Over the weekend, I went out for a walk with my dog, Martha Beck’s life coach training ringing through my headphones — and I was smacked in the face with something I’ve been feeling for an entire year, but haven’t quite had the words for.
Martha was talking about finding your niche as a coach (though this applies to any business owner) with an exercise she calls “To Hell and Back.” The premise is that one’s Zone of Genius lies in their shared (hellish) experience with their clients. That when we’ve been to hell, we empathize more deeply and work more passionately.
And it dawned on me: I’ve been unconsciously stifling and downplaying how challenging it’s been to own a brick and mortar business for an entire year. I haven’t acknowledged the hell. If I’m being honest, it’s taken me this long to allow myself to feel any feelings about it at all. It’s been all action mode, all the time. On March 13th, around 3 pm, I decided to close my yoga studio. On March 13th, by 6 pm, I had voicemails, texts and endless Facebook messages from clients and even casual acquaintances in the yoga world asking what I thought they should do. It hasn’t really stopped since. It does make sense; I’m a do-er by nature. When things get stressful, I do. I actually have a very hard time sitting still — which is why I was so attracted to yoga in the first place. But it’s hard to be in a leadership position when you’re trying to figure it out yourself.
PLEASE, please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here. I am so deeply grateful for the work, and especially for the ways I’ve been able to help studio owners navigate (what will hopefully be) the most challenging period in their careers. I’ve been able to help my clients get online, build new revenue streams, get their teams inspired. But I do have two businesses, and while I have a strong background in biz ops and marketing, the pandemic was completely uncharted territory — so I was literally learning new skills AND sharing them with others at the exact same time (Martha doesn’t recommend this, by the way). It’s really hard for a leader in any industry to be this vulnerable, and I haven’t let myself do it all this time, but if I’m being real, even with all the strategy and marketing in the world, there’s only so much one can do in a studio that still only has 4 (mayyyybe 5) spots available in class.
I also realized I’ve been feeling a sense of general discontent about the coaching industry in general — that the way we’re taught to market really doesn’t leave much space for…being flawed. No one wants to learn from a business coach who’s sort of okay at what they do. They want to learn from the best. So, of course, most coaches inflate their numbers or their outcomes, make bonkers claims and talk about the top .0000001% of results they have with clients. They claim they never work and magically manifest $100K months without ever getting on the phone with clients. I actually saw a coach post a testimonial video recently of a client I happen to know went out of business. There’s nothing wrong with that, except that it was dated recently, the person was claiming tons of success, and it was positioned as though this success happened during the pandemic. It didn’t. I heard another recent story about a coach who was claiming they could get their clients massive sales months, only to find out they were using their coaching money to keep their yoga studio afloat. I was actually told once to MAKE UP a testimonial. I didn’t.
I don’t even (really) blame these coaches. The entire industry is money OBSESSED and wrought with talk about how the only thing that matters is whether or not you’re positioned to scale, scale, SCALE. Go check out a coaching group on social media. You’ll find approximately one billion posts about how to grow a coaching business and exactly zero on how to be a better coach. And look, I like money as much as the next entrepreneur and do very well for myself, but it’s almost like closing the sale is more important than delivering a great service, and I’m just not okay with that. I’m into boundaries, but I just heard the story of a coach who charged her client $10,000 and then basically said, “don’t call me. I’ll call you.” It has to stop. The delivery HAS to be better than the marketing.
So back to my walk. Here’s what I now know and can say (even though it makes my voice shake just a little bit):
My studio has struggled a bit as a result of the pandemic. We’ve been stable all year and our numbers are slowly creeping up as of April 2021. This does not make me a bad business coach. You can read all about the details and the state of my studio right here. This post gave me a little bit of a vulnerability hangover, but it was worth it.
I think that coaches have a lot to learn about humility, and that there’s a way we can position ourselves as experts and even showcase client results without embellishing the truth or straight up lying.
I think the whole coaching industry (like the yoga industry) needs more standardization and more professionalization. Trying to find a course to help you sell coaching is the easiest thing in the world. Finding a course to help you be a better coach? Not so much.
You need formal education to be a coach. A lot of it. Shared experience is valuable, but it isn’t enough. It would be like my saying I’m an eating disorder recovery specialist because I had an eating disorder — not how it works. I want coaching to be taken seriously, and I want to be taken seriously, so I invest a lot of time, energy and money into being the best I can be. It’s a forever process, and I’m committed to it.
And please, hear me. I’m not saying all coaches are bad. I’ve had some fantastic coaches — you know who you are. My current group of mentors are total rockstar badasses who walk the talk and have helped in SO many ways. I would never, ever be here if it weren’t for their guidance, support and gentle nudges toward some really scary s%*t. It’s just time for the whole industry to level-up, to do the inner work we ask our clients to do.
The pandemic has really forced me to up my game in a lot of ways. Vulnerability is my new jam. I’ve been in countless meetings, trainings and courses so I can learn the skills I need to provide my clients with legitimate value, even in this new world. And yes, I’m a work in progress. I have the client attraction piece down, so moving forward, it’s all about delivery for me. Yes, I’ll still market myself, but I’ll do it with my favorite approach: proving to prospective clients that I can help them by actually helping them. And I will stay laser-focused on delivery — giving everything I can to the clients who trust me. I promise.
Isn’t integrity cool?