For many coaches, business is like a foreign language... being people-centric, I've seen coaches completely freeze at the general topic of business. So it's not uncommon that they struggle with challenges like finding clients, maintaining cash flow, and preparing for potential future disruptions like the pandemic, changes in trends, economic depression. But coaches also often face personal challenges such as loneliness, reaching a growth ceiling, and burnout. This is where an entrepreneurial mindset comes into play, which combines both personal development with business development. Each furthers the other. I want to explore why coaches have to stop seeing themselves as coaches and must start approaching their business like entrepreneurs.
My Startup Story
I have been in the growth industry for over 17 years, working in various roles in corporate innovation, marketing, and consultanting. After spending the past decade building my own creative consultancy and team of consultants in Shanghai, I decided to start over in Lisbon, Portugal. And to be honest, it has been a real challenge, having simply been away from America/Europe for 14 years, entering a very saturated market, no one knows me or my achievements… but I do see this as an opportunity to build a different kind of business. Also, having built a few companies already, I know what it takes to do it again. Of course, there will be surprises and challenges in this new market, but fundamentally, I have the confidence that I can achieve this rebuild.
Typical Objections to Entrepreneurship
Coaches love the human element of the work, perhaps a bit too much. So many are hesitant to take risks and build a business that goes beyond one-on-one interactions. This may be mainly due to the high failure rate, the intimidation of the “business world”, and the inherent uncertainty of the creative process. This is where an entrepreneurial mindset is absolutely critical, which comprises ambition, business orientation, risk-taking, and building.
Reframing Entrepreneurship: Let me be clear, being a founder is about much more than just making money. I don’t see it as cold or only about business. For me, entrepreneurship is also about answering important life questions like “Who am I?” “What is my place in this world?” “Why am I here?” “What's my worth?” “What's my value to others and society?” “How do I know if that worth is true?” “What's my responsibility to others and myself?” “How do I balance my ambition and practicality?” “What's my legacy? What do I want to leave behind?” and ultimately “How do I want to make any of that happen?”
This is a deep reflection and beyond that it’s also a very active process of business building, testing and developing different products, communicating and establishing your brand. So clearly, it’s not just the money, but more akin to a modern day spiritual journey. The goal of entrepreneurship is to create a system that allows us to make an impact, be creative, and build something that goes beyond just delivering services.
Analyzing the Startup Mindset Further
First, let us understand what entrepreneurship is and how it differs from freelancing/coaching. While both require independence, creativity, and self-reliance, the key difference is in the business model. Freelancers typically provide services, and their income depends on the amount of work they do.
On the other hand, entrepreneurs build a business model that enables them to make money even while sleeping. Furthermore, they create assets, such as products, intellectual property, and a brand. To achieve any of this, they also must develop structure, system and tools to achieve that growth.
Because that system is the only way to go beyond 1:1 coaching work. This is where coaches can learn from designers, who also require empathy and the ability to find insights but focus on creating behavior and emotional change. Similarly, entrepreneurs aim to create scalable impact by building external systems and solutions.
3 Key Areas to Focus
While coaching and entrepreneurship share similarities, such as being independent and creative, there are distinct differences that can make the transition seem daunting. However, by focusing on three key areas – mindset, skills, and resources – you can shift your perspective and take steps towards building a successful business.
Mindset is perhaps the most basic aspect of our evolution. Coaches know more than others that change involves examining your beliefs, identity, and influences to understand why you call yourself a coach and not an entrepreneur. Who do you look up to for inspiration – other coaches and gurus or actual business leaders and entrepreneurs? By identifying your role models and questioning your beliefs about what it means to be an entrepreneur, you can begin to shift your mindset towards a more entrepreneurial outlook.
Behaviors. Change doesn’t happen without change. So these actions are another area to focus on when transitioning to entrepreneurship. As a coach, you may be an expert in your field, but developing entrepreneurship requires learning new skills such as business modeling, strategy, branding, business development, and product development. These skills can help you develop and test your own “theory of growth.”
The first tip is to stop reading and start doing. Coaches tend to overemphasize methodologies, certificates and books. Instead, rather than taking another course, get inspired by attending startup events, such as hackathons and social innovation jams, where people come together to solve problems over a weekend. Attend events like Startup Weekend or Startup Grind. These events were life-changing for me.
With this active participation in the startup community, you get to experience the founder mindset directly. You’ll realize you’re not alone. You get to see and meet real life entrepreneurs. You will feel the values, practice the behaviors and get a taste of the excitement of building a business. You will hear their stories, which both serve to inspire but also hopefully brings down the idea of “entrepreneurship” back down to earth. It is ultimately a very human and simple act that humans have been doing for hundreds of years.
Another tip is to learn to sell by selling. Sales is an essential skill for entrepreneurs, so help a friend sell stuff at craft markets and weekend fairs or create a website to sell your business. You can also make and sell a product or create a proposal to sell a solution to a corporate client. You’ll learn decode customer mindsets, how to communicate your value proposition, and
Additionally, start to allocate regular time and space to strategize ON the business. Once a month, think of the big picture. Analyze your business model and assess how close you are to your goals. These regular strategy sessions will help break your vision down into yearly goals, monthly projects, and weekly tasks. Some find this easier if they’re talking to someone, so find a business buddy, a partner who can complement you, or a mastermind and help you think through your ideas.
Finally, when strategizing, focus on strengthening the weakest part of your business. For instance, if you have low rates, focus on branding or pricing strategy. Or if you have low efficiency, systemize your business, and if you have unstable cash flow, develop a product. Conversely, leverage the strongest part of your business, such as empathy or branding, and figure a way to turn it into a tangible product, or intellectual property of some kind (content, books, courses).
By having a clear plan and understanding of your strengths, you can create a process that is efficient and effective in creating leads and managing your business.
Resources are the final element of change. There’s too much to keep in mind that I really like to have continued inspiration to support me on my entrepreneurial journey. There are numerous resources available, from podcasts to articles, that can provide information on business strategy, mental health, and cultural trends. It's important to have a diverse range of content sources to help you stay informed and inspired. At the end of this article is a list of my favorite podcasts and specific episodes that get you started.
Be a Systems Builder
While transitioning from a coach to an entrepreneur may seem daunting, it's important to remember that it's a process that takes time. Building a successful business requires an entrepreneurial mindset that involves passion, risk-taking, and the ability to build scalable external systems. And ultimately, overcoming these obstacles also lead to deeper personal growth.
Recommended podcasts to feed an entrepreneurial mindset
- Harvard Business Review
Pricing Strategies for Uncertain Times | HBR IdeaCast
- How I Built This
Headspace: Andy Puddicombe and Rich Pierson (2019) : NPR
- The Pitch
#78 Got Goals? Grab a Cru | The Pitch
- Startup School by Y Combinator
How Investors Think About Ideas - Wufoo Cofounder Kevin Hale
- Modern MBA
How Casper Failed & Why DTC Startups Lose Money
- Wes Cecil (Professor of Philosophy)
The Problem With Seeking Knowledge
The Futur (Branding & Design)
What Is Brand Strategy And How To Do It (Step 1)