men discussing how to build a successful coaching practice

5 Tips to Build a Successful Coaching Practice

By Dr Steve Barlow

There’s an issue many coaches face: the struggle to get enough clients. Many have paid thousands of dollars in training to become a coach. They enter with grand plans and leave disappointed. Why? Is it because they aren’t good coaches? In most cases, no. They leave because they can’t earn a decent living. They can’t get enough clients who will pay them what they’re worth.

If you love coaching but are disappointed by the amount of money you have been making, this article is written for you.

I want to help you by suggesting 5 things you should consider, but first, let me tell you who I am.

I began coaching in a formal sense back in 2002, and since then have coached around 4000 clients. A few years ago, my partner and I started The Change Gym, an ICF-approved professional development provider for coaches in the field of change fitness. I also lecture in personal and organisational change to Masters students at the University of Tasmania’s School of Medicine. I hold a PhD in the psychology of change fitness.

My role gives me the opportunity to speak with hundreds of coaches every year, and a unique perspective on the current state of the industry.  I speak with perfectly good coaches who consider quitting because they can’t make a reliable and consistent income from coaching. Most coaches need to take on other jobs to supplement their income.

There is a tendency for coaches to attribute the lack of a reliable client base to a marketing and/or sales problem. It might be – but from my perspective I don’t see it as only a marketing problem. So, before you are tempted to spend more money on marketing or sales, I’d like to give you another perspective. Let’s look at 5 suggestions you should consider.

You need to specialise

I’m sure you know coaching is a very competitive industry, and every year there are thousands of new coaches joining the profession. At the same time, there are thousands of existing coaches struggling to find well-paying clients, and many others leaving the industry disillusioned and disappointed. It is quite hard to survive if what you’re offering is very similar to what many others are already offering.

When I refer to becoming a specialist, I’m not talking about becoming a life coach, or business coach, or career coach. Those are still generalist areas – there are thousands of coaches already working in each of those areas. Yes, each coach is unique, but from a marketing point of view, they all offer a similar service.

You should find something that makes you substantively different. I’m not talking about smoke and mirrors here – some slick marketing terminology – I’m talking about a real difference. You need to provide a service or an approach that most of your competitors can’t provide. And it needs to be something most clients need.

If you provide something clients need, and they can’t get it from other coaches, you have something unique to sell.

You need to leverage your time

Most coaches struggle to make enough money because they sell time for money. They sell their coaching for so many dollars per hour.

Why does a medical specialist charge more than the local family doctor? Would you expect to pay more for a consultation with Elon Musk than with business coach Harry down the road?

It’s not about the time – it’s about the perceived value. As a coach, you need to find a way to increase the perceived value in what you offer clients. As you increase the perceived value, people will be prepared to pay you more for your time.

You also leverage your time when you broaden your service offering. Acquiring new clients takes time – and it’s time you’re not paid for. It usually costs you. So, having more to offer existing clients leverages your time.  But you don’t want clients to be dependent on you, so what you offer must make them more self-reliant.

You should leverage technology

Technology can open your coaching to the world.

Some coaches like to work face-to-face with clients. That’s fine, but it’s also very limiting. If it works for you, great, but it limits your client base to your locality.

Working with online technology removes the limitations of geography. And it vastly increases your potential client base. When The Change Gym launched its training program in change fitness coaching, we had clients in 5 continents within the first year.

You need a systematic approach

When I talk to coaches, I find many of them lack a logical, integrated, systematic approach to their practice. They don’t always know what this means, but they often don’t feel confident in how they work with clients. Here’s what I think you need:

  1. A clear, logical conceptual framework to guide your practice. This framework should be based on a philosophical stance you agree with, and the framework needs to be structured enough to provide a logical focus in how you work. If you don’t understand what I mean here, leave me a comment or reach out and I’ll help you.
  2. A developmental agenda. You must know how to identify your clients needs when they come to you, and how to move them forward. Their needs may not be the same as their wants. How you help them move forward should be bespoke, but also structured and consistent with the conceptual framework.
  3. A clear set of processes. When clients come to you, you should know exactly what to do, and so should they. This doesn’t mean you control the agenda, but you need to be clear about the process. The processes should be consistent with the conceptual framework guiding your practice.

These 3 areas are important – if you aren’t clear on them, your coaching will suffer.

You must be able to measure outcomes

Clients want to know that the time and money they spent with you was worth it. So, you should be able to articulate and measure what was different at the end of your coaching.

You need a quantifiable assessment of what happened. Ideally, you should be able to tell a client something like, “When you came to me you scored 34% on *** (fill in the blanks), and now after 3 months of coaching you score 58%”.

You also need qualitative measures of what happened. These could be changes others have noticed in the person, changes in how they feel, and observable changes in their behaviour.

The point I would make is this: you might need marketing help, like creating a sales funnel, lead generation, lead conversion, and automation systems. These are relevant to any business. But I believe the 5 points mentioned above should be in place before you spend a lot of money on marketing. These are fundamentals that give you something to market.

You might read this and think to yourself, ‘Where can I get these 5 things from?’ You might already be doing some of them, but not all. At The Change Gym, we have a system that ticks all 5 of these boxes. If you’d like to find out more about this system, I invite you to reach out to me.

Steve Barlow
Author: Steve Barlow

Steve heads up The Change Gym. He is a change readiness specialist. You can contact him at