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Business coaching 101: How to start a coaching business from scratch

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If I had to start all over, I’d choose coaching as a career. Starting a coaching business is a lot easier than you think. But it’s very hard to scale, get traction, and gain credibility―especially if you don’t have a framework or structure. 

In this article, I’ll walk you through the exact tools and tricks I’ve used to start and grow my seven-figure online coaching business. It’s a life and a business that feeds my soul. I wear what I want, work with whomever I want, when I want, from wherever I want.

If you want that too, keep reading.

Here’s how to start a coaching business from scratch.

Allan Dib shares his DIY 20-step coaching framework

How to build a successful coaching business

The world of business coaching has changed tremendously in the last few years. It used to be that you had to wear a suit and tie. You had an office. Or you’d meet your client in person to coach or consult.

With the rise of the internet and tools like Zoom, a whole new world has opened up for people wanting to start a coaching business and sell their services. You don’t have to travel to your clients anymore. You’re no longer limited to working within your city or district.

You can easily coach people on a completely different continent. I do. I’m based in Australia, and I regularly talk to people from the US, UK, India, you name it.

I’ve built an online coaching business that serves a global target audience. Since massive opportunities have opened up with virtual and remote delivery, you simply need to tap into your coaching niche. Relationship coach? Life coach? Marketing coach?  It really comes down to what your skillset is and what you can bring to the market.

Now let’s talk about what you need to do to build a successful coaching business from scratch. Click this link to learn more about scaling your coaching business to $50K coaching revenue a month.

Allan Dibs How to build a coaching business infographic

1: Define your goals.

If you had to imagine what your life looks like in five years, what would it be? For me, that was a house with a beach view, waking up on a Monday morning rearing to start my day, working no more than 25 hours a week, never having to wear a suit and tie for work again, working with clients I genuinely like and want to see successful.

There were a ton more. But these were the stand-out goals.

I also knew I wanted to help more business owners succeed. I struggled for years to scale my IT business. I know what it’s like to go without. I’ve done my time worrying about making payroll or keeping the lights on. 

But unlike most startups who struggle, I survived to build a profitable business. According to the Small Business Administration (SBA) 90 percent of small businesses fail within the first five years. My personal goal is to change this statistic. That’s why I built my coaching business.

2: Choose your niche.

Whom will you work with? Think about your skills and work experience. Is there a gap in the market that you can fill? The best online coaching businesses solve a problem, and they know that the riches are in the niches.

For example, Neil Patel teaches you how to grow your organic web traffic using SEO. Laura Belgray of Talking Shrimp helps you master email marketing and triple your income. Amy Porterfield coaches you on how to build an online course. David Jenyns helps you systemize your business. They all have one thing in common: They create value for their potential clients.

So, how can you create value? What knowledge, skills, and business experience can you share to connect with like-minded people and grow your online coaching business?

Also, is it a profitable niche? You want a target audience that’s willing to pay handsomely for your advice and guidance. If they don’t see value in the services you deliver, you’ll never build a profitable coaching business. 

Examples of coaching fields that earn well include life coaching, business coaching, and team coaching.

3: Figure out how to price and package yourself.

Pricing and packaging are massively important when starting a coaching business because they impact the type of client you attract.

  1. Firstly, you need to decide whether you charge by the hour or a retainer. Here’s why I’d advise against hourly billing. You earn according to the number of hours you work. If you want to earn more, you have to work more, and there are only so many hours in a day. So I’d advise against per hour billing. Rather look at month-to-month billing.
  2. You also don’t want to lock your client into a set contract. That’s an extra hurdle you’re making people jump through. And they might want to get their lawyer involved because they don’t agree with some of the terminologies. It’s just not worth it.
  3. Instead offer a retainer. You could do something like an unlimited package offer. I do this in my coaching business and it’s the kind of package that a client who is risk-reverse will like. So unlimited could mean unlimited access to your coaching team, training, mentoring, whatever. A lot of coaches freak out about this. They think, will clients book a call with me every day? The truth is, people often overestimate how much they’ll use your service. You need to be clear with your client. Yes, it’s unlimited, but you’re not just getting on a call to chit-chat and shoot the breeze. You’re getting on to assess how they’re progressing with action items and answer questions. So when you switch to unlimited calls, your clients will only book to speak with you when they have something to show.

4: Pick your business model.

Group coaching or one-on-one. There are benefits to both models, but you need to decide which you enjoy most. Maybe you’ll offer a combination. I do. Group coaching is generally more affordable. But the majority of my revenue comes from 1:1 coaching.

Read up on the unique differences and benefits of group and one-on-one coaching before making your decision.

And as you scale your coaching model, don’t be afraid to hire other coaches with unique skills that your clients can tap into. This will also free up your time to focus on developing new ideas.

5: Position yourself for success.

Positioning is the key to being able to charge what you’re worth. If “How much is it?” is the first question you get from your prospects, you’re positioning yourself poorly.

You could be considered the safe option or the risky option or the premium option or the discount option. The important thing is to be deliberate about how you position your coaching business because your clients and prospects actually want to pay a lot of money, but they need you to give them a good reason. If not, the discussion will default to price.

6: Have a plan.

  • If you want to successfully start a coaching business from scratch, you need to have a plan. You need to know:

    • What’s your niche? Before launching your coaching business, you want to know the type of client you’d prefer to work with. What’s their age, earning potential, location, whatever? Why would they use your service?
    • How do you plan to attract leads? For example, what’s your message to market and what media will you use?
    • How will you capture and nurture your prospects? What CRM and CMS will you use? Will you include opt-in forms on your website and blog? How often will you stay in touch? Looking at your intellectual property, what will you give away for free and what will you charge for?
    • What’s your sales conversion strategy? You need an email lead nurturing sequence, and having an iron-clad customer onboarding process is massively important. (Learn how to build a business process here.)
    • In what ways can you increase your customer lifetime value? Will you upsell a higher-tiered product or bundle on certain items? For example, access to guest coaches.
    • How will you deliver a world-class experience? What tools will you use to enhance your clients’ experiences? What will they get access to? For example, you could create a network of like-minded individuals they could connect with and share experiences. Or you could create a series of gold-standard training manuals for your clients to use in their businesses.

    Every successful business coach has a plan. What’s yours?

    If you need help building your marketing plan for your business, check out our 1PMP template. It’s the smartest and quickest way to market your business.

7: Choose your business name and set up a website.

  1. Choose a name that you love. It’s really hard to rebrand and it costs a ton of money. 
  2. Choose clarity. You want your business name and domain to spell out exactly what you do. Otherwise, you’ll need to spend a small fortune on branding and educating your target audience. Remember, if you confuse them, you lose them.
  3. Decide whether you want a .com or something local like a .co.uk or .co.au? It really depends on the target audience you want to attract. So if you’re looking to sell your services to a global audience you’ll want to purchase a .com. If you’ll only be offering coaching services locally, choose a local domain.
  4. Check to see if your domain name is available. You can use name.com or Go Daddy to check this out. If it’s not available, look for a name that’s similar.
  5. Trademark your domain and register your name. You really don’t want to receive a letter of demand from a legal department telling you to change your name. So if you don’t want to kiss your money goodbye, trademark your name. And be prepared to actively defend your trademark.
  6. Choose a reputable website host. They need to be reliable and fast. You don’t want your website going down because it’s been hacked or there was some sort of technical issue. You also don’t want your site to be slow. Not only will it impact your user experience, but it will also impact your SEO rankings.

8: Make it easy to do business with you.

So many coaches make their clients jump through all sorts of hoops to book a discovery meeting with them or pay for their services. You want to make it easy for your clients to do business with you and technology is key.

  1. Invest in Calendly. My clients can see when I’m available and book a time then and there. They don’t need to email me and ask when I have a spot open. It’s also great if your clients live in different time zones because it factors that in.
  2. Create a shared email. I get emails from people all over the world, and if I were to respond to all of them myself, I’d never get anything done. So my sales team handles sales emails, my communications manager handles personal emails, and I respond to emails earmarked to my attention. This is vital when scaling your coaching business.
  3. Consider adding live chat. This isn’t something you need to think about when you start your coaching business, but I would consider adding it once you’re generating good money consistently. You’ll need a template of responses, but it can really smooth out the response time to potential clients.

Simplify your payment process. I use ThriveCart which plugs beautifully into Stripe for accepting credit cards and PayPal for accepting PayPal transfers. You won’t have to worry about sending and receiving invoices. It does all of that for you, which is a massive time saver. You don’t want to be chasing payments. And, as much as possible, avoid wire transfers.

9: Start marketing.

You can rely on word-of-mouth marketing to grow your online coaching business but it can take years to gain traction. Instead, you need to actively market your business. That’s where your marketing plan becomes critical. It breaks down every step of your buyer’s journey, the systems you need to deliver a world-class experience, your message, the media you advertise in and much more.

If you need guidance on how to build out your marketing plan, check out this article.

10: Build your authority and establish credibility.

It’s one thing to start a coaching business, but if you’re an unknown, why would people trust you? This is where a cornerstone piece of content becomes vital. It solves a problem, demonstrates your skills, and starts the conversation.

I wrote a bestselling book, but you could create a framework, start a podcast, share a guide, whatever. Invest in a PR campaign. Reach out to bloggers to contribute content. Say yes to speaking events. Post your customer testimonials on your site. Create a series of how-to videos. Be prolific.

11: Build a team.

As your online business expands, you’ll need help. Coaching is time-consuming and without help, you’ll stunt your business growth. Consider hiring a marketing coordinator or account manager―someone who can take over day-to-day tasks, freeing you up to focus on revenue-generating projects. If you’re not sure when to hire a team, read this article.

12: Systemize your coaching business.

Systems are the key to expanding, escaping, and exiting your business one day. A good coach has a system for onboarding clients, defining goals, setting up a payment plan, responding to coaching queries, and marketing. Practically everything can and should be systemized.

Learn how to systemize your coaching business here.

13: Present your prices before your discovery call.

There are a lot of time-wasters out there―people who aren’t serious about working with you. And jumping on an hour-long zoom session with someone who can’t afford your coaching services is just plain frustrating.

To avoid this, present pricing before the call. You can do this via email or on your website. And only jump on a discovery call with people who look legitimate, especially if you’re targeting six- or seven-figure clients. Here are a few ways to weed out the time-wasters.

  1. Do they have a business website?
  2. Can you find customer testimonials on their website and social media pages?
  3. Do they have a team of five or more people?
  4. Send an email asking a few probing questions: Where do you see yourself in 12 months? What’s your biggest challenge? If you don’t get an answer, they’re not that interested.

TOP TIP: Present pricing as an investment. And offer a discount to customers who pay for a year in advance. It increases their commitment.

14: Get to the truth.

Conversations lead to conversions―especially from a sales perspective. Your goal is to get to the truth, to understand their situation. A discovery call is a great way to do this. Use it to determine whether a person is a good fit for your coaching services.

My best advice:

  • Have a template of talking points that you run through on the call. These are mostly probing questions that help you determine if you can get the customer a result. For example, on my discovery calls, I’ll ask: 
    1. What marketing are you currently doing. 
    2. What’s working and what isn’t?  
    3. Who’s responsible for bringing in most clients? 
    4. Do you have a team? 
    5. Do you have an exit strategy? 
    6. What’s your annual revenue?
  • Let the prospective client do most of the talking. Your goal is to listen.
  • Be prepared to answer questions. Some of the most common questions I get are: How often will we speak? How long will we work together? Will you be implementing it on our behalf?
  • Set very clear boundaries and expectations. You need to be open and honest. It can take time to get your coaching clients results. Some clients think after one month of coaching they’ll double or triple their income, and if they don’t they’re being ripped off. That’s not how it works, and it’s up to you to set that expectation upfront.
  • Avoid leading questions. You don’t want to coerce the prospect into buying your service. Instead, ask something low-key like, so where do we go from here?
  • Get a commitment before going into logistics.

15: Send an awesome shock and awe package.

Follow up your discovery call with a personalized, hand-written note letting the customer know you’re looking forward to working with them. It delivers a WOW experience and customers appreciate it.

16: Foolproof your onboarding process.

Having a successful onboarding process is crucial to building a seven-figure coaching business. It guarantees that your customer knows what to expect and how to get the best out of your services. Here’s how I foolproof our onboarding process:

  • Have a standard operating procedure for working with clients.
  • Use a project management tool like Asana or Trello and create a coaching board filled with every procedure, document, and contact detail your client may need. This ensures that their action items are always extremely clear.
  • Include short step-by-step Loom videos on how to use the coaching board.
  • Ask clients to fill out your onboarding questionnaire. This helps you get a high-level overview of their business and shows you where to ask more probing questions.
  • You’ll also want your clients to complete an expectations contract. This ensures that everyone is on the same page in terms of communication styles, goals, deliverables, and accountability.

17: Identify how to get your clients consistent results.

It starts with a coaching roadmap. This is an important part of your service. But before we dive into what mine looks like, you first need to perform a customer journey mapping. This helps you to understand the entire business ecosystem around your clients. 

My team uses the 1-Page Marketing Plan template. You can too. Get it here.

Now on to the coaching roadmap. This is what it looks like.

  • Detailed diagnostic – Deep dive into their business or personal life to really understand what their pain points are.
  • Gap analysis – Identify where you can make a difference quickly. What are the key areas you need to focus on now?
  • Team – Do they need to build a team to help them achieve their business goals? (Not relevant to life coaching)
  • 90-day goals – Agree on short-term and long-term goals. These short bursts are important for achieving quick wins. It also helps coaching clients stay motivated.
  • Strategic – What is the plan? Map out each process before implementing.
  • Tactical – What do they need to do? Do they need to flesh out systems, invest in market research, hire people? 
  • Metrics – What gets measured gets managed. If you’re not measuring their performance, you won’t know if there’s any improvement.
This is the system you need to get coaching clients results

18: Adjust your services according to the client's needs.

No coaching client is the same and what you do depends on where you can bring value to their business. Some clients are very sophisticated. They already have all of their systems in place. Others are barely able to open Microsoft Word. So you’ll need to be more hands-on with the less knowledgeable clients.

Cookie-cutter training won’t work for every client, and it’ll do more damage to your business reputation than good.

19: Don't be afraid to say no.

A good coach isn’t afraid to tell it like it is. You’re not doing your coaching clients any favors by saying YES to everything. Sometimes they need to hear NO. You need to coach them on how to separate the majors from the minors.

Here’s what a good coaching program looks like.

  • It must give clarity so your clients know exactly what to prioritize.
  • It must have a definitive structure, so your clients don’t waste time on tasks that won’t get results.

It needs to be simple. If they need an MBA or PhD to implement it, they’ll give up.

20: Hold them accountable.

If you’re going to start a coaching business, you need to be willing to hold people accountable. If they don’t put the work in, they won’t get the results they want. When this happens, people feel shortchanged like they’ve been duped into a service that didn’t work. This can affect your reputation.

Implementation is key. If you want to build your coaching practice, you need to hold your customers accountable.

Do you need a license to do coaching?

Nope, you don’t need a license or certificate to become a business coach.  All you need is a coaching niche, a framework, and the ability to get your clients results.

Without a framework, it’s a lot harder to start your coaching business and attract paying clients.

Instead, what many coaches do is they enroll in a coaching program or certification course that trains them on how to use and implement another business coach’s framework. I do this in my Certification Program.

My certification students graduate as 1-Page Marketing Plan Certified Coaches. They can use my business model, methodology, and coaching framework to create wealth for their clients and their business. They also get a dedicated page on my website, an embeddable certification badge to use on social media, and lifetime access to all my training webinars.

That’s a massive leg up in the coaching world. It takes all the guesswork out of starting a coaching business and my students have a mentor to turn to for advice or to bounce an idea off when scaling their coaching businesses.

So while you don’t need a license to become a business coach, enrolling in a certification program can help hone your coaching skills, build your network, and scale your online coaching business faster.

How to get coaching clients

So now you’ve decided to start a coaching business, you need to figure out how to get clients.

Top tips to help you get your first coaching client

1: Be prepared to give away ideas for free.

There needs to be some form of IP that you give away for free. It could be an eBook, checklist, framework, how-to video series, report, whatever. Think about what will get your ideal target market to raise their hand and self-identify.

If you can get them a result before they do business with you, that’s an excellent way to increase your clientele.

2: Be prolific.

Social media, online publications, podcasts, webinars, or speaker events. Your goal as a business coach is to be prolific. You want to create content that’s fresh, informative, and helpful. And there are a few ways you can do that:

  • Write guest contributions for blogs and publications that your audience engages in.
  • Reach out to niche podcasts. Ask if they’d be interested in interviewing you. You’ll want to give them a reason why you’d be a great fit for their show. And don’t be afraid to offer something of value for their listeners.
  • Open social media accounts on the sites your audience is active on― Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok, whatever. This is your chance to share your knowledge and experiences, and start building personal relationships.
  • Say yes to speaker events, whether in person or virtual. This is also a great way to gain valuable insight into the problems of your ideal customers.

3: Leverage your network.

Use your business network to attract clients. Think about which businesses have your customers before you. How can you get access to their network?

For example, say you’re a nutritional coach. Why not start a joint venture with a personal trainer. Together, you’ll increase your client’s chance of getting results. As a marketing coach, you know your clients need a team to get results. So it might be worthwhile partnering with a company that places remote workers.  

Essentially, you’ve got someone who’s saying to their email list, I trust this person. I trust them to get you results, so you can too. That’s massively powerful.

4: Focus on building relationships.

You’ll never make money if you view every relationship as a transaction. The best coaches care about their client’s success. So if you want to start a sought-after coaching business, invest time building strong relationships.

Take the next step and start your coaching business

Kickstart your coaching business with our handy coaching toolbox. Here’s what you’ll get access to:

  • Our Coaching Onboarding Asana Board – every step we take when identifying and onboarding new clients
  • Our Onboarding Questionnaire – every question you need to ask to cut the time-wasters from the serious coaching candidates
  • Expectations Contract – every detail covered so the client knows what they’re getting and what to expect
  • Our preferred Tools List – every tool you’ll need to build a coaching business
  • Our Shock & Awe Guide – everything you need to know to deliver a world-class experience

If you want to start a coaching business, this is the only toolbox you’ll ever need. Take the guesswork out of building an online coaching business, and start your coaching career now.

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