In addition to my more visible day job as a teacher of personal development and of business, I have been a career and life coach for over 30 years – roles that grew out of the necessity of becoming a freelance start-up adviser when a family member became ill requiring me to WFH in 1983 (before WFH was a thing).
To explain: with an education in finance (Chartered Management Accountant) and business (MBA), and experience in major corporates and consulting, my natural choice of freelance role was helping folks create their own businesses; advising on strategy and finance was a natural choice. Anyway, strangely, I enjoy building financial and business models. However, it soon became clear that the budding entrepreneurs I was working with needed more than excellent ‘technical’ business help.
Taking the step (more like a huge leap) from working for someone else to working for themselves brought its own, very real, problems. Before the move, they usually enjoyed a regular income, an imposed time discipline, fairly clear objectives defined by others, usually a well-equipped working environment, perhaps supportive and social colleagues, and a calm home life. Afterward, the income is anything but certain, any financial savings may be drained to start to business and support the family, 24/7 becomes the norm, objectives are hazy, working ‘on the kitchen table’. The sense of being alone and un-helped may overwhelm the frequently tired budding entrepreneur. Often, too, family pressures add to the mix as partners may also feel more vulnerable without the previous routines and certainties.
So, without outside help the would-be successful own-business person may falter and fail. My natural reaction was to step in to provide support. Having had a long period, in my own life, without help with a very difficult domestic situation, I determined that I would not let anyone feel alone again if I could do something to help them. And, so, was born my coaching business.
The really tough things about being a coach or adviser:
1. Our objective is to destroy our business
What does this mean? It means that our primary objective is to ensure that our clients no longer need us. At the risk of being accused of being paternalistic, it is rather like a parent waving off their happy and independent offspring knowing that they no longer need you; that we have done our ‘job’ however sad we might feel of their going.
2. Adverting is negative
In most businesses, advertising is there to reach potential clients/customers effectively saying, “Look what we have that satisfies something you need.” Not so with coaching, and perhaps with any professional service offering: the reaction is, “If they need to advertise, they can’t be any good.” In my case the vast majority of my clients come directly or indirectly from my large network of wonderful ex-students – people with whom I have had the pleasure of working and, so, we have gotten to know each other. Some others came through the ‘word of mouth’ network. For me, advertising is a definite no-no!
3. Helping by not helping
of us with a fair amount of life experience may be tempted to give advice – “Do
this, it worked for me.” – and, yes, I am guilty of doing this sometimes, but
this is not the best way to help someone. Taking the advice of others on life
choices is to avoid the responsibility of making a decision, it diminishes the
probability of success by denying the boost from post-decision justification
and destroys the joyous sense of achievement from having determined one’s own
goals and reaching them.
So, our role is to guide clients in teasing out their own ‘golden threads’ – those things that they have to have in their life – and distilling them into goals that will bring them a sense of purpose and fulfillment.
In conclusion, and despite the tough problems, I would not change my life’s work for ‘all the tea in China’. I love what I do, and strive to do better in every class, and for every client. But, sometimes, just sometimes, I wish it was not quite so tough!