After lining up the perfect coaching plan with your target clientele, creating a sound lesson plan, organizing your packages and procedures and devising great materials and tools, what do you do next? The last step in carving out your coaching niche is often the hardest—supporting clients in maintaining the changes they have made and helping them continue to progress. What should your ongoing expectations be, and how do you encourage them to maintain behavioral change? When you graduate clients from weekly coaching, do you continue to coach them on an infrequent basis? To “ACE” your role as a coach, learn to support your clients’ forward progress through Accountability, Contact and Encouragement.
The accountability of one person to another is often the largest factor in successful behavior change. Knowing that you have someone to answer to who cares about your progress is a huge motivator in making change. Most people find change in life scary and uncomfortable. To get past the status quo, to let go of less than optimal habits and to maintain forward momentum, your clients need a coach who holds them accountable to their goals on both a weekly and monthly basis.
Whether you are still coaching your clients on a weekly basis or have graduated them to once-a-month coaching, you can still use the following tools to keep them on track:
Progress Reports. On a weekly basis, I ask clients to send a progress report via e-mail. The report includes
- what they accomplished
- what they did not get done but intend to in the following week
- how I can best help them as their coach
- any insights or wisdom gained that week.
The report gives me insight into how to best support my coaching clients, and it keeps them focused on the changes they want to make. It acts as a great summary for clients to evaluate their week. This one simple tool has proven extremely effective in helping my clients reach their goals.
Assignments. Allow your coaching clients to choose their homework from week to week. What do they most want to accomplish before their next coaching session? What attitudes and habits do they need to adjust? What changes would best serve their current needs? Ask them to stretch themselves a bit and evaluate their lives, looking from the outside in. Make sure they are sufficiently challenged but not overburdened and stressed.
All of my coaching clients eventually graduate to monthly coaching. Some graduate in 3 months, some in 3 years. But ultimately each person accomplishes significant and lasting behavior change and is ready for more freedom and independence. Monthly coaching answers that need perfectly—a 45-minute session once per month keeps clients on track with their goals but gives them freedom to put into practice the changes they have made. And yes, some clients quit coaching altogether, knowing they can contact me if and when they need coaching in the future. However, even though they have made significant change and are ready to shift to once-a-month coaching, clients still need their coach to hold them accountable. How do you do that? With the same tools you use for weekly accountability: progress reports and assignments. Clients can report once per month on their progress and choose due dates on their homework to keep them on target.
With all the wonders of technology, nothing will ever replace human contact—a voice, a touch, a smile. People need each other. The simple efforts you make to stay in contact with your coaching clients on a regular basis make a lasting difference in what they are willing and able to accomplish. Use both in-person and virtual contact to support your clients in maintaining change.
In-Person. Most of my coaching clients live outside of my immediate geographical area, so our in-person contact is by voice during our coaching calls. Although I have conducted a few coaching sessions via e-mail, direct contact by phone is by far the most motivating form of communication. If clients are struggling with big changes and would be encouraged to hear your voice between sessions, make a quick call during the week to give them an extra energy boost.
Virtual. Most of my coaching clients report on their homework via e-mail before their next coaching session. I always provide feedback within 24–48 hours, acknowledging their message and making comments or answering any questions they may have. I also like to send an e-mail to my monthly clients every couple of weeks to say hello and ask how they are doing on their goals. Use e-mail as a tool to stay in touch with your clients and to provide feedback and encouragement between sessions.
And of course, “snail mail” is still a favorite way I like to stay in touch with clients. It seems so rare these days to receive a kind note in the mail; making that extra effort to congratulate clients on progress really does add a bright spot to their day. My personal goal is to send two handwritten notes per week, or eight total for the month.
The most important thing to remember about contact is to practice it on a regular and frequent basis. Not only will it make a difference in the motivation and dedication levels of your clients, but it will keep your coaching business fresh in their minds. Relationships die from neglect and flourish with attention. Provide the exact attention your clients need and you will not be easily forgotten.
How many people do you know who trudge through life each day with very little encouragement from anyone? Do you receive the encouragement you need? I think we all take for granted that the person right next to us doesn’t really need anything. Yet I have discovered that my clients and friends lap up encouragement like thirsty puppies. We all need to hear that we are special, talented, fun, kind and valuable. My most important role as a coach is to encourage my clients, showing them that they possess the skills and abilities to make the changes they desire. Encouragement causes people to blossom and to truly begin to believe in themselves. To become an encourager, practice the following:
- During each coaching call, tell your client 2–3 positive aspects you see in his or her character (funny, kind, generous, organized, adventurous).
- Congratulate the client for each win experienced (changes made, homework completed).
- Send an encouraging e-mail 1 or 2 times a month.
- Send each client a handwritten note 4 times per year.
- Assume that all your clients receive zero encouragement or praise and that they need it. Then praise them.
- Don’t get too sappy. Be genuine.
- Tell clients every year how much you appreciate their business.
Building an outstanding coaching practice that continually evolves into what you want it to be requires five steps:
1. Identify your target clientele (covered in the June 2007 issue).
2. Create your coaching plan (covered in the September 2007 issue).
3. Organize prospect and client orientation (covered in the November– December 2007 issue).
4. Choose effective materials and tools (covered in the February 2008 issue).
5. Guide clients’ progress.
Know who you are as a coach and what you are expert at coaching and then deliver your skills to the clients who come to you for guidance. Be honest about how much coaching individuals may need and then graduate them to monthly coaching or let them go when the time is right. If you are truly doing your job as a coach, your clients will learn lifelong skills that can be applied in every situation in life. They will experience the progressive steps of behavior change and learn how to stand on their own. Practicing Accountability, Contact and Encouragement will leave a lasting impression on your clientele and build your reputation as a genuine, caring, life-altering coach.