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How do you build a successful coaching practice?

Graham has successfully built The Executive Mindset over the past two decades using crucial and clear decision-making. Listen along for more advice on building your own successful coaching practice.

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I thought that it would be interesting and useful for coaches to share with you the experiences and lessons of how to build a coaching business that I've developed in the last two decades of building The Executive Mindset.

The first step I took, and I recommend that you take, is to try and focus on exactly who it is you think you want to help. Clearly, the working population and the executive population are very, very wide, and if you aren't careful, it'll be too wide and you'll appear to be too much of a generalist. In our case, we have defined our audience as business owners, business leaders, are their executive teams, and we do extend it into their fast trackers - the people perhaps for the next generation that they're keen to invest in to accelerate that development. We don't add any other specialisations. We don't say sales, we don't say people from a financial background or an IT background. We keep it as specific as we can to be the people that are responsible for running an organisation.

The second thing to do when you've identified that is to make sure that you are clear about the kind of message that you're going to get across to these people. What are the problems they're very likely to have that you believe you would like to help them with and do you believe you have the experience and coaching skills that will make the program a success for both of you?

The messaging around this then needs to be done in a way which sounds like them. So when they hear it or they read it, they can quickly relate to it. Saying things like, our services are ideal for business owners who are suffering from burnout, or business leaders who have a succession problem, these are the sorts of challenges that business leaders would immediately recognise as being the sorts of things that they would appreciate and value help with.

The third thing is to think about how you're going to reach out to these people, clearly, you can take out adverts in trade magazines, you can do lots of work on social media and you can pay for Google adverts and pay-per-click, and a whole variety of those sorts of initiatives, and I'm sure they do and will work, but you need to be very clear about whether or not that's the kind of forum, the kind of place that a business owner is going to be expecting to find this kind of assistance.

What we also find works and it seems to be a well-trodden path, is to be a speaker about these sorts of things, whether it's a podcast, or whether it's an event, a webinar, a seminar or even a lecture, or perhaps even an in-house lunch-and-learn event so that you are clearly seen as an expert. You're clearly able to demonstrate your experiences and talents and your passion for the work that you're looking to do.

Following on from that, the most successful way that we found about finding new clients or finding new business is referrals from existing clients. Clearly, they know people who could benefit from your services because they will have already benefited from it. They'll match you up and they give you an endorsement when you are speaking to somebody that you don't necessarily know very well. That short circuit's an awful lot of the uncertainty that the prospective client might have, and it gives you the chance to build on the success already by demonstrating how you help someone that they know.

Referrals are clearly the most successful way, and they can come both in terms of a direct referral, someone introduces you to somebody else, or it can be an indirect referral where they effectively introduce your organisation or they introduce the concept of coaching and let you explain how the work you do benefits people like them.

The final option is active networking. The thing about networking is you do need to put the time into it. You need to be very disciplined about going to the events and building relationships because networking events aren't about the people in the room in isolation. It's about who they know outside of that meeting room, and how they can connect you with potential opportunities. And that only happens when people believe they can trust you when obviously they like you and they're prepared to put you in front of people that they already have a relationship. So to do that you've got to build trust and it takes a lot of invested time to get to the point where that networking event can produce rewards and paybacks in the terms of introductions.

The thing about this is when you are starting your coaching practice, it's very difficult to be earning money as well as selling your business at the same time, and so it's all a matter of being very, very disciplined. You are going to have to invest the time in building the pipeline of opportunities in a very regular and routine kind of way, whilst at the same time satisfying existing clients. The priority clearly must be existing clients and the services that you have promised, but if you let slip the focus on new business development, if you don't drive home continuously the kind of efforts and initiatives that are going to be needed to build your presence, to build your profile, and to give you that pipeline, then ultimately your existing client base will shrink.


That was the latest edition of The Coaching Conversation. I hope you found it interesting. I hope you found it useful. You can find out more about our coaching programmes at

If you want to reach out you can send us an email at you can book a free 15-minute coaching session at which will give you a really good feel for how coaching can help you. SUBSCRIBE to 'The Coaching Conversation' Podcast:

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