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How to Minimize the Risks of Becoming a Career Coach


A person contemplating how to minimize the risks of becoming a career coach

Career coaching can be a fabulous vocation full of flexibility and fulfillment. But it’s not a career choice free of risk.


Specifically, there are six main risks that career coaches might bump into. And if you’re considering becoming a career coach, it’d be good to know about these before getting started. They are:


  1. Difficulty finding clients

  2. Unpredictable income

  3. Dissatisfied clients

  4. Burnout

  5. Discouragement

  6. Difficulty with self-motivation


In this article, we’ll discuss how to manage each of these risks. But first, we’ll explain the importance of risk management and why the upside of career coaching can be worth the possible downside.


Why Risk Management Is So Important For Career Coaches


When it comes down to it, entrepreneurship (and solopreneurship) is a game of risk. 


When you work for someone else, you can rest easy. Your employer will give you a paycheck every two weeks. It feels as reliable as the sun rise each day.


But as a coach, you are creating a company (and customers) out of thin air. Your service didn’t exist before you created it.  


It’s definitely possible to make it as a coach. It will also help your success (and well-being) if you recognize some possible pitfalls ahead of time so that you can steer clear of them. And if 💩 ever does hit the fan, you’ll be ready.


As a parallel, let’s consider camping. 


It’s important to know what you’re getting into when you pitch a tent in nature. Deserts have the risk of dehydration. Certain forests have the risk of bears. Back country camping has risk of running out of water.


And while all these risks sound scary, if you know they’re coming then you can prepare for them. Bring extra water to the desert and find shade. Bring bear spray to the forest. Bring a water filter backcountry.


Risk management is ultimately about better decision-making for your survival and success.


This same principle is true for career coaching. Identify the potential pitfalls and prepare ahead.


Risks aren’t a bad thing per se. They just require forethought. But if you don’t account for a risk and then bump into it, that’s when things get unpleasant.


Also, depending on your personality type, a little risk can put you on edge and even make things more fun (and in fact risk is one of the triggers to get into a flow state).


The Upsides of Starting a New Coaching Business


You might be wondering: if working for yourself is such a risky endeavor, then why do it? Why not stay with what’s comfortable?


Well, as they say, “The bigger the risk, the bigger the reward.”


The point of taking a risk is that there is a high payoff for success.


For example, saying “I love you” to a partner for the first time is terrifying because you could get rejected. But it’s also exhilarating because you have an even more meaningful relationship to gain.


So while there are definite risks you could fall into as a career coach, for many, it’s totally worth going for because of the incredible benefits. 


Most career coaches find the profession worthwhile because of some combination of these five upsides: 


  • ​​Autonomy: As a career coach you get to be your own boss. You get to pick what projects you take on. Your business is a creative venture that is completely under your control. 

  • Personal fulfillment: Coaches want to have a positive impact on people. And there is something very gratifying about meeting with a person, learning their story, and helping them achieve their goals.  

  • Flexibility: You can start your workday at 6am or 2pm. If your kid has a piano recital in the middle of a workday, no problem! Not everyone’s natural rhythms fit the 9-5 lifestyle. As a solopreneur you get to choose what days you work, what times of the day, and for how long. 

  • Escape from corporate constraints: Some people thrive in corporate culture, and others find it constraining. If you’re the second type of person, you might feel glad to escape the bureaucracy, office politics, strict dress codes, or lack of creative freedom found in some corporate climates.

  • Unlimited income potential: When you work for yourself, there is no ceiling to your income. Granted, it might take a while to get there, but if you’ve got an entrepreneurial spirit, the sky is the limit for your earnings.  


The 6 Major Risks of Becoming a Career Coach and How to Manage Each One


Ok, we know that working for yourself comes with risks, and that it’s important to learn to manage those risks. And we know there are some darn good reasons to become a career coach and take on the risk that comes with it.


So now let’s specify the main risks of becoming a career coach and how to prepare for each one.


Risk 1: Struggling to find clients


This is probably the top risk that deters people from any form of entrepreneurship. Will you make enough money? 


You might become a very skilled coach, but if there aren’t calls in your calendar, then there aren’t bucks going into your bank account.


This risk ultimately comes down to marketing.


There is demand for career coaches, but can you get the right people to know about what you offer? Can you market your coaching in a way that makes people want to pay you? Can you make your coaching brand stand out from the rest of the market competition?


Working as a career coach is ultimately a business, and if you have the right business skills and mindset, you can create a thriving career.


How to manage this risk: Learn the fundamentals of building a business


For every book you read on improving your skills as a career coach, you’ll need to read one about how to build your business.


One book I’d recommend is Marketing Made Simple by Donald Miller. It’ll teach you marketing fundamentals that will save you tons of time, months of delay, and a costly redo of your website.


Another option is to join The Path. This is a graduate community for those who have gotten career coaching certification from the International Association of Career Coaches. Aside from community support, you’ll also have access to business coaching, and video training for getting your coaching business up and running.


Not to mention, getting certified will increase your credibility and legitimacy in the eyes of potential clients.


Risk 2: Unpredictable income


As a career coach, your income is tied to the number of clients in your calendar. You might eventually embark on a one-to-many model where you sell courses or trainings, but you’ll likely start by making money helping people through 1-on-1 conversations.


As a coach, you don’t always know when money is going to come into your account.


Even if your annual earnings are equal to or higher than those at your previous job, it may come in waves. Some months, it’ll rain. Other months will be a drought.


This is part of the uncertainty of the entrepreneurial path, and you have to be ready to make it through the rainless months.


How to manage this risk: Start part-time


This goes hand-in-hand with risk 1. And the best way to mitigate financial risk is to keep your day job.


You can start coaching as a side-gig. And once your practice builds enough momentum, you can take it full-time at that point.


If you feel gung-ho to coach full-time from the get go, then it might be helpful to create a buffer fund. Before quitting your current job, set aside money each month, until you have a nice egg to support your coaching work as it takes off and gains stability.


That said, if you struggle to make coaching work part-time, you might still be able to make it work full-time. Some people just don't operate side gigs well, but that doesn't mean they wouldn’t be great entrepreneurs when they go full-time.


Risk 3: Poor coaching


If you don’t do a good job helping your clients achieve their goals, then even if you do find clients, they won’t be happy. And those unhappy clients won’t refer the coach to anyone. 


And, to be honest, you’ll be running into an integrity issue if your website promises to help people find clarity in their careers, and those people leave your sessions feeling even more lost, confused, and pessimistic.


But don’t worry! This risk is very very solvable. While everyone starts off at different coaching skill levels, anyone can become a good coach and provide stellar customer satisfaction.


How to manage this risk: Practice!


Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool lay out compelling evidence that anyone can become masterful at anything in their book Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise.


The key to excellence isn’t innate talent. It is deliberate practice. 


This refers to practicing a skill in a structured and focused way where you get feedback, often with the help of teachers.


So the good news is, if you practice intelligently as a coach, you will get good at it!

One of the best ways to practice and improve your skills is to take certification training.


Here’s the training I’d recommend. It is our cohort-based training with expert teachers and nine course modules, plus an option to continue on with additional support.


Risk 4: Burn out


Imagine someone who hates feeling bound by the 9-5 work clock. So they quit their corporate job to become an entrepreneur, so that they can work fewer hours and have more flexibility.


They bust their butt 60 hours a week to get their business going.


And it works! They create something profitable.


Except they never slow down. 


They keep working 60 hours a week. And when they’re not working, they’re thinking about working.


And so they quit their corporate job for more flexibility, only to find themself even more entrapped by their work.


Eek!


Solopreneurship can be very easy to burn out because it’s hard to find the off switch. 


When your bedroom is also your office, it’s hard to stop thinking about work. The desk you journal at is the same desk you take client calls from. The bed you sleep in is the same bed you send off emails from.


And more than that, you no longer have a boss to report to. So you become your own boss. And many people discover the hard way that they are a much more demanding and disciplinary boss than any they’d had in the past.


How to manage this risk: Create boundaries between work and the rest of life


This is a lifelong practice, but the better you can create a work off-switch, the less likely you are to burn out (and the higher quality your work will be!).


Here are a few habits to try:


  • Develop a morning routine and a post-work ritual where your laptop is shut (and stays shut!)

  • Communicate clear working hours with your clients 

  • Dedicate a room in your home to be your office space. This way, you associate work with that room and play with the rest of your home.

  • Plan vacations! They will absolutely keep you sane. And they won’t plan themselves.


Additionally, here’s a refreshing book called The Good Enough Job: Reclaiming Life from Work, which reframes work as just one part of life rather than allowing it to become all-consuming.


As a bonus, mindset can also prevent burnout. One study from Harvard Business Review found that entrepreneurs are less likely to burnout if: 


  1. They are primarily motivated by intrinsic enjoyment instead of money or status.

  2. When they hold a growth mindset and believe that success can be worked at over time rather than thinking that entrepreneurial success is meant to be for some people and not others.


Risk 5: Getting discouraged


Here’s one that people don’t talk about quite enough. Entrepreneurship requires emotional resilience.


Some days you’ll be flying high. Swimming in client calls, and feeling like you’re doing everything right.


Other days your calendar will be dry, and you’ll wonder why you didn’t take an easier path.


Entrepreneur and investor Codie Sanchez says it well:



These periods of uncertainty can also be compounded by the loneliness of working for yourself. 


Working as a coach means you won’t have coworkers. So, if you don’t take preemptive measures to find collaborators or colleagues, any periods of discouragement might be worse than they need to be.


But don’t let this scare you off—for those who are called to it, entrepreneurship is well worth it. But just know that there can be some rough patches to get through.


How to manage this risk: Have a strong “why” and find social support


When it feels like the wheels are falling off the bus, it can help to have a “why” to return to.


Try actually writing out a “Why Statement” for yourself. In it, include exactly why you wanted to become a career coach. The impact you hope to have. The fulfilment you are seeking. The gifts you want to express.


Then, on those particularly emotionally cloudy days, try pulling out your Why Statement for a dose of clarity.


Another option is to join a community of career coaches. This social support can hold you through the tough times and keep you encouraged. 


Here’s another nod to The Path as a great option for that.  


Risk 6: Struggling with motivation


As a solopreneur you’ll have to figure out how to motivate yourself without a boss to give you deadlines and coworkers who are counting on you.


Lots of self-employed folks struggle with procrastination, self-discipline, or setting up the proper systems to ensure their work gets done.


Figuring out how to get yourself to work on the things you need (and even want) to work on is an endless puzzle for many entrepreneurs.


How to manage this risk: Good habits and accountability


As a self-employed individual, you’ll need to set up habits and systems that help you focus and tune out distractions. There are, of course, many habits to take on, but here is a big one:


Use timed workblocks and timed breaks. 


Many folks swear by the The Pomodoro Technique where you work for 25 minutes with razor focus, then break for 5 minutes. 


However, studies suggest that the most productive people engage in focused work for 52 minutes and then rest for 17 minutes.


The numbers don’t matter too much. Find what cadence works for you. But know that it’ll help your attention span tremendously if you can do deep work without distraction while you’re working and fully rest while you’re resting.


Additionally, accountability will become a great ally as a career coach.


Set up coworking sessions with other coaches or solopreneurs. 


Create a mastermind group. 


Shake a friend’s hand and tell them if you don’t complete your blog post by next week, you’ll donate $100 to your least favorite presidential candidate.


Use social support and do what it takes to get the work done.


Case Study: How Christy Watz De-Risked the Launch of Her Career Coaching Business


Christy Watz had been working as a top recruiter but eventually became frustrated with her work. She wanted to do something new and more fulfilling. It was also important for her to spend quality time with her kids and make enough money to support them.


In short, Christy had experience in leadership and wanted fulfilling, flexible, well-paying work. But she had to contend with all the risks we listed above. Especially the financial ones.


What could she do to check all the boxes?


Christy took a unique approach and started a collaboration with me.


I used to work in HR and recruiting, but I also wanted something more for myself. Christy and I had a vision of people like us being bright lights that span the globe, helping people get jobs. 


Our two lights turned into 20, which turned into 200, then 2000 bright lights. Thus, the International Association of Career Coaches (IACC)® was launched in 2018 as our education-based online certification program, with Christy Watz as the first Executive Director and myself joining as the Founding Instructor.


Community and connection mitigate so many of the risks that we all fear. It’s what the IACC is founded on and what helps all of the IACC coaches live out their mission of helping as many people as possible find jobs they love.


As Vick Hope once wisely said, “Taking risks doesn't mean shirking responsibility, but embracing possibilities.” And Christie is a great example of this.


The Best Thing You Can Do to Mitigate the Risks of Career Coaching


Here is a summary of all the risks we covered:


  • Risk 1: You won't find clients How to manage: Learn business/marketing fundamentals or join a career coaching community

  • Risk 2: Your income is too unpredictable How to manage: Start coaching part-time. Or create a saving fund to rely on while you get started.

  • Risk 3: You won't be good at coaching   How to manage: Go through a career coaching certification training.

  • Risk 4: You get burnt out How to manage: Create clear boundaries between work and the rest of life

  • Risk 5: You get discouraged  How to manage: Have a strong "why" or join a community of fellow career coaches 

  • Risk 6: You'll struggle to motivate yourself How to manage: Deep work and deep breaks. Plus, leverage accountability.


If you feel interested in starting a career coaching practice, but any of the above risks feel daunting, then the best thing you can do is get trained.


You’ll learn and practice coaching skills, get tips on building your business, and get connected to teachers and community to help you on your journey.


It’s the one action you can take that will mitigate just about every risk.


The training I would recommend is the Senior Professional Career Coach certification with the IACC.


Take a look. And if you’re not certain, you can set up a free 30-minute call with me where we can clarify if this program is the right fit or not.

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