Best place for certified executive coaches to attract new clients

A recent article on this blog provided an illustrative executive coaching business model for those thinking about becoming a certified executive coach and getting executive coach training. This leads to the question, “Where do you find executive coaching clients once you are a certified executive coach?”

First, let’s discuss the approach that many executive coaches take, and why it isn’t ideal.

The common approach to finding executive coaching work is to try to get known by the Human Resources department of a large company. This approach is okay, and you can get executive coaching clients this way. However, it suffers from the following problems:

– Long sales cycles with lots of bureaucracy.
– HR often doesn’t have big budgets for executive coaching or consulting.
– You will be competing against other certified executive coaches on the approved list. This means that you will be up against 3-4 other executive coaches, have to spend time on “chemistry meetings” with the prospective client, and you really have only a 25% chance for each opportunity even after HR expresses interest. Not great odds.
– You are treated like a commodity.
– Often HR is limited in the number of sessions you can offer, and this can reduce your effectiveness.
– HR often has approved assessments you need to know or use, which can knock you out of contention or cause you to use a different approach than you normally would.
– Through all of this, you are likely to be coaching a manager that isn’t at the top of the organization and only has so much within his or her control.
– Meanwhile, the CEOs of these large companies have far too many people competing for their time and attention already, including some firms with more resources than you will ever have to break through the clutter. You are unlikely to get hired by them unless you come supremely well-recommended, are extremely well-connected, have a huge bestselling book, or are part of an elite consulting firm.
There is a different way. Here is the gist:

– Focus on growing companies in the middle market range. For me, that range is between $5 million up to $250 million in size. .
– You can often reach the decision maker directly in these companies, partly because they are more accessible and partly because they don’t have huge HR departments to serve as gauntlets.
– Instead of positioning yourself as an executive coach, position yourself as an expert or strategic advisor. Focus on big, pressing problems you can solve, not on whether you are a coach, trainer, consultant, or facilitator.

This approach sets you up for a better business model. Now you can go directly to the decision maker and end user (of course, if there is an HR department you want them to be your allies and you can work closely with them, but your client can tell them to hire you). By positioning yourself as an expert, strategic advisor, or leadership advisor, you can tap into much larger consulting budgets and not be restricted to small executive coaching budgets. Also, you can be flexible in how you deliver results to the client, which can provide better customer service; you can be a coach, facilitator, assessment provider, consultant, trainer, or all of these things — whatever it takes to solve the client’s challenge and get results. Ultimately, this approach also tees up add-on and follow-on work, because you are working directly with the key decision maker(s).

Best of all, you set yourself up to become a trusted advisor to a top leader in the company. You can earn the right to be in their inner circle. 

Give it some thought. There are only 500 Fortune 500 Companies, and only 2000 Global 2000 companies. There are many more vendors trying to get in there.

Meanwhile, there are millions of smaller and mid-sized, growing companies. These companies are creative, it is easier to reach the top decision makers, and they have pressing challenges about change, growth, talent, and continuing to develop their abilities.

If you are getting certified as an executive coach or already a certified coach and not satisfied with your results, give this approach a try. It could change everything for you.

Great news: Join the Center for Executive Coaching and we show you how to position yourself for success, whether as an external or internal coach. We guarantee that no other coach training program comes close to providing the business development and marketing guidance that we do. You can join our distance learning program anytime, or come to our in-person seminar. Take a look at the options under Get Certified on our website, and contact us anytime with questions. My name is Andrew Neitlich, the Founder and Director of the CEC, and you can reach me at my email at

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