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How to Build a Successful Coaching Business

  • POSTED ON MAY 10, 2023
wooden male figure climbing steps to building a coaching business

You’ve decided to become a Co-Active coach and start your own coaching business. Congratulations! You’re embarking on an exciting journey, full of ups and downs, that is worth every moment.

There’s nothing more rewarding than helping others achieve their goals and realize their potential using a powerful coaching methodology.

As a coach, you understand the importance of taking a holistic approach to coaching and integrating all aspects of your clients’ lives. The same applies to building a coaching practice.

Recognize You’re an Entrepreneur

You need to treat your coaching practice like a business if you want it to be successful. That means creating a business vision, setting goals, and developing a marketing strategy that aligns with your coaching philosophy.

But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s take a step back and acknowledge something important: you’re not just a coach; you’re an entrepreneur.

That means you’re uniquely equipped with the skills and mindset to build a successful coaching business. You understand it’s about learning and growing through many stages, an evolutionary process that you will iterate and iterate the whole time you are in the business.

The 4 Stages of a Coaching Business

To understand the evolution of a coaching business, I have broken it down into 4 stages: coach in training, startup, sustainable success, and legacy. These stages come from my own experience as well as working with 100s of other coaches.

My own journey started in 1999 when I entered the classroom of a CTI workshop held in Washington DC. As the first day’s training came to an end, I knew I was home. 

I had found my new profession, and nothing was going to stop me from making it a success.

I was filled with a new kind of joy about how we humans can actually relate in ways that bring us alive more fully. It is a joy I have carried to this day. I have never regretted my choice to pursue this profession as a Co-Active coach.

How I Made My Dream a Reality

I was, however, in for a lot of surprises ahead as I left my corporate job and went to work as CEO of my own business. 

I had my lightbulb moment while having a conversation with a friend about quitting my job. I don’t remember the exact words spoken, but the lightbulb illuminated the words “business development.” 

What I needed to do to make my dream a reality was to treat it like a business. Not a craft. Not a hobby. Not something that would magically happen just because I wanted it to happen. This was a business.

My passion for learning the skills of coaching grew through my final weeks of training and certification. I knew I would be a competent coach. I aspired to master the craft.

Then I turned my attention to building a business to support that passion along with a fulfilling life.

One of the reasons I have been able to support myself during the many iterations of my business, to have a steady stream of clients as well as other streams of income, is this: In that lightbulb moment of realization, I saw that being a coach in training was just one stage (the first one) of creating a successful business. 

Very much like we humans move through childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and being an elder, there is an evolution through 4 natural stages of a coaching business. The paradox is that they are not always linear and neat.

When you take on the perspective that a coaching business is a living entity that moves through a natural evolution, it will help you relax and grow your business at the pace that works for you. 

Stage #1: Coach in Training

You are committed to being the best coach possible, so you have enrolled in a coach training program. At this stage, it is time to improve your skills and determine how you might use coaching in your work. 

Your main focus is on learning how to coach. 

You need to work with clients to be able to practice coaching and see if this is your calling. You need to learn how to talk about coaching as a profession, so you can have those clients to practice with!  

In this stage, you will be experimenting with your client enrollment style and learning to use your coaching skills to help your current clients and to enroll new ones. 

During your training, income is secondary to learning. This is important to remember!

Though the two can go hand in hand, this is the opportunity to soak up the learning, with a soft focus on the marketing aspect that you can ramp up as you complete your training. 

During this stage:

  • You might want to create a basic website to describe your coaching. You might want to simply have a Facebook page or LinkedIn profile with your coaching information, so people can check you out. 
  • You will want to begin doing some simple marketing. You could, for example, offer a free or low-cost session that uses some of your favorite coaching tools such as the wheel of life or values exploration. 
  • If you like public speaking, you can sign up to do a talk for a local networking group about some aspect of coaching that lights you up. This can be done online as well.
  • There are many opportunities to take part on other people’s podcasts or on social media. Most important to remember here is to keep it simple. 

While you are in training, you will want to begin exploring possible coaching niches, since having a clear niche is one of the easiest ways to market your services. You don’t have to nail it down just yet. As a coach in training, you will want to experiment here too. 

Start by noticing what type of clients are drawn to hire you and the topics you like to focus on with your coaching. 

This is one of the paradoxes of a coaching business. Yes, you can coach ANYBODY about ANYTHING. 

However, you will find you will do your best coaching with certain people who have specific qualities. It is also true that there are some challenges you enjoy helping people move past more than others. 

As you near the end of your training, you will explore how you want to use coaching in your work going forward.

Stage #2: Startup

This is the hardest and most essential stage of all. When you begin, you will experience the ongoing discomfort of conscious incompetence.

In this stage, your learning will be as intense as it was in coach training. But now your learning will have a different focus.

The good news here is that coaching skills work well with marketing and sales! 

The most important thing to accept — and maybe even embrace — is that this stage of business will take a while. You will need to stay in it until you create a stable foundation on which you can build sustainable success.

All this will go on for longer than you might like.

As a coach, you know that coaching is all about meeting your clients where they are and helping them tap into their own inner wisdom to achieve their goals.

The same applies to defining your niche and message.

You need to home in on what makes you unique as a coach and figure out exactly who you want to help using your coaching methodology.

A good coach doesn’t focus on the problem when coaching. Our job is to help our clients find their own solutions. However, people hire a coach to help them solve a problem — it’s simply human nature.

Here’s a saying I love that speaks to this: People are pushed by the pain and pulled by the dream. 

To begin exploring your niche and identifying your ideal clients in the startup stage, notice what problems people hire you to help them solve. Which circumstances and situations resonate with you? What results do you love helping people achieve? 

From this information, you will craft your marketing messages and know to whom you wish to direct them. This is the central activity of any successful coaching business.

Next is to explore which marketing channels align with your coaching philosophy and personality. Maybe it’s social media, email marketing, content marketing, speaking engagements, or networking.

Whatever channels you choose, make sure they allow you to authentically connect with your ideal clients and showcase your coaching skills. 

Stage #3: Sustainable Success

You know you are fully in this stage when your income is steady as a result of consistently effective marketing activities. 

As you grow into this stage of business, you will create coaching offers that are scalable. You might have a combination of individual and group offerings and perhaps some that are evergreen.

To grow and stabilize in this stage, you will need to have a recognizable brand with a central message, look, feel, and voice.

This takes time and effort, so don’t shortchange yourself by avoiding this work. 

To make the best use of your newly emerging brand, you will need to have good systems to keep your marketing on track and producing a steady stream of consultations. This is super important and will make you glad you did the foundational work! 

With a strong foundation, you will create a marketing and sales strategy that connects you with the ideal clients for your services.

You will want to grow in your knowledge of internet marketing, which will give a big boost of visibility and income.  

To maintain this level of success, you will also need a higher level of support, which could include: 

  • A marketing coach or mentorship program
  • Consultants
  • A virtual assistant

Other specialized activities that deliver your unique message: 

  • Write a blog
  • Publish articles 
  • Write an eBook or publish a full-length book
  • Host a podcast that connects to your message and the marketplace 
  • Craft a couple of signature speeches that highlight your message 
  • Find speaking gigs that put you in front of your ideal customer 

Stage #4: Legacy

In this stage, you are known as a thought leader who is valued for what you stand for. You have a large following and reach. People who follow you are inspired and feel you care about helping them in ways that are most important to their core values. 

As wonderful as it may be to stand in the spotlight and be sought after for your wisdom, the real payoff is how much you will be able to help people. 

If you choose to build your business to this stage, you will have the attention of the larger public and the money to live freely.

The most important thing to remember is to stay tuned into the impact you have in the world and the experiences that bring you the most joy.

Keep integrating those two things and — no matter what stage of business you are in — you will be at peace with yourself and live a fulfilling and prosperous life. 

You will have built a successful coaching business.

Abigail Prout Profile Photo
Written By

Kat Knecht

Kat Knecht is an internationally known business coach who has helped thousands of coaches achieve their dream of professional success through her Business Academy and as a leader for the Co-Active Training Institute. Kat believes wholeheartedly in the human potential and has made her impact on others through her work as a coach, trainer, author, interfaith minister and inspiring speaker. She brings an expertise gained from 20 years of success as a professional coach, which she shares in her new book Evolve Your Coaching Business. Kat lives in Ojai, CA, with her husband Curtis and kitty Coconut.

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