Ep 6 – Four Mistakes I Made in Coaching Business Startup

This episode covers 4 big mistakes I made during the start up of my coaching business. Maybe you can relate.

Yes, I made all of these mistakes and more and I lived to tell the tale.

But I’ve experienced multiple magical turning points in my business as well. Wonderful things I never could have imagined came my way because I did not let my mistakes stop me.

And that’s the key, right?

My guess is that, as I talk about these pitfalls, you’ll recognize yourself in some but also realize that you’re much more savvy than I was at startup. Coaches seem to get smarter every year.

Mistakes are still the best way to learn. It’s a time honored tradition. And growing a coaching business, like any business, is a total experiment. It’s a long term gamble.

When I was able to see my business in that light it became easier to power through mistakes by making small adjustments instead of over reacting.

If you can teach yourself to think like a scientist or an innovator and play the long game, you’ll be golden. That gumption and grit will pay you back many fold.

Okay … enough preamble … now to dish the dirt.

Mistake #1 — Holding High Expectations

There are schools of thought about expectations.

Me? I’m with Shakespeare who purportedly said: “Expectation is the root of all heartache.”

That’s wisdom similar to the Buddhist belief that craving is what causes suffering. Sounds right to me.

See, I expected:

  • to replace my income before I quit my job.
  • to immediately get dozens of referrals from friends and family.
  • for everyone to get the value of coaching with a single free session.

The weight of those expectations and others crushed me. Because when things didn’t work exactly as I’d hoped, disappointment set in. I was certain that it meant I wasn’t good enough.

It didn’t mean that. It never means that. It only meant that the experiment was still alive. And, I needed to chill out emotionally while still taking action on behalf of my business.

Then, I realized pretty quickly that exchanging high expectations for low expectations was just another type of self sabotage. It’s totally de-motivating.

So it’s best to check expectations entirely. The winning attitude turns out to be another buddhist principle. Live in the present moment. Let love drive you in your business and show up as a professional. More about that in a minute …

I know now that for my first 2 years of coaching, I had been holding my breath until I arrived at an imagined destination.

Where did my high expectations come from? Well some was arrogance. Some was ignorance. And the rest was because …

Mistake #2 — I Drank the KoolAid

At the time, when I launched my coaching business there was a lot of hyperbolic messaging about coaches earning high 6 or 7 figures coming from rock star coaches.

As if that was the norm.

I’m glad to see that rhetoric has toned down. And several people who are earning high revenues these days are more transparent about the significant investment of time, sweat and seed money it takes to get there.

I was just listening to Natalie Eckdahl of Biz Chix, one of my favorite podcasts. She generously admitted that her first whole year of business, she had zero profit.

Four years later though, she is one of those phenoms. And I can tell she works very hard for it.

I appreciate her transparency so I’m going to pass that forward now.

My first year in my coaching business I grossed a whopping $10,000. Not enough to pay for my coach training, equipment and mentoring.

My second year I grossed $35,000. My third year — which was the year I figured out the right way to niche, brand and connect to a unique target audience with a specific problem — that year I made $75,000. And from there I took off.

I truly believe you will move faster than that if you thoughtfully design your business rather than just stumble into it like I did.

Six years into my business I started pushing hard for those big numbers.

Eight years into that race I found that the costs of doing business at that level were too high for me. But that’s me. You may have the stamina for it.

Now, if YOU have big number goals, you absolutely have a chance at it.

Consider though, before you climb the highest mountain, get strong on the smaller ones. Be strategic and patient with yourself or you’ll burn yourself out fast.

If you’re feeling like a loser because you’re not at the 6 figure place yet …

Don’t treat yourself that way.

That “American Dream” thing or the equivalent in other nations keeps us in a scarcity thrall — always looking for easy money. And feeling unlucky if it doesn’t happen.

That’s the real cause of suffering. True prosperity is about feeling the blessing of what you have while you still grow.

The healthiest approach I’ve found is to aim for stretch revenue goals that are appropriate for your phase of business.

Then, strategize each step you will take to reach that goal. Do the work. Evaluate how you’re doing from time to time and make incremental adjustments based on what your audience wants and what’s best for you.

In other words, experiment!

Mistake #3 — Staying Too Long in Student Coach Mode

While I both held absurd expectations and drank the KoolAid on the one hand, on the other hand I clung to student mode for nearly a year after coach training.

I was in perpetual student mode with my coaching business.

I kept giving free coaching. Or, I charged pitifully low fees.

I kept taking more coach training. I also spent a lot of money on programs that were teaching tactical approaches that I wasn’t developmentally ready for.

Have you ever enrolled in a program and finishes having nothing to show for it. Chances are the information was just too advanced for where you were in your business them.

That was the case for me. I hadn’t narrowed my niche enough or learned the psychographics of my audience. I didn’t know how to market without being salesy.

It’s part of the reason why I serve coaches in the start up phase to help them believe in their experiment and set themselves up well for the journey.

I have a lot of compassion for myself in that perpetual student mode. It’s a big deal to launch a business. I guess I needed that year to get ready for it mentally.

In the meantime I made …

Mistake #4 — Blindly Following Other Coaches

… down a rocky, barren road.

Yep. I pretty much did what I saw other coaches doing. I didn’t consider whether what they were doing was actually working for them. It looked cool. It sounded cool. So I was inspired.

I admired someone’s website and rushed to put one up that was equally pretty and honestly pretty vapid. It addressed everyone, prosthelytized about the wonders of coaching and had no conversion process.

My third website was the charm. I also spent a lot of money on a logo and a business card. I abandoned that logo long ago and never really needed the business cards for my almost entirely online style of marketing.

Basically, I invested in the trappings of my business without considering my overall strategy.

I think I’ve made all of the mistakes I possibly could have made in the start up phase.

My saving grace is that I’m tenacious. When I say I’m going to do something I don’t stop until I make it happen.

The silver lining of my impetuousness is that when I fall flat on my face I get up with curiosity and study the right way to do something until I can teach someone else how to do it.

So I hope that you’ve enjoyed me roasting myself today.

If you’ve gotten caught in a start up pitfall and want a hand to get back to ground level, I offer a Strategy Session. Scroll to the bottom of this page and click the button STRATEGY SESSION.

Mentioned in this Episode:

Natalie Eckdahl of the Biz Chix podcast.

My next episode is called Why is Coaching a Hard Sell?

Ep 5 – The Simplest Coaching Business Model

This episode is part of my Start Smart Series. A listener asked me to talk about the simplest and least expensive way to get a coaching business off the ground. Great question!

I love it when listeners tell me what they want to hear on the show. If you have a specific request, go to my contact page on —ProsperousCoachBlog.com — and get in touch.

High Profit, Low Tech and High Touch

The answer to the easiest coaching business model is ultra simple! It’s 1:1.

If you’re charging enough and enroll your clients into a longer term package, you won’t need many clients each year to make a good income. I only work with 20 – 30 clients each year.

Your marketing could be minimal if you have ready access to your chosen target audience. And because expenses are incredibly low for this business model, 1:1 is the most profitable option.

Think about it … You don’t have to have a website (although you may want to.) You won’t need a team or even a Virtual Assistant to help you with all the tasks because admin is minimal. You don’t need big coordinated marketing campaigns, a strong presence on social media or a bunch of apps with monthly fees.

Literally all you need is a phone and a private place in your home to take client calls. And maybe an inexpensive business card for networking.

You know what I’m describing, don’t you?

It’s the way every service entrepreneur did business before the internet. Don’t roll your eyes. It’s still the way a lot of service entrepreneurs operate.

Sometimes I wonder if it isn’t easier than all the online stuff everyone, including me, does now. But an online business model does allow you to have an international audience, and I love that.

For that analog way of business, you have to be an active networker, go where your clients are, be a good conversationalist and a non-salesy enroller.

When I started, I only offered private coaching. I found all of my clients through networking and speaking.

It was only in my second year that I added in face to face group coaching. Then started doing VIP days – that’s 3 to 8 hours of working with one person in one day.

It was only in year 6 that I shifted to online. I created a Membership Program. Honestly, a huge amount of work for poor returns. Then, I added a high ticket online Mastermind with two yearly retreats. And I sold two self-study online training programs. For one of them, I took a group of 20 – 50 through it quarterly as well with a closed Facebook group.

It was fun doing all of that stuff and I made good money. But it was soooo much work keeping it all rolling. And so much of my income was going to expenses!

That’s often overlooked when coaches choose a business model. The more complicated or technical you go, the harder you work, and sometimes the less money you keep.

There really is no passive revenue except royalties. I was lucky to have the opportunity to co-write Coach Training curriculum for a royalty and that curriculum is still being used.

Market Less, Serve Clients Longer

But you know what I like the most? Getting to know my clients well and doing deeper work. The 30 hour work week with a 4 day weekend isn’t bad either! That’s my lifestyle choice.

So in my 20th year in business, I’m back to working privately with client in a 5 month comprehensive coaching business building program. I also offer a 90-minute strategy session.

So how do you find and enroll 1:1 clients? That’s a question for another episode. But I remember hearing what I thought was an urban legend, when I was in coach training …

Sandy Vilas, the then CEO of Coach Inc, supposedly worked with 80 clients each week, all of whom he enrolled simply by calling colleagues and inviting them to become his client. (To me 80 clients each week is 8x too many.)

That takes confidence plus a large and eager network. And my guess is that Sandy was an extrovert. LOL!

Every Coach Gets to Build Their Own Marketplace

The reality in today’s distracted world is that all coaches will need to find and develop their own tribe or target market. That’s why the wisdom is to fish in the smallest, most specialized pond, that you can.

The more you narrow your audience and then offer specific solutions to that group’s biggest problems, the faster you’ll build a network of fans who don’t really need to be sold on working with you. That’s the best!

And there’s a lot of joy in building a community.

What It Takes to Succeed with Online Programs

When people hire me to help them choose their coaching niche and build a business foundation I always ask them what they want to offer. Many say they want to quickly move into online programs.

I understand the attraction. You help more people transform in less time, which is especially great if you don’t have much time to give to your business right now.

But to succeed with online programs you need several things set up first, which takes time.

You need a fairly robust list — 5,000 people minimum in your target audience and probably more like 10,000 people who already know, like and trust you.

Develop joint venture marketing relationships with other people targeting your audience but who have a significantly different offer. That will help push your enrollment numbers up. (Another reason to narrow your audience and niche.)

If you’ve been listening to my previous episodes, you might have caught the idea that there are developmental stages in a business.

Start Up is the time to walk not run. That’s why 1:1 is the best way to start out as a coach.

Nothing will teach you faster about yourself and your audience than working with clients privately. You’ll learn about your strengths and weaknesses. You’ll figure out your secret sauce — a talent you have that’s unique and leverageable.

And, once you’ve worked with a few dozen clients privately who are all in the same unique target audience, it’s easy to create online programs that more of them will buy.

Mentioned in this episode:

Contact me if you’d like to request a specific topic for the Prosperous Coach Podcast.

The next episode is: 4 Mistakes I Made in Coaching Business Startup (and I lived to tell the tale!)