Friday, September 14, 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey – Marketing Lessons for Coaches

Posted on Friday, September 14, 2012 by International Coach Federation

During my recent stay in Las Vegas, the presence of “Fifty Shades of Grey” was overwhelming: At any given moment there were at least five people reading the printed edition of this book. And due to the many Kindles I saw, I assume a few more “hidden” readers of this book.

My unscientific research showed that more than 80 percent of the readers were women aged between 25 and 50 years. The results did not change during the course of seven days of unscientific research.  There was no other book as ubiquitous as this one.

I confess: I haven’t read the book. I don’t know if I ever will.

But I am always fascinated by “overnight success stories” – which usually never just came out of nothing nor overnight…

Did you know, that it was the very first e-book that sold more than 1 million times for Amazon’s Kindle alone?

Did you know, that the Trilogy outsold the Harry Potter seven-part series by two to one on Amazon UK?

While enjoying the sun of Las Vegas I was wondering: “What are the lessons we as coaches can learn from the success story of this book?”

Lesson 1: Passion
The book was written with passion and the initial driver was not to make money out of it. The author, a former TV executive, E.L. James wrote a so called “fan fiction” as a fan of the Twilight Saga. Fan fictions are stories written by fans about their beloved movies.

At a later stage the author removed the fan fictions from the Twilight fan website due to the sexual nature of her writings. She rewrote it and modified it to cut loose from the Twilight theme.

What we as Coaches can learn from this is the fact, that it takes a lot of passion to develop a great product or a great service. You have to invest long hours fully dedicated to your dream. For us coaches this means to invest a lot of time into learning, training and peer group coaching. Only this infinite passion gives you a chance to offer a valuable service, which people might be willing to buy in the end.

Especially since coaching is not tangible, it’s passion that will differentiate us from other coaches competing for the same client. It’s our passion a potential client needs to feel if we want him to trust us.

My clients always appreciate how passionate I am about their success. Sometimes they “borrow” some of my passion if they got stuck in a bad state.

Your passion to assist your client comes first, and the money will follow.

If you start with “how much money can I make” in mind, you will most likely fail.

Lesson 2: Shoestring Budgets can Work
When the trilogy was written, the UK-based author published it through an Australian publisher as an e-book and print-on-demand paperback. This means, there were no big expectations that this book would sell more than a few hundred times.

The small publisher did not have a huge marketing budget nor did they invest a lot. They promoted it on relevant blogs and eventually the book was promoted by word-of-mouth recommendation. That’s when sales were boosted.

All of this happened during the course of less than six months in 2011.

What we as Coaches can learn from it: Even on a shoestring budget you can reach a huge audience by promoting your coaching approach to relevant media/blogs only. And it does not need to stop with online media. Find ways to promote your business via partners, influential people, etc.

As long as you are not in the same league like Apple, who invested more than 500 Million US$ into their iPhone advertisements, you have to use a focused promotion strategy.

Lesson 3: Focus on a niche
The content of the Fifty Shades trilogy is not written for everybody. In fact, it’s for a very specific niche and that’s one of the reasons it was not published by a large publisher in the beginning – because it had a market that seemed to be “too tiny”.

It turned out, that the audience was large enough to make it the best selling e-book of all times and the fastest selling paper back of all times for Amazon UK. It was also interesting enough to sell the film rights for several millions US$.

Not too bad for a niche product…

What can we as a Coach learn from it? Don’t be scared to focus on a very specific niche.

The internet age is very useful for selling to a niche – because there are no borders any more. If you have a great coaching approach for niche, which might look “too tiny” in your own country, the audience might be large enough if you promote it internationally.

With Skype and cheap telephone rates you can coach people all around the world.

Remember: Sometimes 10 clients are more than enough, and that’s what I call a niche…
Axel Rittershaus
Axel Rittershaus is a serial entrepreneur who started his first company in the IT industry in 1993. Since 2008 he power-boosts executives and their businesses with his unique outcome-oriented coaching company “The Executive Coach” He works with executives and teams, improving their leadership, sales, growth, and communication skills. He works with both European and African companies. Axel is also the president of the ICF Chapter Cape Town. The International Coach Federation is the largest worldwide resource for professional coaches. The Chapter Cape Town is an active group of coaches and the contact point for all requests regarding professional coaching for coaches, individuals and businesses interested in coaching. Email Axel on


  1. I was recently on holiday in Samoa and found the same thing - 80% of the women around the pool were reading this book! Great article, thank you, most informative and thought provoking :-)

  2. This is an amazing article. Thank you for sharing it with us your fellow coaches.

  3. I am so glad i enjoyed Christian and Ana's story.
    Thank you so much for the wonderful book! I finished it a few days ago and cannot get it out of my head. It is pure magic. It was everything I hoped it would be and much more. Thank you so much.You Are a great writer...EL james


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