February 23, 2007
This week started with a great distraction, so I really don’t know why I needed another one. I was tied up with my new computer, getting programs installed and documents moved over and figuring out how to move address books. I’m even moving some of my household chores (like keeping up with the bank accounts and credit card) to this new computer because my wife uses our “home” computer to do her work, and she’s on it ALL the time. Our “home” computer will be mainly her “work at home” computer. And my new computer will be my business computer plus my household management computer. I am the CFO, after all—the Chief Family Officer. So, yes, I had a great distraction already this week.
So why did I come up with another one? It may be another excuse for delaying some aspects of getting my coaching and consulting practice set up. It may be remnants of old doubt wondering if this really is the right path for me (I’m sure it is about 99.9% of the time). Or it may be my sometimes uptight, just a little too compulsive nature. But I feel like I have to have a business name decided in order to move forward.
I have an S-corporation already. It’s been established for many years, originally set up to run the child care center. So it has the name of the child care center, The Knowledge Store, which was always an odd name to me. My mother bought the center when it had been open just nine months and had less than 35 children enrolled. She kept the name because—well, because it was new and just being established, which would have been a better excuse for going ahead and changing the name.
We would get phone calls at the center from people looking for a bookstore. Frequently. Honest. But now the center has been sold (4 years next month), the note is paid off, and the S-corporation is an empty shell. My mother is retired, so she signed her share of the empty shell over to me. I am planning to run my coaching and consulting practice through it.
But it’s called The Knowledge Store. Bad as it was for a child care center, even one with a widely respected preschool program, it’s even worse for coaching and consulting. “The Knowledge Store? What are you, a Know-It-All?” When a client pays for my services, I want the name to fit what I’m doing. I don’t want him to look at his credit card statement and ask, “What the heck is a Knowledge Store?”
I want a fun name, like my computer’s name—Apple. I appreciate whimsy. But when I suggested “Whirligig” or “Calliope,” my wife grunted like Marge on the Simpsons. She said the name should bring to mind what I’m doing in my practice. I thought “whirligig” pretty much sums it up right now.
But she’s right. I need to stay on point. I want a name that reflects what I’m doing, helping people discover their core nature, their gifts, and find a community to welcome and nurture them. The word “tribe” resonates, but it’s kind of trendy, and when I put it with other words it sounds like a music store, like “Tribal Voice.” I like “seed” because it speaks of potential waiting to sprout, and of a design already inscribed. I like “root” because it’s an underlying structure that is stabilizing and brings life. I like “heart,” which has a meaning similar to “core,” but can’t figure out how to use either one of those words without sounding corny.
When looking for a name for my business I meditate on the specifics of what I want to do and how to explain it to other people. I try to imagine the words from the point of view of a person feeling a little lost or lonely and wanting to connect with people who see her as a treasure.
I look at dictionaries for word meanings and original sources and flip through the thesaurus. I flip through the thesaurus! It’s a great adventure when you’re working hard on saying something in just the right way. Whatever name I choose, however well it explains my practice to others—heck, even if I just stick with “whirligig”—I know this process is helping me refine my core mission and how I will express it in my practice.
May You Find Your Tribe and Join Their Song,
February 16, 2007
Part 4: A Different Marketing Method
I think that for most therapists looking to transition to coaching this could be the deal-breaker.
Offering phone consultations in addition to in-office consultations? Not a big leap. Writing a free report that summarize steps for a person to take, or explains something about thoughts and habits? It’s different from the formal language we had to use in grad school, but it doesn’t sound too difficult. Making a talk in front of a group? Some therapists do that on a small scale when they are building their practices, so it’s familiar if not comfortable. Learning to manage PayPal and keep track of business accounts? Hey, we got graduate degrees! It’s daunting but not impossible, especially with the help of a virtual assistant or bookkeeper or accountant.
But this marketing thing—that’s a whole ‘nother story. (For those of you not from Texas, “a whole ‘nother” is a regional variation on “another whole.”) Marketing is like this for therapists: we hate it. It’s “networking,” going to events and meeting people and hoping that magically turns into referrals. We want to find a couple of primary care physicians and a psychiatrist or two who will send their patients to us. And we set up relationships with therapists in related fields, so for example a play therapist will meet marriage therapists and work with the children of their adult clients.
The simplest “marketing” we do is to get on as many health care panels as possible. Most prospective clients want someone on their health care plan. They call the company and ask a stranger on the phone, who recommends a therapist on their panel based on location, often regardless of training or experience. So we sign up and wait for the phone calls.
Most therapists don’t do much with marketing after that. We write brochures the same way we write our curricula vitae. We list everything we’ve learned, everything we offer, and all our alphabet soup, like LPC, LMFT, LMSW-ACP, MS, MA, PhD, XYZ, and LMNOP. In fact, it’s hard to find a therapist who doesn’t “specialize” in most populations and all sorts of problems!
We write summaries for “Yellow Pages” styled web sites that list all our information, too, so no one can tell any differences between us. Few of us have our own websites, and those who do may only have a simple page or two that looks like a very bad brochure. (See SteveCoxsey.com as of this writing!)
Marketing for coaching services is completely different. It’s foreign to therapists because it’s like REAL MARKETING. You don’t get on a provider panel and wait for phone calls. You don’t meet a couple of physicians and expect them to send you clients. You have to go fishing. You cast your lure into a huge ocean of people and hope the ones who need your product or service notice. With experience and training, you learn how to target your casting and redesign your lure to interest the right fish.
Once they nibble, you have to start a process, often lengthy, of providing information about yourself and what you offer. It’s a monolog mostly, but it’s structured and paced to feel like a dialog to the fishies (prospects). You have to plan multiple steps, from the free tip sheet or report to the free newsletter to the stories of what you have done to help a specific person with a specific problem get clear and understandable results.
The prospects have to become comfortable with what you offer and see how it can address their needs. They have to start to trust you and overcome their initial skepticism and resistance. They have to see the real value in what you offer. This process can feel like insincere “sales” at first. It can feel like bragging. It can feel cheesy and awkward.
It can feel like promising outcomes or making exaggerated claims, which are forbidden by our ethical guidelines. The therapist making the transition to coaching has to find his or her voice to be able to explain, honestly and credibly and comfortably, what coaching is, how it works, and what it can and can’t do.
The best part of that process is the respect you build for your own skills, your unique talents, and your competence, not as a member of a professional group hiding behind their collective status, but as an individual who knows the power of your own ability.
May You Find Your Calling and the Courage to Follow It,
February 9, 2007
Part 3: A Different Business Model
The business model for a therapy practice has two main aspects: Service Delivery and Client Accounts. Service Delivery for therapists is based on the “medical model” of mental health and requires a diagnosis, a treatment plan that addresses “symptoms,” and then a series of therapy sessions to decrease or eliminate the symptoms. Clients schedule 45-minute full sessions, 25-minute half sessions, or an extended initial session. That’s it for options, and it’s easy to understand.
Life coaches have much more freedom in defining their service. But that freedom means a lot of decisions have to be made. Some coaches offer 45-minute phone consultations and some prefer 25-minute focused sessions. Some have teleseminars to teach groups by phone, and some offer live training. A coach can put together a package of workbooks, e-mail support, group coaching, and teleseminars and charge one fee for the whole thing. A person entering this field can be easily overwhelmed deciding what to offer. I’ve been struggling with that myself.
The second part of the business model for therapists is Client Accounts, but most therapists don’t have to deal with business operations. They work for a practice or agency that pays them a salary, a flat fee per session, or a percentage of money collected.
Life coaches are nearly always in a solo practice, so they have to learn to manage Client Accounts. They usually set up a credit card merchant account for clients to pay for sessions, workbooks, e-books, or teleseminars. For a therapist who owns her practice and already manages or oversees Client Accounts, it’s not that different. For the small number of practice owners who refuse to be on health care panels and don’t deal with insurance claims, it’s nearly identical.
But for a therapist working as an employee or an independent contractor there is a huge difference. There is no agency to hire a life coach for a salary and set up his appointments. There is no large practice with referrals waiting to sub-contract with a life coach and pay her a percentage of money collected. There is no group to join where referrals come in, new clients appear, and other people collect the money. For a person unaccustomed to handling business operations this part of self-employment can be strange and scary.
There is another major reason therapists can find it hard to start a coaching practice. In my next post, A Different Marketing Method, I will explain the comfort zone of therapists when it comes to marketing and networking and why the life coach marketing model frightens off therapists.
May You Find Your Calling and the Courage to Follow It,
February 2, 2007
Part 2: A Different Professional Image
One of the main reasons it’s hard for therapists to shift our practices to coaching is the way people perceive the two fields. They know what therapists are. They’ve seen Ordinary People or Sybil or The Bob Newhart Show. They might feel uneasy with us, but they see us as experts.
Expert is a comforting label. Therapists are isolated from the world, safe in offices decorated for our personal comfort. People come to us in pain and sadness and anxiety, but we stay professionally detached. We structure the time and the relationship. We control the situation as much as possible. There’s a lot of safety in that.
Coaching is less defined, less regulated, and—let’s admit it—less exclusive. A lot of therapists like the status of our degree and licensure. It’s part of our personal identity and what makes us special. Coaching doesn’t have the same status. It’s a new field with people from lots of backgrounds, from sales to human resources to physical therapy to marketing. The standards for certification are far below a graduate degree with supervised internship—and certification is not even required!
There’s a related problem. Coaches without a mental health background can get in over their heads, beyond the level of their training. I’ve read accounts by psychologists who step in and correct workplace coaching gone wrong. I don’t want to be identified with that. I want the credibility and respect my degree and my professional counseling license give me.
I am trained in human growth and development, psychopathology, assessment, group dynamics, family dynamics, systems theory, organizational consultation, and a wealth of therapy models and techniques. I show organizations how to flourish by nurturing their people. I help build strong and supportive families. I guide people to discover, cherish, and express their unique qualities so they have purpose and feel alive. I don’t want to be thought of as “only” a coach.
I want people to value themselves. I am an advocate for personal growth and development. I want people to value each other. I am an advocate for genuine relationships. I will help people step out of the box of “doing okay” and watch them learn to thrive!
This is vital work, as important as therapy. It’s much bigger than the word “coach.” Will most people realize that? It’s part of my calling to make sure they do.
In upcoming posts I’ll continue to explore the shift from therapy to coaching. Topics will include A Different Business Model and A Different Marketing Method.
May You Find Your Calling and Follow It,