How to start (and grow) your career coaching business

How to start (and grow) your career coaching business

One of the questions I’m often asked by new Career Coaches is, how did you start and grow your business?  There are probably hundreds of different ways of starting and growing a career coaching business. This guide covers how I set up and grew mine. If you are thinking of becoming a Career Coach, or if you already are one but are struggling to get clients or figure out what to do then I hope the following ideas and resources will help you. 

Contents

If you are only interested in some of the topics I cover below, click on the relevant wording in the Contents section and you’ll be taken straight to that part of the guide.

Introduction

In 2016 I left my HR job and setting up on my own as a Career Coach. In the beginning it felt like I was on a rollercoaster ride, with huge ups and downs and many moments of wondering whether I’d made a mistake and should return to the safety of being employed by someone else. 

It took me nearly 3 years of working for myself before I felt more in control and knew I had a successful business that meant I didn’t have to go back to employment. So, if you’re very early on in your journey and you’re feeling worried, please be kind to yourself – building a reputation for yourself and building a business takes time but with determination, passion and hard work, you can do it. 

Most of my writing focused on topics that will help my coaching clients with their careers. However, when I found myself being contacted regularly by people who were thinking of becoming Career Coaches I decided to write, How to become a career coach. It was a way of easily sharing my knowledge with anyone who was looking for help. That article is now ranked number 1 by Google for anyone looking to become a Career Coach. This article is the follow up to it – I hope it helps set you up for success with starting or growing your own career coaching business.

How to start your career coaching business – decide on a business format

The first thing you need to decide on is what kind of business you’d like to set up. Are you going to be a sole trader, or does setting up as Limited company make more sense? This topic is touched on in the article, Setting up your own business – answers to your top 7 questions about money and tax. A good accountant will be able to advise you on which route is best for you. If you don’t already have an accountant, I’m happy to recommend my accountant to you. His name is A J Dosani and his business is Ace Accountancy. 

Another option you may want to consider is whether to set up as a community interest company or social enterprise. This is a company which exists to benefit the community rather than private shareholders. Several coaches I’ve met over the years have set up their businesses in this way; especially if they are passionate about supporting people who are unlikely to be able to afford coaching. It means they’re able to secure funding and grants towards their programmes of work and then charge lower prices or offer their services for free to their clients. 

How to start your career coaching business – open a business bank account

Opening a business bank account took longer than I had expected. It meant that I had to ask my first client to pay me using my personal bank account (which didn’t feel very professional). So, I’d encourage you to make opening a business bank account a priority. All the bank accounts I looked at charge you for having them (it’s a different world to personal bank accounts). Many of them offer free banking to begin with but then introduce charges after a certain amount of time. They also offer different perks for using them. So, it’s worth looking around and finding the one that works best for you.

How to start your career coaching business – insure the business

It’s essential that you get your business insured but it may feel hard to figure out exactly which insurance you need. I realised that the other insurance I have e.g. car insurance and house insurance I’d been purchasing for years and knew exactly what I was looking for when renewing it, or taking out new policies. I wasn’t sure what I needed for business insurance. It was a relief when I discovered Catherine France who is a small business insurance specialist. This link will take you straight to her website. She listened carefully to understand my business and then explained my different options in an easy-to-understand way.

How to start your career coaching business – set up your contracts & terms and conditions

You want to make sure you appear organised and professional when you are first approached by people who’d like to work with you. This means you need to make sure you have contracts and terms and conditions in place. The Federation of Small Businesses is a great resource. They provide a wide range of advice and support to their members.

Simply Docs is a site with a good reputation and I have met many coaches and consultants who use their templates but I haven’t tried them out personally. Alternatively, you can hire a lawyer to draft your contracts and terms and conditions for you. This is a good way of making sure they are personalised and truly fit for purpose. 

How to start your career coaching business – build a website

I am incredibly fortunate to have a sister who is a web designer – Holly Christie from This Demanding Life. Holly had already started her own business and came from a Marketing background before becoming a web designer, so her knowledge and support have been invaluable to me. Holly helped me understand the best way of structuring my website, how to update it myself and the importance of starting a blog (it is a way of demonstrating that you know what you’re talking about, is a useful resource for your clients and helps your website to rank on Google).

Holly helping Fay with website

Holly helping me with the website when I set up the business. 

I’m about to embark on the third major update of my website (your career coaching business will evolve over time and so, your website will have to evolve too) and I’m grateful to have Holly by my side throughout the process. I know I may be biased because she is my sister but I believe she is incredible at what she does. She’s so supportive and goes the extra mile for all her clients. I’d recommend looking her up if you need a website. 

I’ve written the copy (the wording) for my website myself but will probably turn to a copywriter to help me for the latest changes to it. When you first start out, if you have a tiny budget you may need to write your own website copy. I found this really challenging until I discovered the book, Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen by Donald Miller. It was a huge help in teaching me how to write effectively and sped up the whole writing process.

How to grow your career coaching business – formal networking

Once you have your business set up it’s time to start spreading the word about what you do and how you can help your clients with their careers. As an alumni of Kingston University, I was invited to their free alumni events (if you’ve studied at university at any point, it’s worth seeing what alumni events they offer). I went along to an excellent talk they had arranged on networking, that was delivered by Will Kintish. If you get the opportunity to listen to Will speak, I would encourage you to take it. I know that he also has an online course on networking that covers his key teachings. 

I hadn’t realised there are formal networking groups available for small business owners to join where members support each other and teach them how to succeed in business. You usually pay a fee to join them and agree to attend weekly or monthly meetings. The meetings follow a structured format, with time for each member to introduce themselves to the room and speak about their business. If the idea of speaking about yourself to a room of strangers fills you with dread, don’t worry, Will Kintish’s teachings will help. A great book to read is, The Jelly Effect: How to Make Your Communication Stick by Andy Bounds. It helps you figure out how to speak about yourself and your business confidently, concisely and effectively. 

All groups will usually let you visit them at least twice before deciding whether or not you’d like to join. I found working on my own quite lonely to begin with and the first networking group I joined was my salvation – I enjoyed seeing the same people every week and learning about them and their businesses. Several of the members of the group recommended me to people they knew would benefit from career coaching and word about my services started to spread in the local area. 

How to grow your career coaching business – informal networking

As well as formal networking, informal networking can be powerful and rewarding. 

Your most helpful informal network to begin with is likely to be your friends, family and previous work colleagues. These are all people who know you well, believe in you and want to support you. So, it’s important to make sure you tell them all that you’ve set up your career coaching business and to ask them to introduce anyone to you who may be useful to know. My very first client was recommended to me by my oldest friend (and I still feel eternally grateful to her). I’ve been introduced to all sorts of interesting and helpful people through my informal network.  

Tracy and Fay at the British Library

With Tracy at one of her ‘Breakfast with Tracy’ events

Part of my informal networking has involved getting to know other career coaches. Instead of viewing them as my competition, I know there is enough work for all of us and we can help each other. We all have our own areas of expertise and by getting to know one another, we’re able to share our knowledge and collectively help more people. When I’m approached by a potential client but I think another coach may be better suited to them, I know I can refer them on to the perfect person, instead of having to turn them away without helping. It also means that if I’m looking for some advice, I have a group of trusted work friends I can turn to for help. 

Career Coach, Tracy Short, models this approach brilliantly. She has her own informal in-person event called, ‘Breakfast with Tracy’ at the British Library in London. Other coaches are welcome to attend. Tracy invites a guest speaker to talk about a particular business topic. There’s no pressure to attend the talks unless you want to; you don’t have to commit to joining the group; you just pay a small fee to attend when there is a topic that interests you. It is my favourite group because of Tracy’s warmth, encouragement and collaborative approach. 

How to grow your career coaching business – associate work

Many new career coaches ask me, “What is the one thing you would do differently if you were starting your business again?” My answer is always that I would do associate work. Many coaching and outplacement (support for employees who are facing redundancy) businesses use associate coaches. An associate coach is a freelance coach who is given work as and when it becomes available. I didn’t pursue this option because I was so intent on working under my own brand. I realise now that it would have been a great opportunity for me to learn from the coaching businesses, to meet other coaches and to earn an income while building my own business. I know many Career Coaches who only do associate work, so that they don’t have to worry about doing their own Marketing. 

How to grow your career coaching business – Digital Marketing

I didn’t know much about social media or Digital Marketing when I first set up. I naively thought that I’d just have to put a few social media posts out into the world and in no time at all my business would take off. Sadly, this is not how it works! There is a reason companies pay to have Digital Marketing Managers and content creators working for them – it is a craft you need to learn and understand to be able to use it effectively. 

Thankfully Janet Murray’s membership, Build Your Online Audience came to my rescue. It’s a supportive online community with Masterclasses, courses and a wealth of resources, all focused on teaching you how to learn Digital Marketing and use it effectively. Some of the topics Janet covers are social media, online courses, optimising your website for search engines (like Google), writing effective emails and more. By being in the membership I learnt how to create engaging social media posts and market my services in the online world. Discovering the membership was one of the most impactful things to happen to my business. It gave me the tools, network, support and confidence to build a business presence online.

When learning about Digital Marketing, if you decide to embrace the idea of blogging, one of the best resources I’ve found on this topic is written by John Espirian and is called Business blogging guide. I have also found the books, They Ask You Answer by Marcus Sheridan and Content Fortress by Martin Huntback & Lyndsay Cambridge invaluable. Reading any of these will take you from staring at a blank screen and wondering what on earth to write about, to easily creating a list of blog topics and enjoying writing about them. 

How to grow your career coaching business – using LinkedIn

LinkedIn is the main social media platform I focus on and that I have had success with.  If you would like to use LinkedIn to grow your own career coaching business, the people and resources I’d recommend turning to for help are:

  • Helen Pritchard’s Free 5 Day LinkedIn Sprint Challenge – this is a brilliant starting point for approaching LinkedIn with a ‘business hat on’. Helen shares a new tip every day for 5 days and runs a free Facebook group alongside it to give encouragement and support. 
  • Janet Murray’s LinkedIn Content Strategy Playbook – this is included for free in Janet’s membership or can be bought separately. I credit most of my success with LinkedIn to what I learnt from Janet. 
  • John Espirian’s LinkedIn Course – John Espirian’s knowledge about LinkedIn for business use in phenomenal. I’ve never met anyone who dedicates so much time and energy to studying LinkedIn and experimenting with different ideas to figure out what does and doesn’t work on LinkedIn. He shares many of his tips for free and you can access these by following his profile on LinkedIn. But if you’d like to take a deep dive into everything he knows, you can access this via his course or by booking a 1:1 session with him. 
  • Jennifer Corcoran – I met Jennifer at a networking event several years ago. She instantly made an impression with her warm and friendly demeanour, combined with her expert knowledge on how coaches, consultants and trainers can make the most of LinkedIn. I follow her on LinkedIn and often learn from the free tips that she shares through her posts and LinkedIn Lives. She offers 1:1 support and also has a course available. You can find out more about her on her website, My Superconnector. 
  • Mark Williams aka ‘Mr LinkedIn’ has a podcast called LinkedInformed Podcast – The LinkedIn Show. I’ve become a bit of a podcast addict since setting up my business. Podcasts are such a great way of learning new information when you’re busy because you can listen to them while doing other things. Mark Williams’ podcast is a great one for learning about using LinkedIn for business. 

How to grow your career coaching business – creating a business plan

I’m sure that the typical advice for starting your business is to have a business plan. If (like me when I was first starting out) you know absolutely nothing about Marketing and Sales, this is going to be quite difficult to do. Once you’ve started to learn about running a business and have got to grips with Marketing, having a business plan will hugely help you going forward. I have been using Adanna Bankole’s ‘One Page Business Plan Template’ for several years and it has helped me to be much clearer on what I’m doing and where I want to take Bright Sky Career Coaching. 

Next steps – getting a coach or mentor

No matter how good you are at motivating yourself, working hard and moving forward with your business, you’ll benefit from having a coach or mentor. Jacqui Jagger from Beyond Boundaries Coaching has been my coach for the past couple of years. It’s easy to get overwhelmed or distracted by all the options you have for developing your business. Jacqui has helped me stick to my business plan and develop a laser-like focus on my goals. If you have your business up and running but need help moving forward, or staying on track, Jacqui is fantastic.

If you are earlier on in your career coaching business journey and would like some advice, a sounding board, or some practical support with what to do next, you’re very welcome to book in for some mentoring with me. I love supporting people in their career coaching journey and it’s incredibly rewarding to see them embark on or build up their own career coaching businesses. If this is something you’d like to explore, please do book in for a free call or send me an email and I can share more information about what’s involved, including pricing. 

No matter where you are in your career coaching journey, I wish you the absolute best of luck. It is a fantastic career to choose as you can make such a difference to other people’s lives, helping them have the career success and fulfilment they are searching for. 

A note to my readers

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