Five essential steps for setting yourself apart and building a coaching business that works best for you!
As someone who wants to start their own coaching business, you’ve probably already discovered no shortage of “wisdom” on how best to go about it. With the endless resources on the web, everything is available if you have time to do the research and (more importantly) discern between what you should listen to and what you should ignore.
The process can feel overwhelming. So in this post, I’ve compiled an essential five-step business startup checklist. You’ll also find bonus information containing the often-overlooked odds and ends that can save valuable time and money when starting your life coaching business.
Step I: Establish your niche
I’ll be the first to admit: marketing generalized coaching services can be a real struggle. To begin with, you’re selling an intangible product – a future outcome. This means you need to highlight visible aspects of your client’s current situation, which in this case is the problem they have that requires fixing. Otherwise known as the top-of-mind problem, this is the issue that haunts them to the point where they’re motivated to invest in a solution.
The tools of coaching can be applied to almost any context – career, business, health, relationships and life purpose to name just a few. To gain clients and permanently secure them in your roster you have to specialize in solving specific problems.
Don’t worry if this feels confining. Once you’re up and running you can always expand your services and your client base. Start by trusting that the variety will be there for you. Then get specific in your marketing by focusing on establishing yourself as the go-to coach for those with a specific set of problems.
Establishing your niche is the first step toward creating a successful coaching business. With that complete, the remaining four core components will fall neatly into place.
Step 2: Claim your coaching business name
Deciding on a name can be a daunting task. A quick Google search will lead you to believe all the good ones are taken. But that’s far from the truth. Because no matter how clever the domain names appear to be, none of them capture you as an individual or the unique aspects of your service.
Unless you’re planning on starting a coaching firm, your clients are ultimately buying a relationship with you. So consider using your own name or a specific nickname for your coaching business. Not only will this pair a strong visual association with your services (your smiling face!), it also very clearly establishes you as the brand.
One of the reasons I love using my name is that it builds top-of-mind awareness, keeping ME front and center with current and future clients alike. It also gives me the freedom to add programs, products and even change the type of coaching I offer without having to re-imagine a completely new brand identity.
A final benefit to using your own name is that it simplifies the purchase of a URL for your website. If your exact name isn’t available, don’t get discouraged. Try alternatives. For example, James Brown might not be available, but James.p.Brown or JamesBrownCoaching might be. Then if you ever start your own coaching firm, you can call it “Your Name & Associates.”
If you’d rather have a business name that doesn’t incorporate some form of your name, create one that speaks to the solutions you offer. For example, one of our graduates at Coach Training World created the name “Peaceful Solutions” to reflect her conflict resolution and communication coaching for divorcing parents. The idea here is that your business name speaks to your ideal client and the solutions they are seeking.
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Step 3: Identify your preferred coaching business structure
In the United States, there are six unique business structures:
- Sole Proprietorship
- Limited Liability Company (LLC)
- S Corporation
Each offers a variety of legal protections and comes with a range of different tax obligations. The U.S. Small Business Administration has created an excellent resource for learning more about each of the specific types, as well as the common industries that most often take advantage of them.
In addition, one of our graduates (who is a CPA and small business coach) offers some insider tips on the pros and cons of the most popular business structure options for coaches. As you watch Ana, keep in mind the two most important details when choosing your structure: legal liability and taxation.
Step 4: Choose how you will offer your coaching services
Coaches love to work with their clients in person. After all, we are relationship-oriented people. But the option of web connectivity provides a broader reach and more convenience, both for the coach and their clients.
This takes us to another decision in the process: should you get an office or work from home?
Coaching from an office
The decision to invest in a physical office really depends on your preferences and your budget. Having an office can feel really good. It gives your services a professional appearance, especially if you plan on offering group coaching or workshops.
If you don’t need the space full-time, you may be able to sublet or rent it to other coaches if your lease allows. This is one way many coaches subsidize their office space when they’re just starting out. As their practice grows and they need the space more often, they simply scale back on the subletting. Craigslist.org is a great place to find such opportunities within your area.
One potential drawback to keep in mind: A physical office requires separate phone services, high-speed web access, and utilities. These services can add up quickly depending on your location. But there are also a number of offices you can rent by the hour.
Day offices like ShareDesk and Davinci provide a complete office setup and include all the necessary business amenities (some even come with a live lobby greeter). Prices start between $10 and $60 per hour, with day rates from $30 to $300. On-demand work spaces can be booked online and offer a variety of unique office settings, from individual work stations to full conference rooms and office suites. They’re another great way to get started without a ton of expense.
Coaching from home
In contrast, working from home has its own set of rewards. I love it! And the pros are obvious:
- No commute
- No time wasted sitting in traffic
- Take breaks whenever you want
- Work odd hours without sacrificing time away from family and loved ones
- Eat and cook at home (staying healthy by avoiding the temptation of fast food)
One potential drawback to keep in mind: If you end up working at home, you’ll need to find a way to separate your business from the rest of your life. This includes kids, dogs, and household distractions such as laundry, yard work, and the siren song of the refrigerator.
When setting up a home office, establish a place that makes boundaries clear and enables you to easily avoid the distractions and temptations that threaten to keep you from focusing on your clients. Also, consider how comfortable you feel having people over. How easy will it be to constantly maintain a clean and private environment?
That said, if you plan on coaching clients primarily on the phone or online, a home office might be the way to go.
My favorite setup is a self-contained office located on the property – similar to a guest house or bungalow. It’s in a separate area from the main house so it feels more professional but also offers the convenience of proximity. It’s the best of both worlds.
Another version of this setup is a separate entrance into a private area of your home. But honestly, when you start packing in the clients, a separate office or location is really the way to go. And if you haven’t noticed the number of coaches working out of coffee shops, pay attention to who’s around you the next time you’re in one!
Step 5: Choosing the right equipment and online platform for your coaching business
With your ideal space chosen, the final core component is to furnish it with the tools of the coaching trade. Most coaches need a good phone and a headset for phone coaching. And that’s about it! I recommend a landline with a wireless headset. Although a good noise-cancelling headset and your cell phone might do just as well.
Before buying equipment, consider where you’ll be coaching from. To give you an example, I’ve coached while traveling, using my cell and a laptop computer from as far as Indonesia with no problem. One word of caution: make sure you have a backup plan to avoid disappointing your clients if your primary means of communication fails. Wireless signals and web connectivity can be unreliable, more so in some parts of the world than others.
Skype is one of the most popular platforms for offering coaching services. It’s free for most people, easy to use, and accessible anywhere and on a variety of devices, including smartphones and tablets. If you intend on using Skype, ensure that you have a strong Internet connection.
It might also be worthwhile to invest in another virtual meeting space that, for a small fee, will give you more reliable service. Popular examples include Google Hangouts (free for up to 10 participants; $5 per month for 11 to 15 participants), WebEx ($25 to $50 per month), and Fuze ($15 to $70 per month). Although in the past year, you can’t go wrong with Zoom.us – free to work with individuals one-on-one, and only $15 a month to work with groups.
If you decide to do group coaching, you’ll definitely want an online meeting/seminar service like WebEx or GoToMeeting. These platforms offer additional options and enhanced features for leading groups and managing participants.
BONUS: Loose Ends – What else should you be thinking of?
Starting a life coaching business is similar to any other enterprise: there are a number of components that minimize cost, organize your process, and ensure success.
Among the most common, you’ll find:
Liability insurance. Depending on your risk tolerance and the type of coaching you plan on offering, you might want to look into liability insurance for life coaches. As a certified life coach, holding either an ICF or BCC Credential, you’ll qualify for discounted rates on this type of policy with many insurance companies. Start by comparing premiums directly through the ICF.
Client organization tools. For those who like to stay super organized and have a streamlined system in place, explore online platforms that minimize your administrative duties. This can include everything from letting clients self-book their appointments to managing your billing, record keeping, CRM, appointment reminders, and the hosting of client information and session data. Popular platforms include:
Taxes, write-offs and quarterly estimated taxes. You can begin writing off your business expenses once you’ve officially opened the doors to your business. But be aware: there are a few exceptions.
Professional services. This isn’t just for coaches. It’s for anyone starting their business. Create your dream support team in advance to avoid stress and unwelcome surprises. This typically includes resources for legal advice, accounting and taxes. Also, hiring a seasoned marketing coach is never a bad investment. It could save you hundreds of hours and thousands of wasted dollars. Depending on your marketing skills, you may also require a graphic artist, web developer and copywriter to help brand your services.
Don’t go it alone
The above topics represent broad considerations for starting your life coaching business. But as you integrate the specifics of your chosen niche, you may have questions or need additional guidance to ensure you take the most direct and economical path forward.
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