What they didn’t teach you in coach training

What they didn’t teach you in coach training

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As part of our Spotlight Series, we are addressing those niggly but critical topics which you probably didn't learn on your coaching training. Namely, how do you make it work as a coach? If you’re transitioning from other work, how do you build on this expertise? And importantly, how do you make it a viable business for you? In this post, Maya Gudka, executive coach and researcher at London Business School, shares some pieces of advice which, over the years, have most resonated with people.

I often get asked about starting out as a coach. Coaching training and courses can be wonderful experiences, but they tend not to focus on the practical and commercial aspects of making it work as a coach. There are many ways you can structure your coaching work. You might work as an associate with organisations, or in-house as a corporate coach, or you might set up your own business and engage directly with individuals and businesses. You might do a combination of these.

However, the wisdom about how you structure your work or portfolio, and how long it might take to become ‘viable’ as a coach, are often gleaned in passing, rather than as part of a structured approach during coach training. This is partly because the coaching path is still relatively new compared to other professions. It is also because people are coming to coaching at such different ages and stages in their lives that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. This is actually an opportunity. So here are a couple of tips to kick off this month – let me know if they resonate for you.

Leverage your prior experience and network

Coaching is something people often come to after they gain life and work experience. The beauty of coaching is that it complements so many – and potentially all – other fields.

Fully leveraging your past experience can often give you a ready-made niche. We are encouraged to have a niche as coaches, but the reality is that it can take a long time to fully know and occupy a viable niche. In the meantime, we forget that our past experience makes us unique and gives us our USP. We might even think we are ‘generalists’ because it is hard to step out of our own heads (yes, even as coaches!) and realise that another person with identical training to you simply does not have the networks and precise industry experience that you do. This can, in fact, underpin your niche!

What does this look like in practice? For a friend who had experience in the beverages industry, I suggested he tap up his contacts in this space to let them know his change of career. It was a simple connection, but one he hadn’t yet made, between his previous career and his new aspirations. He now does consulting and coaching work with major drinks brands using his coaching and positive psychology training, as well as his prior industry experience and network.

For me, this same approach means that more of my B2B clients are from financial services, as that was my first career. I love the fact that none of my experience is lost here – in fact my first career, which for a while seemed like the ‘wrong’ choice to me, is now of great help in my coaching work.

Don’t expect it all to happen at once – slow and sustainable wins!

It might take longer than you expect to build up your coaching practice. If you’re anything like me, you might get initially disheartened as you’re excited and impatient to get started because you know coaching is for you. Stick with it. From a personal perspective, when I worked inside organisations, my biggest coaching breaks came when the business need arose for coaching and I was able to deliver it, rather than when I was pushing for it.

The beauty of coaching is that it is something that can fit around other jobs – you can start by just doing a few hours a week alongside your current role. This will have the benefit of infusing your other roles with the benefits coaching brings. The experience of my coaching peers was the same as mine, that when we started coaching, our then primary careers also accelerated. 

Maya Gudka (CFA, MA (Cantab), MSc) is an executive coach and researcher at London Business School, University of East London, Acuity and Wonder Source. She hosts the podcast, The Golden Hour, about creating strategic time each day for your work, self and relationships.

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