your “tribe” reach new levels of success. That’s why you have the gifts that you have!
It takes selling to convert passers-by into partakers of the unique value you bring into the world. Accentuate that value rather than the selling aspect.
There is a big difference in perspective between thinking “I will be lucky if this person hires me” and “this person will be lucky if they hire me.” Which response sounds more like you? Provide truly valuable service and information, and you can hold the latter opinion with pride.
Know that you give much more than you ask in return (in fees, etc.). Don’t just proclaim that fact – demonstrate it. Show potential clients that working with you will be the best investment they can make, and that they would be missing out if they waited.
3.) Fear of getting burned
No one likes the feeling of being taken advantage of, of spending money on something and ending up disappointed. Most people will turn down 9 out of 10 great opportunities because they would rather miss an open door than take the chance of feeling and looking foolish.
Again, as a coach, you understand that.
Like any purchase, hiring a coach is a risk. What if she’s not what she says she is? What if we don’t get along? What if I spend all my time and money and don’t get the results I’m looking for? These are questions that nearly everyone who thinks about obtaining coaching help asks themselves. In the back of their minds, there is fear.
Fear is one of the biggest reasons it takes so much effort to compel people to listen. Even those who could benefit immensely from what you teach. It’s the reason many people never get the help they desperately need.
Take the risk out of the decision as much as possible. Find ways to make your first encounters easy choices to make. Offer free or low-cost initial consultation or “strategy session,” E-zine or newsletter, sample CD, etc. Let your prospective clients get a taste of who you are and what you can do for them.
In addition, give the strongest guarantee you can. This is simpler with your products than your service, but you can come up with a creative way to assure your potential clients that they won’t get ripped off.
Don’t be shy about testimonials, either. Testimonials from enthusiastically satisfied past or current clients form social proof that getting coaching from you is a safe bet. Ask for and display as many as you can in a tasteful manner. The confidence boost will go a long way to reducing the fear of risk.
Counteract This Trend
- Create the posture of a successful coach, dedicated to helping people.
- Promote and sell through education. The sales maneuvers most businesses are using are becoming less effective.
- Remove as much risk as possible from the first points of contact.
- Stand out!
I don’t have to tell you that times are hard. The words of Charles Dickens ring true today: “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” How you position yourself will determine which reality you will experience.
I recently spoke to a well-known certified resume writer/business owner. He described this paradox to me very clearly. “Job seekers need my services more than ever,” he noted. “But this is also the least opportune time to spend the extra money to assemble a really good resume.”
The distinction needs to be made between an expense and an investment. Hiring a resume writer who can help make your job hunt end satisfactorily is an investment, not an expense. It pays off.
The same is true for coaching.
Many people and businesses are scaling back, pinching their pennies tighter and cutting “non-essentials.” The problem is, they need the clear insight and battle-tested wisdom of a good coach more than ever before. During “good times,” when money comes easily, it’s not hard to justify the apportioning a coach into the budget. But when revenue starts drying up, most people react in fear. As Samuel Taylor Coleridge said, “What begins in fear usually ends in folly.” You can’t grow that way.
When things are hard, people and businesses need more information, better direction, more counsel, more inspiration. You need more help.
That is why it is absolutely critical, as a coach who wants to be one of those helpers, that you:
1.) provide real, tangible value,
2.) present yourself as a trustworthy advisor, not another money drain. An investment that will yield a profitable return.
Fear is natural. Implementing defensive strategies is instinctive. But both are counterproductive. It is impossible to both advance and retreat simultaneously.
Retreating is what your competitors are doing.
Statistics show that businesses that maintain or increase aggressiveness in their investments such as marketing and coaching during recessionary phases grow more than 200% more than those that pull back.
The challenges are daunting; the opportunities are awesome.
How are you responding to the tough times we’re going through now? How does this affect your interactions with clients and prospects?
Counteract This Trend
You’ll do well to consider different strategies to make your services accessible to your target audience. Low-cost entry items, pared-down basic coaching, and group sessions are possible choices.
Whatever you do, do not devalue yourself or your services. The attitude that says “I know it’s hard out there, so I’ll discount my prices,” is a position of weakness. You are not a commodity. You are not less valuable just because the economy is in bad shape currently (If anything, you could charge more because of inflation!)
A better move would be to present alternative options, multiple ways you can help different people in different financial situations.
The quality of what you deliver is of paramount importance here. If you sell a book that makes marked improvements for the reader, not only will he be more likely to purchase your higher-level offers, but he’ll be more able to do so because of those improvements.
Coaching is not a zero-sum proposition. Your clients are not $2,000/month poorer because they retain your services. They pay you (you win), you help them achieve their goals (they win), and everyone is richer and happier.
Coaches who approach their practice from the perspective that someone wins and someone loses are forfeiting some of the benefits they should be getting. They may be doing more harm than good.
As was noted in the introduction, the pool of coaches and consultants grows daily. There are really good ones, really bad ones, and everything in between.
What can you do to outmaneuver your ever-expanding number of competitors?
How will you establish your uniqueness to the market?
What makes you more attractive to your chosen audience? How can you build on that foundation?
A.) Do you have a specialty? A very sharply-defined expertise or niche? You may or may know this, but specialists tend to be able to charge higher fees than generalists in any given field. Think brain surgeons versus general practitioners.
It’s also easier to get noticed and establish yourself as an authority in a small corner of any industry, rather than compete with everyone else.
B.) Do you possess a rare certification? Have you worked with a famous client who got outstanding results? Do you have a pile of testimonials from clients who will sing your praises?
If any of those distinctions apply to you, put that information in the foreground.
C.) What activities are you doing that other coaches are not? Where are you available that your peers can’t reach? What can you add to your repertoire to take the strategic advantage?
D.) What are you willing to do that none of your colleagues has the guts to try? What ways can you think of to differentiate yourself from the pack?
E.) What special ways are you touching and helping people? Society? The world?
F.) Is there an unusual guarantee that you offer to your clients? Specific results you basically promise that they will experience?
Don’t take for granted that would-be clients know these things. Tell them!
If others make the same claims about themselves truthfully, you have some more work to do to find your USP.
If your peers could make the same statements, but don’t, you can preempt them and take ownership of those claims. Be the first, and everyone else becomes a copy-cat.
What is the biggest, boldest claim about your services that you can honestly make? Say it!
The idea that you should “under-promise and over-deliver” is another myth that can cause considerable damage if you believe it. There is no question about over-delivering – you should always do that. The problem lies in under-promising.
Under-promising can be suicidal for your business. Imagine a dentist who advertises “Your teeth will probably be fairly clean when I’m finished,” because he wants to under-promise. Who would ever set up an appointment with that dentist? No one will find out how amazing the final delivery is; they will visit the dentist who guarantees that his patients’ teeth will be sparkling white and healthy.
That only makes sense. Under-promising sets a low expectation, which makes the over-delivery all the more pronounced. The hope is to surprise and delight the customer. But, weak promises will keep a customer from ever considering the purchase.
Make the strongest claims you can make. Otherwise you end up blending in with the competition. A reliable way to secure a steady flow of the type of clients you want to work with is to be great at something (the very best if at all possible) and make sure as many people in your target audience know about it.
Coaching is one of the most rewarding careers anyone could hope to have. To be able to positively impact the lives of individuals, organizations and society as a whole is an enviable position to be in.
Coaching can also be a particularly challenging business to build. It is likely that there will be even more impediments to growing your coaching practice in the next few months. Using insights gleaned from this report can give you a sizeable advantage over those who don’t see what’s coming down the road.
Continue to improve yourself and your ability to give incredible service to your clients. Carve out time to work on your business itself, as well. Prepare for the difficulties that are coming, and set yourself up for continued success.