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Top 5 Mistakes New Coaches Make (and How to Avoid Them)

September 22, 2016

All too often I see new coaches struggle to get their business off the ground.

And it starts with focusing on the wrong things. Many times, new coaches focus too much on creating the structure around the business and don’t focus enough on finding the business. Sure, the organizational stuff has to get done, and focusing on the wrong things can be an exercise in self-deception.

In this post, I detail the five most common mistakes I see new coaches make (and some established coaches too) and how to avoid them to create a thriving coaching business.

Wasting too Much Time Getting Your Business Set Up

You probably received lots of advice when you announced that you were going to start your own business. You were likely told that you need to:

  • Write a business plan
  • Create a website
  • Develop a logo
  • Get established on social media

While these tasks do eventually need to be accomplished, they’re not your first priority. Your first priority is to coach. You don’t have a coaching business if you’re not coaching, and you’re not coaching if you don’t have clients. Too many coaches distract themselves with these so-called “necessary” tasks while putting off the truly essential and potentially intimidating work of getting clients.


Initially, I found the process of getting clients to be quite confronting. I felt like I was selling myself (and who would want to buy me?) :(. When I stopped thinking of selling myself and instead gave prospects a sample of the coaching experience, the coaching sold itself. And I stopped feeling quite so scared and quite so unworthy. All you really need to start your business is a solid LinkedIn profile and the courage of your convictions about the value of your coaching. You can tackle the other tasks as your client roster builds.

Lack of a Clear Target Market

It’s easy to think that as coaches, we can coach anyone. While that is true to some extent, we want to be defining our target much more narrowly.

You may think that by narrowing your target, you end up excluding too many people. The truth is that when your target market is clearly defined, people can recognize themselves in it (and their friends and colleagues too). When they see and hear you articulate who you work with, they will feel drawn in because it speaks directly to them.

My target market is 35 – 45 year-old male, CEO/Owners of businesses with $5 – $50 million in revenue. They are high achievers who work hard, play hard and are athletically inclined. Articulating this target market alone has gotten me business. Because it encourages the question, “Why? Why male? Why athletically inclined?” and that’s just the opening I’m looking for. Do I work with clients outside of that narrow target market? Sure, I do. I’m not that crazy! And that target market articulated that way gets me business. It’s my foot in the door.

How do you choose a target market? While there is no single, right answer, here a few aspects to consider:

  • Who you are attracting and attracted to
  • Who and what you are interested in
  • The kind of work you want to do and the environment you want to do it in
  • Who is paying (personal or company) and the impact of that on your earning potential
  • Your past experience, education, skills and what you have to offer the client that’s unique to you

Also, by identifying a clear target market, you create the opportunity for people to refer business to you. Realize that defining a target market too broadly will hurt you more than help you.

Charging Too Much

Your coaching business is, after all, a business. So it’s only natural you will want to make money from it. Unfortunately, I see a lot of new coaches charge too much at the expense of getting valuable experience.

As a new coach, your top goal is to get as much experience as you can. When you forfeit clients because of fees, you lose the opportunity to enhance your expertise in your craft. The key to charging fees that support you is doing work you are proud of. And that only comes from experience.


When I moved to the DC area, I didn’t know a soul and didn’t have a single client. I found my first client on the metro. He was an artist who overheard me telling a friend what I do. He said, “Pardon me, I need some of that.” (I gave him my card and my “artists” rate). My second client was a woman who’d catered an event I was involved with. She said she was leaving catering to head a non-profit. I offered her six free sessions and after, she became my second paying client. My third client, I met because his yoga mat was next to mine. The conversation went something like “You’re a CEO, right? You need a coach, don’t you?” And it turns out, he did. Opportunities to coach are everywhere, and the key is to just get busy uncovering them.

Being a Generalist Instead of a Specialist

If you went or are going through an International Coaching Federation (ICF) accredited coach certification program, you know that the ICF sees coaching as all process and no content. Meaning the coach has the questions (and the structure and the process) and the client has the answers (the content). And that’s what coaching is. And everything else is something other than coaching.

That’s fine. They’re the ICF. They can define what coaching is and isn’t. And I’ve found it’s tough to build a coaching business on that definition of coaching. Virtually every coach I know who makes a living coaching either combines what the ICF refers to as “consulting” with their coaching or they’ve made a career out of coaching other coaches. To be clear, these successful coaches aren’t consulting per se. They are simply incorporating their knowledge of a specialized subject matter into their coaching.

Specializing in a subject matter is another way to differentiate yourself as a coach and provide unique value to your target market. Your specialty can be anything that’s meaningful and desirable to your target market. And you can develop it as you go. (You don’t have to be an expert to start.) Your specialty will help you both differentiate yourself from other coaches AND make you more valuable to your clients.

I have three specialties: 1) understanding the role of the CEO (many new CEOs don’t clearly know what that means), 2) developing functional partnerships (because many of the clients are in partnership with others) and 3) leading with emotional intelligence, because that’s important for pretty much everyone, particularly CEOs. All of these specialties build upon each other, differentiate me as a coach and make working with me much more valuable for my clients, allowing me to charge more.

Being Territorial

My experience is that many people in professional services (including coaches) are surprisingly territorial. If a coach, consultant or other professional has a client, they tend to be very protective of that relationship and not refer in other professionals. The cost to us coaches of being territorial (beyond the lost chance at karma credits) is that we miss the opportunity to develop a close working relationship with a professional in a contiguous space.

A good percentage of my clients have come as the result of referral relationships with colleagues in contiguous spaces – finance, training, leadership development, organizational development, other coaching specialties. I’ve found that clients who purchase one of these services are likely to purchase many of these types of services. One of my clients recently told me that he has seven coaches. Yeah. That’s right. Seven. And one of them I referred to him.

What’s the moral to this? “Do be a Do Bee and don’t be a Don’t Bee.” Huh? Pardon my Romper Room allusion.

Do have an abundance mindset and share the wealth. Identify other types of services that your target market might consume (e.g. personal training, financial planning, nutrition, estate planning, organizational development) and seek out like-minded colleagues in those spaces. Get to know them, what they do, the value they add and how to advocate for them. Then, look for opportunities to refer them. Hopefully, over time, they’ll respond in kind. The good news about so many helping professionals being territorial is that it makes it so easy to spot the few with an abundance mindset.

You have the power to create your own community of advocates. Not only will doing so help you grow your business, you may find that it eases some of the loneliness that can arise when you’re a “single-shingle” solopreneur. It can be lonely at the top. Especially when the top and the bottom are the same place.

Have you encountered any of these challenges in your own business? Feel free to let me know by leaving a comment below.


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Posted in: Learning in Action

5 Things You Should Agree On Before You Begin Working with Your Next Client

August 25, 2016

When you meet your client for the first time, you may be tempted to jump right in to the coaching relationship and get to work. (I know I am.) And every time I’ve done that, I’ve deeply regretted it. Ugh. Seems like some things I have to learn more than once.

Years ago, I had a client who, when I would email to confirm our coaching session the next day, would routinely inform me that she was traveling and unavailable and would ask to reschedule. Incredulous, I would think “Seriously?! You didn’t know before now that you were going to be traveling during our regularly scheduled coaching session?” And because I didn’t communicate clear expectations and consequences about such things in my coaching agreement, I could only blame myself. Unfortunately, it became an unnecessary point of stress in our relationship.

5 Client Agreements

I could have avoided that stress by establishing a clear coaching agreement that laid out what I would expect from the client, what the client could expect from me, and what she could expect from the coaching process. Specifically, I would have spelled out the following 5 things that would have enhanced our relationship immeasurably. She still might have traveled during our scheduled sessions, and if she did, the ramifications of that would be clear to both of us.

What You Expect from Your Client

Stating in the coaching agreement what you expect from your client does a few important things. Firstly, it differentiates your relationship with them from their relationship with anyone else. For your client, it’s very rare for anyone to state so clearly what’s expected of them. Especially when they (or their company) are paying for it. Secondly, by establishing your expectations of the client, you communicate that the coaching relationship will be “eye level”, a relationship of equals. Thirdly, it establishes guard rails for the coaching, thereby beginning to create the coaching space.

Statements that you could ask your client to agree to in your coaching agreement may include:

    • I will be on time for our sessions.
    • I will be present with the coach and free from distraction for our sessions.
    • I will be prepared for each coaching session with an agenda of what I want coaching on
    • I will make sure my coach knows everything he/she needs to know so he/she can coach me.
    • I will maintain high expectations for both myself and my coach.
    • I give my coach permission to be direct and bold with me.
    • I will take my own notes and be responsible for my own learning and take-aways.
    • I will provide my coach with feedback on what’s working and what’s not.
    • I will inform my coach of scheduling conflicts more than 48 hours in advance of our session or I’ll forfeit my coaching time (and pay the associated fee for coaching).

The coaching agreement is a form of coaching in itself. Holding the client to a high standard has the effect of both expecting the best of them and reinforcing the client as being creative, resourceful and whole. Also, it reinforces the quality of the coach/client relationship as clear, bold and direct.

What Your Client Can Expect from You

Establishing in your coaching agreement what your clients can expect from you as their coach directly reflects your competence as a coach in your client’s eyes. Holding yourself to a high standard and spelling that out in the agreement is a way for you, as a coach to walk your talk. Clients can be inspired to improve their performance when you, as their coach have your own standards for excellence. Also, when your clients see the high standards you have for yourself, they’ll understand that you’ll be holding them to a high standard as well.

You’ll want to echo some of the things you expect from your client so that you are each holding yourself and each other to the same high standard. Items in this section of the agreement can include specifics like:

    • I will be on time for our sessions.
    • I will be present with you and free from distraction for our sessions.
    • I will hold what you tell me in confidence and abide by the International Coach Federation code of ethics
    • I will be kind, honest and direct.
    • I will be prepared for each coaching session.
    • I will validate, focus on and believe in your strengths and the best in you.
    • I will accept you fully and meet you where you are.
    • I will support you in considering new perspectives.
    • I will co-create new possibilities with you.
    • I will support your learning and forward your progress.
    • I will consistently focus on your highest agenda for yourself

If you know something is particularly important to your client, like following up on action items from past sessions, you can make sure to explicitly include that in what they can expect from you. It will help them to relax into the relationship.

What Clients Can Expect From Coaching Process

Even though clients agree to coaching, it doesn’t mean they know what coaching is. Many of my clients weren’t actually looking for a coach when they engaged me. Typically, one of my clients had told them how much our work has helped them and that they should talk to me. Essentially, they are pursuing a hope that their life, their work, their performance can be better. And they really have no idea how coaching works. It’s up to me to tell them.

The most common misconception my clients have had is that I, as their coach, will give them the answers to their questions or tell them what they should do. The coaching agreement plays an important role in educating the client about what coaching is and what they can expect from the coaching process.


I’ve found it useful to include statements like the following in my coaching agreement:

Coaching is the process the coach uses to facilitate the movement of the client from their current state to their desired state in their personal and/or professional life. As your coach, I will use questions, observations, conceptual frameworks, assessments and direct communication to support you in deepening your learning and forward your progress toward your goals.

As client, I understand:

  • Coaching is designed to facilitate the achievement of my personal and/or professional goals.
  • Coaching is not therapy, nor is the coach qualified to give legal, medical, spiritual or financial advice.
  • All decisions in these areas are exclusively mine and I acknowledge that my decisions and my actions regarding them are my sole responsibility.

All of these statements together help differentiate coaching from other professional services and supports the client in understanding their responsibility in the relationship.

Frequency of the Sessions

Having an ideal frequency of coaching sessions is critical to establishing the rhythm and impetus of the coaching. The location (in person, by video or by phone) and length (30 mins, 60 mins 2 hours) of the sessions are less important than their frequency for getting traction. The sessions should be spaced ideally so that clients have time to take designed actions and so that not so much time passes that they lose momentum.

So how often should you have a session with your client?

With new clients, I’ve found that two sessions per month, spaced two weeks apart are ideal. Weekly meetings can work well for very focused, very motivated clients with clear, specific goals. Having sessions much more than 2 weeks apart makes it difficult for the coach/client relationship to develop sufficiently to facilitate forward progress. And with so much time passing, clients can tend to lose focus between sessions.

With long term clients (people I’ve worked with for 6 months or more), less frequent sessions can work quite well. The depth and quality of our relationship makes this possible. Typically, these relationships are ones in which I play more of the role of thought partner and the goals for the coaching are much more holistic and less specific. Whatever the frequency of your coaching sessions, you’ll want to document frequency of sessions in your coaching agreement.

Desired Outcomes

You and your client should be clear on the desired outcomes for the coaching. Some clients will respond well to creating S.M.A.R.T. goals for the coaching – goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound. Having those kinds of goals for clients who are driven by such metrics can be quite useful for measuring progresss. Other clients will bridle at the idea of such confining definitions of progress and S.M.A.R.T. goals can feel more like a work obligation than personal and professional growth. For those clients, creating desired outcomes for the coaching may work better.

When I work with a client, we create desired outcomes for the coaching in four categories:

    • Desired ways of being (e.g. more confident, more optimistic, less reactive)
    • Desired ways of doing (e.g. communicating more clearly, maintaining commitments to myself and others)
    • Desired learning (e.g. project management skills, productivity skills, emotional intellience)
    • Desired results (e.g. TED talk, marathon, sales growth)

You can use each of these to create a scope of work that focuses on who the person is, what the person does, what they want to learn, and the results they wish to create. You can include the identified desired outcomes in the coaching agreement (a good idea if someone other than the client is directly paying for the coaching) or you can create it as a separate document once the coaching agreement has been signed by both parties.

Your Coaching Agreement

Having a coaching agreement that includes each of the 5 things listed above will get the coaching relationship off to a great start. I love the Earl Nightingale quote “Our environment, the world in which we live and work, is a mirror of our attitudes and expectations.” So agreeing upon clear, high expectations for coach and client and the coaching progress all serve to set the stage for a successful coaching relationship.

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Posted in: Learning in Action

Review of Learning in Relationship, by Ronald Short

July 11, 2013

We were delighted to see Tana Paddock’s review of Ron Shorts book, Learning In Relationship. Check it out at

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Posted in: Learning in Action

Our Favorite Books

September 25, 2012

This portion of our website is new. We hope to have this interactive so we can post items and invite you to do the same. We are beginning this with a list of some of the books we use often and find them highly relevant to Emotional Intelligence and the different dimensions of Emotional Intelligence. Please post your favorite books and tell us why they are most useful to you as a coach, consultant, or leader.

Jan Johnson

  • Daring Greatly
    Brene Brown, 2012
    Brene Brown has emerged as the international leader for her work in vulnerability and shame. She discusses the challenge and power in owning our vulnerability.  She says “to live in courage, purpose, and connection-to be the person we long to be-we must again be vulnerable. We must…show up and let ourselves be seen.”She says “We all have shame. We all have good and bad, dark and light, inside of us.” Developing Shame resilience is the answer. “Often not being good at vulnerability means that we’re damn good at shame.”
  • Facing Shame – Families in Recovery
    Merle Fossum and Marilyn Mason
    I have learned the power of shame in our lives through our work in Emotional Intelligence and how it can have a crippling impact.  I have read many books and for me, this is the best. It teaches us about shame, the power of shame in individuals and families. While this is written for therapists, it provides insight for all of us and gives some suggestions for facing our shame.
  • The Emotional Energy Factor
    Mira Kirshenbaum
    I found this book to have profound insight into emotional energy and emotional depletion, why emotional energy is critical to our well-being and ways to increase our emotional vitality. Her research with experts revealed that “physical energy can supply at most 30% of our total energy….the remaining 70%….must come from your emotional energy.”  I often recommend this to client’s who are challenged with low emotional vitality (Joy).
  • Listening To Bodies – A Somatic Primer
    Suzanne Zeman
    I love this book for its practical focus.  She says “The body is where we experience life.” Somatic work builds awareness and methods for effectively using our bodies, along with our minds, and emotions. This teaches the value of using the intelligence of our bodies to enhance our well-being.While this book is written for coaches, managers, and executives, the practical approach with focused practices makes it easy and helpful for anyone. It cuts to the chase on understanding and making it happen, now.
  • Coping with Anxiety
    Edmund Bourne
    Dr. Bourne says “25% of adults in the US suffer from anxiety at some time in their lives”. Anxiety gives the gift of clarity. When it is high, it can also be destructive, ranging from making it harder to think clearly to panic attacks.I like this book for its practical nature. It is an easy read and provides concrete ways to work with our own or our client’s anxiety.
  • Building Trust in Business, Politics, Relationships, and life
    Robert Solomon and Fernando Flores
    This is my favorite book on trust because it goes to the foundation of understanding trust and its nature. The writers define “authentic trust”, which they describe as “trust that is fully aware, cognizant of its own conditions and limitations, open to unimagined possibilities…based on choice and responsibility”.”Authentic trust is not a matter of feeling, but it is an emotional phenomenon, involving emotional skills. It is frank, even blunt, and nothing is more alien to it than cordial hypocrisy”. Authentic trust requires self-awareness, self-responsibility, and acknowledgement of the real risks of trust while choosing to authentically trust.

    Authentic trust is a way of living in relationship.

  • The Thin Book of TRUST: An Essential Primer for Building Trust at Work
    Charles Feltman
    I appreciate this book for its practical application for building trusting relationships.  It provides concrete ways to use in working with others. It is an effective primer. My caveat for recommending this is that these practical suggestions are implemented within the context of authentic trust, which is described in the book above.
  • Taming Your Gremlins- A Surprisingly Simple Method for Getting Your of Your Own Way
    Richard David CarsonI love this book.  It is an enjoyable read yet profound in its contribution to our self-awareness.  One reviewer said “Taming Your Gremlin is a great book because it helps us to confront our own demons and overcome them”. The writer’s voice is clear in describing our Gremlins and the many ways we tend to sabotage ourselves. He says it begins with noticing!  It also asks us questions about our own gremlins and how they show up.  It was very revealing.  This book is an easy, fast read that may provide you profound insights about yourself and be valuable in working with your clients

Ron Short

Founder and Senior Consultant

  • Incognito, The Secret Lives of the Brain
    David Eagleman, 2011Two quotations disclose why I’ve listed this book.  “Imagine that your desktop computer began to control its own peripheral devices, removed its own cover, and pointed its webcam at its own circuitry. That’s us.”

    Then, after reviewing considerable research, this: “… reality is far more subjective than is commonly supposed. Instead of reality being passively recorded by the brain, it is actively constructed by it.”

    We create our reality. Knowing this is the foundation of Emotional Intelligence. If you want to understand brain research that supports this proposition, Incognito is an excellent resource.

Jeannine Hall

Manager Client Services & Operations

  • Living in Balance: A Dynamic Approach for Creating Harmony and Wholeness in a Fragmented World
    Joel Levey, Michelle Levey and Dalai Lama (Jan 1998)This book is a great reminder of important “Self Care” principles, especially when work–life balance needs an adjustment. It can be read right through or put on the night stand for some meditative reading before going to sleep.  It is full of inspirational quotes that caused me to pause and do some reflection.
  • The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work
    Shawn Achor (Sep 14, 2010)Achor highlights the research that supports personal and professional development theories and ideas that many of us in the field have held for years. It is a fun read, validating and has some surprises.

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