The top 8 most valuable pieces of advice about business development for coaches

Following are the top 8 most valuable pieces of advice I can offer you about how to build a coaching practice. For the most part, they apply whether you are an internal or external coach:

One: Before you worry about building a coaching practice, get the skills, tools, and methodologies you need to be a great coach. If you can't bring value to and get results for your clients, the rest is irrelevant. Getting clients is hard. Once you have a client, you want to keep that client for a long time. If you are a good coach, that will happen naturally, and business development will take care of itself. If you are a lousy coach, with skin deep solutions, you will always feel like you are running on a treadmill, because you will always have to replace clients that keep leaving.

Two: You have to know how to answer the question, "Why should I hire a coach?" Many coaches answer with a pitch about how coaching provides a great return on investment, five reasons to hire a coach, the growth in coaching, or the latest coaching fad (neuro – science, emotional intelligence, conversational IQ, whatever the marketing companies are marketing to coaches at the time). That's the wrong approach. The best answer to this question is another question: "I don't know if you should hire a coach. May I ask why you wanted to meet with me?" or… "I don't know if you should hire a coach. May I ask why you are interested in the subject?"

Three: There is no magic formula or script to sell coaching. Instead, coach the prospective client through the sales process (with thanks to my colleague and friend Mike Pacholek for this distinction). There is either a fit or there isn't. The client either has a problem and sees value in coaching or doesn't, and either has money or doesn't. Those are as much laws of nature as gravity and inertia. Your job is not to sell, but to use your powerful questioning skills to find out whether or not there is a fit between you and the other person. That's it. Don't start coaching them to solve their problem. Simply coach them to find out whether there is a mutual fit. In my case, I want to know whether the client will get at least a 5 to 10 times return on their time and investment from working with me — whether in the form of logical business benefits or intangible benefits like peace of mind or fewer hassles in the job. If there is a fit, we move forward. If not, I move on. The key is that I don't waste my time in selling conversations with people who want free coaching and consulting, or who are too polite or afraid of conflict to say "no."

Four: Watch out for the "Witch's broom." The Wizard of Oz is the best sales training movie ever. When they first meet the Wizard, he tells them that he will get Dorothy back to Kansas if she brings him the Witch's broom. What he was doing was nothing more than raising a classic sales objection, and hoping that it would cause the salesperson to go away forever. He was basically asking for a bunch of references, or a proposal, so he could say, "I'll think about it, now go away."

The key when someone acts like the Wizard of Oz and tries to send you on a quest for the Witch's broom is to stand your ground. Option one is to say, "Let's say I do give you three great references, what happens then?" If the prospective client doesn't say, "I'll hire you," then you have every right to suggest that now is not the time to get references and to handle other issues first. Or, you can say, "I am happy to get you three glowing references, but that is something I do at the very end of the process, as the very final step. What do we have to do before then to make sure you are ready to move forward?" Usually when I do that, the serious client never even asks for references!

The same is true when a serious prospect asks for a proposal. My reply: "I'd be delighted. Of course, I can't read your mind. Could we sit down now and fill in the key pieces, like budget and scope?"

Five: There is no magic formula to close a deal. Just ask, "What would you like to do next?" Ignore the many sales training books with all of their fancy closing techniques. They come across as inauthentic and gimmicky.

Six: Stop stressing out about how much to charge. If you are new to coaching, and you are struggling to know what to charge for your very first coaching engagement, don't panic. Take a deep breath. Remember that this is only one of many engagements and you will have a long and successful career. Figure out the price at which both of the following statements are true for you: First, if the client says "no" because your price is too high, you are happy because you know the client is too stingy and therefore not the right client for you. Second, if the client says "yes" you are equally happy because you are making just enough money to be delighted to have the work. That's it. You can always raise rates as you go. On my very first engagement about 20 years ago, I charged a fraction of what I charge now and while I share that amount on smaller forums, I am too embarrassed to post it here. But everything worked out fine! Relax.

Seven: Be a surfer, not a wave maker. Surfers wait for waves to ride into shore. They don't spend all of their energy slapping the water trying to generate waves. This seems obvious when we think about surfing. However, many coaches and consultants spend tons of effort trying to pitch their concepts and ideas to clients that have no interest in hearing them. That's the same thing as trying to create a wave in an ocean! I recently heard about a Fortune 500 consulting firm pitching their latest concept of what it means to be a great CEO and a great company to the market in order to rejuvenate revenues. Maybe they have billions of dollars in reserves to promote their idea to the world, but you don't. If you want to win business, stop pushing whatever you want to talk about and find out about the strategic initiative that is giving your client or prospective client the biggest challenges. Listen for their biggest constraint point that is keeping their business from growing or moving forward. That is the wave that you can ride to shore — not whatever fad or buzz word the coaching world is pushing at the moment.

Eight: Get rich over the long term with each client and with all of your clients, never on the first engagement. Try to find the easiest opening into a client that you can. Then you can show the client what you can do, and trust will go up exponentially. From there, you can find new ways to add value, develop the relationship, and get long-term work. This assumes that you follow the advice in point one and you have enough substance as a coach to be able to last over the long haul with a client. If you do, you will have long and profitable relationships with your clients. If you don't get greedy, everything will work out beautifully for you in the long run! In contrast, some coaches try to propose huge deals right up front with clients, before they have established any kind of credibility. They find themselves going broke with long sales cycles, wondering why other coaches are getting into big clients and staying there. Take it slow, find your opening, and expand from there. Be a slow, continuous force.

I hope that you find the above 8 pointers to be valuable! If you would like to learn more about a coach training program that is both practical and that includes business development guidance, please visit or contact me at


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