My entrepreneurial experience as a consultant has been quite a wild ride with many ups and downs, both financially and emotionally. I have learned by now that business is cyclical with ebbs and flows. So how can other consultants like me make the best use of their excess capacity when business is not as strong as they would like? Personally, the answer was “invest in yourself.”
For the past four years, I have run my own consulting business that focuses on helping leaders to manage their workplace culture. Last year, I had an increasing number of clients and colleagues ask if I could provide individual coaching services. As a leader and entrepreneur with a background in human resources and leadership development, their requests seemed logical and in alignment with my skills and talents. However, I have hired my share of coaches in my own career with mixed results. I knew that whatever I chose to do, I wanted to do it with the right knowledge, credentials and credibility. My journey to coaching and my advice to others can be summed up in five essential steps:
1. Find a coaching course.
In an initial online search, I learned that demand for coaching was growing faster than supply. That gave me confidence in my timing. To ensure I was doing it properly, I researched coaching certification providers and enrolled in an online class. There were many certification classes available, so I selected one that fit all of my criteria: It was accredited by the International Coach Federation, had positive student reviews and offered courses online with a feasible class schedule. I loved it so much that when the first class ended, I immediately signed up for the next one. These courses commanded a good chunk of my time for two months, but because my client count was manageable, I had the time and energy to commit.
As I progressed through each class, I also rediscovered a love of learning. This was the first investment I had made in myself since completing my MBA some 12 years ago, and I had forgotten how fulfilling and rewarding it was to venture into something new. At the end of the courses, I became a Certified Master Coach (CMC), thereby taking the first step in creating a completely separate business line to complement consulting.
2. Define your target market.
In addition to learning the ethics and proper techniques of effective coaching, the courses helped me define my target market, which was different for nearly every student in the class. Coaches specialized in health and wellness, marriage and relationships, career transition and — my specialty — business leadership and executive coaching. Knowing your target market will help inform your overall marketing strategy and approach.
3. Create a coaching agreement.
Next, it was time to establish packages and pricing and create my coaching agreement. I conducted my own anecdotal research in my hometown of Houston, Texas by polling my network on whether they had ever hired a coach and at what price point. That data, coupled with my own experience of previously hiring two coaches, solidified my pricing structure. The coaching course also allowed participants to review and compare one another’s agreements. From that exercise, I streamlined and reduced my lengthy legal document and took pieces from several in our cohort to include clauses I hadn’t considered, such as cancellation, refund and record retention policies.
4. Market yourself as a coach.
Once I had those components solidified, I strategized with my marketing team on how to showcase our new coaching offering and build a client base. We began with an email campaign announcing coaching opportunities and my new coaching credential. We then updated all sales documents and my website to include the coaching option as a complement to consulting. I also worked coaching into the conversation with existing and prospective clients to practice and hone the messaging.
5. Encourage others to invest in themselves.
This journey has served as a reminder that our employees desire to be invested in as well. That feeling I had rediscovering a love of learning is not unique to me, and it inspired me to be more intentional in supporting my clients and my employees in their ongoing development. I was reminded that, as leaders, we have the privilege of setting the example and showing our employees that you’re never too old or too established in your career to try something new.
There’s a saying that goes like this: What you choose to do when you have nothing else to do reveals your true character. Today, I have as many coaching clients as I have consulting clients. It is my hope that other professionals can learn from my experience and use a slow season to master a new skill that can propel you forward.
This article was originally published in October of 2019 on Forbes.com. Sheryl Lyons is a member of the Forbes Coaches Council, an invitation-only community for leading business and career coaches. Click here to read this article or others written by Sheryl on Forbes.com.