In honor of this being my 20th year as a coach, I’m looking back at the most pivotal things I learned as I built my coaching practice.
After being a pastor for 20-25 years, the last niche I wanted to coach was pastors, even though that’s where I had most of my experience. I was determined to coach business leaders and corporate people. Today I do just that, but 20 years ago I wasn’t attracting them; it just wasn’t happening.
My mentor coach said to me, “Well, Val, sometimes you find your niche and sometimes your niche finds you.” What does that mean? He said I should notice the people showing up and asking me to coach them and start with them.
Lo and behold, the people who were showing up were pastors, people who were part of the environment I’d been part of for 20-25 years. It was a natural fit because it was the group I knew best and was where I had my circle of influence.
“But I don’t want to coach them,” I protested. He told me that was okay, and this was a starting point. He explained that while I was developing the niche I really wanted to work with, I should go ahead and coach the people who were showing up.
Today my client base is a good mix of pastors and business people. But had I not changed my attitude about who was showing up and coaching them, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” – Lao Tzu
I see plenty of coaching students who get discouraged when they’ve identified their dream niche but that’s not who’s showing up right away. This doesn’t mean coaching is any less of a calling for you. The call is there, but you may need to be asking how else can it live out? How else can it develop?
Notice who’s showing up, start developing that niche, and keep your sights set on the other group. Take baby steps to build on the clients you have now, even if they’re not who you want to coach forever. If you don’t have any clients yet, coach pro bono, or incorporate coaching into the work you’re doing now.
I really didn’t want to coach pastors but that’s who was showing up. So instead of fighting against it, I listened to my mentor coach and took them on. This “low-lying fruit” might feel too easy, but sometimes the harder you work the farther you stay from your goals. When I step back and pursue another avenue that comes easier, things start happening again. It’s part of our due diligence (and human nature) to push, but at the same token, we want to invite and stir what’s already there.
The irony is that I coached so many pastors and I coached them so well, people in their churches started asking what had happened to them. And so I got to the business people through the pastors. That was my in. I never could have come up with that strategy on my own.
It seems obvious now so many years later, but I really needed my coach to point this out to me. That’s one of many reasons it’s important for every coach to work with their own coach. A mentor coach can provide skills development and business development, but will also coach you personally to help you see where your thinking might have you stuck. We all need somebody to talk to, who truly hears us.