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Mike Greatwood

The DMP Consultancy


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How to create a sustainable coaching business


Mike Greatwood, founder of The DMP Consultancy shares his experiences as an executive coach on how others can avoid the ‘fear or famine’ syndrome and build a successful and sustainable coaching business.

  • Never underestimate the importance of a unique proposition
  • Solve a specific business problem and demonstrate ROI
  • Concentrate on what you enjoy and do best.

I have been an executive coach for over 10 years following a successful management career working as HR director and MD of a FTSE100 company. For me, coaching was a professional evolution, something that was stimulating, personally rewarding, flexible and very importantly, also financially lucrative. On paper it’s an ideal profession and the current pace of workplace change means there is a consistent demand for the results a good coach can achieve. But herein lies the problem, because this means the coaching market is also highly saturated. There are a lot of coaches out there and lots of competition for the best engagements.

Other coaches I meet with have similar stories to tell about the benefits of coaching as a profession and almost all have the same dilemma. No coach ever really has too much work and there is always concern, however slight, of where the next engagement will come from. How can they avoid the fear or famine cycle and build a sustainable business from coaching? During a recent focus group with other coaches to explore how to deal with this problem, three key points emerged from our discussions. 

Develop a unique business proposition

There are as many coaching frameworks out there as there are coaches and too many professionals offer almost identical services. Of course, some clients will want coaching that incorporates for example positive psychology, NLP or some CBT, but if your overall proposition is too similar to others, you inevitably end up competing on price or just being ignored. It’s not a good situation to be in long term. All coaches need something new and fresh in their armory to offer clients and differentiate their services from the rest. As a coach it’s important to stay on top of new frameworks that are launching and explore how they could complement your existing service. 

Either make selling a priority or use a coaching network

Most coaches admit that the bit they dislike most about their profession is the need to sell their services. It’s an age-old dilemma because most coaches are not necessarily good sales people and find the business development side of their professional lives awkward, at best. In many cases, they would prefer to simply be coaching, and have the selling and administration taken care of. Where this is true, perhaps it is better to acknowledge the innate preference and identify better ways to work, rather than try to push yourself into doing something that’s not natural. A few coaching certification programmes acknowledge this trait in many coaches and will provide business development and marketing support for those who certify with their framework. Look for opportunities such as these so you can continue doing more of what you enjoy and generating revenues, whilst using their network to build your business levels.

Ensure your coaching service solves a specific business challenge

Coaching is an investment for any organisation and there needs to be a clear return on investment argument to capture the interest of the HR director. Not all coaches aim their services at supporting the next generation of executive leaders and research highlights a growing trend towards more specialised coaching and even group based coaching rather than one to one sessions, to help reduce cost levels. HR directors are increasingly looking for coaching interventions at all levels within an organisation to solve specific problems - mothers returning after maternity leave, older workers planning retirement, issues identified within specific team dynamics, proactive staff turnover reduction or even as part of ongoing culture management and a wider employee engagement initiative. Identify where your expertise could tangibly plug a gap in the market and pitch your services accordingly.

Effectively managing and motivating a millennial workforce in particular is a growth area for coaches to target and consistently a primary challenge for C-level management to overcome – both in terms of the inevitable brain drain and high costs of recruitment. Regardless of how good a business strategy is, without the right level of commitment from those responsible for its execution, an organization cannot fully deliver on its market potential. Research conducted by the CIPD has shown that on average, when all the costs associated with recruitment, training and loss of productivity are taken into account, it costs £30,614 and takes 9 weeks to replace a departing colleague. Added to this, 4.3m will choose to leave their jobs in the UK alone this year – that’s a lot of money and a very strong business case to give a client thinking about investing in a coaching programme.

While this is in no way an exhaustive list, as the focus group panel highlighted, adopting at least one of these principles in your own coaching business will put you well on the right path to improved success.

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