How I Built a Successful Coaching Practice With No Formal Coaching Qualification and Zero Biz Experience

I get asked a lot about how I started out building my coaching business and how I go about marketing and "getting" clients. I've never really answered that question here on the blog, so that's the story I'd like to share with you today.

Why?

Because I know a lot of you, (whether it's a coaching, massage, healing, yoga, photography, art or something-else-entirely business you want to build) have thoughts like:

"I don't know how to get started."

"I'm not an expert." or "I don't really have any qualifications."

"I feel like a fraud."

"I'm so uncomfortable asking for money."

"I don't know how to get more clients."

This is no grand tale of overnight 6-figure success. Instead, it's an honest account of how it's possible to build a business doing work you love even if you're starting from ground zero and without any qualifications. 

WHY NO QUALIFICATION?

When I first decided I wanted to pursue coaching, I was faced with a decision. Should I get a certification or shouldn't I?

Up until that moment in my life, I'd been a certificate junkie. I have a folder full of unused certificates at home. Thousands of pounds and thousands of hours worth of my time collecting dust in a folder.

So when it came to coaching, for the first time in my life, I took a step back. I reached out to a few coaches I'd found online and asked what they thought about the question of certification. The response was mixed and it was enough to help me realise that I could get started without training and think about that later down the line.

I'm not for or against formal qualifications. It's the right step for some people and not for others. It's possible to be an extraordinary coach both with and without a piece of paper. 

Sometimes, formal training is a legal requirement. But when it's not, it's worth taking a step back and thinking about it from a new perspective.

MY VERY FIRST (NON-PAYING) CLIENT

By the time I decided I wanted to pursue coaching I'd already been out of my office job for 9 months and had been writing a blog about my journey and experience. 

I sent out an email to my list, which at the time was only about 35 people (mostly my friends!) compared to the community of over 1500 people here today, asking if anyone would be interested in some free coaching sessions.

Then I held my breath.

And then someone emailed back and said yes!

And then I got scared, because now I'd actually have to do something.

Looking back, I totally cringe at that experience. But the point is, I just got started. It always starts with just one person. It's worth noting too that at this point I'd already been receiving coaching myself for several months so I had a good model of what great coaching looked like.

I later sent another free coaching offer out to my friends, asking if they'd pass it on to anyone they thought might be interested. That led me to working with a really great lady over a period of a few months. That experience was a great confidence and skills builder. The feedback was positive and I knew I'd made a difference in that person's life. 

MY VERY FIRST (PAYING) CLIENT - WOO!

In all honesty, I had no idea how to go about getting a paid client. All I knew was what I'd seen online, which was that people seemed to list their coaching services on a page on their website and have some sort of form to fill out for an initial consultation.

So that's what I did.

And then I waited for the inquiries to come rolling in, because I'd heard other people tell stories about that happening.

But they didn't come rolling in.

There was no rolling at all. In or out. 

There was just total silence.

Me, myself and my computer.

I was disheartened and at a loss for what else to do. I was still so new to this whole world and had no clue about all the different ways one might go about building a client-based business.

But a month or so later, I received an email. An inquiry about coaching. Wooo hooooo! 

We had a free consultation, she said yes to my proposal, and a little while later she made her payment. I had my first paying client. Life was good.

I'll never, ever forget that money. I believe it was £90 for a 90-minute session. The best£90 I'd ever earned in my life. The feeling of having someone pay me for work that I was not only excited by, but had built myself from ground zero was like nothing I'd ever experienced.

Earning money on your own terms doing work you love for the first time is a turning point. It's the moment you realise "I can do this."  Tweet that.

A CHANGE IN STRATEGY

I wish I could say things got easier after that. But they didn't. The silence returned and I wondered whether it had been a fluke that would never repeat itself.

I began to understand that putting my services up on my website and hoping for the best just wasn't going to work. At least, not with the teeny tiny readership I had at the time.

THE VERY SIMPLE STRATEGY I FOLLOW TODAY

Over time, I learned more about the business side of coaching, investing time and money to learn from coaches and leaders I respected and who were running their businesses in a way I admired. 

Today I follow a simple strategy that's real and honest and allows me to build my business with total integrity.

Here are 6 of the core principles I follow to make sure I'm always building my business (hint: these will be helpful to most service-based solopreneurs):

1. I CONNECT WITH PEOPLE

Clients are people. Therefore, to have clients, it's important to be constantly connecting with people. 

Connecting is just about engaging with new and interesting people. So it could be anything from going to a talk or workshop you're interested in, chatting to the person next to you on the train, or joining some sort of club.

It could also be about giving your own talk or workshop or starting your own club. It can be in person or online. Today, much of my connecting is done through writing this blog and building relationships with my readers.

The aim is simply to bring more fun and interesting people into your world. That's all. Super simple. You don't need a website, business cards, flyers or anything else. You just need to be out in the world connecting with people.

2. I INVITE PEOPLE TO EXPERIENCE COACHING

If someone emails me to inquire about coaching, I invite them to a conversation. Not a conversation where I explain what I do or talk to them about how I might help them or what packages I offer, but an actual coaching conversation.

I give them an experience of what working with me would look like and I usually spend at least two hours doing it.

It might sound like a lot of work for someone who may never become a client, but for me it's a strategy that's real, honest and authentic. It's a way of working that I can feel proud of and that's really important to me. 

And I don't just wait for people to inquire, either. If I meet someone I like or I get an email from someone I think I might be able to support, I'll invite them to a conversation too. 

3. I ASK PEOPLE FOR MONEY

Ok, I know this sounds like the most obvious thing in the world, but I know from experience that asking for money when you've never had to do it before can actually be a really huge challenge.

All sorts of fears and doubt and blocks start to get in the way, like "Am I worth it?" "What if they say no?" "Am I asking for too much?" etc.

But let's face it, unless you're making proposals, the chances of building a successful business are slim to none.

4. I TELL EVERYONE I'M A COACH

A big challenge for new coaches (and yoga teachers, massage therapists, healers, photographers, artists and basically any newly self-employed person) is learning to talk more about what you do and what you can offer.

For quite some time I was a coach in hiding. If I met someone new, I rarely dared to say what I did.

Why?

Because I was unsure of the value I could offer. It felt too "in your face" to tell people what I did. And actually, I didn't know how to talk about my work.

With time, I've learned that I'm doing neither myself nor anyone else a favour by keeping what I do a secret. These days, I shout what I do from the rooftops.

As a new coach, it's essential to learn to talk openly about what you do. 

5. I SERVE MY CLIENTS AS POWERFULLY AS I CAN

You can read all the marketing tips and tricks you want, but when it comes to building a business (coaching or otherwise) the single most powerful way to do that is through word of mouth recommendations.

And that means putting your attention on serving your current clients to the absolute best of your ability. They will become your biggest cheerleaders. Nothing beats word of mouth recommendations.

6. I INVEST CONSTANTLY IN MY PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

Whilst I made a conscious decision not to invest in a formal coaching certification, I've actually invested in excess of £10,000 in my personal and professional development over the last couple of years. 

It's not necessary to take formal training to work as a coach, but unless you're good at what you do, you won't get very far.  You must be prepared to continuously invest in developing your skills.

SIMPLE, BUT NOT EASY

As it turns out, when you break it down, building a coaching business can be a pretty simple process. Simple, yes, but far from easy. 

This work requires dedicated and consistent effort over a sustained period of time. Sometimes it feels as though you're getting nowhere and nothing is happening. It can be disheartening, frustrating and downright annoying. 

But if you keep showing up, day after day and keep doing the work, you can and will build a successful business. Make the commitment. Show up. That's really what it comes down to.