To Niche or Not to Niche? A Short Guide to Coaching Niches for New Practitioners
Posted on March 30, 2022
Apologies for the cliché, but this question seems to evoke the same level of existential debate among coaches as did Hamlet’s original lament: What are coaching niches? How do I find my niche? Can I have more than one niche? Do I have to have a niche?
As a mentor coach for coaches in certification (and beyond), I’m often asked these questions by new coaches who feel stuck and unable to move forward in getting themselves launched as coaches. What I offer here is not the right answer, because there are many, but a perspective for your consideration.
What Is a Niche?
Let’s start with the first question: what is a niche? A niche refers to the population you coach or intend to coach. It’s a specialization that, as in any profession, is used to narrow your focus or expertise. Just as a real estate agent might specialize in new homebuyers or a wealth manager may specialize in divorced and widowed women, many coaches choose to specialize as well. There are various types of coaching niches, and as you begin your coaching journey, you may hear of coaches who specialize in subgroups identified by age, gender, occupation, location, or special interests, among other designations. For example, some common coaching niches among practitioners are career coaching, leadership coaching, coaching for stay-at-home moms, and LGBTQ coaching. As you can discern from these examples, some coaching niches are focused on the demographic served, while others identify an area of interest or expertise. Both can be helpful in attracting the clients you most want to serve.
How Do I Choose a Niche?
Some coaches are attracted to different coaching niches because they have a particular audience they want to serve or a particular area of expertise they want to share. Your personal journey may include a life event that called you to this work. Prior to becoming a coach, I was an owner/leader of a marketing agency. To use another cliché, at times it truly was “lonely at the top.” As a result, I have focused part of my coaching practice on coaching business owners and leaders. I am passionate about providing the type of trusted support I wished I had during my time in a leadership role. A colleague of mine was diagnosed with ADD as a young adult. Since then, she learned many skills that helped her minimize the common challenges and find success in life and work. When she chose to change careers and become a certified coach, she already knew she wanted to focus her practice on clients with ADD/ADHD. She earned an additional certification specific to that niche and is a trusted resource for having “walked the walk” of her clients.
The Difference Between Coaching and Mentoring
Although there is often some overlap, there is a difference between coaching and mentoring. In a mentoring relationship, you have a particular expertise or experience, and your clients are hiring you for that expertise with the expectation that you will be contributing your knowledge in the way of problem solving, advice giving, or the sharing of resources. In a coaching relationship, the more you know and relate to a particular demographic or area of expertise, the more difficult it may be to self-manage your own opinions and remain unbiased to your own experiences. Clients may be attracted to you as a coach because you have a similar background, either personal or professional, and it may make your work together more challenging because of the assumptions or closely held beliefs you may hold. Proceed with caution, and consider designing into your alliance the opportunity to clear any assumptions or biases that may get in your way, as well as the opportunity to share your expertise separate from the coaching relationship, if that is appropriate.
Can I Have More Than One Niche?
You absolutely can have more than one niche. Many coaches choose to specialize in more than one area in which they feel particularly qualified, interested, or engaged. Part of the appeal of starting or building your own coaching practice is the freedom to design it just for you and to blend together coaching niches in a unique way.
Who are the people you most enjoy? What are the conversations that most interest or engage you? Where do you think you can add the most value or create the greatest impact? As you build your coaching practice, you will notice the people (and topics) with whom you most naturally connect and enjoy.
Early in my coaching practice, I focused on career coaching. It seems there are always people of all ages and in all industries in career transition! While I am grateful for those years because the work was interesting and plentiful, I found it somewhat transactional. Once clients found a new job, rightfully so, they ended the coaching engagement.
In the last five years or so, I’ve shifted my practice in part to executive leadership development, which is a broader niche that tends to invite longer engagements and deeper work, professionally and personally. Other niches that have developed organically over time in my practice include sales coaching, coaching coaches, and coaching “difficult people.” No doubt, my practice and my niches will shift as different clients show up and my own interests continue to evolve.
Do I Have to Have a Niche?
In a word, no. You are not required to choose from any master list of coaching niches. It’s my opinion new coaches should coach anyone and everyone who will sit still for a coaching session. Coaching is like dating: what you think you’re attracted to may not be who you end up with. A colleague of mine started a coaching practice for women and built a website promoting her coaching practice for women. A couple years later, she noticed most of her clients were, in fact, men. She was as surprised as anyone. Your Co-Active coach training and certification prepares you to coach anyone on any topic. Give yourself permission to be an expert in coaching, and let your clients be the expert in their life and work. As your practice develops, you may choose one or two coaching niches, or you may choose to remain open to broader possibilities by calling yourself a life coach, an executive coach, or simply a coach.
To have a niche or not have a niche is a question only you can answer. If choosing a niche is keeping you stuck or holding you back from launching or building your coaching practice, I invite you to set that decision aside for now and go out and coach. If you know you are called to coach a specific segment of the population or offer a particular coaching expertise, go forth and claim it. Either way, the world needs you and the one-of-a-kind coaching that only you can offer. Whatever that is, get coaching and let it shine.
What is your niche? Or are you still trying to find yours? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!