Marketing is a real conversation starter when it comes to coaches. It’s a necessary evil for some and seemingly effortless for others. One of the big stumbling blocks I have seen is that most good coaches tend to be very humble, and ‘non-braggy,’ so advertising themselves feels unnatural. The Dunning-Kruger Effect may have something to do with that–after an initial belief that you know everything, you quickly realize you know nothing and then start building true knowledge over time.
Additionally, for some coaches, marketing is a contentious issue because time spent ‘marketing’ eats into time spent coaching. Writing articles, blogs or doing social media doesn’t help your athletes improve and likely isn’t why you originally decided to get into coaching. In fact, if you consider the time spent marketing as the time you aren’t coaching, there is also an opportunity cost as you aren’t working directly with your athletes – it costs you money!
Coach Marketing Methods
Marketing as a coach seems to follow many guises but if you look around, there are three primary types of marketing methods:
The “Hey! I’m a great athlete and therefore a great coach!”
The “Great Athlete = Great Coach” ideology is a commonly used selling point though there is little evidence to correlate coaching and athletic skills (I write about that here). It is still a common ‘go-to’ for athletes wanting to try and make some money by coaching. This is a useful sales tactic, to begin with, and usually means coaches can initially charge more than their coaching experience suggests. However, this frequently results in low sales if/when the quality doesn’t match the price! With many previous top age-groupers and even several professionals raving about their previous athletic performances, this unique selling point is quickly lost to the noise when comparing coaches.
Often, coaches like this need to learn how to coach outside their bandwidth, i.e. not “just do what I did/do!” These sorts of coaches regularly attract earlier versions of themselves and rarely coach the athletes beyond their own personal achievements.
The Social Media Sensation
The ‘Social Media Sensation’ is best described as the person flooding our social media channels at the start of the season or new year with adverts about coaching or the perfect training plan. It’s true that this does a lot to build brand identity and awareness and this should not be underestimated. However, without clear results to back their claims, this style becomes quite hollow. Our American friends have an expression for this: “all hat, no cattle!” Although it’s not a good idea to become a fully-fledged Social Media Sensation, many coaches would do well to learn a few tips from this style of marketing, as it commonly lies outside of their comfort zone and helps build identity.
Finally, you have the wise, experienced coach who quietly builds their reputation through word-of-mouth and racing results. Sadly, this is often overlooked as a marketing method but in reality, this is one of the most significant. Often the easiest ways to highlight this is through content marketing – i.e. a demonstration of knowledge. This can be quite time-intensive but is a very authentic way of showing your capability as a coach.
So after examining each of these current methods, we decided to review what our clients actually were looking for and the results were interesting. It boils down to a few simple questions: What do athletes want when looking for a coach? What will they pay for? And how can we demonstrate value?
What Athletes Really Want
Immediately we found that though the above methods have a place, they are also limited in their approach because individually, they only focus on one of the three major factors that athletes look for in a coach:
- Experience – How long have you coached for and how long have you participated in the sport.
- Reputation – Your qualifications and how successful your athletes have been.
- Branding – Social media presence and how you or others communicate the performance of your athletes and your community
When we reviewed the factors that athletes were looking for in a coach, we found that experience ranks as most important. The time involved in sport and (importantly) time spent coaching generally led to increased coaching revenues. Brand awareness was also important to leverage: this could be social media or word of mouth. Finally, the performance of coached athletes was of interest. Very few athletes were interested in the athletic performance of the actual coach. They cared more about how the coach would improve their athletic performance.
Therefore, if you are marketing yourself as a coach, you must be content with the fact that time coaching (and improving your coaching through reflection) is time well spent. Thereafter you need to consider building your brand and shouting about your athletes’ performances. If you want to use your own performance as a way of enticing new athletes, remember that you need to back it up with good coaching or you will lose clients quickly. In all instances, word-of-mouth plays a big part, so ensure that you have ‘cattle’ to match the size of your ‘hat.’
You need to build your coaching reputation, so although marketing will cost you valuable time, think of it as an investment to grow your business.