It’s no secret that business coaching is a growth industry, expanding at over 7% per year to over $1 billion annually. Yet even in this environment, there are clear winners and losers. With awarenow.io, the online coaching platform, we surveyed 50 business coaches to ask them why some coaches fail. The results were remarkably consistent, focusing on 6 key areas.
Why Coaches Fail #1: It’s a Marketing Business...
By far the most common response to the question of why some business coaches fail can be found in lack of attention to sales and marketing. A coaching practice is a business, and like any other business, it needs to invest in sales and marketing to gain customers. As Alexis Haselberger put it,
“If you expect people to just find you, you're going to fail. You need to be out there getting in front of people, providing value, making connections, following up, etc.”
Specifically, many coaches don’t put enough effort into producing and sharing content to attract potential clients. Roger Southam observes some coaches “not collecting testimonials to substantiate and enhance track record” while Michael OBrien sees too many coaches who “don't provide clarity on who and how they help or put themselves out into the public domain.”
That said, marketing does not mean hard-selling. As per Kara Duffy Coaching & Consulting: “I disagree with the always be selling quote. You should always be selling and listening for the opportunity to be of service.”
Why Coaches Fail #2: ...But not at the Cost of Quality Delivery
While many coaches fail to emphasize marketing enough to give themselves a reliable and stable stream of clients, others err by going too far in the opposite direction. Especially in a field where referrals and reputation are as important as they are in executive coaching, delivering quality results is crucial. According to Gems Collins, such coaches “focus too much on getting new clients and more money, rather than giving their clients the best service that they deserve.”
Why Coaches Fail #3: Lack of Focus
Industry observers agree that the future of business coaching lies in specialization, yet many business coaches are reluctant to shut themselves off from some sources of potential clients to focus on a specific niche. This presents a sales and marketing challenge for coaches, who find that being an “executive coach” is less compelling for a given niche than, e.g., a coach for CPG marketing managers.
Lack of focus also makes it harder for coaches to deliver value to their clients, observes the BetterYou coaching practice. “Trying to do too many things for too many people, often leaves you having a deep impact on no one.”
Similarly, the Boston Turner Group notes that unsuccessful coaches often “did not keep their focus on their real expertise and experience and strayed too far from the best value they could provide.”
This lack of focus is not only driven by business reasons, albeit misguided ones, but also by the nature of coaching and the type of people the industry attracts. Coaches, by definition, want to help people. Normally, this is a positive; it’s hard to imagine someone being a successful coach who does not have an innate desire to assist others to reach their potential or solve their problems. However, a desire to help that is untempered by realistic boundaries can cause problems of its own. As Small Business Coach Susana Fonticoba explains:
"Some coaches try to help too many different types of industries and clients; this may result in a disconnect between the coach and the client. We hate to give up and are not eager to admit when the pairing is not working. Every coach is a great match for someone, but not for everyone. We want to say yes to everyone because of our innate desire to support growth and development."
Why Coaches Fail #4: Know Your Client
While focus on an industry, function, and/or specific issue is important, coaches need to be aware that even within their speciality, every client is different. Billy Goldberg sees that many unsuccessful coaches “prioritize their system over what is right for the client and don't adapt.”
Put another way, Tom Marino cautions coaches against “using a ‘one shoe fits all’ methodology and not having an understanding of the clients and the cultures of the organization.”
Successful coaches need to communicate effectively with clients, and this process is a two-way street. Lori Karpman stresses that coaches need to
“actively listen to the client [or else they] cannot meet their needs. These coaches do not see the client's point of view. They act from their own experience and not based on the real skill set and experience of the client.”
Why Coaches Fail #5: Time Allocation
A recent benchmarking study showed that 85% of coaches spent less than half of their time on paid coaching, while on average 16% of a coach’s time is devoted to billing, scheduling, and progress reports.
Successful coaches free up as much of their time for marketing and coaching, and automating processes that can be automated. As Michelle Dellavalle observes, unsuccessful coaches are characterized by “spending too much time on non-income related tasks (instead of focusing on paid client work and marketing).”
Why Coaches Fail #6: Undervaluing Your Work
In an industry without strong established pricing benchmarks, many coaches end up selling their work for less than it is worth or less than clients would be willing to pay. Coaches who are uncomfortable with the selling process or who are uncomfortable with the feast-or-famine nature of a consulting business are particularly vulnerable to this.
Many coaches observed the practice of giving away too much work for free as a major factor in coaches undervaluing their work. The benchmarking study referenced above indicates that on average, coaches spend 14% of their time on unpaid coaching work; about one-third of the time (41%) that they spend on paid coaching.
While some unpaid coaching can be valuable as part of a sales and marketing plan, Holly Jean Jackson stresses that many coaches “give away too many services for free including their proprietary processes."
Similarly, Dr. Taryn Marie Stejskal observes that a significant number of
“business coaches don't believe in their inherent value, and consequently, the value of their time and training. I see many coaches giving away too many of their resources and time, or undervaluing their skill set. It's important for business coaches to be clear about the value they add, their level of expertise, and be compensated well for their work."
Even in a growing industry like business coaching, there are winning and losing business designs. Successful coaching businesses are characterized by focus: focus on core activities (coaching and marketing); focus on specific customer segments; and focus on your specific clients’ needs. Marrying that focus with ensuring that you are fairly compensated for the value you bring will position you and your coaching practice for success today and in the future.