Grow Your Bottom Line: 3 Strategies for Your Coaching Biz | By Dr. Mickey Parsons, MCC, BCC

Two Coaches Working on Business Development

Newly trained coaches typically are eager to start coaching. You've practiced the necessary skills and you're ready to put up your shingle and watch the business flow. If only! The reality is that at the outset of your coaching career you need to spend more time building your business than actually coaching clients.

During your first year you might spend 90% of your time on business development and 10% coaching. Eventually the balance will shift to 10% business development and 90% coaching, but it can take 3 to 5 years or longer to reach that point. And even when your coaching business is going full tilt, you absolutely must continue to make business development a top priority.

The 3 Layers/Phases of Business Development

I think in terms of three layers or phases of business development - immediate, mid-term and long-term. At different times in your career you will likely focus more on one particular phase, but these are not sequential steps. Throughout your career you will need to attend to all three layers.

LAYER 1) Immediate: Driving Sales

If you are just getting started, this phase is critical.

Step 1) Decide on your niche and target market/s

Who is your ideal client? What types of goals do they have e.g. professional, lifestyle, entrepreneurial? What are their challenges or hurdles? What stage of life are they in?

EXAMPLE: My ideal client is a midlife executive between the ages 40 of 60 whose goal is to become a more effective leader while maintaining or cultivating a healthy personal life. They may have great technical abilities but struggle with lack of confidence or they may need to master leadership essentials, such as projecting an executive presence, leading culture change, or articulating a vision.

Step 2) Determine what differentiates you and your services

Next you must figure out what differentiates you and your services, and then work on articulating your unique selling proposition. How will your services help your ideal clients reach their goals? Why are you uniquely positioned to service this clientele?

Step 3) Put your existing network to work

  • Offer complimentary coaching sessions to individuals you know (assure them there is no obligation to continue with you as a coach). If their experience is positive, and of course it will be, ask them to recommend you to others.
  • Make an exhaustive list of the influencers in your network*. Focus on friends, business and/or professional associates and acquaintances who have robust networks. Sources include: fellow members in organizations such as a faith congregation, interest and activity groups (golf club, hiking group etc.), volunteer initiatives and political or social action groups. Look continually for new contacts so your list keeps growing.
  • Invite influencers to meet with you over breakfast, lunch or happy hour. If you're starting out, the point is to introduce your coaching services. If you're already established, your goal is to cultivate a relationship, remind them you're available as a resource and when appropriate, explore how you might help each other out.
  • Ask each influencer to introduce you to 1 to 3 individuals in their networks.
  • Set an outreach goal. If you're hungry, aim high and plan to contact 30 to 45 individuals in 30 days.

2 Tips for Influencer Meetings

  1. Make sure your meetings with influencers are of value to both of you. Look for ways that you can be of service to the influencer. For instance, if your contact is an accountant or a videographer, tell them you can recommend their services to your clients. If there's no obvious mutual benefit, ask: "How can I help you?"
  2. When presenting or talking about your coaching services, remember to focus on the benefits to clients, rather than making the conversation about you.

* EDITORS NOTE: You may like our Free Tool Create Your "My 50" Referral Team! This editable tool (so you can use it to identify influencers too) will help you track a list of people to build a relationship with.

LAYER 2) Mid-Term: Gaining Visibility

The mid-term phase of business development focuses on making yourself more widely known.

Step 1) Broadcast your expertise

The first thing prospective clients are likely to do when considering whether to hire you is Google your name.

This makes cultivating an online presence that demonstrates your know-how and experience critical. Ideas include: starting a blog, contributing to other blogs, posting SEO-friendly content regularly on social media (LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and others). Remember to keep your content positive, upbeat and relevant e.g. success tips, client success stories, the benefits of coaching etc.

Step 2) Create - and follow - an ongoing networking strategy

Join groups and organizations whose members have overlapping interests with yours e.g. Chambers of Commerce, BNI and other networking groups, and participate regularly. Cultivate genuine relationships. In conversations, learn to lead with questions about the other person rather than focusing on yourself. Volunteer or committee work, while time-consuming, is another great way to cultivate meaningful relationships.

Step 3) Build long-term strategic partnerships

A strategic partnership is a win-win relationship in which you and another business owner or service provider promote each other, either directly or indirectly. There are dozens of ways to do this, from simply talking up each other's services, trading referrals, guest blogging for one another, co-hosting customer events, joining together on local volunteer efforts and more. Look for partners among business owners and professionals whose target markets overlap with your own.

EXAMPLE: When I was starting out, a financial planner friend and I co-hosted a luncheon and goal-setting workshop every January. My friend would invite 20 to 30 clients whom he felt were prospective coaching clients and I'd conduct a mini-workshop for them. My friend always told everyone that they were invited because he felt they could benefit from my coaching. Talk about a win-win!

Step 4) Put yourself out there

Speaking engagements are a great way to become known and share your expertise. I've spoken at Chamber of Commerce and Rotary meetings, conferences and many other venues - all to get my name out there. You'd be surprised at how presenting an engaging talk or workshop can lead to coaching engagements, as well as paid speaking and training opportunities.

TIP: If you're nervous about public speaking, join a Toastmasters group to gain practice.

LAYER 3) Long-Term: Building a Pipeline

The long-term phase of business development is about generating a self-perpetuating and steady stream of business.

Step 1) Turn happy customers into advocates

One of the best ways to grow your business is through firsthand client referrals.

But word of mouth referrals don't just happen. You'll need to make it a habit to ask current and former clients to recommend your services to others. One idea: Include a request in your email signature, something like, "Your referral is the most meaningful thanks you can give!" or, "I'm deeply grateful for your referrals!"

BONUS IDEA: You can also turn customers into advocates by sharing client success stories on your blog or via social media. Be sure to ask their permission first!

Step 2) Nurture prospective clients and past and current clients

Stay in front of clients and prospects in ways that match their needs and communication preferences. Ideas include: updates on social media, providing something of value or interest, personal outreach.

EXAMPLE: Ongoing social media doesn't work with my target audience, so I reach out more specifically every 6 to 12 weeks to share an article or to invite individuals to lunch. This keeps me top of mind so they're more likely to contact me the next time they have an executive coaching need.

You can also set up automated "drip marketing" in which you nurture prospects and other contacts via regular emails sent out on a schedule. TIP: Keep your content focused on benefits to the recipient.

Step 3) Rev things up a notch

Hire a sales rep or partner with someone with good business development skills. This is especially helpful when you're marketing a high-end item, for example a $5,000 coaching program or assessment packages, and you have sufficient profit margin to revenue share.

Surviving the ebbs & flows

As a new solo professional or micro-business owner, you soon learn that you need a steady cash flow to stay afloat. But like other entrepreneurs, coaches are subject to potentially devastating swings in business activity, especially during the early years.

When I mentor coaches and lead business development mastermind groups, I advise them to look at how they can create a sustainable business model. A sustainable business model is one that creates a pipeline of clients that will carry you through the natural ebbs and flows of business.

TIP: One key to creating a sustainable business model is to adopt tactics that suit your personality. For instance if you're an introvert, public speaking may be too much of a stretch, so focus instead on options like small networking and referral groups.

Finally, don't give up!

I know for a fact that the coaching profession has lost super-talented coaches simply because they couldn't overcome this all-too-common business challenge. Don't let this happen to you! Schedule business development activities for every work week. Carve out the time to make it happen. And never let anything else interfere with this time.

By making business development a priority, you will create a strong foundation for a successful coaching career that will extend well into your future.

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Dr. Mickey Parsons Headshot

Contributing Author:

Dr. Mickey Parsons, MCC, founded The Workplace Coach, LLC, in 1999. Since then, Mickey and The Workplace Coach's award-winning team have coached thousands of executives and leaders. Based in Atlanta, Mickey is also an assistant professor of coaching psychology and has a passion for coaching that extends to mentoring new and existing coaches and supporting leader coaches in obtaining their certifications through his Certified Leader Coach® program.

Learn more about Mickey & see all their articles here >>

Image of Two Coaches Working on Business Development by Monkey Business Images via Shutterstock


  1. Dennis

    Thank you for this practical approach to business development. These ideas are easily implementable but contributes so much to the success of a coaching business

    • Emma-Louise

      Dear Dennis, so glad you liked Mickey's article. And I did pretty much everything Mickey recommends - and it has worked out for me! It takes a lot of hard work - and longer than you think, but these strategies really work 🙂
      Warmly, Emma-Louise


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