Those of you who read my last article written with Julie Evans will know that I have left full-time employment to set up my own coaching and consultancy business. This is the first in a series of articles to share my reflections and learning.
I’ve been developing the foundations for my business for 12 months. Whilst newly ‘self-employed’ my learning curve started in late 2015. I wouldn’t have called myself a natural networker and soon realised that my largely British Council related networks needed to expand into new directions. I felt very unprepared for going it alone.
Networks are critical, but building them doesn’t have to be painful
I didn’t believe it when everyone told me that my work would come from existing networks, but it is true.
All of my paid work so far has come via people I know recommending me to others or contracting me themselves.
Networking seemed overwhelming at first. There are so many networking groups to choose from, many trying to secure annual membership at a time when your income is dauntingly low.
Then there’s finding the confidence to go out and sell yourself. I’d had my CV included in tenders on many occasions and managed lots of strategic relationships with clients, partners and suppliers successfully. Walking into a room full of people trying to sell their services and check you out feels very different. When it’s your company and you providing the services it all about YOU. That can feel uncomfortable and scary.
I’ve learnt that it’s about exploring and developing your own networking style, one that works for you.
12 months ago my networks were tiny compared to today. I’ve grown them through volunteer work with CIPD and the Business Growth Hub. I actively engage in the local CIPD Manchester Branch activities as a CIPD Ambassador and have joined networks active in subjects I am passionate about like #LnDCowork and the Coaching Circle. Interest in my articles on LinkedIn has increased my network and put me into active contact with peers.
I’ve found that networking is easier and more natural when there is a genuine topic to talk about or collaborate on (you were right Nicola Dodson). You extend your networks naturally when you offer to help people in an area you are skilled in or you recommend someone else.
Sharing your networks (wisely) to help others to achieve a better outcome is like giving someone a free gift. That’s something they’ll remember.
Am I explaining the unexplainable?
Much has been written about the confusion around coaching, mentoring, counselling, consultancy and other related disciplines. I’m not going to focus on definitions here, but I have been surprised by the range of people who don’t understand what coaching is.
Informing people about your products and services is part of the job. However, I’ve found that coaching is much better understood after you’ve experienced it. A recent client who has had no formal leadership training shared that it was at our third session that he really started to understand how coaching could support him to deliver his goal. He is lucky to have a line manager who passionately believes in coaching and saw an opportunity, when the individual was promoted, to help him to accelerate his growth.
If you don’t really understand what something can do for you why would you invest your time and money?
I’ve learnt that I need to get clearer and more succinct in my descriptions and draw on feedback from clients about their experiences.
I was talking to a contact about this. Cornelius is a Sports Therapist who gives amazingly effective deep tissue massages. He’s been following my transition to a full-time coach but hasn’t had any performance coaching. Our conversations about what I do have made him focus on the “what if”. He has had 2 successful careers, but wonders what would have been possible with a performance coach by his side.
Creating ways for potential clients and sponsors to fully understand coaching and its impact is an interesting challenge.
A challenge I’m still actively exploring.
Let’s talk fees, but only if we have to
I never considered how difficult I would find it to talk about fees. I remember getting my first paying client at the NHS. I was coaching a senior HR leader through a period of major restructuring. I literally skipped back home with a huge smile on my face, very chuffed that someone thought my coaching was worth paying for.
I’ve worked with a number of private clients and organisations now but my discomfort when talking about fees has remained. Like most consultants I work on a daily rate and charge my time accordingly. I’m not looking to be the highest fee earner in my field. I want to provide value for money within a financial model that is sustainable.
I met a new client recently and realised afterwards that I had spent most of my preparation time on working out the fees and how I would talk about them.
For the client, information on fees was an almost trivial piece of information at the end of the meeting.
It’s made me think about what’s shaping my mindset on this. I hold a strong belief in coaching and what it can deliver. I know from feedback from my clients that they get real value from being coached by me. No doubt habit plays a part and I need to fully step into my brand new fully self-employed role.
Growing my evidence bank of the impact my services have delivered in different contexts will help me to describe what I sell better to my inner critic, as well my clients.
This isn’t simple. Measurement of ROI from coaching is complex, but I relish the opportunity to explore this further over the next 12 months.
2018 is going to be a year of excitement, uncertainties and learning. I know that reflecting on my learning regularly will improve my chances of being successful.
Responses to previous articles around this subject area suggest that there is a huge appetite for information. Please do share your experiences, insights and questions, I’d love to hear from you. Please get in contact if I can support you to follow your dream and ‘go it alone’.