[Note: This article was originally published on Thrive Global] 

Setting up a business is hard, more so when you are alone, you know you have something valuable to offer, and the odds are painfully against you even before you start. As Harvard MBA Business School found on a study on goal setting: more than 92% of entrepreneurs fail to achieve their long term goals (Source).

Never is this more true than with coaching businesses. Coaches are fueled by passion, whether it is weight loss, anxiety, wellness or anything under the sun, and it is this passion that makes you stubborn to throw in the towel and ultimately risk burnout.

This article will give you some well-needed clarity for you and your coaching business. It is based on the work we at .Coach have conducted for over a decade with, what is now more than a thousand coaches worldwide.

1. Be careful with certifications

Certifications are a double-edged sword. They give you the tools and knowledge to coach better, faster and with more confidence. The problem starts when you rely on them to get clients.

Take a look at the graph below. Following a consumer awareness study done by the ICF (International Coaching Federation), 91.2% of coaching clients worldwide (including businesses) don’t take coaching certifications into account when deciding on a coaching hire.

It makes sense. If you were lying in bed with a terrible illness, would you rather choose the doctor who has the best track record in curing that illness or the one with most certificates on their wall?

You likely have come across Tony Robbins. Do you know if he has certifications? The truth is he doesn’t, and even if he wanted, he wouldn’t fulfill the criteria!

There are countless more examples of coaches out there who have achieved the unthinkable without having to hang any certificates on their walls. Why would you be any different?

Remember that to the vast majority of clients, a certification means only an assembly of initials next to a name and not much more.

To really make an impact you need to go to the next level, you need to differentiate yourself.

2. Differentiate yourself

There are over 105 registered brands of cola (Source) flavored beverages in the world at the time of this writing, yet most people would only be able to name two: Coca-Cola and Pepsi.

In a sea of competition why only two stand out from the crowd? They have achieved what the rest have not: differentiation.

When we look into differentiating coaching brands, the same misconceptions come up time and time again. The term implies to some that just because you are different it means you are differentiated, and perhaps this is the delusion most coaches fall into.

To be different means doing things in ways other businesses don’t without taking into consideration the value you bring to your customers. A vomit inducing ice cream is different, not differentiated. Differentiation comes through the development of distinct competitive advantages. These differentiating factors come from work in the following two areas:

1. Consumer behaviour analysis (CBA)

What do your customers like, dislike, prefer, object, hate, relate or disengage from? Careful observation of your customers pays off. This means following their steps for a day to realize the myriad problems they encounter and what solutions you can propose to simplify their experience.

Sylvan Goldman amassed a fortune of over $200 million simply by observing clients at his Oklahoma supermarket chain. He found out people would buy more products from him if assisted to carry with them. He promptly got to work on what would later be the first shopping cart. Mind you, it wasn’t an instant success at all: men felt it was effeminate and women were distraught because it reminded them so much of baby strollers. Thanks to the help of many, Sylvan tweaked the shopping cart’s design until it took off internationally. Even today the experience of shopping is so closely linked to it that it has survived digitization and is present in every online store.

CBA takes away all the guesswork of entrepreneurship.

2. Influencer Marketing (IM)

Think of someone whom your ideal client looks up to, then contact them, get them to try out your product, have them fall in love with it and they will share it to the world. This is IM.

Most coaches we work with spend their life savings into conventional marketing just to be out-spent by corporations with larger pockets, just to get nowhere.

To give you a tangible example, the other week, we were working with a client who has an executive coaching practice, the details of which we can not divulge due to confidentiality reasons. To go about and leverage his marketing efforts and literally ‘stand on the shoulders of giants’ we conducted some preliminary analysis on his market. We found the majority of his clients enjoyed golf as a hobby and found there were local ‘hubs’ surrounding major cities where they gathered predictably every time they flew in for work. Most of these golf courses were owned by the same private owner. It only took attending one workshop from our client for his eyes to grow in excitement. He knew the executives that frequented his courses would love it. As we were walking him through the door, he sent an email out and come Monday our client had a filled practice. The best part is that this strategy cost nothing, just careful execution. Now, so long as our client delivers a stunning product (taken care of by CBA), he will enjoy sustained, predictable client flow from membership turnover every year, without having to lift a finger. This is the power of IM. At this point if you are interested in watching our free webinar on this please register here for free.

In summary

When people ask us how we were able to build a 7-figure coaching business without any external investment and avoid the burnout many coaches experience to this day, we always answer: we decided to treat coaching as a business.

There are many people purporting to have the ‘secret’ to building sustainable businesses online. We instead subscribe to equipping you with the right tools and teams to make it happen for you.