Friday, September 7, 2012
This article first appeared in the August 2012 edition of Coaching World. Coaching World is the digital, quarterly publication of the International Coach Federation. It is distributed via email and accessible at icfcoachingworld.com for all to enjoy. Coaching World is written and produced by the ICF Marketing Department. Look for the next issue in Novemeber!
Brands are everywhere. And that includes an ever-increasing number of coach brands, too. So, how do you stand out in that crowd and reach the clients you want to attract? By building an even more powerful brand for yourself.
The good news is: You already have five assets in your branding arsenal that you can use immediately to build your unique brand as a coach, at low cost – or no cost at all.
1. Your brand positioning. How you position yourself as a coach is fundamental to the success of your brand, but what does “positioning” mean? I like to define it as the way you want clients to perceive, think, and feel about you as a coach, in relation to other coaches. It helps you get clear on the specific piece of “mental real estate” you want to – and can – own.
Every successful brand positioning – whether for a company or a person – is based on six elements: Target Group, Needs, Benefits, Reasons Why, Comparative Framework, and Brand Character. I recommend that coaches use these elements to create a Brand Positioning Statement. Writing it down helps you to define what you want your brand to stand for. Once you have that clear definition, you can design a marketing plan that helps you communicate your brand to your Target Group – the type of clients you want to attract.
If you remember one thing, remember this: Communicating your brand happens as a result of what you do, not what you say. You can say you’re a reliable coach, but what good is that if your actions don’t show that you are? Through what you do, you create a credible brand that your clients will trust and believe.
2. Your clients. Maybe you’ve heard the saying, “Make new friends, but keep the old… one is silver and the other gold?” Well, as a coach, these “old friends” are your existing clients. Just how golden are they? Studies show that it costs six to nine times as much to attract a new customer as it costs to keep an existing customer happy.
How does this apply in the coaching world where your objective is to help clients establish new behaviors and meet goals so that they don’t need you as a coach anymore? Even if you’re no longer coaching a particular individual, that person is still a “client.” You can continue to stay in touch and ask for referrals.
Part of my concluding conversation with every client is, “How comfortable would you be recommending me as a coach to someone else?” If they say, “Sure!” I say, “Great, could you provide contact information of five people you believe would be interested in coaching?” I also send an email once a month to every current and former coaching client. It’s full of valuable information, and it serves to remind them about the coaching experience they had. At the end of this email, I again ask them to refer me to anyone who could benefit from coaching. This simple question has attracted new clients again and again, and it doesn’t cost a thing.
I also send happy birthday emails to my current and past clients. These bear no cost, but this personal touch can make all the difference in the world. I reward clients for referrals, too, with a thank you bottle of wine or book I think they’d like. The cost is only a small fraction of what I gain.
3. Your products and services. Your own service as a coach can be a powerful asset for your brand. If you have a superior service, get it in the hands of potential customers by offering a free trial session. It may cost you some time, but it’s a way of demonstrating what you can do, and it creates free “advertising” for you.
If you don’t believe what you offer is truly superior – and it’s important to be honest with yourself about that – there are many ways for your brand to be perceived as better and to differentiate yourself from other coaches.
In order to find a meaningful point of difference, understand your Target Group well and get crystal clear about what they need from you. Be specific, and make choices. In other words, don’t try to be the perfect coach to all people. Perhaps you specialize in helping middle managers gain the confidence they need to get promoted. You might be a coach who works with teens to help them set their future course in life. Maybe you work with top executives who need to strengthen senior leadership skills. Ask yourself: What is your passion, and what strengths do you have as a coach that your clients most need from you? This is where you find your point of differentiation.
One way to create a meaningful differentiator is to become an expert in your local area. Write a column on coaching in your city’s newspaper, or publish a blog. Write a book, if possible, especially given that you can publish e-books for next-to-nothing these days. I get a large number of training, speaking, and coaching business from people who’ve read my books; writing articles or books can help your business, too.
Invest in a good website. I hate to say it, but a lot of coaches’ websites actually work against their brand. It’s absolutely necessary to have a good site that highlights your products and services, pointing out what makes you unique. Have people visit your site and give you feedback on their user experience. Make it easy for your clients to find what they need to know about you – especially your contact information.
If you have a website, be sure your email address ends with @[your-domain-name].com. Too many coaches use their free @gmail or @yahoo accounts to send emails to prospective or existing clients, which immediately says, “I’m small potatoes.”
4. Your team. I often hear coaches say, “I’m just a one-person-show, so there is no one else to help me market myself.” That’s one of the biggest branding myths out there! Everyone you know is on your “marketing team” and can help spread the word about your brand!
I say, “Every time you shake a hand, you market your brand.” Think of all the people you interact with daily – friends, family, existing customers, suppliers, associations you belong to, former classmates, and on and on. Make a master list. Then, think about all the connections each of those individuals make every day as well. Get the people on your list to recommend you, making sure they are clear about your brand positioning. That’s how all of your connections become walking, talking advertisements for you.
What is the #1 underutilized piece of branding space? The back of a business card. That’s 50% of your brand-building space wasted! For just a few cents more, why not use it to explain the benefits you offer as a coach? When you do, every person who receives it has the potential to become a marketer for you, especially if you give them a few extra cards and ask them to hand them out to people who might be interested. One coach I know uses the back of his business card to offer a free trial session. No matter how you use it, that blank space offers you a powerful branding opportunity to expand your business and your marketing team at the same time.
5. Your competitors. When I mention to a coach that competitors are one of their best brand-building assets, they often look at me like I have two heads. Aren’t ‘competitors’ a liability, not an asset? Not at all! If you don’t know what other coaches are doing, you will have a hard time setting a strategy to succeed. On a scale from 1 to 10 (10 is high), how well do you know what other coaches are doing to be successful? Most coaches answer 3 or 4, but that’s most probably not high enough if you want to be the coach of choice for your Target Group.
You can learn a lot from other coaches that can help make your own brand stronger. Learn more about the other coaches who your existing and potential clients might choose.
Luckily, there are many ways you can learn about other coaches without spending any money. Create a Google Alert for the name of each coach you want to learn more about. Every time something is written about that person on the Internet, you will get an email about it. Subscribe to that coach’s e-newsletter or blog, follow him/her on Twitter, “like” his/her Facebook fan page, and watch their YouTube videos. This is smart, ethical research. Then, don’t copy what they do – instead, do it better. Use what you’ve learned to improve your own brand.
Is your branding and marketing budget limited? Don’t worry! There are dozens of additional low-cost and no-cost ways to use the five assets you already have to build your brand as a coach. Carefully define your brand, develop a low-cost marketing plan, then each week, ask yourself: What top three activities can I do this week to strengthen my brand? That’s how you build a differentiated image that makes you the coach of choice for clients.
Brenda Bence is an internationally-recognized branding expert, Certified Speaking Professional, ICF-Certified Coach, and the author of four award-winning branding books, including the recently released Smarter Branding Without Breaking the Bank: Five Proven Marketing Strategies You Can Use Right Now to Build Your Business at Little or No Cost. After graduating from Harvard Business School, Brenda spent 20 years developing mega brands for Fortune 100 companies across 50 countries and four continents. In 2002, she founded her own company, BDA International. Now based out of Singapore, and with clients that span six continents, Bence travels the world speaking, training, and coaching individuals and companies to greater success through corporate and personal brand development. Visit www.BrendaBence.com.