Five traps coaches fall into while establishing a business (and how to avoid them)

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If you read my piece “Three Ugly Truths about Coaching” you know that I am this funny situation. 
On the one hand, I harshly criticize the modern coaching industry and all the harm it does to coaches and to the people who put their trust in it. 
On the other hand, I am a coach, I work with coaches as a business mentor, and I love to see the difference that proper coaching can make for people.

Maybe this is my professional bias speaking, but I have a strong feeling that despite all the attempts to draw coaching as an easy and lucrative business, most coaches are really struggling. I was certainly struggling when I started, and still — 6 years and many-many grateful clients later — coaching business is a bumpy ride for me.

But what I learned is that bumpy can miserable, and bumpy can be fun. 
It really depends on why you take this road. Remember those hay-rides? 
Bumpy, yet fun, right?

So, I’m not here to ensure that your coaching business will be smooth and effortless. It won’t, and those coaches who want something smooth and effortless chose the wrong profession. 
But I learned how to make it fun, rewarding, and how to stop it from being so painful. This is what I want to share with you.

Here I will go thought the five common traps that make coaching business painful and not very effective.

Sure, the count of all the stuff that can sabotage your business goes well beyond five points.

But most of those things are obvious, and you already know you need to do something about it.

I want to throw light on the less obvious traps: I want to discuss the things that are conventionally considered “a good thing” for coaches, which makes them especially destructive.

Here are the 5 traps that coaches often fall into

1. The never-ending pursuit of certificates and accreditations (let’s call them C&A’s here)

We don’t think twice about it, right? Having more certificates is better for a business than having fewer certificates. Having more accreditations and namesakes you can use in your LinkedIn profile is better than having fewer of them. 
We certainly believe that without a certificate or accreditation you can’t practice coaching. There are plenty of organizations and people who want us to believe it. 
Why? Because of course you don’t get those certificates and accreditations purely based on your merits: you gotta pay for them. That’s how a lot of people make a lucrative income.

This is the first thing that is wrong about pursuing too many C&A’s. They take resources: your time, your money, and your energy. The more resources you put into one project, the fewer resources you have left for other projects. 
Therefore, when you distribute your resources you must have a clear idea about the return of that investment. In other words, will this new C&A bring you more clients, more interesting work, and more money? They don’t always do.

Again, those who sell it to you will bend over backward to make you believe that, of course, this certification will bring overwhelming success to your business.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you shouldn’t take any certification programs at all, and I certainly am not saying you shouldn’t invest in your qualification.

In fact, I insist that coaches continuously develop, and certification courses are not always the best way to learn. The money and time you spend to get another piece of paper to hang on the wall can be spent on reading a relevant book, taking a consultation with a subject matter expert, taking a specific course that won’t give you a certificate but will give you the skills.

Also, the time and the money you spend on getting another certification can be used to enhance your social media presence, create powerful content, design a client-friendly website, and do many other things that will contribute to your success much more significantly than C&A’s would.

By the way, I published a rant on yoga-teacher certification here, you might want to check it out if you still believe that the absence of certification is the only thing that stands between you and your success.

Bottom line: Before taking a certification course and pursuing another accreditation that will give you a promotion within the pecking order in your coaching area, take your time to consider whether they will really help grow your business and whether the certification program will require you to miss out on something way more efficient.

Certainly, if certification in your profession is a matter of legal compliance, you must take care of having your papers in order. However, in most helping professions there’s no legal requirement for certification, and the illusion of its necessity is created by who? Correct, by those, who sell them.

2. Attempts to look like a celebrity

I wonder if you noticed the same, but my Facebook feed is currently infested with ads of two kinds: “how to appear on TV” and “how to publish a best-selling book”.

It looks like these two are in trend currently. Earlier “gurus” from sponsored Facebook feed would push webinars on “how to become a social media influencer” and “how to build a six-figure-following”.

It’s hilarious, how “celebritification” became such a commodity these days, that almost every coach I know believes that “playing a celebrity” is what it takes to build a solid coaching practice.

In a famous Russian satire from the early 20 century, there is a character called Ella the Cannibal. I can only suspect why the authors chose such a charming pet-name for her. Ella was a lower class poorly educated young woman whose full-time occupation was competing with a famous actress. She reproduced the actress’s looks, lifestyle, manner of talking and moving, and personal life as much as a lower class poorly educated young woman could. In the book, she was a comic character.

Now when I see the self-promotion methods that are being offered to coaches left, right and center, I can’t help cringing: the whole industry is turning into Ella’s the Cannibal. Fake ghostwritten “best-sellers” (according to charts made somewhere in provincial Palestine), photos with celebrities, when everybody knows how they are taken, photo-sessions in rented rooms and rented outfits, “as seen in” sections on websites, listing famous publications that capitalize on featuring the aspiring new influencers…

Again, don’t get me wrong: if you really enjoy showing up as a celebrity, the world is your oyster. I’m talking to those, who learned to believe that all these machinations are a necessary evil that coaches have to endure to build a practice. It is not.

Most of the time it looks silly and repels a lot of clients who could really use a coach’s help. It is always expensive, and for many people, it is unjustifiably exhausting. Although the modern coaching industry does make it seem like coaches must be these flashy glamorous celebrity-ish fancy creatures, it is not true. Coaching is not a show, coaching is a service. 
If you are here to gather fans instead of serving clients, again, you are in the wrong business.

Bottom line: Don’t buy into the idea, that you need to acquire some semblance of a celebrity to be a coach. It is not needed, it is overrated, and often it’s harmful to the coach. Concentrate on presenting your clients with the value of your service, not your vanity.

3. Dependence on being coached and consulted

“You can’t coach if you aren’t coached”, — so I was told by the coaching school that I graduated from. 
For some time I believed in it. Until I realized that this rule wasn’t working for me anymore and that the coach was walking me in circles for my own money. 
I thought, maybe I needed another coach, so I hired another one, then another one… Same thing.

I never do things just because I was told so, I’m the authority challenging type. So I took a break from being coached to analyze what was going on, and how it happened that I hit the plateau in my personal and business growth despite having the overpriced “support structure”.

What I realized is that I was depending too much on being coached, and it was trumping my progress. Yes, at some point in life we do need help from someone to start moving. But once we take off, the same hand that helped us will sabotage our move.

It’s like learning to ride a bicycle: yes, you do need your dad to hold your bike to keep the balance and not fall at first. But once you’ve got it, you need to pedal yourself, and your dad can’t keep up with your speed.

If you were to ride your bike with someone constantly holding it, it would be no fun, it would actually defy the purpose of riding. 
Same here.

Once you get on your own two feet in understanding yourself, in mastering coaching techniques, in getting your business off the ground, you don’t need a coach or a consultant to baby-sit you on a constant basis. 

It seems counterintuitive, but the constant presence of that archetypal parent will trump your natural growth. If you know, that you can bring all your problems to the coach next week, you will make less effort figuring it out yourself, and you start losing the “lets-figure-it-out” muscle. I’ve seen so many coaches, who were caught in this paradigm, and who became needy and literally addicted.

I’ll tell you what, a coach that has lost the ability to address their own issues and who constantly relies on someone to ask them a few open questions and offer a shoulder to cry on, who needs accountability and ever-present encouragement, is not a very good support system for clients.

Again, the convention that every coach must have a coach is not there because it is true. It is there because it makes it easier to sell to the new coaches and make them addicted to an unnecessary amount of coaching.

Bottom line: Although in the early stages of your coaching career you may require more regular coaching, consulting, and support, at some point you must break out and learn to rely on yourself. When unsure remember the bicycle metaphor. Are you still afraid you may fall without that stabilizing hand or are you finally ready to have the real fun without always having to have someone to fall back on?

To continue this metaphor, sure you may fall from your bike and need a band-aid or a couple of stitches. Sure, your bike may break and you need a mechanic or a spare part. You will need help as your business is growing. But it is your responsibility to measure your real need for a consultant or a coach and get exactly what you want, not what that consultant or a coach wants to sell to you.

And, please, don’t become one of them. Learn to recognize when your client no longer needs your services and equip them for the free ride without you. They will be grateful for that, and nothing helps business grow like grateful clients.

4. Reliance on the “get rich fast schemes”

Coaching is advertised as a lucrative business with a fast and easy trip to the big money. This is something I fail to understand: why would someone who is after the quick big money go into coaching? 
Why would someone think, that working with other people’s minds and behaviors is an easy money-making thing?

Well, again, I know why: because for those, who sell those schemes to coaches it actually is an easy way to make some extra income. 
There are so many people out there who would happily take advantage of our greed or desperation to satisfy their greed or desperation.

Some will indoctrinate you into the idea that you should charge a small fortune per session, and give you tons of compelling reasons for that. 
Others will “teach” you how to put-together one webinar and one Facebook ad, that will generate an unstoppable flow of money. 

Funnels, master-minds, membership groups… There’s no end to actors who promise fortunes and fame without considering much what it actually means to be a coach, and why you chose coaching as a profession.

So, why did you choose coaching as a profession? For real?

There are a few tested and proven ways to make quick money, and coaching is not one of them. Coaching is a huge responsibility, it’s a complex qualification, it’s a very demanding job, and you should only consider it as a vocation if you love that challenge if it makes you feel alive.

A lot of coaches do choose the profession because of true love to it, but forget about it under the pressure of “success stories” and “money allure” and deviate from their initial course. Throwing yourself in the race for the quick money is not something that will make you a successful coach.

Bottom line: Remember, why you chose to coach in the first place. If you chose it because you believed that it is a quick road to big money, they lied and you are in the wrong profession. If your initial motivation was the true drive to working with people, but you got distracted by the shining ads of “overnight 6-figure-income”, recenter yourself. Remember your true goals and values.

Now, I’m not saying, that coaches don’t make money: we do, we provide a service, this is a job, and it can be as lucrative as you eventually make it. But we aren’t paid because we want to be paid: we are paid because we provide valuable service. So concentrate on what your clients actually pay for, and exit this stupid race.

5 “Greenhousing”: creation of “coaching circles” and isolation from the real world

It seems natural and right to be among your kin: if you’re a coach, stick to the coaching tribe, join associations, visit conferences, surround yourself with colleagues. There’s nothing wrong with it, as long as it doesn’t create the “greenhouse effect”. I’m not speaking about the damage to the atmosphere here (although, if you fly too much to those conferences, you’re probably contributing to that one as well). I’m talking about the effect, when greenhouse plants are so accustomed to the enclosed environment of the greenhouse, that they can’t survive outside of it.

Unfortunately, I often observe that the “professional environment” that is supposed to help you put your business out there, turns into professional isolation. It is especially strong in the coaching industry since the very concept of the service is relatively new and not so well recognized by the public.

Fear of rejection and failure so often pushes coaches into small closed groups, where support and understanding are abundant. But in those small groups, we lose contact with reality. In these groups, we all prefer to believe what sounds good to us: that our services are valuable and needed, that we are worth the money we charge, that coaching is a great profession, that there are plenty of people who are willing to pay for the service, that our competencies and qualifications are enough to provide a good service, that our shared marketing strategies work…

In a group, it is so easy to be swamped with the illusions that don’t help the business at all.

In order to build a solid practice a coach must turn his or her attention to the market: to the people who are not coaches, who have no idea what it is you guys believe in your “greenhouse”, who don’t speak that coaching language and often times have no clue what the heck you mean by “empowerment” and “connection to oneself”.

You must turn your eyes and ears to the people who have the problems that you can solve. You must reality-check with yourself whether you really can solve those problems. You must hear how they talk about their problems, and what they really want.

You’ll be surprised, but your best clients don’t really think that they need to “overcome self-sabotage” and “unleash their true potential”. They want to switch jobs, to have peaceful relationships, to start a career, to get rid of extra pounds, etc, etc, and you must speak their language.

Bottom line: business success requires that you pay attention to your real market and really understand your clients. When coaches isolate themselves in the enclosed professional circles to share fears and illusions, the opposite happens: they lose touch with the market, their clients become “them”, and promoting and selling is done from subconscious opposition, not cooperation.

If you need your professional circles, please use them to your advantage, but make sure you don’t treat it as a shelter from the “cruel wild world” of your true market. Your audience must become your primary tribe, not your colleagues.

If you made it here, thank you so much for reading this, and for being committed to providing ethical quality coaching services. 
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