Successful coaches know how important it is to be aware of trends affecting your clients’ business. Often, however, we’re too busy following their industry to make time to follow our own.
Fortunately, awarenow has an amazing community of expert coaches and industry observers who are happy to share their insight. We polled them - as well as a few outside resources who are authorities in their field - and came up with 7 key trends affecting the coaching industry for 2021.
While some of these may overlap with how coaches can succeed during the pandemic or ways coaches can position themselves for success in a post-COVID world, these trends are not coronavirus-specific.
2021 Coaching Trend #1: Differentiated Virtual Coaching
Obviously, the coaching world has become more virtual in 2020. While experts differ about the extent to which this change is permanent, two things are clear:
- Coaching will be at least somewhat more virtual than in the past
- People have “Zoom fatigue” from too many boring video meetings
The second of these provides opportunities for coaches who get ahead of the curve. Ben Taylor of HomeWorking Club suggests that coaches can avoid giving their clients Zoom fatigue by “looking at what else they can do with video calls, with interactive presentations and other bells and whistles to boost engagement.” Similarly, Marcia Narine Weldon of Illuminating Wisdom notes that she is putting more effort into:
Reading a client's body language on a computer screen. This is a critical skill because so much of communication has nothing to do with words and many people will continue remote coaching in the future. I've also tried to meet with people earlier in the day, if possible because energy levels are so much lower than in the late afternoon and evening.
Group coaching over video presents its own set of challenges, and just like with 1-1 coaching, successful coaches will adapt by ensuring that they are making the most of the online medium. Anna Sulzman of Desired Path LLC recommends that “when conducting team meetings, coaches should ensure that everyone is given a way to contribute. Not everyone likes speaking up on camera so offer ways for people to share thoughts via chat/slack or similar tools.”
2021 Coaching Trend #2: Measurable Results
A trend in coaching that is gaining significant steam as we approach 2021 is an increasing demand for tangible, measurable results. Sha'Cannon of Sha' Cannon Business Solutions explains:
The trend I think will impact coaches the most in 2021 is a shift toward more hands-on critique and/or implementation rather than the sharing of theory, as more and more people report “coach hurt” or not having gotten value from coaches to whom they have paid thousands of dollars.
Valerie Koenig of The Alternative Board Hawaii has seen a similar dynamic at work, which she describes as ‘getting real’. "That is, coaching will have to deliver even more measurable results than it did in the past. Anyone who uses phrases like ‘moving the goalpost’ or ‘holistic approach’ will be shot on sight. Clients want simplified and streamlined critical success factors with realistic goals and action items that are regularly updated.”
This dynamic not only affects the delivery of coaching services but also its sales and marketing function. In short, “marketing and communications should focus on what, specifically, people will get from the program,” according to Francesca Nicasio of Payment Depot. Sha’Cannon elaborates: “Gone are the days of things like testimonials from unknown people and case studies featuring unknown sources, as certifiable proof of results. Potential clients will look to lean heavier on experiencing the doing from their chosen experts, rather than the showing.”
2021 Coaching Trend #3: Authenticity
Another trend that has accelerated dramatically as 2020 winds down is the increasing value put on authenticity. This has been fueled in part by decreasing trust in institutions and in the type of “corporate speak” that shades or obfuscates meaning.
In coaching engagements, vulnerability is often a key component of authenticity. Genesis Moreno-Balajel of How To Woman explains how vulnerability and authenticity work together:
Clients will be pursuing coaches that are more authentically sharing stories, experiences, outcomes, and techniques in a vulnerable fashion. People are tired of seeing the same old perfectly curated content, copy, and sessions that every expert is showcasing. The days of hiring a coach based on them having a perfect life and all the answers are over. Clients want a real person with real problems and a real life too. As you prioritize building on transparency and honesty the right clients will appreciate you as a person, not all your certificates and accomplishments.
Similarly, Kelly Perin of Little Bites Coaching foresees an increasing emphasis on “whole person coaching” as one component of authenticity: “The pandemic has blurred lines of work and home for so many of us in so many ways, and I’m seeing more and more of my clients talking more openly about their out-of-work lives, work/life balance issues, and personal relationships. I think we’ll continue to see greater integration and comfort with coaching the whole person rather than keeping ‘executive coaching’ strictly work-focused.” Part of authenticity comes in the form of what Kimberly LoveJoy of LoveJoyCO calls “embracing the suck”, which she defines as: “Instead of lamenting what is wrong, look for how our experiences can benefit others.”
In sum, many if not most clients need to feel a connection to their coaches to believe in their processes - or to hire them in the first place. As Tracy Benson at On the Same Page explains, “returning to the old-school ‘check your personal life at the door’ mentality increases the risk of negative outcomes, from individual burnout to the failure to meet business objectives and customer requirements.”
2021 Coaching Trend #4: Embrace Social Media
As people increasingly value authenticity, they will continue to gravitate to social media. (While it’s an open question about how much social media content is truly “authentic” it clearly appears to be more so than a press release or canned presentation). Furthermore, the drive to a more digital world in 2020 has fueled increased participation in social media, and this is a trend that is sure to continue at least to some extent. Emily Fitz of Heart Strong Productions explains further:
Coaches need to go all in on social media, especially Instagram as that is where the world is spending and will continue to spend most of their time into 2021 and beyond. Whether they are looking for inspiration, tips or tricks to solve their biggest problems, if you are not online you are leaving a lot of money and clients on the table.
Of course, being present on social media is not the same thing as succeeding with it. In a previous article, we covered how coaches can gain from social media; to add to this, coaches should be aware of the largely untapped opportunity of search engine optimization (SEO) on Instagram. Lauren Shroll at Camille Outside The Box recommends that coaches “pivot drastically in 2021 toward stretching the lifetime value of posted content on Instagram by applying SEO methodology, in order to generate fresh leads. This includes posting captions with niche keywords, adding alt text to images for all past and present posts, and optimizing the account name and handle with keywords related to the coach’s niche focus.”
While search engine optimization and social media marketing can be somewhat complex, we invite coaches on or considering the awarenow platform to contact us if you need marketing support.
2021 Coaching Trend #5: Productization
We’ve written about the importance of creating products, e-courses, and communities as part of scaling as a coach when your schedule is full. As more and more coaches do so, customers are coming to expect such offerings, and, in some cases, to prefer them. As a result, products are not only necessary for coaches to scale, but also increasingly important for many coaches just to serve clients who expect them.
Valentine Okoronkwo of Passive Secrets explains:
Successful coaches will go from selling 1-to-1 services to selling services that can be accessed by many people at the same time. With different time zones, languages, income levels and engagement levels, your audience may not be able to schedule sessions with you one-on-one, but that doesn't mean you have to forget about them. Productize your knowledge and create an online course. This will help you enter another segment of the market: people who like what you teach but who are not your personal customers for one reason or another
Indeed, with so many people feeling the effects of “Zoom fatigue” discussed above, offering a variety of ways to engage with your content will make you more attractive to some potential customers who wouldn’t be interested in 1-1 coaching.
2021 Coaching Trend #6: Inclusion
Few clients want political lessons from their coaches, but many will benefit from increased understanding around how increased societal emphasis on diversity and inclusion will affect them.
As Tracy Benson explains, “leaders who balk at bringing these topics into the workplace can appear wildly out of touch and inauthentic.” This is especially crucial in an environment in which authenticity is increasingly valued as expected, as noted above, and applies as much to coaches as it does to coachees.
2021 Coaching Trend #7: Specialization
Another trend that was gathering steam before the coronavirus struck can be found in specialization. Cher Murphy of Cher Murphy PR explains how digitalization has further accelerated this trend as we head into 2021:
As more people access coaching remotely, it will be less about general/group programs and more about client-centered approaches where the coaching plan is specific to the client and their personal and professional goals. Coaches will need to start getting specific with what they provide their clients, instead of casting a wide net. It will be imperative to have niches.
Clients becoming increasingly results-focused (discussed above) adds further impetus to this trend. Bradley Stevens at LLC Formations explains this dynamic: “Clients will now become specific and only look for specific solutions they want. This will become a trend as people do not want to pay for full courses they do not need. This will increase specialized coaches’ chances of getting chosen.”
Developing and being known for a specific specialty as a coach will be more important than ever in 2021.
As we approach 2021, it can be seen how many developments in 2020 have accelerated previously-developing trends as well as catalyzing new ones. While coaches help clients become more forward-looking, it is important to take the time to be similarly forward-looking in managing your own coaching business and brand.