3 Things Nobody Tells You About Earning a Living as an Independent Coach or Consultant

It’s really easy… right?

I mean there’s no getting up before dawn on dark, cold mornings, no more commuting on jam-packed trains, no more dealing with snarky co-workers all day, and no more slaving away for some nameless shareholder’s profit.

Instead, you have the freedom to sleep as late you want to, turn on the computer while still in your jammies, and enjoy a cup of fair trade coffee while you “work.” You’ll have the freedom to take long vacations whenever you want, spend lots of extra time lunching with your friends, and be on time for every one of your daughter’s soccer games.

Yeah, sure…

I’ve made my living as an independent coach and consultant for over 30 years now, and while it’s certainly nice, there’s a lot of misinformation out there about this business… that it’s easy, fun, and straightforward. In reality, if you want to be successful in this business it can be a lot of hard work which leads me to…

Thing #1: You Can’t Run a Coaching or Consulting Business Casually and Expect to Make a Decent Income.
Many coaches, consultants or other experts don’t think of it as a business but as a “practice”. In my experience, people who make a fine living at this type of work view it as the business it is from day one. That doesn’t necessarily mean they rent an office or hire employees, but they approach it with the same mindset any rational person would have when starting any other type of business like a factory or retail store.

For instance, let’s say you’re starting a plastics recycling plant. You would probably do some market research, get smart about the chemistry and permits involved, figure out how you would do things better or differently, have some sort of business plan, make an income and expense projection, raise money and then and only then launch your own business with a solid understanding of the market and what it takes to succeed. That’s a normal expectation for anyone starting most new ventures.

For some reason though, people’s mindset is entirely different when thinking about making money as a coach or consultant. It’s just as difficult as making money in any other type of business. Sure, the capital requirements aren’t nearly as high as opening a brick-and-mortar store or restaurant… meaning it’s easier to get started… but you’re also facing global competition these days. You’ll need to work harder and smarter than they do.

How? Two ways…

Rather than running their business casually, highly successful coaches and consultants take a more disciplined approach. They develop a crystal-clear vision of what they want their business to look like in the next one to three years. They formulate specific written objectives and strategies for reaching those objectives as well as a creating a detailed checklist for implementing their goals. This does not have to be an overwhelming endeavor… When I work with clients to help them do this, we always limit it to one page!

Secondly, successful coaches and consultants I know work hard to constantly innovate in terms of the ideas they bring to clients and prospects. They don’t rely on last year’s thinking, but rather research, write and speak about what’s next in their field. That’s the work harder part, but it’s got the biggest payoff over time.

Thing #2: Being “Good at What You Do” Isn’t Good Enough Anymore…
If we wait on some of the more traditional ways of marketing our services, like getting referrals as a result of the great work we do (see Why the Conventional Wisdom about Referrals is Dead Wrong), a future speaking engagement at next year’s industry conference, or responding to RFP’s, we’ll be doing a lot of waiting between paydays. To make consistent money in the coaching or consulting business, you do need to be good at what you do. That’s a given. But you’ll also need to be good at something else…

About a dozen or so years ago, I had a client who was a highly sought-after consultant to the oil refining industry. He was competing with other consultants who could do the same type of work in a depressed industry. There were lots of recently laid off “consultants” who were looking for the same kind of engagements. But he was so busy with clients, he didn’t have time to continue with me.

Why was he so successful? Not because he was very good at what he did, (he certainly was) but because he was even better at marketing and selling his services. How? He always focused on THEM rather than the ME in his outreach efforts.

It’s all about ME versus THEM (the client) …

Let’s face it, many coaches and consultants would rather eat dirt than “sell”.

That’s usually because they are focusing mostly on the ME method.

There are only two approaches we can take in marketing and selling of our services. One is the path of self-promotion… what I call the ME method. Many coaches and consultants operate this way. But because they find it unattractive when people do it to them, they resist doing it themselves. But, less outreach means fewer new clients.

Granted, the ME approach will result in some amount of business. Most new professionals begin that way, (I did) working hard to call attention to themselves and their qualifications. Here we find the “why you should hire me” brochures, websites, self-promotional newsletters, and all the rest of it. Those sorts of activities often focus only on the ME, rather than the THEM. That’s why they are less successful.

The other is the path less traveled, the one of natural attraction… the THEM centered approach. When members of your target market come to know and understand that you are someone they perceive as able to help them and who can improve their current condition… they will naturally be attracted to you and become prepared to give you their enduring loyalty as a client.

In my research, I’ve learned what clients want from coaches and consultants. The list is simple:
• They want someone who they can trust
• They want someone who shares their vision and is committed to helping achieve it
• They want someone who possesses different or complementary skills
• They want someone who will collaborate to help them think things through instead of force-fitting specific solutions.

How can you do this? By sharing information that benefits THEM rather than yourself. This means consistent communication thru email, blogs and video (both live and webinars) designed to position yourself as someone they see as having the four qualities listed above.

A great way to get started would be to check out this post on An Absolutely Awesome Strategy for Meeting Potential Clients Who You Wouldn’t Otherwise Have Access to…

The bottom line is this… A coach or consultant is either about self-promotion or about giving back to the community of prospective clients.

Can you guess which one is the most successful for business growth in the long run?

Yeah, you guessed right.

You don’t have to be the best, just more THEM focused than your competition!

Thing #3: Building Your Business is About Flexibility, Not Freedom
Some coaching and consultants think this profession is all about having total freedom. Unless you are independently wealthy, you’ll never get there. It’s really about flexibility which is much easier to achieve. It’s about having control over how you work… and that’s what really matters. Here’s what I mean…

Freedom gives you total control. That means every morning you get to decide how you will spend your day… to play golf, to go to the movies, or to just stay in bed all day. You’re in total control of every aspect of your life.

Flexibility, on the other hand, only gives you partial control. You still have to work, but you decide how, when and where. For instance, maybe you want to take off 4 weeks a year, work every day from 7 am to 3 pm and then take off the rest of the day… or take off Friday and then work Saturday. Flexibility lets you do that… as long as you have set clear objectives (see Thing #1) and persistently, relentlessly and systematically work to achieve them!

Getting there doesn’t have to be hard… take a look at my free Client Acquisition Course for more help…