Most coaches want to grow their business. This usually means signing up more athletes until you are full. In this blog I want to talk about why you may want to be more selective with who you take on as a coaching client.
We probably all have heard by now of Paretos law, or the 80/20 principle that 80% of your business comes from 20% of your customers, (or that 80% of corn comes from 20% of the plants). Our goal here is to identify the type of athlete that will be responsible, remain a long term client who enhances our energy levels, and will recommend you to their friends.
When you are starting off as a coach it makes sense to take on a range of clients and have lower prices. I even coached for free for years before I started charging. After you build your client base however, you have to be picky with who you sign on as an athlete. You are limited by time (this is why the best coaches charge more – they deserve it, but also, it keeps them from having too many clients)
This means a degree of testing – work with a variety of people in the beginning when you are giving away free/working for cheap.
Figure out what behaviors negatively impact you. For me, the biggest frustration is an athlete who disappears of the face of the earth. They stop updating TrainingPeaks, responding to emails, and don’t return calls. The nice thing about being a private coach is that by and large your athletes are motivated and are not just doing a sport because their parents signed them up. You may have a completely different trigger of frustration. The key is to figure out early what you can and can not live with.
Managing a Long Term Relationship
Since you may end up having a multiple-year-long relationship with your athletes, it is like a mini marriage. Because a multi year deal can be worth tens of thousands of dollars, spending an adequate time establishing the relationship in the beginning can have big payoffs for you and your athletes.
Sit down with your athletes and really listen to what they are looking for. If you are a cycling coach and a pro triathlete comes to you for help, you may be able to help them with training plans and mental preparation, but if they have done more triathlons than you, you might not be able to give them race-specific advice. If what they need doesn’t match up with what you can give them, let them know. Then point them in the direction of a coach who can help.
Find Your Niche
Create a specialty niche for your coaching services. Mine is taking young (junior/collegiate) cyclists from cat 5 to cat 1, and helping racers who have a busy work/life schedule get the right work in to have race fitness on the weekends. These athletes have friends who are like them. Referrals are one of the best screening processes.
Once you have your specialty, you can give live talks, online webinars, or write blog articles that cater to those groups. Give good material away for free and athletes will get to know you, and those in need of your specialty will seek you out.
Get out to the races. If you are winning races or you have athletes that are winning races, people will notice. Talk to people at the races and tell them about your training philosophy. There is an expression “Don’t trust a skinny chef”. Likewise, you can build trust with your athletes by practicing what you are preaching. Sometimes there will be athletes asking you a bunch of questions because they know you have a lot of experience, but they may not even know you are a coach. One line I use frequently after I tell them I am a coach is “I have helped lots of other riders like you (juniors, busy dads, etc.), and I think I might be able to help you too”.
Just like when you are interviewing for a job – you place yourself in a much better position if you are asking whether it will be a good fit for you as well. Clients will respect you even if you turn them down. While you are asking them about their background as an athlete, ask them about past coaching experiences. One of the most illuminating questions can be “If everything goes perfectly with this coaching, what will that look like for you? What is a home run?”
Be willing to walk away. I tell all my new athletes that we should approach the first 6 months as a trial period. They get to test out your services, and you get to test them out. This is when you get to be on the lookout for red flags. Are they paying on time? Do they email you constantly asking you to make decisions for them? Do they suck positive energy from you? Athletes that work against you make your job harder than it needs to be, and you may want to consider ending the relationship.