Like a lot of professions, coaches are often very educated and skilled in the area of coaching, but when it comes to the business side of things – not so much, specifically marketing. This is understandable as starting and maintaining a successful business (regardless of what type) is hard!
Plain and simple, you likely won’t find more actionable items to start and grow your coaching business than you’ll find in this Q & A. We’re seriously impressed!
Faith, thank you for your time and for taking us on a deep dive into your coaching best practices!
When did you start your coaching practice and how did you get your first few clients?
I launched my coaching business in late 2018. I had recruited three of my friends to be guinea pigs for me as I was going through my certification, and not only did they come on board as paying customers when I launched but they brought a couple of folks with them. Then I just posted my FB page (I didn’t have a website at the time) in different running groups and on my own personal page and I got a few more athletes from there.
Do you focus and market to a particular type of runner?
I do focus on a particular demographic. I love working with ultrarunners who are just starting out at the longer distances, especially in the 40 to 50-year old age bracket because I understand their unique challenges. I haven’t specifically marketed to this group, but in reviewing my google analytics on both FB and my website, I have found that this demographic makes up most of my client base.
What marketing avenues do you use, if any (ex: social media, paid advertising, etc…)?
I post three times a week to my business Instagram and Facebook pages, I share content from my website in various FB groups and on my personal page when its relevant, and I just launched a monthly newsletter. I am also careful to include the link to my website when answering questions in the FB running groups that I belong to (I actually think this avenue has garnered me the most athletes), and I ask my athletes to tag my name in their IG and FB posts. I tried a few boosted FB posts as paid advertising and they were a flop, so I don’t suggest wasting any money there.
How did you determine what price you would charge?
I scoped out the websites of a lot of coaches. I looked at elite coaches, platforms that “hire” coaches (i.e. TrainingPeaks), and coaches that I know personally, and using the pricing I saw I tried to place myself in a spot where I was inexpensive enough to be attractive to athletes but not so inexpensive that I underestimated my own value. I know many coaches go with a tiered packaging system ($99/month gets you this, $125/month gets you the basic with some upgrades, and $150/month gets you all the bells and whistles), but I opted to go with a one-price-fits-all.
I don’t believe that the attention an athlete gets should be based on how much disposable income they have. I treat all my athletes the same, regardless of their financial background, and that makes my heart and my conscience feel good. Plus, it makes for easier bookkeeping!!
What aspect(s) of your business do you attribute your success mostly to?
Oh boy, that’s a tough one! For this, I went to my athletes and asked them what attracted them to the team, and what has kept them with me because I think that athletes reflect the coach. Straight shooter, genuine, understanding and flexible were a few of the adjectives they used. Being easy to talk to, believing in their goals and dreams, and knowing when to push and when to back off are other things that my athletes accused me of.
I really love them and am grateful that they seem to love me in return. I guess what it boils down to is that making a genuine connection with my athletes and then working hard to keep it is probably the cornerstone of my success.
What percentage of your business is referral-based?
Currently about 12% of my business is athlete referrals. I have had consultation calls with two more athletes that were referred who are considering joining the team in the next couple of months. Most of my remote athletes came from me posting my website in various groups when answering questions. I always try to stay genuine and positive when I post, and it has been commented to me that its why my current athletes chose to contact me.
When communicating with inquires, new and existing clients – what time frame do you find appropriate for replying to emails and phone calls?
Initial inquiries are answered absolutely as soon as possible. My email is forwarded to my phone and I check it often and will respond immediately, even if it’s just a quick “hey let’s set up a time to chat on the phone”. Existing athletes are free to text/FB message/email whenever they choose, and I will respond when I’m able to. I also have time set aside every Sunday night to review everyone’s weeks of workouts and drop them each a line with specific questions and feedback and set up a time to chat if we need to address certain issues.
In marketing your business, what elements do you focus on (ex: client testimonials, personal background, coaching philosophy, etc…)
I think my coaching philosophy is my greatest marketing tool. When I respond to questions or post advice, I am careful to let my philosophy come through. I quote my mentors and the coaches that I align with, and I point athletes to the books and documentaries that are the foundation of my coaching. I have a few athletes that sometimes find questions before I do and tag me in the comments, adding their testimonials to the post – so I guess that probably plays a large role as well.
I rarely mention my personal background or successes because the demographic I target doesn’t really care if I can run 100 miles or run a fast 5k – they are only concerned about my ability to coach them to their own goals and that I truly care about their success.
You have a capped client limit. How did you decide upon that number of clients?
This one is still a work in progress. I originally capped my athletes at 15 because it was all so new that I wanted to be sure that I could give each athlete the personalized attention they deserved without getting overwhelmed. When I got more comfortable (which was actually before I had 15 athletes), I talked to a few friends who are elite coaches and asked for their input on an athlete cap. They all suggested that 20-25 is a good number, so I bumped my cap up to that. However, now that I am becoming certified in nutrition coaching as well, that could change again.
The bottom line is to pay attention to how much time is spent with each athlete (writing training plans, revising them, texting/talking with the athlete, reviewing their data, etc.) and then figure out how much time is available to devote to a coaching business. Not everyone is lucky enough to be in a position to be a full-time coach, so it all has to be balanced with another job as well as with family life and the coach’s own training. All of this means that each coach may arrive at a different number of athletes that they can responsibly handle.
Do you ever discount your pricing?
I offer an athlete referral program, which gets the athlete a free month of coaching when someone they refer to the team stays for at least 3 months. That seems to be working quite well. I’ve attempted to market a couple of different discounts (New Year’s, winter conditioning, etc.) and that has fallen flat. I think that if people are really looking for a coach and are serious about their training, a discount isn’t going to attract them – but that’s just my opinion.
Such great information, any last thoughts?
Create a google calendar and block out time to work your business. It will help keep your flow and will create the habit of working on your business daily, whether it be answering emails, writing training plans or doing your digital marketing or continuing education. You can also use it to block out time for your own training, regular work schedule, and family time. I know that sounds a bit antiseptic but trust me – it will make for a happy coach, happy athletes, and a happy family.
Treat your athletes like friends and family members. They will appreciate your genuine care and attention, and you will get a huge emotional boost from watching them reach their goals. When one of my athletes was going for a Boston qualifying time, all he did was text me “3:06” when he finished and I stopped in the middle of my trail run and bawled. Even when your relationship is strictly online, you can still cultivate that connection. It makes for an incredibly gratifying experience for both the coach and the athlete.
Never stop learning. Learn how to be a better coach. Learn how to build a better business. Learn how to be a better marketer. I’m constantly reading, taking online classes, talking to other coaches and business people, and doing research. Having your own coaching business is more than just writing training programs, and I think you need to spend just as much time working your business and learning new skills than you do just “coaching”.
To learn more about our Running Coach Certification and to get a code for $50 off, click here!