Some members of our Executive Coaching Certification program have received news that they are being laid off. At least one, an executive in a Fortune 500 company, thought he would get a severance package, and the company didn’t provide one. Now he has no choice but to attract clients and get his executive coaching practice going. As another member noted, “It has been my plan to start an executive coaching practice. I just didn’t know I would have to start it right now.”
What about you? What if you have always wanted to start a practice, and now you have no choice? To stay on track financially, you have to attract clients. ASAP.
This article is a guide to get going if you are in a position where you have to get clients as soon as you can. When you join our program, you get the tools, processes, templates, and one-on-one support you need to get your practice started. I don’t know any other Executive Coaching Certification program that comes close to providing the content we do or this level of ongoing support for its members. (Caveat: Please do not join our program unless it is financially responsible for you to do so).
So what do you do to get that first client and start your practice ASAP?
First, you have to be an effective executive and leadership coach. Part of being a successful executive and leadership coach is to have a track record of success — whether in a leadership role, academic studies, or all of the above. That will go a long way towards being credible in the market.
Also, please take the time required to get certified with a training program like the Center for Executive Coaching, so that you get the tools and processes to get results for clients and stand out from the crowd. I can’t tell you how many calls we get from people who went for a low-cost option, an academic program, or a life coaching program in disguise — and they complain: “My program isn’t teaching me how to build a practice but I am too far in to get a refund and start with you.” Please don’t fall into that future trap.
Once you are in the right coach training program, here is a step-by-step guide for when you have no choice but to attract clients as quickly as possible:
One: Figure out the problem you solve and for whom. If you can say, “I help X to get Y” or “X comes to me when they struggle with Z,” then you are on your way. “X” should be specific, like “healthcare leaders in hospital systems,” not something general like “leaders” or “small business owners.”
Many coaches struggle because they try to sell coaching, instead of solutions to problems. If you focus on selling coaching as a feature, you will come across as a me-too commodity like far too many other coaches. Instead, focus on a valuable solution to a specific problem your specific clients face. That is where “I help X to get Y” comes in.
When I first started as a coach, I struggled for six months because I tried to skip this step. I thought I could sell my services to anyone. As a result, I couldn’t convince people to hire me. I came across as too generic. At one networking meeting a new contact said to me, “Andrew, I get that you are smart and want to help. But I can’t refer you to anyone because I don’t know what you stand for or the specific value you bring.”
That’s when I committed to…well, committing. I decided that I would help leaders in non-profits who were struggling to get their board of directors on the same page about strategy, who were frustrated with how to engage their teams, and who were overwhelmed with too many priorities. Within a month, I had two clients. A year later, I had established myself as a dominant player in this space, and could trace a good portion of my full practice to these first two clients.
It might be tempting to rush around telling everyone about coaching and how it can help. It is soothing to think that everyone in the world — or at least leaders in the 14 million businesses in the USA, not to mention the many more millions worldwide — could all be clients. However, what’s the point of having unlimited prospects if you have a zero percent conversion rate? It is much smarter to focus in on a niche and have a sustainable executive coaching practice. By focusing, people in your niche will see you as credible compared to generalists, because you speak their language, customize solutions to their needs, and hang out in places where they will see you and take notice.
Two: Craft a compelling marketing message. If you go to the websites of most coaches, you will find most of their marketing messages to be disappointing. It is all about them: “I am….” It is all about some sort of feature or program they offer, but without highlighting a key issue their target client faces: “I specialize in ontology and neuro-plasticity…” The upshot of these messages is that the coach comes across as generic, pushing a philosophy or approach that the client isn’t asking for. This won’t work — and certainly won’t separate the coach from the competition.
A good marketing message starts with the client’s problem, and the benefits you bring. No decision maker interested in executive or leadership coaching wants to read about you until they have read about themselves. You have to know how to tell a story that gets the reader engaged. Then, after you show that you understand their problem and can bring value, that’s when they ask, “So who are you and why should I hire you specifically?” Now you have earned the right to talk about yourself, although you better do it in a way that answers the client’s questions.
Finally, a good marketing message invites the client to continue the conversation without risk to them, or without feeling like you are selling them.
We provide you with a template for a good marketing message. Last week, we even reworked the marketing messages of a few of our members, and the “before” and “after” are now in your member area to review and use as a guide.
Three: Build social proof. Social proof matters a lot in today’s world, even if it might seem like smoke and mirrors. Create a good LinkedIn page with quality connections and recommendations, promote your credentials, and start posting good quality content. When people check you out online, you want to make the best possible impression.
Four: Create at least one high-value educational product you can give away. Clients want want to know that you are credible. By creating an educational giveaway, you can leave something with clients that show that you are an expert, not just another fly-by-night coach. Examples include: a three-page executive brief detailing how a client can solve a problem they face, a one-page checklist or assessment, a white paper, an ebook, a how-to guide, a video explaining how to solve a big challenge, research of findings you discovered by interviewing thought leaders in your target market about a leadership problem they face, and/or an infographic that artfully explains the root cause of an issue.
Once you have one high-quality educational giveaway, you can share it with people in your network that might not know you well but could open doors for you. Build from there with other giveaways. You can even repurpose one piece of content in other form, for instance by converting an article to a YouTube video. Soon you will come across as an expert.
Five: Leave no stone unturned to get visible. Now you know who you want to meet. You know the problem you solve. You have a marketing message that explains how you can bring value. It is time to get visible.
There are four ways to do this. The first and most important is by starting with the people you know and have known. Don’t try to sell them. Ask them for introductions. Tell them who you help and ask if they can introduce you to anyone who might get value from the solutions you bring, or who might face the problems you solve. These people are your power base. They will help you, and maybe even hire you if they have a need.
Similarly, look for people you know — or can connect with on LinkedIn — that offer complementary but non-competing services to your market. Maybe you can form an alliance so that they bring you in to complement their solution, and you do the same for them. For instance, my executive coaching practice has grown through alliances with a personality assessment expert, an investment banker funding technology companies (as my practice evolved to technology and growth companies), an HR consultant, and even a former professional basketball player looking to coach fellow athletes through career transitions after sports.
The second is to find opportunities to educate your market about how you can help. Where can you speak? Which associations might have an interest in hosting you on a webinar? What research can you do via interviews, and then post, about a problem your market faces? There are many ways to educate others about how to solve big problems they face. Find a way(s) that works best for your style. In my own case, my first client came when a non-profit association hosted me to speak about strategic planning for non-profit organizations.
Third, become a leader in one or two high-quality associations where you can be a leader. If you want to work with technology leaders, find an association where technology leaders go. At the same time, get on the board of a non-profit organization you care about; some attorneys and accountants fill their practice with clients simply by sitting on a board of a well-respected organization. Quality matters more than quantity. Don’t dabble.
Fourth, get active online. Use LinkedIn to make connections. Don’t sell. Just ask connections how you can help. Where would they like an introduction or connection from your network? Cultivate the relationship. At some point, you might request a referral to anyone they know in your market. Take it from there.
In conclusion…If you are in the same boat as the coaches noted at the start of this article, it probably feels very scary right now. If you act like you have to build a practice — because you do! — and you do the work, it won’t be long before you look back and are grateful for your situation. We want to see you send a thank you note to whichever organization was foolish enough to let you go, because a career as an executive coach can give you more flexibility, freedom, and fulfillment (not to mention income) than most people ever get to enjoy.
Just keep up the attitude that you have to. It’s not a choice. It’s a requirement. Get going and, for our members, we are here absolutely anytime to support you.
To your success,
Andrew Neitlich, Founder