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You Can’t Be All Things To All Men (or women)

The biggest mistake I made when I first became certified as a Life Coach other than to wildly underestimate how competitive the industry was likely to become, was to not niche myself.

Looking back it seems ridiculous and somewhat embarrassing that I had business cards that had “Personal & Business Coach” printed on them.

I was doing what a lot of small businesses do and that’s to try and appeal to as many people as possible.

The logic of the approach seems sound on the surface, which is why so many people fall into the trap of doing it. Even experienced people who should know better, like myself.

The more people who see you as a potential resource to meet their needs, the more likely you are to get hired.

Only it doesn’t work like that, especially in an industry where supply hugely outstrips demand.

In such cases when there is lots of availability people want to work with specialist coaches who meet their exact and specific needs, even if they don’t always know that at a conscious level.

What Does Life Coach Even Mean?

The term Life Coach sucks because it’s so generic to the point that it really doesn’t mean anything.

I think that’s one of the main reasons it’s struggled to achieve credibility in the public eye and why so many people jump to the erroneous conclusion that Life Coaches tell people what to do with their lives.

We don’t!

Or at least good coaches don’t, even if the word coach may suggest otherwise to many people.

Unfortunately, whereas the name may suck and leave me feeling a little uncomfortable, it’s what we have to work with because broadly speaking, it’s how people search for ‘us’.

If I started calling myself a values coach or an unsticking coach I’d soon start to see my client stream dry up, because few if any people are typing those terms into Google.

So I have to position myself as a Life Coach who specializes in helping people get unstuck, gain clarity and who puts a lot of store in values based coaching.

And when I say specialize, I mean I have to be prepared to turn away clients who aren’t right for me, even in the summer when I’m usually a tad quieter.

I say on my Life Coaching page that I don’t take on clients who just want help with time management and/or productivity.

Similarly I don’t do relationship coaching, I don’t coach kids and I’m not a business coach.

I’m also not a career coach even though I do a lot of work with people round their careers.

Helping people understand what makes them tick and what job would be a great fit for them is stuff I do, but that doesn’t mean I’m a Career Coach.

Career Coaches will often be highly knowledgeable about the job market, utilize psychometrics and may even know what’s involved in writing a killer resume or nailing an interview. I don’t.

I’ve also worked with many executives who feel like they want to get more out of life, but that doesn’t make me an Executive Coach.

Executive Coaching is most definitely a niche and most people who excel at it have usually worked as executives themselves. I haven’t.

I could go on, but I think you get the message.

Unfortunately most Life Coaches don’t get the message, and most will pay dearly in the long run as they try to appeal to all men and woman and end up appealing to none.

Business went insane for me in January and February when I hit the first page of Google which was cool because it allowed me to really cherry pick the clients who I thought were best for me and who I could help the most.

Unfortunately though that took time and I was screening clients who were never really right for me and I felt bad about saying ‘no’.

So I decided to set up a page of recommended coaches who offer skill sets and services that I don’t.

And that’s the purpose of this post, to let you know that I may not be the right coach for you, but the right coach is almost certainly out there.

If you would like to know which coaches I recommend click this link and browse away to your hearts content.

By the way, I will be adding to this list so if you know of a brilliant coach who specializes in a niche I haven’t covered, please let me know in the comments.

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42 comments to You Can’t Be All Things To All Men (or women)

  • Interesting read. I can’t afford a life coach, but I appreciate them and their blogs A LOT! :)
    I did not fully appreciate til now, however, the amount of work it takes to be a life coach.
    Thanks for sharing!

    • You’re welcome Glori and you’re right there is some amazing free information out there. There is some not so amazing stuff too, so do you due diligence when reading.

  • Myrtle

    I like the concept of the blog. Thanks for sharing your great thoughts with us.

  • You’re welcome Myrtle

  • I appreciate the acknowledgement Tim! What fantastic transparency on your part not to mention a fantastic “marketing” lesson.

    I’ve discovered the more you try to be everything to everybody, the more your message gets watered down and ambiguous. It’s impossible to speak to peoples direct fears, frustrations, wants & desires when trying to talk to “everybody.” It makes it extremely difficult to attract and serve your audience when you can’t speak directly to these areas.

    So glad you brought light to this challenge and thank you again for the mention.

    • You’re welcome mate! You know I consider you one of the good guys of the industry ;-)

      And I definitely slipped in to the trap of trying to appeal to everybody. It actually worked ok 7 years ago because there were so few Life Coaches, but now the public are becoming more discerning and I reckon there are at least 25 times more coaches than there were then.

      It’s brutally competitive and anybody being vague about their service offering is going to be in big trouble.

  • Good on you mate! I had a similar experience when first opening my coaching business. When I got clear about being / presenting myself as a transition coach everything fell into place. I will forever be grateful to Mike Michalowicz ( Toilet Paper Entrepreneur) for kicking me in the arse back when I was marketing myself as “generic” life coach. Cheers!

    • Yeh I know who you mean, I read his book and really liked it. It was the first book of that type where the author talked about understanding your values in a business setting. I thought that was way cool and so often over looked.

      Hmm, I’m wondering of I need a transition coach on my page or whether we do too much similar stuff. What do you think? No fibbing ;-)

  • Tim, I really admire your work ethics!
    It’s true, we can’t be everything to everyone. I truly believe there is no point to try, it’s far better to develop a real way to help than try and just leave the client even worse.
    That’s why I always learn from you my friend! :)

  • Again, dead-on, Tim!

    Last week a friend talked to me about being her coach, and I referred her to the career coach I used five years ago because he’d be much more effective. It’s all about helping people finding their path, and sometimes that means helping them find the right guide.

    Your page of great coaches is perfect, and a model of something I can add to my site.

    And on the business end of things, dead-on there as well. Identify a niche market of people with a problem, who are looking for a solution, and talk to them in their language. That requires getting curious about what they’re dealing with, and then marketing yourself as the person who can help.

    This reminds me of the old movie, “Repo Man,” where the characters ate and drank from cans labeled “Food” and “Beer.” Generic says “cheap, and uninspiring.”

  • Krizza

    A man assesses a woman more on her personality than he does her looks when it comes to deciding his level of commitment..

  • Tim-

    What a wonderful service you’re providing here. I don’t know that many people would be so gracious with their time and willingness to help others.

    This act speaks to your integrity and honesty as a life coach.

    Finding a niche and honing your skills are sometimes a result of trying to be Jack (or Jill) of all trades. Sadly, you only end up with the distinction of “Master of Nothing.” It’s tempting to say yes to a prospective client when they’re eager, and you’re trying to pay the bills. Sometimes you don’t know where your specialty lies until you try different areas and make mistakes.

    That’s how I found out I needed to divorce depression from my blog. It’s not that I don’t have compassion for depressed people, but my values of life is hard, problems are inevitable, and everyone should read Viktor Frankel’s Man’s Search for Meaning for life perspective, are not what many individuals want to hear.

    Thank you so much for the mention. I’m really honored to be part of your family.

    Your clients are a lucky bunch to have a classy, humble and humorous coach to unstick them :).

    • Thanks for the kind words and I’m the same with miserable people as you are with depressed people.

      Any by miserable, I mean no sense of fun, I find them really tricky to deal with and not very enjoyable if I’m being honest. Which is why I send those I’m unsure of to check out my blog. About half I never hear from again!

  • Mary-Ann Hill

    More good information on coaching in general and another spotlight on your particular brand, which I would say is centred on and revolves around values. So for me, if I had to put you in a niche it would be “the values-based coach”. Your guidance in clarifying my values and then honouring them when I had to have some recent hard discussions about my job, has kept me grounded and calm where otherwise I’d be fearful and anxious. I even did a Mission, Vision, Values statement for myself as “my own small business”, just so I had it clear in my mind who I was and what I stood for. My values are keeping me straight in my head as the outcome was that my small business needs don’t quite match my company’s big business needs, so I’m now into some major change management :) Cheers, and thanks for another great read, Mary-Ann

  • Thank you again Tim for the inclusion on your Recommended Coaches page. It is an honor to be among so many great coaches.

    It has been my experience that not only can I never be all things to all people, I also found that my energy levels and presence are totally different when working with clients who are the people I most want to work with, on the issues I am most passionate about supporting them with, compared to when I was working with those who didn’t fit my preferred client profile.

    Another great example of how to be true to yourself and honest with your readers/prospective clients Tim.

    Thank you for letting me share your space : )

    • Agree 100%. sessions with fun clients seem to fly past and are really enjoyable and sometimes I can’t believe I’m getting paid to do something that’s so much fun!

  • This is absolutely great advice and I plan on taking it just as soon as I can figure out how the heck to capture all the awesomeness of the clients I love into one niche and then figure out a marketing strategy to snag more of them. For me it’s less about particular issues than particular people.

    Must ponder. In the meantime, I’ll be happy to be your specialist in Helping Skeptical Worrywart Geeky Overthinkers With Hearts of Gold Discover Life is Actually a Blast.

    Hmm, may need a little work there…

    • I agree on the people too Jan and that’s why I send prospective clients that don’t know me to this site. They either get where I’m at or freak out and I never hear from them again ;-)

  • Ben

    As a coach myself, I do have certain areas that I am more experienced in, such as areas i’ve worked with successfully myself.

    But since I work with emotions, past programming and past negative experiences, then I can work with alot of different areas since alot of it is connected to those things.

    Though I only want people who are open to it and do want to change, instead of the people who are like ‘i’m going to prove this doesn’t work.’

    But yes I also have to realize there is certain people I shouldn’t work with as there is some areas I haven’t yet mastered for myself and am still working on.


  • Liz

    I can figure out how the heck to capture all the awesomeness of the clients I love into one niche and then figure out a marketing strategy to snag more of them.Thanks for sharing.

  • lariane

    I can work with alot of different areas since alot of it is connected to those things.And I also have to realize there is certain people I shouldn’t work with as there is some areas I haven’t yet mastered for myself and am still working on.

    • We don’t need to be masters of anything other than asking great questions, listening and building rapport.

      I will often talk about careers, fitness, finance and a whole host of other topics without leaving my niche. Everything is inter-connected.

  • jon

    i thinklife coaches are brilliant and everyone should have one, im struggling with money at the moment so cant afford one but always appreciate a life coaches blog…cheers mate

  • This is so true. I see this in the speaker world too. As a speaker, I will never be able to please every single person in my audiences and that’s okay. I learned that if I did try to please everyone, I will fail. It’s better to find your best audience and then nurture them.

    This is a lesson we often see in business. For example, no car manufacturer can please every car buying demographic. That’s why Porche is better off continuing as a high end sports car rather than branching off to offer a low end model. Same thing with Honda or Hyundai. If they suddenly went after the very high end market, the market will not accept them and ultimately, their entire line will suffer an image backlash.

    Better to find your audience whether a coach, speaker or business and then treat them like gold. Don’t worry about the others.

    • Nice car analogy because that’s why Toyota had to form an entirely new brand with Lexus because they new really wealthy people would never buy a Toyota.

      I have a Toyota

  • Hi Tim, I recently bought your brilliant book ‘Aligning with Your Core Values’. Sadly I poured a cup of coffee in my precious macbook pro which fried the entire system…Core Values and all. Devastated! However, at least I had read it and loved it. As a recently qualified Life & Business Coach I have already realised that I would much prefer to specify my coaching niche…and have decided that ‘Motivational Coaching’ is my area of expertise. I am much more comfortable with that, then seeming to give the impression that I am what I’m not. Thanks for all your brilliant articles…you are a great advert for Life Coaches in general because of your obvious integrity and code of ethics…and of course you are also an inspiration to all of us fledgling coaches!

  • Thanks Tim…that is so decent of you and I really appreciate it! :)

  • There is a distinction to be drawn here between having a niche and having a market….

    I recall listening to a Nutritionist two years ago discuss with a leading internet marketer how she didn’t want to specialize. That nutritional therapy could help (almost) everyone and she didn’t want to choose.

    Though I agreed with the board nature of nutritional therapy (I have been a nutritionist) I could also hear a certain “selfishness” (Sorry, judged her!) in her comments.

    She wanted the wide experience and people coming to her, but she wasn’t giving a similar commitment to them. She wasn’t aligning herself with a particular group of people (a market).

    I do think it’s important to show a similar level of commitment to the people you seek to serve than you ask of them. That’s fair exchange. Otherwise resentment is likely to set in.

    However, depending on how it is implemented, I’m wary of niche-ing, because it can easily be over-specialized to the point that fundamental issues can be missed… e.g. lack of self-confidence, certain health problems (we aren’t doctors but energy is a huge factor.)

    You’ve got a “clever” niche because your “niche” actually affirms the underlying values of coaching. You coach with the fundamental values of coaching. Rather than pick a niche like financial coaching and miss that anger with the clients parents keeps tripping them up.

    Yes, this is borderline therapy,but it’s all part of a real, broad approach to unstick people.

    • Ha! Borderline therapy, I had that exact conversation with somebody yesterday. And you’re right it is, but as coaches we have a duty of care to realize when we may be slipping over that line and should really be referring on.

      • There are two boundaries to avoid crossing here surely…
        1) don’t go outside your zone of competence
        2) even if you remain within your zone of competence you should not being misleading on the nature of coaching or presume consent for something the client hasn’t consented to.

        Even if you are a trained psychotherapist I don’t think you should include it in a coaching session because the approaches are almost totally contradictory.

        NLP and hypnotherapy both have their problems here as they are borderline therapy skills but NLP can also greatly enhancing coaching skills.

        Approaches like EFT, however, look dramatically different from coaching questions. So they can be just a matter of consent and the coach’s competence in EFT.

        Confusion with therapy isn’t the only challenge to coaching, through. There are a lot trainers now calling themselves coaches, because it is fashionable. They get coaches the reputation of telling people what to do, because that is exactly what they do.

  • I don’t agree that coaching and psychotherapy are “almost totally contradictory”, or even close to being that, but I do agree that the client should be aware of whether they are being coached or having therapy.

  • Like most things, depends how you define psychotherapy and indeed coaching.