How I Built A Thriving Coaching Business In Less Than A Year
The one question I regularly get asked from clients, colleagues, and friends is: “How did you build your coaching practice so fast?”
It doesn’t seem that fast to me, but technically I’ve been in business for less than a year so I suppose it could be considered “fast.”
I know from collecting your feedback that some of you like stories and some of you like actionable advice with exactly what you need to execute. So I’ll give you both.
I’ve been a coach for most of my life.
I was a huge nerd (and still am) who spent most of his weekends in the public library. I have early childhood memories of walking up to the checkout desk with a stack of the maximum allowed 25 books as tall as the space between my hands and my chin.
Sometime in high school I stumbled onto the personal development, self-help, leadership, management section. I dove in headfirst and devoured everything I could. I was reading books written for senior executives and implementing the concepts with my friends and classmates.
In my undergraduate and graduate studies, I was that mildly annoying student who was involved in everything. You’d see me all over campus, speaking to groups of students for college wide initiatives and creating programs for the student body.
Looking back, I held many of these leadership positions not from a place of service, but from a place of ego, wanting to feel significant or important. I made dozens of mistakes and pissed a lot of people off.
After graduate school, I began a career in human resources because I thought that of all of the functions, I would have the highest immediate impact in the organization. I enjoyed handling complex employee relations issues and coaching leaders, but the busywork and unnecessary meetings were draining.
I took a coaching fundamentals program as part of the high potential program I was in. I started coaching friends outside of work, simply to sharpen my coaching skills.
Life was good, I made great money, and I almost enjoyed going to work every day.
And then my mom died.
A funny thing happens after your first big loss. Very little matters anymore.
Money doesn’t matter. Status doesn’t matter. Fancy shirts and shoes don’t matter.
Only love matters.
So I left my corporate job in December 2011 and committed a full year to being in the service of others.
Looking back I had no idea what I was doing.
I just knew that I was really sad and that the thing that brought me the most happiness was serving others.
In February 2012, I sold everything I own and hit the road, going wherever my heart took me.
In March 2012, I sent an email to 50 entrepreneur friends telling them that I would support them in whatever they needed. Some of them I coached directly, some of them I supported in their projects, and some of them I helped with their marketing and branding.
In May 2012, David and I started a 94 day road trip driving 12,000 miles across the United States doing volunteer work for A Summer To Serve.
In June 2012, I began Martha Beck’s life coach training program and quickly began using the coaching tools on everyone who I came across.
Throughout the course of the year, I provided hundreds of hours of pro-bono coaching. I coached on everything from weight loss to workplace issues to sexual dysfunction.
It wasn’t my intention at all, but the more I served the world, the more people wanted to step up to support me. I was building social capital at a rapid pace. People who I looked up to in the entrepreneur space kept telling me, “Let me know how I can support you in the future. Whatever you need, just ask.”
Then in December 2012, I decided to make things more official. The year of service was almost over.
I sat down with a pen and a pad and crafted out my ideal work-week. It is my life after all.
I decided that I would coach ten clients every week, five on Mondays and five on Tuesdays. I would coach them for an hour, with thirty minute breaks in between each session to decompress a bit.
Then I wrote this blog post asking for clients who wanted to do some work together. Notice that I still wasn’t charging, but I wanted to see if I actually enjoyed coaching ten clients every week.
Of the seventeen applications I got, I picked the ten that I wanted to work with the most and coached them for the four weeks in December.
As my year of service came to a close, I decided that I would coach another ten clients, but this time on a pay-what-you-can-afford arrangement. I also decided what my rates would be and after asking all of my coach friends, I settled in on $800/month for four sessions a month.
Most of my coach friends were charging $1000 or even $1500 a month, but in that moment I only felt comfortable setting my rates at $800.
So I wrote this blog post and put out an application for a pay-what-you-can-afford program. I anchored my rates at $800/month and allowed another ten clients to do some work with me at whatever level of investment they were able to.
The clients came in at all different price points. Some paid the full $800 and some paid as low at $100. But I still gave them my absolute best, regardless of what they paid.
Looking back, the clients who invested the most in themselves had the best results. Funny how that works isn’t it?
In my first month in business I made $3200 and I was thrilled. This covered my expenses in full, being a travel hacking digital nomad and all, and I was relieved that my business was an instant success.
Then I made the same offer in February and I only sold $1100 in coaching services. I freaked out a little bit and thoughts of homelessness and poverty started dancing around in my head.
Little did I know that I was just going through The Dip and that this was a normal part of launching a new business.
Then in March, I had an opportunity to travel across Europe for one of my best friend’s 40th birthdays. I contemplated what to do. Here I was two months into a new business and I was going to close up shop for a month to party for a month.
After giving it a lot of thought I decided that I wouldn’t want to miss this once in a lifetime opportunity just to stay at home and work on my business. So I went and partied around the world for a month straight. And lived to tell the story.
As I was on my month long adult spring break, I got the email that would change my coaching practice forever. Jonathan Mead, an entrepreneur who I looked up to greatly (and still do), reached out to me do some work together.
I remember looking at the email thinking, “Holy shit! Jonathan Mead wants me to coach him?!”
I’ll never forget our first call. I delivered. He showed up fully. And we started doing some heavy lifting together.
Every week as I pushed him to his edge, I pushed mine as well. I remember a couple of calls thinking, “I don’t know how much more I can help this guy.” But somehow I did.
And as I got more confident in my coaching, I started charging more.
I raised my rates to $1000/month after I showed up huge at World Domination Summit, hosting five events, including two Authentic Relating workshops with 40 people each that stretched me so much as a facilitator, I could hardly function afterwards.
I raised my rates to $1500/month after Dane Maxwell’s birthday party in Des Moines where I realized I could provide massive value to men running businesses in the multiple-six and seven figures.
Then I recently raised my rates to $1000/month for two sessions a month instead of four. It just felt right. With the launch of The Conference For Men coming up soon, I don’t have the time or energy to take anyone on who isn’t an absolute Hell Yes. So the handful of clients I have right now are all the epitome of “ideal client.”
And now I schedule all of my client sessions on the first and third Tuesdays of every month. That’s it.
If someone can’t make those times, they probably aren’t my ideal client. And I have a handful of coaches who I can regularly refer business to. And I do.
So here I am today.
Exactly seventeen months ago I was lying on a mattress in the basement of my friend’s house, crying myself to sleep. I had no mom, no job, no home, no girlfriend, and no place to sleep that night. I had hit complete rock bottom.
I was so scared that I had made a fatal mistake and that I wouldn’t be able to recover.
Now, I’m just… happy. And remarkably free.
And I wish I could say that it was all part of my master plan, but I just kept playing to my edge and following my heart.
That’s all you have to do.
Grow and love. Grow and love. Grow and love.
So here are what I think are the key takeaways from my coaching story. And included are some actionable takeaways for you to EXECUTE, instead of just reading this and moving on with your day.
The Key Takeaways
1. Coaches Coach
I recently had a prospective client send me this email after we had already set up an introductory session together.
I wrote him back:
Yep, that works.
I’m a coach. And coaches coach.
So talk to you on Thursday still at 12:30pm PST.
And that’s the honest truth.
I’m going to get him on the phone, deliver massive value, and see what happens from there. Maybe he’ll work with me in the future when things change for him financially. Maybe he’ll refer business to me. Or maybe he’ll just never forget the day that guy got on the phone with him and changed his life.
EXECUTE: If you have openings in your schedule, then offer someone your services for free. Not just anybody, but someone who you would absolutely love to work with. If you don’t have openings in your schedule, then stand up and do a little celebration dance. You deserve it.
2. Go To Where Your Clients Are
Repeat after me:
“I cannot start a business by sitting at home all day. I need to be in front of actual human beings as much as possible.”
I’ve built this business by going to where my clients are. I’ve been to all three World Domination Summits, I’ve been to the past two SXSWs, I went to my first Burning Man this year, and I spend lots of time in Los Angeles, San Diego, Portland, Austin, and New York City (all filled with exactly the kind of men who I work with).
In a week I’m going to my first Awesomeness Fest and even though it will be roughly a $3000 investment, I’m absolutely certain I’ll recoup the investment (probably on the first night).
You have to go to where your clients are. Not to sell them, but to deeply understand who they are, what their pain points are, and how you can best serve them.
EXECUTE: Choose a conference, workshop, or event to attend in the next 90 days. Purchase a ticket or flight to make your commitment set in stone. Go to where your clients are. They certainly aren’t going to come to your apartment (that you haven’t left in the past four days).
3. Bring Awesome People Together
As I travel around the world, I frequently host entrepreneur meetups in the cities that I visit. Just this year I’ve hosted or co-hosted meetups in St. Louis, Berlin, Medellin, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Portland, Phoenix, and New York City.
In a couple weeks I’m throwing a LAUNCH EVERYTHING party to celebrate the launch of everything I’ve been working on for the past several months. Why?
Because it will be fun.
Remember, there is never a bad reason to bring awesome people together. Sometimes my meetups draw a crowd of 25 and sometimes it’s just a couple of us. But every time, the people who were meant to be there show up.
EXECUTE: Host a meetup in the next 90 days. Make a list of your favorite people in the local community and invite them all over for dinner or drinks. Tell them, “You are all the favorite people I know and I want you to meet each other.”
4. Ask The Questions Everyone Else Is Afraid To
Do you know that feeling when you want to say something to your partner, client, or friend, but you don’t? And you can literally feel it sitting in the back of your throat?
I don’t have that anymore.
I just speak my truth in every moment and ask questions that I’m sometimes a bit afraid to ask.
But nine times out of ten the conversation goes to a new depth that brings a level of self-awareness that wasn’t there before. And the person is deeply grateful that you had the courage to ask the question that they had been waiting all their life to be asked.
What questions do I ask?
Try something around Love, Sex, or Death.
That will get you somewhere fast.
EXECUTE: Ask someone a bold question this week. There are dozens of opportunities passing you by on a daily basis. Today is the day you start speaking your truth.
5. Relentlessly Serve The World
I just read Your First 1000 Copies by Tim Grahl. The guy is a walking New York Times Best Selling author factory.
I heard him speak at Pam Slim’s Body Of Work Live event this past weekend and he shared his definition of marketing (that I completely agree with). He says Marketing is these two things:
- Building long lasting connections with people.
- Being relentlessly helpful.
I’m constantly looking for ways to serve my friends and clients. When I walk into a room, I look for the person who needs the most help and do everything in my power to bring them up.
What if instead of trying to GET as much as possible from the world, you tried to GIVE as much as possible?
It’s worked for me so far.
EXECUTE: Go out of your way to make someone’s day today. You know who needs your help right now, so offer it. Don’t do it from an intention of “quid pro quo” though. Do it because serving others is the greatest use of your time and energy.
6. Directly Ask For Business
When I hear someone complaining about their wife, their employees, or their lack of sales, I ask them the magic question: “Do you want some help with that?”
Then I schedule a call with them in the next week and help them. Afterwards I ask them if they want to start an official coaching relationship and/or if they know anyone else who would benefit from this work.
Where I see most life coaches failing is in the customer acquisition process (or any service provider for that matter).
They hide behind their blogs, newsletters, and social media, fooling themselves that they are doing “marketing.” But they haven’t directly asked someone for business in over a year.
So instead of coaching, they keep reading blogs on blogging or take more marketing workshops in an attempt to “attract more customers” to them.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve certainly had my share of customers begin a coaching relationship from my blogging and social media presence, but if that’s all I relied on, I would be in trouble.
Ask for business directly. Be bold. Be an example for your clients on how to model a sales conversation.
If you truly believe in the power of your craft, it is a disservice to NOT sell someone when you hear them complain about something that you could help them with.
EXECUTE: Make a proposal to a prospective client today. Again, you know exactly who this is. You’ve been thinking about working with them for a while now. Just ask.
7. Be Willing To Walk Away
I still take free consultations off of my website. Some of my friends have told me to stop wasting my time with free consultations, but I still enjoy jumping on the phone with someone who had the courage to fill out a coaching interest form for some guy who they’ve never met before.
I’ll be honest though, most of those consultations don’t turn into a coaching relationship, but I still always leave them with as much support as possible. I’ll recommend books, or blogs, or programs that could help them with what they are struggling with.
Sometimes though I find a good fit with a client, but they aren’t able to pay my full rates. Then they make an offer much lower than what I charge.
This is where I choose to walk away.
A huge piece of my coaching is helping my clients raise their rates and get more business from the clients that they want to work with the most. If I kept lowering my rates on every consultation, how could they trust me to be able to help them charge what they are worth?
Your rates are simply the filter for the clients that you want to work with. And I’ve learned from experience that the client who doesn’t pay your full rate is the client who doesn’t play full out.
And you only want clients who are a Hell Yes.
So in this instance, say Hell No.
EXECUTE: Do you have a client who you don’t want to be working with any more? Fire them. Just tell them the truth and see what happens. Then breathe into the new space you just created.
8. Be Willing To Fail
I’ve been launching new product and service offerings like crazy lately. Sometimes they come to me in the shower and sometimes they come to me on a walk.
I’ve launched some offerings that didn’t sell though. We launched an opportunity for one to five men to spend the afternoon with us in Santa Monica. No one bought it. But we had an amazing evening just by ourselves.
And no one even knows that we didn’t sell any spots.
Oops, until now.
The point though is that sometimes you have to be willing to fail to grow. It’s better to go for it and fail, then sit with the regret of never having taken that chance.
EXECUTE: Make an outrageous ask in your business today. Put together a new product or service offering and sell it to some of your best clients. They might just say Yes!
9. Charge What You’re Worth
I got this brilliant concept from Jo Westwood at the Trailblazer’s Retreat. It’s simple, but it hit me hard.
“Double your rates today. You might lose half your customers, but you’ll be making the same amount of money and working half the hours.”
I’ve found that as I charge more, I attract more of the clients that I’m really excited to work with.
Money is just an exchange of value. You and only you decide how much you want to charge for the services that you deliver.
If you think your product or service is a commodity, then it already is.
EXECUTE: If you’re having trouble saying your rates to clients, practice it. Literally look at yourself in the mirror and say, “I charge $XXX a month” until there is no fear or hesitation left. I’ve literally looked at myself in the mirror and repeatedly said “I charge $1000 a month” until it felt as normal as saying “My name is Mike.”
I truly hope you got something from my story. I spent most of the day writing this and then coming up with the exercises above to help you grow your business.
If you can do me a favor, share this post on social media or with a friend who could use it right now.
And most importantly, actually DO some of the exercises above! And afterwards email me and let me know how it went.
The biggest paychecks I get are your big wins and success stories.
Now get out there and start serving.