This blog entry is short and sweet, and I hope you find the advice here as valuable as I did when I started out.
A coaching mentor of mine gave me this advice: "Never get rich off your first engagment with a client."
I have taken that advice to heart. My goal with any new prospect and potential client is simple: Find a way to work with him or her, or his team, in some small way so that I can prove my worth.
This has saved me tons of work compared to other coaches.
First, there are some coaches who think the best way to get a new client is by working for free. This might work for some, but I have found it to be a horrible strategy. That's because it is extremely hard to convert free clients to paying clients. Also, it is difficult to coach a client who has no skin in the game, and there is no better "skin" than a commitment to pay money. Finally, if you offer free coaching, you attract people looking for free stuff — not exactly my ideal client profile.
Second, on the other end, I know coaches who burn themselves out pitching and writing proposals for high six figure and even multi-million dollar coaching engagements. Their conversion rate is very low, because they haven't yet established trust or credibility with the client. Also, they can never know for sure whether the client is serious or just looking for some free reading through a well-written proposal.
My approach takes the middle ground, and works great. I get in with a small assignment — maybe coaching to resolve an issue, coaching over a 6-month period with a single executive, or an iniital assessment phase. That gets my foot in the door to learn about the client, uncover issues, show what I can do, and build the relationship. Follow on work almost always follows.
Get rich over the long haul with your clients. Don't try to get rich on the very first assignment.