I’ve been coaching creative and performing artists and other creatives for more than thirty years. I’ve worked with famous artists and unknown artists, young artists just starting out and octogenarian artists, full-time artists and artists who in their day jobs are lawyers, government workers, therapists, and blacksmiths.
My clients live in the United States, Canada, England, Germany, Iran, Australia, Japan, South Africa—everywhere in the world. We work together via the phone or Skype and via email on all of the issues that creative folks face: survival issues, issues of resistance and blockage, existential sadness, productivity, marketing and promoting their creative wares, distraction addictions, everything.
Most new coaches are not really ready for this adventure or willing to embark on this adventure. They are psychologically reluctant, pining for a kit with instructions and more clarity, linearity, and straightforwardness than can possibly exist. At the same time, and to make matters worse, they are also typically psychologically reluctant to actually work with clients. They are often over-worried that they aren’t prepared enough, that maybe they’ll mess up the coaching or get pushback from unhappy customers, that they’ll blank out in a session and have no idea what to do, that they’ll get too involved in their clients’ dramas and burn out, that – well, the list goes on and on. Most new coaches are so worried about things of this sort that they actually do not want clients.
This being the case, they naturally obsess about clients—about having them, about not having them, about what it would be like to work with them, about how difficult it might be to work with them, and so on. Obsessing this way, they fall into the trap of thinking that coaching is primarily or exclusively a client-based sort of thing. But a rich and successful coaching practice is actually something very different from that: it is a container for your many interests, activities, and pursuits and a vehicle for doing meaningful work of all sorts.
I don’t think that the best way to conceptualize a creativity coaching practice or any other coaching practice—a life coaching practice, a business coaching practice, a wellness coaching practice, a spiritual coaching practice, etc.—is as an exclusively “working with clients” sort of thing. I think that the wiser, better and much more enjoyable way is to see it as an expansive meaning opportunity that allows you to write, lead groups, create products, run retreats, help organizations, develop programs and, yes, work one-on-one with some clients.
Imagine having 15 clients a week, every week of the year, at $100 a session. That’s $75,000 annually, give or take. But it is very hard to have 15 clients even for one week, let alone for fifty weeks! Given that clients come and go, that might mean trying to attract hundreds of clients in a year. Plus, would you even want that many client sessions week in and week out? For many coaches, who find five sessions a day taxing and can’t really do more than that, that would mean three full days of clients plus another two days of practice-building each week, meaning that your whole week would be devoted to client finding-and-coaching and nothing else. Would you want that?
What if you could make the same amount of annual income or even more while seeing only a handful of clients a week, say between two and four? Wouldn’t you perhaps prefer that life to a client-centered life? How might this “other” coaching life look? Down the road, when you’ve accomplished the sorts of things we’ll be discussing like finding partners and building your list, you might make $50,000 annually from teaching your online “My Great Creativity Class” to 100 folks (charging $500 for your 8-week class and running it three times a year with thirty or so participants each time). You might make $15,000 from working with clients (that’s just three clients a week). You might make another $5000 from running one “Great Creativity Retreat” annually.
Maybe you’ll facilitate one online support group for mid-career painters or just-graduated music majors or fantasy romance writers and make $12,000 annually from that (8 in the group at $125/month for the year). Maybe there’s a book in there, too. Maybe there’s some passive income in there, too, from products you create. That’s what an expansive practice might look like: $80,000+ in income, only $15,000 of which comes from direct one-on-one work with clients.
This, though it requires savviness and real work, is doable and sustainable, whereas trying to build a one-on-one coaching practice that earns that same amount annually is much heavier lifting. Is it easy to get 100 folks to attend your online classes or trainings annually? Much easier than acquiring hundreds of clients! Let me repeat this key: I think it makes much more sense to think of creativity coaching or any coaching as an expansive meaning opportunity that offers all sorts of possibilities rather than as primarily a one-on-one coaching sort of thing.
Let’s take a step back. What exactly is coaching? It’s not an arcane or mysterious idea: it is simply being of help. It is easy enough to be of help—if that’s what you want to be. If, however, it’s more important that you be right, that you get your way, that you look good, or that you “win” when you interact with people, well, that’s another matter. But if you would actually like to be of help and help your son, the players on the soccer team you coach, your friend, or your coaching clients, that’s actually a pretty straightforward matter. And there are lots of ways of being of help in addition to sitting across from another person on a Skype call!
You’ve already been coaching—for free. You typically do not charge your child to help him learn how to use the toilet, tie his shoelaces, or recover from a rebuff on the playground. You typically do not charge your friend to listen to her current love problems and sympathize and make suggestions. You typically do not charge your co-worker for helping him understand how to use some new bit of technology. You coach for free all the time! It’s simply a manifestation of your everyday desire to be decent, friendly, and useful.
Coaching is simply helping another person or groups of people. You draw on your life experience and your wisdom and you learn by doing. There is no other way to learn but by doing. That means that your first clients are getting an unseasoned you—but someone has to get an unseasoned you! Your first classes will get an unseasoned you, the first presentation you make to a group will get an unseasoned you, and so on. There are many things that you might try that will together amount to your great coaching practice: but they all require that you give them a try, perhaps fall on your face, get off the mat with some egg on your face, and learn via trial-and-error.
If you’d like to be of help and if you’re willing to be human, make mistakes, and deal with some failures, then a very wide world is open to you. What will your particular great coaching practice look like? Well, first let’s get the following question answered: are you looking for a full-time job or are you looking for a revenue stream? Either can be great! You can create something that earns you a living or you can create something that is an adjunct to the other things you currently do, like writing novels, seeing psychotherapy clients, teaching at a college, or painting in a garret. Which will it be for you? Let’s look at that question in our next lesson.