Real talk for anyone who wants to be a coach
My journey to becoming a coach began when I moved to Kuala Lumpur to work for a startup company. Being so far away from home turned out really great for me because it allowed me to build a completely new life. My old environment was no longer holding me back from becoming the best version of myself and thus, I finally started to work on a couple of personal goals I had previously been too busy for.
I started to work out regularly, learned to cook healthy, got into yoga and read tons of self-improvement books — and to carve out more time for all these activities, I learned how to optimize my productivity at work: I started to plan my week according to my most important objectives, blocked out the morning for deep work, avoided unnecessary meetings and optimized my diet for energy.
This allowed me to leave the office at 6:00 pm every day, even though everyone else in the office was staying until 10:00 pm, sometimes even later (because that’s what you do when you are working in a startup).
In the beginning, I got a lot of weird looks and the occasional comments like “Are you only working half-day today?” or “Are you going home early because it’s your birthday?”. What a f*cked up culture, I know!
But over time, my friends and colleagues started to reach out to ask how I do it.
So I began sitting down with people to share my systems and coach them on productivity.
I enjoyed coaching people so much that I started to play with the idea of doing it full-time. I started to dream about speaking on big stages and flying all over the world to coach CEOs.
I was sure that a career as a coach was my purpose and passion.
If only I had known back then what I know now…
1. Coaching is one big personal growth journey
I became a coach because I thought I had some things figured out in life. I knew how to achieve goals, optimize personal productivity, stay consistent with healthy habits and release limiting beliefs.
I am not gonna lie, I thought I was pretty good at life at the beginning of my journey to becoming a coach. I thought I knew where I was going, what I wanted and what I needed to do to get there.
Boy was I wrong.
Becoming an entrepreneur and coaching others has been by far the biggest personal growth journey I ever experienced. Of course, I knew that running my own business wouldn’t be easy — but it challenged me in ways I never thought possible: I’ve experienced so much fear of failure, self-doubt, guilt, and anxiety that it scarred me.
A friend of mine once said: “Your business is like a mirror: It‘s a perfect reflection of your beliefs, habits, and self-worth. It will show you exactly where you need to heal yourself and it will trigger you until you do the necessary inner work.”
But it’s not just the entrepreneurial journey that is full of personal growth, it’s also the coaching relationships with my clients: Sometimes I feel that I am learning more than my client did in a session. Sometimes it feels like the messages I am giving to my clients, I am giving to myself. My business is a mirror for me and my clients are as well.
If you think you’ve done a lot of personal growth work before becoming a coach, watch how the journey will challenge you to the bones!
If I had known that from the beginning, I would still have done it because with big challenges comes extremely rewarding personal growth. This business made me who I am today. It taught me immense gratitude for the simplest things. It taught me how to find peace within myself no matter my external circumstances. It taught me that anxiety is a choice and I can choose inner peace instead. It taught me that I need to fill my own cup first and pour from the overflow. And it taught me that I am worthy and capable of anything that I want in this life.
2. It’s a hustle the first few years
I read somewhere that mothers actually don’t remember the unbearable pain of giving birth — because if they would, they would choose to never have another child again. It’s the same when we start things: we always imagine them to be much much easier than they actually are. This is a good thing because otherwise, we would never ever do anything worth doing!
When I started my coaching practice, I thought I would have a full practice within a couple of months — and that from there my pipeline would just be full all the time. Totally naive! I can’t believe I was actually thinking this way.
Of course, my imagination was very far from what actually happened: I had 3 clients in my first year, 2 of them paid me and only one signed up for more than a single session.
But if I wasn’t completely underestimating my endeavor, I would never have started — and I wouldn’t be where I am today (read more on that here).
The truth is, the first few years as a coach are a teeth-grinding hustle. Getting your first paying client will feel like climbing Mount Everest. But once you are at the top, the climb doesn’t stop. It never stops. You need to do the same work again for the next client. And the next one. And the next one.
You are always hustling.
It’s a terribly exhausting hamster-wheel because you are constantly working with clients or working to get clients — and you can’t stop because if you stop, your business stops. Trust me, I felt less trapped when I was working a 9-to-5 job (at least I could switch my work brain off on the weekends and take a paid vacation once in a while).
Over time though, you will figure out how to create a consistent stream of new clients, you will optimize how you work and you will start to charge higher prices. Together, all of that will allow you to build a business that works for YOU, not the other way round. That’s when you’ll have your dream of the flexible coaching lifestyle, doing what you love while making great money.
Most coaches I know that are at this point though — and by “this point” I mean they don’t worry about when the next client is coming in, things just flow, they are fully in control of their schedule and take time off as they need — they are 3 — 5 years in. It just takes time to nail down your perfect niche and ideal client, build systems that work for you, find a sustainable channel that brings you consistent leads without the hustle and become so good at coaching that your clients constantly refer you new ones.
If I had known from the beginning that it takes so long to build a business that runs like clockwork, I would have waited to quit my job. When I took the leap to start my own business, I had $5,000 saved, a website, an ebook, a business plan, and some coaching training — but no clients. If I had the chance to do it all over again, I would build my coaching practice on the side without the pressure and only quit once I’d built a sustainable business.
3. It’s so draining and so rewarding at the same time
Coaching is unlike any other job I’ve done before. Nothing requires you to be so present and focused on the other person.
A big portion of the power of coaching comes from listening, not only to what the client is saying, but also hearing what’s in-between and then asking the right question to take the client deeper. This requires 100% presence, complete openness, and non-judgment. As a coach, you need to leave your ego at the door.
You are not here to simply answer questions and give advice, you are here to co-create a transformational conversation which is all about the other person. The best coaching happens when you fully give yourself to the moment without any agenda and forget about the exercises or questions you prepared for the session. That’s where the magic happens. But that’s also where it gets most uncomfortable and uncertain. And that’s why coaching takes all you’ve got and can be extremely draining.
At the same time, it gives you a lot of energy too. Nothing is quite as rewarding as experiencing a breakthrough together with a client. When I recently interviewed Emotional Intelligence Coach Christopher D. Connors for the Confident Coach Club Podcast, he described these moments as “pure highs” which keeps him coming back for more.
If I had known from the beginning that coaching would be so draining and so rewarding at the same time, I would have organized my coaching days very differently (no back-to-back sessions, a lot more breaks and a maximum of 4–5 calls a day) and I would have integrated powerful energy protection and grounding techniques before and after each call (imagining a protective bubble of light surrounding me to avoid internalizing the problems of my clients, grounding myself in nature or with a grounding mat and smudging my coaching room with white sage at the end of the day).
4. It’s extremely difficult to sell to your existing network
When I first started acquiring clients, I messaged all of my LinkedIn contacts offering free coaching sessions. Even though I offered to coach for free, I barely got any replies. And when I finally managed to schedule a session with someone, I could feel that they didn’t take me seriously. None of the calls I scheduled with people from my existing professional network turned into a paid engagement. My self-worth and confidence were so crushed by the experience that I almost quit coaching entirely (that’s when I started to double down on my blog which helped me to expand my reach beyond my original network).
So when random people from the internet started to stumble upon my Medium articles and then signed up for a free session on my website, the experience felt completely different. It was as if these strangers somehow respected me and saw me as an authority and expert in my field. It still took me some time to learn how to convert these leads into paying clients, but I could feel I was onto something.
The truth is, most of your friends and ex-co-workers just don’t see you as a coach. It’s a very real possibility that they think things like:
- “Who does she think she is telling me what to do?”
- “Oh, she quit her job and now she is suddenly a coach?! What makes her qualified her for that?”
- “She is not better than me. I could be a coach!”
And that’s totally okay because most people only know you in your previous role and it’s difficult for them to see you differently. Also, seeing you take such big leaps in your life attacks their ego and makes them feel bad about themselves and as a defense, they put you down.
It’s counterintuitive, but gaining trust from strangers is often easier in the field of coaching because you get to make a powerful first impression with a professional website, great content and a first conversation that is untainted.
I hate to say this but there is truth in “fake it until you make it”. In my experience when you tell new people you meet “I am a coach” or “I am a speaker” they rarely question that. I have gotten amazing speaking gigs by simply reaching out to co-working spaces and telling them I am an “international speaker and productivity coach” — and that was in the first few months of starting my own business.
And the funny thing is: Once my coaching business started to pick up and my friends and acquaintances saw my success, they started to buy my products and reached out to schedule a session.
If I had known that from the beginning, I wouldn’t have wasted my time and shattered my confidence trying to convince my existing network that I am a great coach. Instead, I would have focused on getting the attention of a completely new audience right from the start. Creating content online, whether it’s writing articles, making Youtube videos or launching a podcast, is a great way to show your expertise to a new target group.
5. It’s one big confidence game
When I started my business, I somehow thought that everyone else had it all figured out and I was the only one struggling. I looked at perfect Instagram posts of other coaches and automatically assumed they had lots of clients, made a ton of money and felt great all day.
Of course, that’s far from the truth.
On my podcast, I interview successful coaches and we talk about their journey to success. Trust me, every single one of them is struggling with impostor syndrome! You would think only new coaches find it hard to feel confident in their abilities to coach and make an impact on their client’s lives. No, everyone does! Even the most successful coaches out there still doubt themselves sometimes. They still think people will find out that they are actually a fraud, no matter how many certifications and happy clients they have.
And since everyone is doubting themselves, the difference between successful and unsuccessful coaches is one simple thing: confidence.
If you believe you can do it, you will do it.
What it really takes to build a successful coaching practice is making yourself believe that you are a great coach and seeing each stumble, hurdle or mistake as a chance to grow and become even better, instead of seeing it as a sign to quit.
If I had known that from the beginning, I would have worked as hard on my mindset as I was on my business. I would have made it a priority to start my day with a powerful morning routine that makes me feel confident like visualizing my goals and working out. I would have worked with a mindset coach to clear all my limiting beliefs and install a mindset of success in my brain. I would have made a list of all my small successes (like positive feedback from a client, a nice comment on an article etc.) and looked at it every single day. And I would have removed everything from my life that made me feel like I am not good enough: certain people, TV shows, social media accounts etc.
Before You Go
Becoming a coach has been one of the most rewarding things I have done in my life but it also challenged me in ways I never thought possible. I will never regret my decision but I would definitely do a few things very differently — that’s why I hope this article gives you an honest insider look at the coaching profession and allows you to make a better decision for yourself.
One more thing: If you are meant to walk the path, you will. Just know that you will never feel ready. You just have to start walking!
Liz Huber is a Mindset & Productivity Coach and Founder of refinedlife.io. With her books, courses, and 1-on-1 work, she helps entrepreneurs overcome overwhelm, lack of focus, fear, and self-doubt. As a result, her clients are able to confidently achieve their goals by prioritizing what is truly important and streamlining everything else.