this is a loving ass-kicking for my fellow coaches. if you’re not a coach, you’re welcome to read along
Dear Beloved Coaching Colleagues,
We have a problem. Many of us need more clients. But we’re going about it ALL WRONG.
We like to think of ourselves as special, we coaches. After all, we didn’t become entrepreneurs because we like to fit in, follow along, and take directions. We know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we have something unique to offer the world. We know it because we know EVERYONE has something unique to offer the world. We spend our days working with people to get that unique, amazing, magical, SPECIAL quality out and available because we know the world is a better place when each person contributes their best special sauce to the mix.
Folks, we’ve taken it too far.
Think about this for a minute. We have marketing professionals and other coaches telling us over and over that we need a USP (unique selling proposition), that we need a distinctive way of describing what we do, that we need to be exciting and scintillating and stand out from the crowd.
A lot of us say, “OH I’m not a coach. I hate the word coach.” Hating on ‘coach’ has become the fashionable thing to do, in fact. People who DO use the word coach might well be BORING plus they CLEARLY haven’t learned enough about marketing because if they had they would KNOW they needed another word.
Look around a bit.
Therapists and doctors and lawyers all call a spade a spade.
They are also unbelievably hard to book appointments with. My doctor is booking two months out. My therapist…I don’t think she’s even accepting new clients. (Touch wood, I don’t need a lawyer at the moment.)
Coaches, we are not so hard to book appointments with. We have a whole industry dedicated to helping us BECOME hard to book appointments with. Meanwhile an awful lot of us are not working to capacity, even though we are damn fine coaches.
What’s going on? I think we’ve overcomplicated the situation. We’re young, and brash and enthusiastic, as an industry. We tend to like novelty. We tend to want to find the next big thing. We want to BE the next big thing.
We need to establish a common understanding of what we do. This means that instead of being UNIQUE we need to be THE SAME.
Doctors: they help with physical health issues. If I get sick, I go to see a doctor. If I get injured, I go to see a doctor. There are specialists and there are generalists. Typically, you start with a generalist and work inward.
Therapists: they help with mental health issues. If I’ve got a superfund site masquerading as my past, I go to see a therapist. They purge the groundwater and clean up the heavy metals so something can grow again. Lots of therapists specialize in depression and anxiety. Some therapists specialize in eating disorders or trauma or what have you. I find one that seems like they do what I need. If something happens that could BECOME a superfund site, I go see a therapist RIGHT AWAY if I can get an appointment. The faster it’s cleaned up the easier it is.
Lawyers: if I need legal help, I go to see a lawyer. I pick the lawyer based on the area of specialty–if I need help with real estate, I find a real estate lawyer. If I need help with probate law, I find a probate lawyer. If I need help in the criminal justice system, I find a criminal law specialist.
In all these cases, the general case is OBVIOUS. EVERYONE KNOWS what causes people to go see a doctor. Or a therapist. Or a lawyer.
We need an OBVIOUS general case. Let’s try it on:
Coaches: help people solve current problems. If I need help with solving a current problem or changing my attitude and behavior, I go to see a coach. I pick a coach based on the area of specialty. If I need help with health, I go to a health coach. If I need help with relationships, I go to a relationship coach. Lots of coaches specialize in times of life transition…
If this were a common understanding of this word “coach” then when I said, “I’m a coach,” most people would have a clear idea of what I meant. They could ask relevant questions like, “what’s your area of specialty?” or, “My cousin is going through a career change, do you do career coaching?” And I could say, “well, I can, but I know someone who specializes in that. Let me give you her number…unless you think your cousin would be a great fit for me; I’d be happy to talk with them regardless.”
HOWEVER if I say, “I’m a life shift zapper master” because someone told me I needed a special name for what I do, then we get, “A what? What’s that?” “Well, I help people do xyz which allows them to get through periods of change in their lives and get pointed in the right direction.” “Ummmm…..”
Believe me. I’ve been working on this marketing thing for 5 years. In that time, coaching has come from relative obscurity to That Thing That Everyone Does.
Are some people dismissive? Sure. Don’t take it personally.
And if the “Life Shift Zapper Master” is working for you, GREAT! Don’t change a fucking thing! Really!
But I do believe we are finally coming to the point where “coach” is identifiable as a career description and you have the option of, “I’m a coach!” “What’s your specialty?” “I’m a life shift zapper master!” “So you specialize in life transitions?” is a totally possible conversation. We just need to get together on the broad definitions so we can spend more time figuring out how to convey our personalities.
Because ultimately, if you put fifty coaches or lawyers or doctors or therapists in front of me, what I’m looking for is a GOOD FIT. That means personality and expertise. My therapist is a trauma specialist who understands my science/woo blend and really appreciates it. My doctor is a D.O. who understands my science/woo blend and really appreciates it. They are smart. They treat me like I’m smart, and an active participant in my care. They are comfortable with email and text as communication when I have a quick question. They are honest with me. They are real people with me.
That’s what matters. That’s how I pick.
But first, I have to know that they do the basic thing I need. I knew I needed a therapist. I knew I needed a doctor.
We need people to know they need a coach. We can take it from there.