It’s time to get some perspective and see clearly why coaching without niche focus is in need of close examining. With an increasing trend for getting a coach / becoming a coach, it’s hard to cut the wheat from the chaff. It’s not surprising as ‘ambiguity’ plays a growing role in what is increasingly a sales business (and not a coaching business).
Genuine coaches have niche skills, expertise and real experience to share. Such individuals can be a one-time boon, an ongoing asset, or even a life changer to the corresponding individuals who seek/require it. Broadly speaking, there are two ‘directions’ of coaching: skills and mindset (and some coaches can offer a personal blend of the two). For example, some will coach a specific skillset e.g. product photography, bookkeeping for small businesses, vocal performance, personal styling, better gym technique, weight loss, financial planning, nutrition or how to un-bugger-up your Macbook. Others will offer mindset coaching, e.g. making and managing money, communing with nature, expanding creativity, improving business motivation, focus in athletic performance, heightening self-worth in relationships, enhancing mind-body wellbeing, how to not bugger-up your Macbook in the first place. It is often a balance of guiding ‘how to do’ and ‘what to do’.
Coaches also typically focus their services to particular industries (or interest communities) like sports, business, theatre arts, publishing, wellbeing and so on. Some are very niche (I know someone who coaches on multiple orgasm and another who specifically coaches couples on ‘surviving their business and marriage’ – and maybe these two should hold a retreat together 😛 ). Some veteran coaches will have a variety of niches they can cover – usually with a congruent message across them all and only after tremendous demonstrable experience.
Some coaches will blend their skills and mindset together and, really great coaches will take their clients on ‘journeys’ of personal development with measurable goals. Such coaches are definitely worthy of investing in if/when right for you – and you have a specific project in mind like getting in to sports competitions, writing that book, getting on stage, finding appropriate romance, starting or growing a business. Coaches also invest in themselves too – often collaborating with other coaches on complementary niches. This means that a good coach is always offering the best and the most they can to their clients. Self-esteem and client-esteem must be on a parity of esteem. Good coaches also invest their own money in good personal coaching – as continued professional development to improve their service (not just their sales!).
Now, crucially, these coaches are a million miles away from the sales of what I’m calling ‘conceptual coaching’.
What’s the Problem?
Every day on social media I see pushy ads for a plethora of personal coaching services that look and sound curiously like carbon copies of each other. Many of them actually suggest ‘become a coach to become rich/ solve all your problems’. They appear to be merging as though spaghettifying in a black hole toward a singular point of sales. Where the advert is selling the concept of coaching itself as a business or lifestyle opportunity, I call this ‘conceptual coaching’.
Furthermore, some (not all of course!) of the ads are looking a lot like multi-level marketing (MLM), showing excited people posing poolside, loudly quoting massive figure incomes, working from home as their own boss, urging us all to urgently sign up for a free something-or-other to kick start our ‘dream’ careers. They remind me of the 1990s Herbalife promotions of a smug guy leaning on a Porsche, who apparently sold milkshakes to his neighbours (something the teenage me dabbled in for about 5 minutes and got bored).
Caveat Emptor! The Problems of ‘Conceptual Coaching’
What this means is that there is an increasing trend for people to ‘buy coaching to become coaches’ – and thus offer a rather opaque or confused service. What are they then going to coach? Coaching! and so on…
Lack of Niche Experience: The result is that there are business coaches who sell their coaching based on their current experience of running their business coaching business (they do not have a prior history of business success). There are life coaches who sell their coaching based on their recent experience of quitting the 9-5 and becoming a life coach.
Because there is often a lack of specific skills or knowledge, there is a real danger of a coach being ‘a bit of everything’. I’ve heard of life coaches giving unsound advice on serious issues that require specialist training such as mental health disorders, family law and bankruptcy. Here lies the inherent problem where coaches sell their personal experiences and opinion* or their ‘brand’ as adequate and sufficient grounding for being a coach. It is important to acknowledge that coaches are not therapists nor financial advisors although they may be able to discuss such matters, spot a need and recommend appropriately.
*(I’d also hate to see a world where no one had any friends anymore and instead we paid strangers to talk to us and share their stories, life experience and opinions.)
Life Coaching is definitely on the rise and in particular, leaves me with questions. It’s proponents state that Life Coaching ‘is not therapy because, therapists deal with past trauma or experiences and by contrast, Life Coaching deals with the present – in identifying and clearing obstacles for future goals’. But this description is essentially what Cognitive Behavioural Therapy does. CBT identifies and breaks cycles and bad habits in the present and encourages good ones to facilitate future goals. It is also the most commonly prescribed therapy on the NHS. Furthermore, from what I’ve read (quite a lot), the basic starting point of a Life Coaching session is to discuss the ‘origins of beliefs about the self’ looking back in our pasts as early as infancy.
So… anyway… The service itself (coaching content, method and material) is ambiguous and often seems confused, increasingly so with each iteration down the line. Furthermore, if it is also MLM, then instead of physically selling diet shakes, essential oils or a wrinkle cream, it’s almost completely intangible. Because it is ‘conceptual’ it is increasingly easy for anyone to get on board without the need to buy and hold stock, provide clear services nor, appear to have/ need any credentials or experience in any particular field.
The encouragement for ‘personal branding’ also adds to the confusion because each may look ‘unique’ – and I’m sure the coaches believe it is too (after all everyone’s life story is unique) – but the iterative re-branding is possibly part of the sales process. A bit like buying bottled water, putting a new label on it then selling it on for the next person not to drink (because the bottle is actually empty, it’s ‘conceptual water’) but to put another new label on it and sell it on. Ironically, no one is really drinking any water and any ‘solution’ will be diluted each time. Similarly, no-one is really gaining any personal coaching and is instead selling on a sales technique.
I have also noticed that Life Coaching and the newly emerging alternative, ‘Success Coaching’ is often presented like a watered-down version of (or mash up of) other disciplines such as the aforementioned Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP).
Because I like metaphors, here is another: Many coaching businesses are like a row of quirky shops that turn out to be multiple doors to one big wall. Here is where the depth of the problem becomes very clear – that it’s also a two-way financial ‘funnel’ and is an increasing problem for those who have their backs to the wall, thinking their shopfront is special.
Vulnerable People are Targeted: Whilst the shopfronts of my previous metaphor are trying to engage new buyers (Business to Customer, ‘B2C’), there is another level of sales also going on behind these quirky doors (Business to Business, ‘B2B’). Real people are being persuaded to part with real money and real hope, in becoming coaches. Here, target audiences are those who are vulnerable from personal crisis such as redundancy, single parenting, mid-life ennui, heartbreak, illness, injury and other forms of loss. This is ground zero of the sales/recruitment. Ironically, hardship stories are often used as ‘rags to riches’ sales tactics suggesting overnight success is just a download away. Caveat Emptor.
Those who have earnestly invested in their shopfront (their ‘unique coaching business’) are increasingly paying for more bricks to hide the real business behind it all. When their businesses don’t attract the 5+ figure incomes nor queues of rich exciting clients (many are at a loss without hope of any return on investment) and so they are persuaded to invest in… you guessed it! More Coaching! If your own coaching business isn’t ‘attracting’ paying clients, you need to be coached on ‘how to attract paying clients’… and so on. Sales of B2C and BTB simultaneously.
In this case, the real money is being made from selling business coaching as a business; and life coaching as a lifestyle. There is some deep irony here. Once you have invested several thousands to ‘become a coach’, you are more likely to keep spending than cut your losses. This is the classic cognitive bias for ‘loss aversion’ that marketers have used since wo/man could shop. This is why coupons and ‘limited time offers’ work so well – you get FOMO. This ambiguity of promised potential gains hides the reality of actual loss and encourages this aversive behaviour. This is also why there is always an urgency to signing up for a free seminar or download.
Why is this trend emerging?
I think that people are genuinely seeking revenue and/or meaningful work through enhanced personal identity. In an increasingly impersonal world of ‘celebrity salespeople’ (social media influencers, reality stars – those who are generally famous for being paid to endorse big brands), it is easy to be become seduced by social media as a platform for personal income, psychological and emotional validation. Unlike investment eras of the past, online personal coaching disbands with the need for an office, social permission, academic credibility, experience or stock.
About 10 years ago I noticed the rising trend for everyone to have a personal trainer or ‘PT’ and be showing off their results and lifestyle changes online (including the need to post photos of angled or mood-related salad portraits) and I predicted that the next thing would be for that same proverbial ‘everyone’ to want a business/life coach so that they felt they were investing in their own psychology and wellbeing beyond tighter butt-cheeks. Furthermore, that a large proportion of this ‘everyone’ would come to see themselves as being ‘qualified’ to be those very coaches. Why not? With the increasing flexibility for working at home, on the go, in the car/café/gym, via ready-made platforms of social media and without the need to carry any product or stock and without the hours of academic training or hard physical graft of becoming a PT in a gym (which had probably crossed their mind at one point), it’s easy to see why ‘becoming a coach’ is very appealing. There is no personal investment needed – just all your available money.
Outlaw of Attraction – My Own Experience
Forever the professional ‘maverick’ or so I’m told, I celebrate the diversity and atypical of body and mind. From burlesque bodies to paranormal minds, my specialism is probably best summed up in the field of transpersonal psychology (where we holistically explore human experience and development through mind-body connections and consciousness work). I work mostly with people who find themselves to be ‘atypical’ in some way.
As someone who has been involved with psychology, the arts and wellbeing for 20 years it has been interesting although frustrating to watch this sales trend emerge. In the past year or so, I have also been approached by a few life coaches (one still in ‘training’). They asked me to explain:
- ‘how’ I come up with my material,
- ‘how’ I get my experiences
- and ‘how’ I attract clients.
Truth is… that there is no ‘how’, I just ‘do’.
I’m curious by nature and I take positive risks in life, then reflect and take insight from the experiences. I then have the compulsion to share. Some people love the atypical (and even potentially trend-setting) work that I have done (including being a leader of the burlesque movement, creating a kind of ‘cat yoga’, presenting snakes in schools as social learning guides, investigating alleged paranormal activity and developing techniques for increased sensory perception… and so on), and as a result, want me to be involved personally with their own creative development. They pay me for my time and insight and thus I am a ‘coach’.
However, I didn’t became a coach by design nor even desire. Instead I began coaching 10 years ago because someone requested that I be their mentor in burlesque. The thought of being a coach at that time was very daunting to me as I never felt ‘qualified’ – until it became apparent that I was wanted because I had a lot to share.
I still experience self-doubt like everyone else but I am eternally grateful to that first coachee for having faith in me, as I found my ‘calling’. I am someone who creates and delivers new unorthodox materials to support personal development. To also work one to one with others is so special, sacred even.
I also didn’t choose or ‘find a niche’, I have sort of defined my own niche: ‘creative personal development’ and this has been achieved through subverting the mind-body norms of our culture over the course of my life. I believe that new work needs to be created by each individual in order for transpersonal progress to occur.
On a one to one coaching level, I therefore help others express themselves authentically from a holistic conscious perspective. We explore and present their ideas and identities in new ways. From stage performers, coaches, speakers and content creators to people transitioning in their private life e.g. gender, spirituality or career. I help my clients ‘find their light’. (This reference to ‘light’ is key as it brings us back to the idea of trans-cendence and trans-personal work.)
For me, the success of this concept is highlighted in nurturing self-expression of personal ideas, values and identity. This has occurred gradually over years, through experimenting on myself, being radically honest in reflection and the act of creating of the aforementioned materials, that people want and are willing to buy. I still deliver my ‘branded’ material myself and have taught others to deliver it in their studios, schools etc too. I intend to make these courses available online soon too.
>>Pitch Alert!<< Perhaps you have something to say but can’t find the words, or it’s your time to shine but feel stuck in the dark, or maybe… you too want to be a coach and lead others in your unique way but can’t find your direction. I call this Creative Personal Development and it’s a process of self-discovery, creative output and self-determination.
There is no template or formula for this that can bought and sold – because it is genuinely individual. You can read more here about one to one personal coaching with me.
My Totally Free Coaching Advice! LOL
Finding a coach: Look at old school coaches and think… would I pay for my child to have a football coach who hasn’t played football? Would I see a therapeutic coach who downloaded their (very interesting I’m sure) course but has zero hours of supervised practice? Would I take business advice from someone who spends their time touting for business?
Don’t fall for it – look for credibility not the long emotional sales pitch about overcoming hardship to Ferraris and dream homes, perfect lifestyles and ‘abundance’. Beware of anyone who calls them self a legend or guru – these are terms other people apply to their mentors. They are by definition earned over time and not an egoic # for sales effect.
Becoming a coach: It may seem like a lucrative opportunity but ultimately, the conceptual coaching bubble will burst. It will burst because quite simply those involved in this iterative coaching sales business, are creating their own competitors, with nowhere to climb. Furthermore, because the sales are based on outlandish claims of wealth, status and success that very few actually enjoy, a sense of ennui and failure will take over and lead the backlash just as it has done many times over for MLM.
Remember whilst there are huge amounts of money being made through the selling of coaching, this is where the trap is. It is easy to be seduced thinking you can be one of the makers. The reality is that you are very likely the buyer. You only make money if you make something that people want to buy. No one buys a theatre ticket and expects a role in the show or a cut of the box office. No casino has ever gone bankrupt because the gamblers were too good at gambling.
OK… now moving on to the exciting bit.
Doing it for real is so rewarding. I know loads of people who would make exceptional coaches in their niche areas of expertise and interest. So if the idea of sharing and helping others excites you then I think that coaching probably is a realistic option for you too. I’d be excited to hear all about it.
So let’s have a think… here are some things to ponder and ask for help on.
Do you have a niche? Do you have direction? Can you communicate your expertise and personal story? Can you create and develop your OWN content? Are you willing to share your true and honest self with others?
If you are thinking of becoming a coach, first of all you need to know why and what it is you are coaching specifically. Otherwise it’s a bit like when a youngling states that they want to grow up to be a celebrity. A celebrity what? Sadly, there is a cross over here too where some become online coaches that simply sell their ‘brand’ – a personal brand with nothing tangible behind it. It’s another way to validate wanting to be an ‘influencer’ without having anything to offer other than sales influence.
Content is key and if you don’t have it, you need to create it – not buy, borrow, or rebrand what you bought from the last guy in the chain. Share good material from others of course, but with appropriate credit given. When you honour the minds of others you honour your own, and those of your audience.
If you can’t (yet!) create any content off your own experience, then train in some niche area of interest and work on yourself from there first. If you need help establishing this, get a bona fide coach to guide you. The primary question anyone should be asking themselves is ‘how can I genuinely help others?’ rather than ‘how can I sell my brand?’. Any genuine brand will sell itself, and you have to build it first. Additionally, it is so important to learn how to coach not just what topics and there are endless techniques, theories and methods to explore. It’s a matter of exploring across as many areas of interest as you can and see what you enjoy using and what you find effective. It doesn’t matter what someone else advocates, it is a matter of personal niche, personal service and personality.
I’d further suggest that those interested in coaching examine and enhance their individual creativity so that they might ‘come up with’ their own adventures then take it from there. The ‘secret’ to my experiences and material and clients? It’s simple – follow your own nose in life, not a carrot dangled in front of it. If there is one being dangled, notice it and look to see who is dangling it – then avoid those people and return to your own path. Certainly don’t then let them sell you carrots and sticks to dangle in front of others.
Be curious, take risks and try new things beyond your comfort zone. Reflect. Share. Share for free. Share because you can. When someone asks you to share with them, you become a coach or a friend.