Three things that great coaches do that set them apart

Peter Whent

November 21, 2020

The coaching colony

Let’s start with an alarming statistic. Who doesn’t like an alarming statistic?

There are 82,559 Life Coaches listed on LinkedIn in the UK. That’s a lot.

I have a picture in my head of throwing a scrap of bread into a river and watching dozens of fish appear from nowhere to fight over it.

Who's the man?

Michael Serwa is one of those Life Coaches. He practises from his apartment in Mayfair.

Michael charges his clients up to £35,000 a year to meet him once a fortnight. It works out at between £1,500 and £2,000 a session. This in a market where the average rate for a Life Coaching session is less than £100.

Michael is very choosy who he works with. His clients are captains of industry, very high net worth individuals and aspiring world leaders. He turns away more people than he takes on.

He does all of this in a market which is massively over-supplied and where most coaches have to work other jobs to supplement their coaching income.

How can that be? How can Michael and a few others like him be sold out at prices ten times higher than the average and have a waiting list, while others with the same set of skills can’t get enough work to make ends meet?

It’s simple really. The successful ones understand how to make themselves attractive to their audience. They do a few things that the others don’t do. In fact, by my reckoning, they consistently do three things that set them apart.

1. They have the courage to select a niche

Life coaching might sound like a subset of coaching, but it is still a very broad proposition.

The really top Life Coaches aren’t interested in the whole market, they’re only interested in a very small slice of the market for whom they offer a very specific service.

Michael provides services to the elite. That’s his niche. He requires his clients to have a personal income of over £400,000 per annum. He interviews 200 potential clients in a year and says no to three quarters of them. That’s just the ones he interviews. There are plenty that don’t even make it through the swimwear round to the interview (it’s a joke – don’t @ me)

He understands the pressures that people right at the top of industry or government face and he specialises in coaching people in that environment.

He doesn’t think about the whole market for Life Coaching, he thinks solely about the small tribe of people who are his clients and prospects. When he crafts messages, writes blogs or reviews his pricing, he doesn’t care what the majority of the population thinks. He is not trying to please everybody. He is only interested in delighting his small audience.

There’s nothing particularly special about Michael. He started out as a Life Coach charging £20 an hour and by his own admission wasn’t very good. Then he spotted a niche. Something that differentiated him, and he hasn’t deviated an inch ever since.

That is the key. Having the courage to choose a niche and then be disciplined about sticking to it. That means saying no to anything that comes along that doesn’t fit the niche. Every time you’re tempted by a shiny object outside your niche, your identity to your tribe is diluted a little.

2. They have established themselves as experts in their niche

Once you have chosen your niche life becomes easier. Suddenly you know who your target customers are and that helps you work out where to find them and what to say to them.

The really successful coaches know who their small tribe is, and they invest a lot of time in establishing themselves as the expert in that niche.

By sticking to your niche, you are able to obsess about the subject matter and become an authority.

You become an expert to your tribe by getting your voice heard. You need to be visible on LinkedIn, writing thought leadership articles, guesting on podcasts, writing a book, appearing in the press, writing blogs, building an email list – the list goes on.

Even if it’s just within the walls of your tribe, you need to become famous for one thing.

Think about some great companies that have nailed a niche and are famous for one thing:

Saga – holidays for over 50s. Adrian Flux – car insurance for learner drivers (famous within the walls of their tribe – ask any learner!!). Rolex – high end watches. Ryanair – cheap short haul flights

3. They don’t define themselves by who they are, they define themselves by how they help

Incoming uncomfortable fact klaxon!

People don’t know what a Life Coach is. They have a rough idea, but most people couldn’t tell you in any detail what a Life Coach does any more than they could explain the workings of the Irish Backstop.

Life Coaches can all tell you what they do, in great detail, and that’s the problem. They make the huge assumptions that the man in the street knows what they know.

But if you go and search “Life Coach” on LinkedIn, the people on the first two pages (that’s the first twenty listed) all describe themselves as “Life Coach”. In other words, they’re defining themselves by a term that people don’t really understand.

On top of that they all sound exactly the same. Your prospective customer doesn’t know what you do, but he knows there’s lots of you who look and sound exactly identical. A shoal of Life Coaches, uniform and mysterious, like of a murmuration of starlings.

Are there some pennies dropping? Lots of Life Coaches struggle to engage prospects. Prospects don’t understand what Life Coach means. Life Coaches don’t differentiate. If only I could spot a connection.

The successful coaches define themselves differently. They tell people how they can help them. If you’ve found a good tight niche, that should be easy, and you should have the courage to tell people how you help rather than who you are. Instead of billing yourself as:

“Jane Smith - Life Coach”

What about billing yourself as:

“Jane Smith – I help middle aged men cope with the trauma of divorce” or;

“Jim Robinson – I help women cope with returning to an executive career after childbirth”

Because, as uncomfortable as it is to hear, people don’t give a shit about you, what you do or what you call yourself. They care about themselves and their own problems. Your job is to help with that, by parking your ego and talking about them rather than you. Tell them how you can help them.

Go and change your LinkedIn headline and profile now. I dare you.

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