Growing up, I spent many pleasurable hours at my grandparents’ farm just down the road from our house. My grandfather was a dairy farmer and grew wheat in the fields, while my grandmother was a homemaker. As a young girl, I enjoyed the lazy days at their small, white farmhouse, playing outside or on the back porch. Little did I know that my activities all those years ago would shape my passions as an adult.

Who were my first clients? A new litter of kittens that lived on the screened-in back porch. One summer afternoon, I found a large cardboard box (from a new washing machine) and decided to cut several holes in it. It was obvious to me that I could train the kittens to run in and out of the holes. My grandfather wanted to know what I was doing, and I told him I was going to “train” the kitties. He just laughed to himself and went about his business. However, when he stepped onto the porch a few hours later, what did he see? Kittens running in and out of those holes, just as I had said.

I hear many new coaches today say that they are unsure about the steps to take in order to organize coaching into a business. I remember feeling the same after completing my coach training. I had spent many years creating a successful personal training business (conducted in-person to deal with specific physical exercises), but somewhat different steps are required for coaching—in particular, lifestyle coaching, which is done by phone and deals with the whole of a person’s life.

The purpose of this column series is to guide new coaches through the process of building a business by posing and answering these five questions:

  • Who are the clients you’d like to coach?
  • Why do you want to coach that client group?
  • What do you want to cover in coaching?
  • When and where will you coach?
  • How will you organize the coaching process and find the tools and materials to be effective?

By addressing these issues in a five-part series, I will help you identify your target clientele; guide you in creating a coaching plan; assist you in outlining prospect and client orientation; discuss the materials and tools you will need to coach clients effectively; and detail ongoing coaching expectations and client maintenance. This first column in the series will target the specifics of who and why.

Who Are the Clients You’d
Like to Coach?

Your first step in carving out a great coaching business is to give serious thought to the clients you want. To answer that question, it’s important to consider the qualities and personalities of the people you want to coach, while staying within your scope of practice.

Like me, many of you have an existing personal training client base. Some of those clients may be interested in your coaching services, but many will not. When I began to offer coaching, I quickly deduced that the majority of my personal training clients were not a good fit for me as coaching clients. As a result, I began focusing on creating a second client base. (However, I continue to educate my current personal training clientele about the process and benefits of coaching.)

So, now that you recognize the importance of creating a new or separate client base, consider the personalities and styles of your current personal training clients. In your coaching practice, what is it about those clients that you would like to replicate, and what would you like to replace? The perfect coaching client for me is the woman who enjoys growing, learning, and improving herself and her environment. Rather than making excuses, she is the one who takes action and follows through on a clear plan. I know from experience that I cannot work with whining, negative people because I lack the empathy and patience they need. I define my target coaching clientele as “women interested in serious improvement in at least one of three areas: physical fitness, work/life balance and managing their own business.” Define your target clientele by answering the following:

  • Do I want to work with men, women or both?
  • What type of clients am I passionate about helping?
  • With whom can I identify?
  • What type of personality would I enjoy coaching?
  • What qualities do I know are an absolute negative for me?
  • If I described my perfect coaching clients, what would they look like?

Why Do You Want to Coach
That Client Group?

My real passion has always been to help people improve the quality of their lives by identifying what is important to them. I was always frustrated with the dozens of personal training clients I had who did not adhere to their programs because of issues in their personal lives—disorganization, unclear goals, poor boundaries, no time management skills, etc. Looking back, it seems I spent half of many training sessions coaching clients on how to change their lives for the better. When I realized how intertwined the personal and physical aspects were, and how much that aspect appealed to me, I was inspired to coach areas outside of simple physical fitness.

What Topics Do You Want to Coach?

Just as important as defining who your clients will be and why is deciding what general areas you want to coach. I will discuss what specifics you might want to cover in the next article.

For my part, my goal in acquiring coach training was to invest in a program that would provide the tools I needed to coach people in their personal lives, not just their physical fitness. I coach life skills. I work with clients to help them to identify their needs, values and purpose; to balance their time; to improve their physical fitness; and to simplify their practices and possessions. Really open your mind and think about the areas of life you would be very confident about coaching. There are hundreds of coaching specialties: relationships, love, weight loss, career change, wealth, fitness, etc. In defining your target coaching clientele, identify what life topics you want to coach by using the following ideas to spark your imagination:

  • passions and values—what gets you excited about coaching?
  • areas in which you are very accomplished and/or trained to coach
  • physical fitness (cardio, strength training, flexibility)
  • weight loss
  • recovery from illness or injury
  • menopause
  • stress
  • new personal trainers seeking to build a business
  • overwhelmed stay-at-home moms
  • working professionals seeking balance

This list is a great place to start, and I’m sure you will think of other categories to add to it.

How Will They Know You Exist?

Although you might be in the earliest stages of creating a coaching business, now is the time to start marketing yourself. In coaching one of my successful real-estate clients, I learned something valuable. It takes 12–18 months of consistent marketing before business pours in on a steady basis. Many advertisers will tell you that 3–4 months of marketing will do the trick. It will not. The key to successful marketing is to come up with a plan and work it every month like clockwork. Targeted mailers worked for one of my clients in her business. Taking a lesson from her, I created a small mailing list for my coaching business and started monthly mailers in September 2006. By 2008, I expect the word to have spread and to start seeing the fruit of my efforts.

Lessons From the Porch

As a child, I had a captive audience—a new litter of kittens. Since I loved cats, loved the outdoors and enjoyed teaching and helping even at that age, training kittens was a natural for me. After they learned the holes-in-the-box trick, I taught them to climb up the screen door (to my grandmother’s dismay). I did what I loved, so it came naturally. Do the same in identifying your coaching passion. Coaching can be a complement to your personal training business, or it can totally redefine your career. The key to finding your coaching niche is to get back to your values and passions and decide who, why, what, when, where and how that niche will be.