15 – 20 years ago, there were only a few coaches in the market. It was estimated that there were only about 10,000 – 15,000 coaches in the world at that time compared to the current official estimates of 50 thousand plus and growing at a rapid rate.
Coaching has been identified as one of the fastest growing industries. It is also an industry that doesn’t have an age limit – in fact, the majority of top coaches are 55+ years old, and have been in the industry for at least 10 years.
It is the kind of industry or profession that anyone can enter, provided they have the wish to do so. It has low barriers to entry, and the scary thing is that it is a largely unregulated industry and profession.
In fact, I once attended the AGM of a coaching professional body during which the keynote speaker – a prominent, well-respected and internationally recognised coach – had actually run a mock-test where he had joined a coaching professional body and had provided completely fake details, from the name he used, to his identity number. He’d further compounded the fake profile by using a picture of his dog as the profile picture.
It was an indictment on the professional body, as this fake membership was accepted, showing that all that was needed in order to become a member of this professional body was payment of the membership fee.
But this is (hopefully) an isolated incident, and I think that modern technology has helped professional bodies close these loops in the membership application cycle.
Nowadays, we’re also asked to provide proof of our coaching (and other) qualifications in the on-going quest to ensure that we attract suitably qualified professionals to the coaching profession.
But coaching has mushroomed. I’m also increasingly coming across people who call themselves coaches, but who – in my books – fit better into the mentor model. Clearly, calling yourself a coach sounds more sexy than calling yourself a mentor, and these people are charging thousands of dollars for their services! And people are paying!
To demonstrate the proliferation of coaches, the official estimate that I’ve quoted at the beginning of this article (50,000) is the sum of the published membership figures of a number of professional coaching bodies around the world. However, if you go onto social media, LinkedIn alone currently lists well over 120,000 executive coaches. That doesn’t even begin to take into account the 150,000+ business coaches and so on.
How can anyone hope to stand out?
The old categories of life, business, leadership or executive coach have become commodities, and you really need to be something special to stand out from the crowd. It is no longer a sufficient differentiator to describe yourself as a business coach, a life coach or an executive coach.
The only exceptions to this rule are those coaches who are at the top of their game and who have been in the industry for 20 years or more. They have become NAMES in the industry and have enough of a pool of past clients to keep their pipeline continually filled with word-of-mouth referrals – far and away the most effective means of getting clients.
This is why, if you are a more recent newcomer to the coaching profession, defining your niche is one of the most important things you can do to future-proof and crash-proof your coaching practice.
However, there are some people who resist the thought of defining their niche. They feel as though it would put them in a box and constrain their ability to find clients.
There are also articles on the web that suggest that you shouldn’t define your niche until you are an experienced coach, with plenty of coaching hours under your belt because otherwise you will lose out on working with potential clients.
Here’s my opinion: your niche is a unique embodiment of who you are, what you value and believe, what is important to you, what you are passionate about, and your past experience.
Defining your niche doesn’t mean chasing business away if it doesn’t fit within your niche. By all means, work with clients who don’t fit your niche. The fact that they have come to you means that something in your clearly-defined niche has appealed to them and resonated with them.
But having a clearly defined niche means that you get to do work that you are passionate about with people that you really want to work with. It means that you will automatically do your best work and your clients will get the best results.
And I always say to my clients that defining your niche doesn’t mean that you have to rigidly chase away anyone who doesn’t fit within your niche.
However, it does mean that the majority of the people you will work with will be people with a similar outlook on life to yours, with similar attitudes, and who want to achieve the kinds of results that you are simply fabulous at helping your clients achieve.
And who doesn’t want to deliver fabulous results?
So my advice is to define your niche, and if business comes to you that doesn’t fit strictly within your niche, use it as a professional development and learning experience to stretch you.