This article first appeared in the February 2016 issue of Coaching Life Magazine
As a coach with an internet connection, it’s impossible to miss the potential opportunity of utilising the web to expand your practice. And as a successful offline coach it can be challenging to step into the online world without some preparation.
The opportunity is appealing.
You can reach an entire world with your work, from the comfort of your home. Suddenly the pushy marketing tactics are replaced with writing, blogging and social media which appeals to the more introverted of us – or does it?
It’s a bit like stepping from the local pond into the ocean - and whilst it is absolutely possible to take your practice global overnight, (in fact you should expect that), global does not necessarily mean full.
- are thinking about taking your coaching practice online,
- or have already embarked on your online adventure without the results that you had dreamed of,
- or are feeling truly overwhelmed with the amount of information being thrust at you to be an online success,
then read on.
You see the truth is that if you take your offline message online, the very message that has served you so well in your offline practice, it is likely to be lost in the noise online very quickly.
Whilst there is endless opportunity online, there are also an endless supply of coaches trying to tap into that.
So how do you stand out above the noise?
Let me share a story from my pre-coaching life to help explain. For many years I was a radio frequency engineer, and my job was to design cellular phone networks.
The trouble with radio waves is that they are quite difficult to control and tend to cause interference with each other. And with the proliferation of mobile phones in today’s society, the likelihood of getting a clear phone call without some clever engineering is near impossible.
Every phone in a network is creating its own interference, or noise.
It’s a bit like being in a room full of people chattering, how will you be heard clearly above the noise?
The way that it is achieved for modern communication is by giving each phonecall a unique code, so that when you initiate a phonecall the network gives you and the other party a special code that raises your call above that noise floor so that you can be heard without any interference. It’s a bit like being given your very own microphone in that busy room so that you can be heard by just the people that you want to speak to.
What has that got to do with taking your coaching practice online?
Everything as it happens.
You see the internet is full of your ideal clients, but it is also full of your less-than-ideal clients as well, and you don’t want to waste your precious time and energy reaching everyone and then having to filter from there. (Besides, if you do try to appeal to everyone, you are very likely going to end up getting lost in the noise of everyone else.)
One of the joys of the internet is that it really does demonstrate how there is enough for everyone, but it can also be incredibly frustrating. It can be hard to find the people that you are meant to serve online. The vastness of the internet can result in a whole heap of frustration, self-doubt and information overload.
The way to make your online venture successful and efficient is to discover your unique ‘code’.
What is it that connects you to your perfect clients?
You may have heard of the term 'niche marketing' before, and this is certainly the first stage to consider.
Your niche is the group of people who benefit from your work most, and who you enjoy working with. It’s the first stage of specialisation. Eg life coach, business coach, health coach, sports coach, relationship coach etc
And it is this specialisation that is going to be your friend as you embark on your online adventure. I know that the temptation is to cast your net wide in the hope of attracting potential clients. But remember, everyone is talking at the same time and creating all that interfering noise, so the more specialised you become, the more unique the code.
Let’s talk about that for a minute.
Surely if you make your code too unique, it’s going to repel so many people that you won’t have enough clients to make your online practice viable?
Actually the opposite is true.
The more effectively that you can cut through the noise and speak specifically to the people that you do your best work with, the more that they are going to ‘hear’ you above all the other information on the internet.
Remember, they are in information overload too, and want to find someone who can demonstrate a deep understanding of the problem that they are experiencing.
How many of those people do you need to find to fill your practice?
Regardless of your answer to that question, it is a lot less than are online looking for you. I am certain of that.
The next stage in your specialisation process is to identify who you are a life coach, business coach, health coach, sports coach, relationship coach for.
This is where I often see people miss a trick. They tell me that they are a life coach for introverts, or a business coach for startups, a health coach for women entrepreneurs, a sports coach for runners, a relationship coach for couples….
But that’s where they stop, and to be fair, in an offline practice, this can be enough in some markets. But it is not enough for an online coach to stand out above the noise.
The trick that they are missing is that the great likelihood is that within that group of introverts, women, startups or couples there are clients who are not a perfect fit.
Those clients who are not coachable, or not ready for coaching.
Those clients who are not a good match for your style.
So why not be out and proud, and call it? All it will do is separate the wheat from the chaff for you. It will begin to do the heavy lifting of your online marketing for you.
This is where it begins to get interesting. Now we are no longer just talking about niche marketing, we are talking about Positioning.
And it is positioning which is going to make your online marketing so much easier.
And what is it exactly?...
Let’s imagine that you have found your niche, and let’s imagine your niche as a multi-storey building. Each floor is jam-packed with people who fall into your target market and they are potentially perfect clients for you. Each floor of the building houses people who all have something else in common though, and it is different for each floor.
Let me explain using price as an example.
The lower floors of the building are full of people who are in your target market, they love what you do and they want to work with you. They can, or are willing, to pay you a small amount for your help.
The middle floors of the building are full of people who are in your target market, they love what you do and they want to work with you. They can, or are willing, to pay a bit more to get your help to solve their problem a bit faster.
And the top floors of the building are full of people who are in your target market, they love what you do and want to work with you. They can, or are willing, to pay whatever it takes to get you to help them with their problem.
Whilst each floor is made up of similar people, the unique ‘code’ for each will be a bit different. There is no right or wrong floor to choose, but the message that you send has to be specific for the people on that floor to be heard above the noise.
Another way to look at it is that if you are planning to use the internet to introduce products (lower floors), online group coaching (mid-range floors) and attract 1:1 coaching clients (top floors), then you are actually looking at three different types of clients (although some will transition through all your offerings.) And so your message should be tailored specifically to who you want to attract to each offering.
A rule of thumb I generally employ for my clients who are embarking on this journey is that if you already have a large following of your target market online then you can afford to work in the lower floors to have a more wide-reaching impact, but if you are just starting out online and have a small following, start with the floors at the top. It makes more efficient use of your time online and has the greatest payback.
In conclusion, when you are transitioning your offline coaching practice online, the more specialised your message for not only your target market, but the position within that market that best suits your offering, the more it will stand out.