If you’re reading this post then I’m sure you have said to yourself at some stage I want to start a coaching business.
A great many people have.
But the sad reality is that most of the people who want to start a coaching business and become successful coaches are woefully unprepared for what lies ahead.
They believe all that’s needed is a burning desire to help others and to maybe do a cheap online course and acquire an almost meaningless certification
Alas, that wasn’t the case when I started my own coaching business back in 2005, and it most definitely isn’t the case today.
It’s hard to get coaching clients.
I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if there are literally (and I do mean literally) more online coaches than there are people looking to hire an online coach.
Well, yes and no.
The bad news is, supply far outstrips the current demand for online coaches.
The good news is, that most coaches are very poor at marketing and never succeed in building a coaching business, even if they had a sound business plan.
As such, you don’t have to be a marketing genius to be considerably better than 95% of people wondering how to start a coaching practice.
You just have to be prepared to learn and implement the basics of marketing to be well on your way to becoming a fully booked coach.
Just being competent with your marketing will help you enormously in getting more coaching clients and building a successful coaching practice.
And being good at marketing will ensure you become successful because as I never tire of saying……
A great coach who doesn’t know how to market her business will not be able to keep up with a poor coach who does.
How to start a coaching business from scratch
To paraphrase the Chinese proverb, the best time to start marketing for your online coaching business was the moment you knew you wanted to become a fully booked coach and the second-best time is now.
With this post, I’m going to outline a process for launching a sustainable thriving business by offering online coaching services.
There is no timescale for this business plan. But as a rule of thumb, the longer you give yourself the more chance you have to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s.
If you’re just about to start to a coaching business, great, you can follow fairly closely.
However, if you are somewhere else on your business coaching journey, maybe you have launched your website and it’s just not working, for example, I have two words for you.
There’s nothing that cannot be changed and nothing that cannot be improved upon as you look to build your coaching business.
There will be elements of this you will have done, just ignore those (presuming they’re working).
There will also be elements you can’t be bothered with, or don’t want to do.
Do them anyway.
So take a deep breath and let’s dive in!
Figure out your niche for a successful online coaching business
Here are a few advantages of having a coaching niche on your way to building a successful coaching business, other than just standing out from the crowd and they are:
- You can charge more for your coaching service
- It’s simpler to find and hone in on your target market on social media
- Writing blogs posts and other articles is more straightforward
- You can position yourself as an expert in your coaching field more easily
- It keeps you focused
When figuring out a coaching niche, forget about what you’re good at. Unless that is, you love what you’re good at as that really is the sweet spot.
With over 20 years of experience working in sales both B2C (business to consumer) and B2B (business to business) at a high level, I would have had a lot of credibility as a sales coach.
But that ignores one very important factor.
I didn’t want to work with salespeople – I’d had enough of the entire industry.
If your experience and coaching skills align with your coaching niche then fantastic, you’re on to a winner when it comes to building your coaching business.
If not, then you need to look elsewhere in the online industry. Or, you need to review more coaching niches.
Ask yourself this question:
If my phone were to ring now and it was a client with the kind of problems that has me silently dancing around the room and pumping the air with delight whilst trying to sound professional, what would they be saying?
That’s your niche.
I go into a lot more detail about how to figure out your niche and how to select a profitable niche in my free ebook 3 Pillars to Becoming a Fully Booked Coach, click below to get it.
Website design, domain name & photography
I am not in favour of you designing and building your own coaching website. Unless that is, you have some serious design skills.
If you’re looking to start a coaching business in the online world then your website will be your shop window. It will be your front to attract clients.
As such, your online coaching website needs not only to impress people but be able to convert target audience onto your newsletter list, and then into new clients.
My website is the engine of my coaching business and almost all of my paying clients come from it in some way, shape, or form.
The same will apply to you and you cannot afford to roll the dice if you’re to become a fully booked coach.
If it sucks it will not only kill any chances of you becoming a successful coach but worse still, it will do so silently without you even knowing it.
Nobody will call you to say that they’re not sure what your coaching niche is, didn’t resonate with your unprofessional selfie, or didn’t fully understand how you could help them.
If you’re a good designer AND you understand UX (user experience) and UI (user interface) AND you understand the basics of SEO, then sure, do it yourself.
If you have literally none of those skills and no money, then do one of these three things.
- Put things on hold until you can save some money because whether you pay for a website or not, you do need cash to run a business
- Find a designer who would be willing to exchange services – I have done this loads of times for all sorts of things including 3 websites
- Go on a site like UpWork or Fiverr and see if you can find a young up-and-coming designer who looks like she does good work, but is still cheap because she hasn’t built enough work history yet
This really is important because we are at a stage in the evolution of the internet where you’re probably better off not having a website than one that’s awful – and I’m not even joking.
Note: WordPress requires that you find a host for your website and I can highly recommend CloudWays
Hire a photographer
Good photographs can make or break a website.
Using a selfie you’ve taken on your iPhone looks unprofessional at best.
I hate, hate, hate having my photo taken.
But we’re in the connection business and people want to see you warts and all.
Or in my case, bald head and old face and all, so I have pictures of me on this site.
The photos on this site are the first ones I have ever paid for. On previous sites, I exchanged coaching services with photographers.
So if cash is an issue call some local photographers and offer them some of your brilliant coaching sessions in return for them doing your photography. Win/win!
Register the domain name for your coaching business
You’re going to need a domain name for your coaching website and the sooner you start looking the better.
Descriptive domain names like coachthelifecoach.com (the old name of this site) used to be incredibly useful for SEO (search engine optimization) purposes.
But that’s no longer the case.
Unless you have some killer EMD (exact match domain) like hotels.com or insurance.com it’s unlikely to give you much of a leg up.
Sadly, all the great domains are long gone unless that is you opt for a newer TLD (top-level domain) and go for something like a .coach.
These can be a tad pricey, but they give you more options if you’re really serious about becoming a life coach and see it as your long-term future.
Just make sure your domain isn’t too long and is as relevant as you can make it without being too contrived.
If you do a lot of public speaking, or would like to in the future, it’s probably wisest to use your name as your domain, presuming you have it or it’s available.
It will be easy for people to remember and avoid any confusion.
Another advantage of using your own name is that if you change your niche it won’t mean you have to buy a new domain name.
Note: Certain TLDs have been abused by spammers. .info, .top. and .fit for example. If you have any doubts, ask in the comments below this thread. Or better still, ask in the Fully Booked Coach Facebook group
Plan your social media
I have a marvellous TV.
It’s a 65” Hi-Def 4K Sony and I fucking love it!
I can turn it on like a boss.
Can whip through channels faster than my youngest dog can eat her dinner.
And I even know how to adjust the sound so it’s not too loud and not too quiet.
But here’s the thing.
I have no clue how it works.
It’s like magic to me.
My guess is, you know how to use social media.
But you probably don’t know how it works.
And I’m not talking about the source code and algorithms that drive it, but how to actually make it work for you.
I’m referring to building an engaged target audience that will supply you with a few clients as you figure out how to start a coaching business.
Before you dive in headlong on any social media platform posting pointless quotes and memes with gay abandon, learn how to use it successfully.
To begin with: pick one, or maybe two, social media platforms where your potential clients will be hanging out.
Then learn them inside out before you move on to any others.
It’s okay to open accounts on as many social media platforms as you like, in fact, I recommend it.
Just really focus on one or two because otherwise you’ll overwhelm yourself and end up doing everything badly.
This is the time to do your market research rather than just diving in.
Taking the information you have from working on your niche, where do your ideal coach clients hang out?
What platforms does your target audience naturally gravitate to?
What Facebook groups are they in?
What content do they like, share and engage with?
Who are the people they already follow? Hint: You should be following them too.
Watch, read and observe.
Do some more market research.
And gradually start to engage people through your social media posts.
Do not pitch your private coaching services nor offer group coaching at this stage, just look to help people and offer value, expert advice, and some life coaching.
Choose an ESP (email service provider)
You’re going to need a platform for delivering your online coaching business emails.
Don’t consider using Outlook or Gmail as you implement your business plan because you’ll get hit for spamming people. Get a professional account.
I use Active Campaign and I love it.
I have previously used Constant Contact and Aweber and both were okay, just not as good
I have had a lot of coaching clients use MailChimp and it’s totally fine, but whereas it used to offer a great free version, this is no longer the case.
The free MailChimp offering doesn’t give you the ability to run an autoresponder sequence as was once the case and you must have one.
An autoresponder allows you to schedule emails for new subscribers so that you can gently onboard them with your best content.
They are free ESPs like MailerLite which may suffice to begin with, but if you’re serious about becoming a coach and in it for the long haul then it may make sense to invest in a robust scalable ESP.
If you’re to going to build your coaching practice successfully then your newsletter is going to be critical, so take it seriously.
Develop your lead magnet and write content
Develop your lead content and write content
Your lead magnet is going to be imperative as you strive to start a coaching business.
Also known as a bribe, or freebie, it’s the gift that you kindly give to every soul good enough to give you their email address.
It was easy getting people to subscribe to your newsletter list back in the early 2000s.
Here’s how you did it.
‘Hey, do you want to sign up for my newsletter?’
Now people are more protective of their (main) email address than they are of their firstborn.
If they are to give it to you there better be a damn good reason and ‘Join my mailing list for free updates’ won’t even cut the mayonnaise, never mind the mustard.
A lead magnet can be your online courses in the form of an ebook, an e-course, an audiobook, an audio course, a free report, or even a video course.
It can be anything you like with the proviso that it can be delivered electronically, is relevant to what you do/who you serve/the recipient, and has real value.
A 500-word blog post converted to a PDF may get people on your list if you big it up enough.
But the resulting sense of underwhelming when they open their exciting gift and see something so worthless will create a swift adieu as they unsubscribe.
Write, write and write some more
If you’re going to start an online coaching business and succeed, then you’re going to have to write…a lot.
You can (and should) do podcasts and/or videos because both can be highly effective, but if you cannot write, then how are you going to tell people about your coaching program?
If you think your writing sucks, then it probably does.
I can still remember the day I first picked up a golf club and hit a drive 320 yards off the first tee straight down the middle of the fairway.
Er, no I can’t because it never happened.
Just making contact with the ball no matter where it went was a cause for celebration.
Writing (and making videos) is a skill and like any skill, you will suck to begin with. But you will get better the more you do it.
If you’re already a good writer, awesome, you’re about to move from good to great.
And if you do intend to start a podcast, there’s no reason you can’t start recording interviews now so that you can then drip-feed them when you go live.
Something else you may want to consider that has helped me build my coaching business.
Have somewhere you can record every idea for a newsletter or even a social media post that pops into your head before you forget them.
You will have a treasure trove of great ideas for the days when you can barely remember your name.
Publish your website and lead magnet
But, but, but…..I’ve not finished my coach training programs yet, I’m not ready to start an online coaching business Tim.’
Here’s a bad problem as you build a successful business.
You launch your website when you need to generate income and you can’t even hear the crickets through the hurricane of tumbleweed blowing through.
Here’s a good problem.
You launch your website before you complete your life coaching online courses and somebody wants to hire you even though you think you may not be quite ready.
You can offer pro bono private coaching or reduced-price coaching if you like.
You can refer your first client to another coach as you look to build your coaching business.
Or, you can say you’re booking 3 or even 6 months out and if they’d like to join your waiting list then you’d love to work with them when you’re ready.
It’s unlikely you will get inquiries to begin with, but what you will get if you have hired a decent designer is Google nosing around your site like a curious puppy sniffing a warm pair of smelly socks.
‘Hmm’ it thinks, ‘a new site, I’d better index it’
Then it will probably pop back a few weeks later and if you have new content it will index that too.
The more new content you offer it, the more it will come back.
It takes a while to get your site indexed so don’t wait until you need traffic.
Also, because you now have your newsletter set up you can have that integrated into your site so any people looking for a coach who stumbles across your site can sign up for your newsletter.
Write your intake forms & terms of service
If you have had good training you may well have been supplied with a template to use for your client onboarding forms.
If not, there are paid services such as The Coaching Tools Company which supply a huge array of different forms for anybody wanting to start a coaching business.
You can also opt for coaching-specific software that combines booking, billing, intake forms, and almost anything else you may need.
In my experience, these tend to be expensive and you’re paying for the convenience rather than the functionality. But I’m definitely not against them if you can afford them.
For your terms of service, you can pay an attorney/solicitor to draw them up.
Or you can download mine here as a Word file if you want them. And you’re free to edit them as you see fit.
Mine are sent via email and I won’t work with any client who doesn’t sign and return them.
You can use an official document signing service online but they will cost you money.
And it’s probably money you don’t actually need to spend as you build your coaching business.
Set up your accounting
If you’re anything like me, then you’re going to need an accountant if you want to start a coaching business.
They make it easy to track your business expenses.
However, this is one area where I’d say if you’re good with numbers, then, do it yourself.
You’re going to need a business bank account and then probably an online service like PayPal and/or Stripe.
PayPal isn’t the cheapest but they are universally known and trusted by most users.
Most people have PayPal accounts and those who don’t can easily pay using a credit card.
I use PayPal and it’s dead simple to issue invoices and set up recurring billings or monthly payment plans.
But, taking payments through an API (application programming interface) so that people can pay on my site for a course or coaching mastermind has been more problematic.
For that reason, I have migrated some automated payments to Stripe.
With Stripe the payments are processed and then deposited into your bank account, whereas with PayPal you have to move money manually and hope they don’t put a hold on it.
There are other options and I’m sure some are good, but even if I were setting up again now from scratch I think I’d still use Paypal for my manual payments.
Open a Zoom and scheduling service to help you build your coaching business
I really cannot say enough good things about Zoom,
I’ve been using it since 2016 and where the service isn’t quite where it was pre-pandemic, it’s still a fantastic and highly reliable service.
I’ve used it for sales calls, one-on-one coaching, and other coaching sessions to ensure my client and I are on the same page. It works well, even when my internet connection sucks.
If you have already used it (and you probably have) then you will know what I mean, but if you haven’t, think of Skype.
But a Skype that actually works every time and offers good technical support.
Plus, if you offer group coaching and training at any point you can have as many as 100 people on a call.
Group coaching will get you in front of more people.
I almost never do telephone private coaching these days because Zoom is so good and so easy for even the most techie-challenged people to use.
I use Calendly for my one on one scheduling and it’s as brilliant as Zoom.
As a rule, I only tend to use it for people to book coaching consults as I prefer to be more flexible for my coaching clients.
Having said that, if I’m playing email tag with a client I do have a calendar link I can send them.
Not only does Calendly synch with iCal (it will also sync with Google Calendar), but it also syncs with Zoom.
Anybody wanting to start a coaching business and have me help them can click on this link and find a date that fits them.
It will then ask them to fill in a few questions so I have a bit more information about their current situation.
Then it sends them an email confirmation with the link as well as populating all the details in my calendar and sending me an email.
They will then get a reminder prior to the call.
Calendly is so flexible and has so many options that it’s a total no-brainer for me and at around $100 it’s a total bargain.
Note: I used to use Acuity and it was ok, but Calendly is slightly cheaper and a little simpler to use.
Purchase Insurance (maybe)
If you are never going to coach face-to-face coaching or run any in-person events and you plan to utilize a business model that’s completely online, then you probably don’t need insurance.
Even though it’s not actually a bad idea for coaching businesses to get insurance.
The chances of you getting sued for being a bad coach even in this litigious society are remote.
I’ve never heard of it happening to any online coaching businesses I know (if you have, then please share in the comments).
Especially if you make sure that all your clients sign your online coaching program terms of service and you never do any of the following:
- Offer financial advice
- Offer medical advice or give a medical diagnosis
- Offer nutritional advice
- Be lewd or suggestive
- Threaten to have your client murdered if she’s late for another meeting
In other words, be sensible and you should be good to go in carrying on your online businesses.
However, if you are meeting people in person, or they are coming to your house then you need some form of liability insurance.
If they trip up and put their head through your expensive glass coffee table then you probably need to put a claim in.
Now put the champagne on ice
Most of the hard work should be done by this stage and you’re ready to launch.
Keep stoking the social media fire and telling people you’re about to launch and allow yourself to get all excited.
Start making a list of people who are your friends online because you’re going to need their help come launch day.
Run around like a headless chicken
This is it, this is the day you have worked so hard to get to and now the fun starts.
Hopefully, your site has been launched for a while, but whether it has or whether it hasn’t, that doesn’t affect what you do now.
Have a fantastic blog post ready to go and you hit publish as soon as you bounce out of bed.
Then call in every online favour you can think of.
And then some you can’t.
Hopefully, over the previous few months, you have been helping other people on social media and being a resource and now you can ask for their help in return.
There is zero wrong with asking people to share your stuff on Facebook or retweet on Twitter etc.
Presuming that is you didn’t ‘meet’ them 5 minutes ago and you’re just looking to tap into the followers.
If I have people who I know have helped me ask me for my help I’m grateful to have the chance to reciprocate.
The online world is a busy one and I don’t want to miss an opportunity to give back to somebody because I had no clue they were launching.
You want to build momentum and traffic to your blog and get as many eyes on your genius as possible.
Seriously Tim? Why would I feel deflated?
It’s unlikely all that action will lead directly to more clients and you will probably think your efforts to start an online coaching business were a big fat waste of time.
Seth Godin calls this ‘The Dip‘ and it almost always happens after any business launch.
But if you’re expecting it, you can manage it.
So, pick your chin up off the ground Tiger because now the real work starts.
This is your opportunity to separate yourself from all those other coaches that think succeeding at this is a walk in the park.
It absolutely was worth your effort because you have now become a business owner.
Hire a marketing coach for a successful online business
This really should have been the first point, especially for new coaches, because the sooner you get help the better.
But if I’d had it right at the beginning it would have looked like nothing more than a lame sales pitch and it really isn’t.
I know 90% of people wanting to start an online coaching business cannot afford me and if that is you, then I still want to help with posts like this and through my newsletter.
But I genuinely believe that every coach trying to build their own business should have their own coach.
I have been coaching for close to 18 years and I have now hired nine coaches, whether that be a career coach, or a business coach, and I’m rarely not working with my own coach.
I’ve received my own dose of one on one sales coaching, career coaching, life coaching, and even health coaching from the best coaches when I know I needed them the most.
I’ve got my fair share of creative entrepreneurs’ advice from business coaches I hired.
Don’t be the coach who thinks you don’t need a coach because you undermine everything you do. Coaches fail because of this mindset.
A coach not working with a coach is like a hairdresser with a combover, or a dentist with half his teeth missing.
Yes, I think you should hire me as I have done what you want to do.
But, if you think I’m not a good fit, then that’s fine, find another coach.
Just make sure that they have more experience than you and you can learn from them.
Having catch-up chats with another coach – even one who you trained with – is not the same as hiring a coach.
The mere transaction of money changing hands entirely alters the dynamic.
Please let me know your thoughts on the post in the comments, especially if you think I’m missing anything.
And do tell me about your journey to starting a coaching business!
14 thoughts on “How to start a coaching business in 2023 (and make it successful!)”
Disheartening to think you have to plan 12 months ahead of the launch of your practice. So here’s 2 Cents…. even though I didn’t read the whole thing…. (You asked for feedback). What if you started with 60 or 90 days free (your basic needs are met and you have 9-10 hours a day to put into the launch 5 days a week for that 2-3 months) before launching…. and set up the plan that way. I might not read the whole thing (not enough time today) but if I was thinking of becoming a coach and the first thing was “12 months before launch” I am not sure I’d read it. YES, you could take 12 months. But i think someone could do it much faster IF they had 60-90 days. Don’t you?
This is why I ask for feedback because I sometimes can’t see the wood for the trees. I guess this is why having our own coach is sooooo fucking important 😉
You’re absolutely right. I have it in my head that it takes 12 months to build a practice, and it does. But that includes establishing an online presence.
There’s nothing in here that cannot be accomplished in 90 days or under if the will is there and presuming a coach isn’t waiting on other people.
I’ve changed all the graphics and made it a 10-stage guide rather than a 12 month guide.
Really clear and informative. I hope I can work with you next year.
Thanks Christine and if that happens I’m sure it will be awesome!
Excellent advice from you, Tim, as always! I really like the suggestion of having a place to record every idea for a newsletter, social media post, or content. That’s something I’ve been struggling to do as I get my routine organized.
I would also include the need to legally register your business, at least for coaches in the United States. Not sure about the requirements in other countries. In the United States, if you want to open a business bank account you will need legal documentation from your state that you are registered as a business.
Good point although more and more clients are coming to me from the UK and as you guessed, there is no legal requirement to register a business. Having said that, I will add it as an addendum, so thanks!
G’day Mate, from Way Down Under,
5 Stars, Tim!
You dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s. You sure did tear down the veil for anybody who thought becoming a successful coach was a get-rich-quick scheme – starting (amongst other things) with the dreaded cold calling.
I don’t want to regurgitate every good advice. But your helpful hints – freely given in this article – are admirable and would cost any newbie untold misery to learn on their own.
I cannot think of a better guide to the business of coaching, Tim. One thing, though, is the aspect of getting insurance – which you didn’t think was that important, if I read your thoughts correctly. Viewed from my frog perspective, I would say that getting professional indemnity insurance would be a vital element to running your own coaching business. Some client may take your suggestion(s) as Gospel, misinterprets them and – just as an example – looses $5mill. – and wants to get at his coach with a vengeance to recover losses. As much as any aspiring coach should get marketing experts to help him/her or their own coach, they should also make sure that they are covered by what I call professional indemnity insurance.
Anyway – a great guideline. I wish I could have had something like this 20 years ago! 🙂
Thanks for making this very worthwhile effort.
Kudos to you and treats to your dogs!
The. dogs thank you as do. I!
I think with insurance if I heard just one case of a coach being sued I may change my mind, but in almost 18 years I never have. My (very loose) understanding in the US is that it would be incredible to pursue because coaching isn’t regulated.
In the UK, we are a lot less litigious anyway, so I’m just on the fence. I had it for about 3 years, but when I said I also practiced hypnotherapy it shot up by about 500% and I dropped it. When I stopped doing hypno, I just never renewed it.
And fwiw, I wish I’d had it back in 2004. when I was just geting going. Such is life.
I find it very useful, but specifically, it applies and has solutions for those who are in the early stages of establishing themselves as life coaches, I suggest that you could divide your guide into those new to the coaching business from those, who already have been in it for 5 years, but with not a very considerable growth as they had envisioned.
Just like a product life cycle, each one of us has a different need, a newbie need’s enthusiasm is very different from someone who is thick deep into it, and had to sustain the business, build credibility, and also need to figure out what next.
I had an ex-client email me to suggest talking about the client buying cycle which is along the similar lines.
I have thought a LOT about splitting my mailing list along the lines of brand newbies and people already coaching, but haven’t simply because they are alwasy other things more pressing.
This post is similar. Probably 80% of my readers are brand new or fairly new, so for the most part, they are the coaches I’m addressing.
I intend to use this post as cornerstone content so each section will link to the topic in more detail a bit like the domain section that links to a post that goes into detail around chosing a domain name.
Thanks for your input.
I really enjoyed this post – thank you!
I come from the other end – I design websites for coaches and see the “The Big Dip” every time. BUT every one of the coaches is unique and they each have their phobias about writing, recording video, tech issues etc. The big thing that stands out for me is that many coaches don’t treat it like a business that takes discipline, hard work, and focus. They seem to struggle with building a routine that reflects a business mindset.
I think the one thing that may be worth adding is the human connection to build relationships with potential clients. These coaches need to somehow make themselves visible to their market. Social media, and good SEO, etc take time – I often suggest attending related/associated events with the good old-fashioned business card with a handwritten offer on the back(?); being active on other related social media accounts so potential clients can get to know you and see what you can offer – that trust.
The lead magnets, hmmm, I think we’re almost at the point where they are pretty useless – there have been too many that simply don’t deliver on their promise & people are wary of filling up their mailboxes with continuous offers.
My 2cents – I enjoy your posts and always get something out of them – Thank you
Thanks for the comment Pam.
I totally disagree about lead magnets. I do think that too many people put little to no effort into theirs which hurts them. But getting people to subscribe to a newsletter without some form of incentive, especially people new to visiting your site is nigh on impossible.
I am so very happy that you wrote this particular post. For me, it’s been difficult navigating through all the necessities of starting a coaching business. Your steps are priceless and you’ve made these steps so simple and clear to understand. I’m taking each step to heart, AND DOING THEM. I simply can’t say enough. My plan/goal is to start working with you as well. You have provided a lot of quality information and I appreciate the fact that your character remained the same. I appreciate that quality in you. Thank you again.
Thanks Debra and I’m sure it would be a pleasure working with you!