John was new to business. He’d been a plumber all his working life but got sick of it and wanted to do something else. So, he decided to set up a handyman business in his local area.

He didn’t know how to get started so he sought out a business coach.

In their first meeting together, John admitted he didn’t know how to get clients. The coach quickly recognised that John had a marketing problem. So, he decided to try a simple solution.

“John, here’s a book about marketing you should read. And check out this YouTube channel.” John went away feeling optimistic.

A month later, John had his second coaching session. He appeared to be discouraged. “I read that book and watched the videos, but I still haven’t got any clients. What can I do?”

The coach realised the simple approach wasn’t enough. John needed expert help. “I’m referring you to Denise. She’s a marketing guru and she has helped hundreds of people just like you. Go see her.”

Denise asked lots of questions about who the ideal client is, the range of services offered, how John is different from other providers, and how he wants to work. In the end, she said, “You need a website. Here’s a guy who can help you build the kind of site that will attract the clients you want. You also need to attend networking meetings and get your name out there. Join one and see if you can get a speaking spot.”

John left encouraged, but also a little nervous.

John didn’t come back to coaching for 3 months. When he finally came back, he looked very stressed. He was very disappointed about the advice Denise gave him: it didn’t work.

The coach wanted to explore this further. “Tell me, John, what happened when you went to the website guy.”

“Well, he was supposed to be an expert, but I didn’t like the approach he wanted to take. So, I told him what I want the website to say and how I want it to look. After all, I’m the customer and I know what kind of business I want. Turns out he wasn’t much good at website design. Waste of money really.”

The coach thought what you’re probably thinking right now – John thinks he knows best and is unwilling to take advice.

“Okay John, what happened at the networking meeting?”

“Not much good there, either. The people were really unfriendly, and it was hard to get into conversations with anyone. I went a few times, but it’s not worth going if people aren’t interested in talking to me.”

The coach recognised that John didn’t really have a marketing problem. John had a personal problem, but he could not see it.

John’s real problem was that he didn’t trust people. He didn’t trust their advice. He didn’t trust their motives. And he didn’t particularly like to be in their presence.

John’s coaching journey didn’t need to be about marketing – at least not initially. It needed to be about why he found it hard to trust – why he was closed to receiving good advice, why he thought he knew best, why he couldn’t relate to people. What beliefs drove these behaviours? How can John come to see his beliefs when he has no awareness of them?


Identify the real problem

Real problems are often unseen by the people who have them. We are all like that. There are things about you and me that cause us problems in life – and they probably cause other people problems too. But we can’t see what they are. We see their effects all around us: broken relationships, unmet dreams, or failed attempts. And it’s easy to point the finger at others and blame them for our misery.

But all the while we are blind to how our own weaknesses – the same weaknesses that have caused our disasters.

And as long as we remain unaware of them, we can’t do anything about them. The problems will keep on happening. That was John’s problem. He didn’t feel safe trusting people; the problem was not with the people; it was with him. Why didn’t he feel safe to trust? What happened to him in the past? What does he believe deep down about people?

That’s where John’s coaching needs to go. Because John’s hidden beliefs are impacting his marketing problems (and lots of other areas too).

Tackle the real problem at the right level

John’s coach played a good tactical game. At the start, he didn’t know what John needed. Perhaps John’s problem had a simple solution – read a book and watch some marketing videos. If that tactic had worked, the coaching would have been effective, and John could have moved on to tackle other issues.

And when the simple approach didn’t work, the coach moved to a more complicated tactic. Get in an expert. Maybe a marketing guru could tailor advice to John’s exact situation.

But the complicated approach didn’t work either. John needed something much deeper. The problem wasn’t about what John didn’t know. The problem was about what John did know. Somewhere deep down inside his mind, John knew it wasn’t safe to trust people. He didn’t know he knew it, but he knew he felt it. John felt uncomfortable taking advice and he felt uncomfortable being with people he didn’t know.

In coaching, you need to tackle the real problem at the right level. If the problem can be solved by a simple approach (giving some general information or advice) then don’t make things more complex than they need to be. But if the problem is like John’s problem, don’t treat it like it is a simple problem with a simple solution.

Explore and remain open

John’s story tells us something important about people – they don’t know what they don’t know. And neither do you. You don’t know what is really causing the problems or issues your clients have when they come to you. You need to explore, try out various approaches and see what you find. Don’t go in with your mind made up. Don’t make assumptions. Don’t reduce everything to simple problems and simple solutions. And don’t make it more complex than it needs to be.

Get good at working with beliefs

Much of the time, though, the issues that bring people to coaches are not simple issues. In the modern world, it’s not all that hard to solve simple issues. You can google the answer or look on YouTube. If the problem had a simple solution, your client would probably have already solved it by now. Not always true, but that’s often the way it is.

Our maladaptive beliefs manifest as problems. We see the effects, but we can’t see the beliefs. And what’s worse, we try to protect the same beliefs that cause us trouble. So, here’s something that might help you. Though people can’t see their maladaptive beliefs, they can often feel them.

These maladaptive beliefs make people feel bad. John felt anxious when Denise suggested he go to a website designer and a networking group. He felt uncomfortable when working with the website guy. He felt awkward and out of place when at the networking group. He felt he didn’t belong.

Of course, John didn’t think the problem was with him. He thought it was with the other people. Why? Because he couldn’t see his problem. He could only feel it.

But until he can see it, he can’t change it.

So that’s where you can help. Lead your John to get in touch with his feelings. Get him to talk about how he felt at those important touchpoints. And then follow the feelings deeper. Ask why the feelings arose. What beliefs gave rise to those feelings. Help your John to see.

Change fitness coaching

John’s problem is actually a change fitness problem. He couldn’t change because he lacked the fitness to change. Specifically, he lacked trust and insight. Change fitness coaching works at the level of beliefs and provides a structured way of helping people develop see their maladaptive beliefs, build capacity for change, and overcome blockages.

If you’re interested to learn more about change fitness coaching, or to experience it yourself, please reach out and let’s have a chat about it.

Dr Steve Barlow

[email protected]