Becoming A Successful Life Coach (The Only 3 Skills You Need)

I have worked either through one of the Coach The Life Coach courses, or in a one-on-one basis, with somewhere in the region of 250 Life Coaches.

That’s a lot of coaches.

In my experience most new (and some not so new) coaches tend to underestimate their ability to coach and over estimate their ability to attract clients.

Of those 250 coaches probably less than a dozen weren’t capable of coaching. Yet strangely enough no more than a dozen were confident in their coaching ability.

On the flip side, probably no more than 25% were concerned about attracting clients even though they had no real plan or experience with marketing their services.

I worked with my first client in early 2005 and I can still remember that first call clearly because I was super nervous.

In fact I was nervous for the first handful of clients because I didn’t think I knew what I was doing.

Yes, I’d done my training and yes I’d read dozens of books, but this was different.

Do you remember learning to drive?

It was probably exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time, right?

But at least you had somebody next to you to offer advice and kindly request that you don’t aim for the ramp off the busy four lane freeway when you’re in the outside lane.

You get the basics when you’re learning to drive, but you really start to improve significantly when you get out on your own.

I can remember shortly after I passed my driving test and I was going to college. I had to use the M1 which is the main arterial motorway running straight up the middle of England.

As a learner driver you cannot use a motorway, so this was my first experience of 3 lanes each side of fast moving heavy traffic.

I was so apprehensive I actually turned the radio off so I could focus as much as possible and had no distractions. My heart rate and blood pressure were up, I was sweating and super careful as I merged onto the inside lane.

To my brain this was all very new and as such it was hyper vigilant.

3-months later I had the radio on, was talking to somebody on my CB radio and probably eating a sandwich as I sped on to the motorway without a care in the world.

The Stages of Learning

The first time I was in stage 3 of learning, that of conscious competence. I knew what to do, but I had to think about doing it.

The first 2 stages are unconscious incompetence – we are bad at something, but don’t even know it. Then conscious incompetence – we know what we should be doing but don’t have the requisite skillset.

But within a few weeks I had elevated my driving to the 4th and final stage of learning, that of unconscious competence.

At that level I no longer had to consciously think of changing gear, using my mirror, or looking over my shoulder prior to changing lanes in case there was a vehicle in my blind spot, I just did it.

The 4th stage and the one we’re looking to get to as coaches, of unconscious competence is where we don’t have to think what to do, we just do it.

It takes time, but the more you coach, the quicker you learn and the more efficient you become.

That doesn’t mean you will never make mistakes again when coaching, you’ll make plenty. It just means you’re not inside your own head all the time trying to think of a killer question when you should be listening.

There are a lot of moving parts in acquiring clients and in many ways it’s a lot harder than acquiring coaching skills.

To be a great coach you really only need to master 3 elements. Every other skill you learn is a bonus.

I’m somewhat obsessive about the power of core values and teach the process I devised to every coach I work with, but it’s possible to be a good coach without using values.

I very much like elements of NLP (neurolinguistic programming), but there are hundreds of good coaches who know little or nothing about NLP.

And I love reading about neuroscience and how the brain works, but it’s not a prerequisite to being a good coach.

There are only 3 things you need to be able to do well to be a  successful Life Coach and here they are:

1. As A Successful Life Coach You Can Build Rapport

If you cannot build rapport than nobody is ever going to hire you.

We don’t hire people we don’t like.

Did you know what is the biggest indicator of whether a doctor is likely to be sued for malpractice or not?

You would think it’s their skills as a doctor, but you’d be wrong.

It’s how much the patient likes the doctor.

Some truly brilliant doctors and surgeons can be highly aloof and be seriously lacking in the rapport building department (bedside manner – which is the same thing) and they are exponentially more likely to get sued than a less competent doctor who takes the time to talk with a patient and explain things.

Whereas some people are naturally better at building rapport than others it’s still a skill that can be learned and mastered. Check out this post on rapid rapport building if you want to tried and tested tips.

2. You Can Ask Great Questions

Our job as coaches isn’t to advise, it isn’t to tell and it isn’t try and manipulate a client or one direction or another.

We only have one job and that is to help clients think differently.

Everything else is just fluff.

If you don’t help your clients think differently, then you have failed in your job.

Change happens when we see things in a different light.

When we help our clients see things differently they naturally see alternative options that were previously hidden from them.

Be genuinely curious about your clients and ask them questions to satisfy that curiosity.

The more you coach the more you will be amazed at the power of coaching questions.

3. You Are An Active Listener

Listening during a conversation is easy, right?

You just stop talking and let the other person talk.

I spent 20-years working in sales and I can tell you that one of the biggest reasons salespeople fail is through a singular inability to stfu and listen.

If a client is talking to you and you’re scurrying around the corridors of your mind wondering what to ask next, then you’re not listening.

Your mind should be quiet if you’re listening properly.

And you don’t need to be a Zen Master.

Sitting on your own alone and quieting your mind is really tough, but when your mind has something else to occupy it, it’s way easier. Not easy, just much easier.

It’s way worse as a Life Coach to be inside your own head trying to come up with a mic drop kind of question and not actively listening than it is to say when they have finished talking, ‘hm, that’s really interesting, can you give me a couple of seconds to process it’.

If you’re going on a trip to a country that has regular cholera or typhoid outbreaks, then you’d be wise to have an inoculation.

It will probably hurt, but it’s well worth it if you want to avoid getting very sick or very dead.

Silence in a coaching environment can be painful at times (until you get used to it), but it’s well worth it if you want to avoid irritating your clients.

Presuming you or your client hasn’t nodded off, silence is almost always a good thing so embrace it, hug it and give it a big sloppy kiss just for good measure.

My guess is you that can coach.

You probably can’t coach as well as you will be able to in a years time, presuming you keep practicing, but that applies to all of us, me included.

Give yourself a bit of credit whilst at the same time getting as many coaching hours in as possible.

Oh, and if you are struggling to acquire clients, then I’ll be launching the early bird of the next client acquisition course very soon, so watch this space.

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  1. Bob

    Good morning!

    It’s 5 am and I’ve been working on my other career field (fiction novelist) for over an hour now. Yes, early morning work requires lots of breaks… Check my emails… This one advocates pushing your client into blah… Blah… Blah… The next email is pushing me into going to their seminar on the other side of the world from me and how I’m a loser as a coach if I don’t go… Finally, one last email in my inbox… Yes, yours linking me to your column… As I go to open the link, I’m thinking “Tim’s the only one who hasn’t either tried to teach me destructive life enhancement techniques or screamed at me to give him money for nothing…”. And then..? When I read what you’ve written? The absolute basis of my coaching principles!!! Three simple principles that most coaches can’t fathom! 1. It all starts with rapport. Without that? You are dead in the water. Gently explain you aren’t the one for them and refer them to another coach you think can have that rapport. 2. Ask them that hard question – “What do you (the client) think?” and then help them explore this. And (the one most coaches get wrong) 3rd – SHUT UP AND LISTEN! Yes, even I will occasionally get excited, think I see the ‘obvious to everybody’ answer, jump in all over what the client is trying to say – and then spend several full days trying to correct the mess I made. Shut up, listen with both ears and a brain, and then, after serious thought on our part, ask that ultimate question. If we can do that? Even for a beginner coach, we – and our clients – will be so much further ahead!


    • Tim Brownson

      To be fair Bob I think we all have moments when we think we’ve spotted a shortcut and want to dive in with some killer advice. It’s part of the reason I love working with coaches, because then I can offer advice on things like online marketing.

      Good luck on the book mate!

  2. Michael Wecke

    [I’m happy the “hacked” situation worked out well for you!]

    I agree that a value assessment and building rapport with your client is key to coaching and asking the right questions – as is being genuinely interested in your client.

    I also picked up one comment within your post, ie. “…yes I’d read dozens of books…”. This tends to broaden your knowledge base and may equip you with one or other skill with which you still struggle.

    My one question would always be “I hope my coaching mistake will not ruin my client’s aspirations”!

    • Tim Brownson

      I think the chances of you blowing your clients aspirations are very, very small unless you really act recklessly.

      Worry not 😉

  3. Thanks Tim, another great read.
    I value ‘continuous growth’ and will provide a client who is leaving a feedback form along with an questionnaire of the coaching experience take aways. It’s important for me knowing that they got what they came for and that if there is something that I can improve on, stop or start doing within my practice.
    Always growing – always evolving.
    I wonder if others do the same?

    • Tim Brownson

      I used to do the same Rick and then I stopped.

      I’m on the fence with asking for feedback. if you’re in a very high level of rapport they may tell you what they think you want to hear and that can actually exacerbate on problems.

      As I say I’m not against it, just somewhat on the fence.

      Thanks for making me think!