Mistakes: Lessons Learned in the Coaching Profession
Oops! What have I done!
In over a decade of full-time coaching, I’ve made my share of mistakes. For anyone considering a similar leap into the coaching profession or already in the midst of it, you may find some points here that resonate with you.
My top 5 mistakes and how I learned/evolved:
- Under-appreciating what it takes to succeed on the business side of coaching
- Bottom-up pricing vs. value-based top-down pricing
- Getting too attached to a mentor’s project to the detriment of my own
- Waiting a long time to invest in business mentoring
- Thinking I was too late to the party
1. I under-invested in the BUSINESS of coaching
While serving clients powerfully and with full heart is the key to building a trusted reputation where clients want to work with you, the back-end business must be savvy, else the legs of your business won’t support your well-meaning coaching efforts.
For 5 years I owned a CrossFit gym, I ran it as one of many arms of a coaching business, not as a primary business. To flourish though, that business needed a much higher and wiser level of focus. I made similar mistakes when splitting my focus between teaching workshops, coaching at events, and saying yes to every new client request I received. Add in launching a podcast, writing books, blogging, launching a YouTube channel, mentoring other coaches on a volunteer basis, etc -- and it wasn't sustainable!
End state: Super busy and a business that barely paid the bills. Full-heart mode without thinking through the business impact! If you run your business with too many arms in too many directions, it’s difficult to create sustainable business success with any of them.
Over time, I became much more selective in who I worked with and how I structured the business to thrive. I said NO more often, and this was not easy for me! I continued to study and grow my coaching knowledge, but spent much more time studying successful coaching businesses and managing my company with business sustainability and financial success in mind.
2. I set fees too low, for too short of time frames
In my early years of coaching, I set hourly rates for in-person work and monthly rates for coaching. I gave a lot of discounts and erred on the side of being "easy." I priced myself based on time and activity and not on the experience I could bring to a client and potential impact on their life.
I set fees based on time spent tapping the hammer, rather than on knowing where to tap it.
When I started my speaking business, I priced a motivational talk like it was a 1-hour consulting engagement, and gave extra unbilled time to the client to support other aspects of their event. And whenever a corporate client would cancel an event or I would hit a gap period where my athlete count dropped down, I would experience the panic of a zero earning month.
It’s extremely difficult to survive much less thrive in coaching with such a fee model. You either end up broke, constantly stressed or too scatter-brained (serving dozens of clients in piecemeal engagements) to do the things that help you grow and get out of your business what you want for your life. It impacts how you show up for clients as well and how they experience your work.
Many years later — years of studying and receiving high-quality coaching — I found success in pricing top-down, based on value delivered. I even created a free class in the speaking business to teach this.
I ultimately stopped offering an hourly rate and doing hourly engagements. My life coaching engagements are typically for one year and rarely less than 6 months.
When I work with a company, we arrive at compensation based on my contribution to their challenge and the aims of their event. My fees are high and so is the quality of my service. And there is a lot more fulfillment in the work itself at this tier than in the days of budget-pricing and trying to juggle a high volume of clients just to make ends meet. Whether you want your service to be a parallel of a Kia, Maserati or Bentley, do so unapologetically in terms of price and with a full commitment to the promised quality.
Please don't get me wrong on two key points though:
- Price yourself like a Bentley and deliver like a 10-year old Kia and your business won't make it. If you want to play big and stay in the game for a long time, then deliver big and with lasting impact.
- Operating with higher fees doesn't mean you can't serve a wide range of client budgets — it is actually what enables you to do exactly that. I have some clients with rates set nearly a decade ago, as well as a limited number of pro bono clients and engagements each year.
3. I often got too wrapped up in serving projects from my mentors instead of my own vision
Starting in 2010, I leaped into my newfound freedom of running my own business to learn from top coaches and teachers. From mental toughness camps to online courses to multi-month yoga teacher training courses, I went all-in to learn and to integrate that knowledge into my own approach. Along the way, I found myself getting more and more involved in supporting my mentors’ businesses, often first as a volunteer and later in a paid role. While I learned a lot from getting so close to someone’s business, on a few occasions, I stayed too long and nearly lost myself and my own dreams, as I prioritized their business over mine and perceived a loyalty that didn't exist.
The most valued mentors I’ve worked with are king-makers and you see this consistently in their actions of lifting up their apprentices, helping them thrive in their own projects and ultimately guiding them into a direction to flourish. On the flip side, other types of mentor "kings" will churn through apprentices and staff, collecting a short-term benefit from their drive and desire to serve, before discarding them. I've worked closely with both types over the years and have learned countless lessons from both.
These days, I focus my energy only on the king-maker style of mentors, as well as my own dreams and not a mentors' projects. And my aim going forward is to focus my own coaching work on developing others so that they may flourish, on supporting the kings, queens and all in between in stepping onto progressively larger stages to live out their dreams.
4. I waited a LONG time to invest in mentoring & coaching for myself
I've always been willing to invest in my education, but I got so focused on building knowledge and experience on coaching content that I overlooked the type of mentoring support that would have had a huge positive financial impact had I taken advantage of it. From opening a gym to writing my first book to launching a podcast, I never bothered to ask anyone who was successful in those areas to coach me.
I simply marched into each project full of passion and a willingness to experiment. After my first book launch, I spent $1,000 a month on ads, with no idea what I was doing! And guess what? The return on investment was terrible. I ran a podcast for a year without realizing the massive time commitment and with no real vision for the project or how to leverage it to grow my business. Once I finally decided to invest in coaching, I was relieved to see that others had solved these challenges before me and were happy to guide me.
High quality coaching is expensive and should be. The level of investment I've made in coaches and mentors over the years has always come back to me faster than I imagined it would and in meaningful ways (that extended beyond revenue) and touched my life.
While I waited way too long to invest in specialized mentoring for various projects and business phases, I did receive some outstanding mentoring for free over the years, from an amazing group of friends and supporters. I highly recommend creating opportunities for both options, a specialized mentor/coach and a pro bono Board of Directors from your network.
5. I wrongly thought I was too late to more than one party
In the mid-90s, I was in a graduate program for IT. I recall skipping a meeting on this new thing called the World Wide Web with some sort of "browser" technology. I skipped the meeting to focus on a business database project--that went nowhere. Once I realized what I had "missed out" on, it was the late 90s and I told myself I had missed the boat on web-based businesses, that I was too late to the party to do anything with the Internet. How was I wrong!
Skip ahead and I filmed some running technique videos for YouTube a decade ago. The videos got over 100K views. By the time I realized I could have done much more in this space back then, I said I was too late to the party. Since then, countless channels have exploded with similar coaching content. Nearly the same thing happened in the Podcast space. My biggest lesson here is that if you want to do it, it's never too late. Those who are driven will rise to the top, and others will come and go. Every time I thought I was too late, I was wrong and my timing would have been PERFECT to dive deeper in. When I think of what media and projects I want to focus on now, I remind myself of this lesson.
Mistakes, not regrets
While I frame these decisions and events as mistakes, they are by no means regrets. From each, I learned a tremendous amount, lessons that I apply to my decisions and thinking to this day. And my hope is that I will help YOU avoid a similar mistake, forgive yourself if it's too late, or think about your own situation with a new perspective. And every time that happens, I see these mistakes more as treasured lessons.
I wish you a powerful journey toward what it is that you seek!