I’m late. This is late.
Late? How can a blog post be late, you may be wondering? Well, Life Atlas Coaching was officially a year old last Thursday, and I’ve been planning to write a blog to celebrate that fact for ages. To tell the story of my first year in self-employment, one way or another.
And then, I missed it. Well, I didn’t actually miss the date (a few bottles of prosecco were shared with friends), but I missed the opportunity to write this blog. When I realised that was likely to happen – initially sometime around 4pm last Wednesday, with a tin hat on it by 2pm on the day itself, I started to give myself a really hard time. How could I have left it this late to write it? Was I not good enough or disciplined enough to write the most planned for blog post in the history of, well, Life Atlas Coaching? Aaaargh, I had now lost out on a great opportunity to tell the story of my first year and I’d never have that chance again…..
…..hang on though. The story is still the story. The things I wanted to write I could still write. People who’d want to read it would still want to read it….a date is just a date. And the reason I was late? Because, in this summer holiday period where I’m already juggling childcare with work, and am (hooray!) more busy with work than I could have dared to dream a year ago, more important things needed to be done.
Things for clients, business development opportunities that couldn’t wait, a cherished family member in mid-crisis that needed someone to talk to right now . All way more important than hitting an arbitrary deadline to do some reflecting and tell a story. Knowing what’s really important, good prioritisation and doing the right thing? Check. Being positive and flexible? Check. All good then? Check (well, maybe not the family member – but we’re working through it).
And so here we are. Five days later – Life Atlas Coaching is a year and five days old. And this is the story, told as a series of things I’ve learned, achieved and decided, of my first year as a company director and self-employed coach.
I’ve always been good at talking. I don’t just mean in an informal chatting sense (although I’m good at that too!), but in a persuasive, results-getting business sense. Although I can write good enough copy and produce decent marketing collateral, I’m at my best in person, talking to others. Whether talking one to one or in front of a group, I know I have the ability to engage people this way, to be inspiring, motivating and persuasive by showing my passion for my subject through speech.
Recognising and remembering that I’m better (and certainly more inspiring and relatable) in person was a lightbulb moment for me this year. I stopped hiding behind my computer and did the opposite of what most of the online (self fulfilling) advice says: instead of building my business online through advertising, social media and the like, I’ve got out there and met people.
Now, I won’t lie, over the last few years I’d let my networks slip. And most of the networks I had didn’t feel terribly relevant for what I wanted to do with my coaching. Out of practice, the thought of “going networking” felt pretty daunting and unappealing. But everyone said I needed to do it, so I took the plunge and tried a few events. And it probably won’t surprise those of you that know me that I loved it.
Because of course, it plays to my strengths: not just that ability to inspire and motivate others by the way I speak, but my strength in being able to truly listen, and the fact I’m so flipping curious about people and the stuff they do and, as a result of combining all of these, being able to build relationships. And it was getting out there, and reminding myself of this strength, that really kick-started the way I do business.
I’ve done a few presentations.
It makes sense of the fact I enjoy running workshops and group coaching programmes so much. And of course, there’s always coffee.
Now, I’ve developed a policy of meeting and connecting with pretty much anyone that suggests it and have formed some fabulous (and useful) relationships, met all kinds of potential partners or clients and learned all manner of things as a result. And had a lot of enjoyable times in the process. Of course, not every meeting or event has resulted in a business opportunity (yet!) and some have left me with a feeling of having wasted time I’ll never get back, but I truly believe that people buy from, and choose to work with, people – and you just never know where or when an opportunity might arise as a result of connecting with and getting to know someone.
Of course, the elephant in the room here is that the ideal online activity for someone who’s strength lies in engaging with others in person is video. And what do you know – it’s supposed to be the most effective way of gaining attention online. So guess what I’m summoning up the courage to do next?!
I decided to run a programme of workshops. I booked the venues and got to work producing the content.
Then someone actually booked a place.
My first thought? “Yes, yes yes, someone wants to come, we’re on!”.
My second: “Oh God, I’ve actually got to do it. I don’t know if I can. I don’t know how. What if I can’t do it?”
Followed by several wakeful nights, tossing and turning as I worried about whether anyone else would book, what I would do if nobody did, what the one person who’d booked would think if they were the only one, whether people would feel they’d learned anything and had value for money, what if they wanted their money back…basically feeling the full force of the fear of failing.
I sat myself down and had a word. Coached myself, I suppose.
I reminded myself that I was not committed to running workshops forever.
I decided how I would deal with each of the things that was worrying me, should the worst happen in each case, and put plans in place.
I asked myself what it was most important to achieve: the answer – to find out whether I was any good at workshop development and facilitation and to find out whether I enjoyed it. Because then I could decide whether or not to keep doing it.
I released some pressure on myself by re-evaluating what financial success would look like. I had hoped to make a decent profit, but decided to aim to break even, so that I could learn without losing money, even if I didn’t gain any. This opened up the option of charging less in order to entice participants, who I really needed if I was going to get the feedback I needed on the content, the impact and my delivery in order to learn what works and how to do it better.
I reminded myself that my financial exposure wasn’t that great, and all I really had to lose was my time (which I could now see as an investment in learning).
And so I committed to doing the three workshops I had got planned in, and decided not to plan in any more until I had evaluated the outcomes and learned all I could about what I could improve, and whether I actually enjoyed it enough to want to do more workshops.
And the result? Some useful feedback, a whole heap of learning about what works and what doesn’t, what I find easy and what I find hard, a bucket load more confidence… and the discovery that I love working with groups of people in this way! And, as a bonus, a handful of 121 coaching clients to boot.
When I was training, our lead tutor (the fabulous Diane Jones) remarked that when she’d read back the essays she wrote when she was studying for her PG Cert some years later, she pretty much cringed at some of the things she’d believed about coaching back in her early days.
I already have a feel for what she meant!
The purist, non directional, never give advice or an opinion approach makes total theoretical sense. And often, it makes total practical sense too. But not in every session, and not with every client.
I have done my fair share of beating myself up over advice I’ve given, suggestions I’ve made, ideas I’ve shared, stories I’ve told and the ways I’ve worked with clients at times over the last year. But the truth is, sometimes what your client most needs, what will serve them best – particularly, in my experience, when you are working with a small business owner that is struggling with certain aspects of their business where their knowledge and experience level is low – is a kind of combination of coaching, mentoring and business consultancy.
I’ve realised that if I remain entirely focused on my client and their needs, and I’m clear that my intention is to help my client to move forward, learn and develop in the best way I can (and not to look clever or powerful myself), and I’m taking an approach that is individual to the client in the moment because of what is happening in that moment, then sometimes a less pure, more mentoring or consultative way of working may well be appropriate. And I’m becoming more comfortable with that.
Yep, all by myself. Every word, every image, every page, every bit of the structure and navigation.
This one will probably surprise those colleagues I worked with at Bravissimo, who know that web development was pretty much always my least favourite part of my role there.
It may not be the most beautiful website on the ‘net. There are things about it that aren’t as perfect as they could be in terms of SEO, and a professional designer would probably make some of the important features stand out more and make the whole thing more consistent.
But it was free (well, the wordpress theme cost about £50), it only took about five working days to do (once I’d worked out how to find my way around wordpress!) and I’m able to update it myself easily whenever I want to. And boy, did I feel a sense of achievement at doing something so massive all on my own.
Not yet the kind of salary that will consistently cover the mortgage and the bills and nice holidays every year – but a salary nonetheless. And one that I’ve created all by myself. One that will grow. It’s a great feeling.
I can’t speak highly enough of the overall experience, the depth and quality of teaching and learning, the relationships I’ve developed with other coaches I trained with, the supervision on offer and the CPD available.
It’s also where I learned that you don’t have to be an online guru to develop a successful coaching practice, which opened up a whole new set of beliefs for me about what was possible and which I’ve reminded myself of whenever I’ve started to feel the pressure of what I “should” be doing to grow my business.
Supportive, proactive, relaxed, flexible, and just for women! It’s been a great networking group to join for developing new contacts, finding suppliers, getting the camaraderie and support of a tribe of like minded women and it’s been good for business too, with a great return on investment.
And what’s not to love about being able to combine networking with lunch at one of my all-time favourite restaurants? (The Case, in Leicester, for those of you that are wondering!)
When you’ve got a million and one ideas for services, programmes, packages, products, ways to market and promote your business, it’s tempting to try and get everything going right from the off. Oh heck, it’s more than tempting.
Faced with so many possibilities, at the turn of the year I was overwhelmed by the number of things I’d planned to do that I hadn’t started, things I’d started but not yet completed, things I was doing but that weren’t working yet, ideas that I wanted to work up that were clogging up my head and things others were telling me a should do that I wasn’t doing.
I stopped, reflected and re-planned, reminded myself that Rome was not built in a day (this has become something of a mantra for me recently!) and decided actively to concentrate on developing just one or two areas of the business at a time. The aim being to learn as I went along and add new things once I had enough learning under my belt to be able to put time and energy into doing, and learning about, something else.
This focus has brought results, released some of the pressure I was putting on myself and left my happy work-life balance intact.
Getting the coffee & tea ready at exactly the right time to be hot when a client arrives, without still being in the process of making it when they arrive (and remembering, as a black coffee drinker, to make sure there is a spoon available for stirring)!
When I started Life Atlas, I set myself a goal of completing my PG Cert in Business and Personal Coaching and gaining enough paid coaching hours to apply for my ICF Associate Coach accreditation by the end of my first year of trading, and I’m planning on finalising both of these within the next month.
As well as continuing with the things I’ve been doing to develop my business over the last year, making sure I do them more consistently and regularly to deliver more consistent results, I’m going to explore opportunities to work with other coaches in an associate or partnership capacity, and I want to try running an online workshop….something of an ambition for a woman who’s been too afraid to post even a single video online so far! I have plans for a bigger online group coaching programme too, although there’s no timescale on that at the moment.
I’m going to be further developing my Bird Table groups in North West Leicestershire, with a plan to run a new group in the new year for mums who are looking to develop their confidence (and a plan!) to return to work after a break to raise children.
And finally, I’m going to build my business and personal growth by increasing my tribe, working with a business coach of my own for the first time – after all, I know the benefits that working with a coach can bring.
Life Atlas Coaching Year Two: Bring it on!!