Episode 139: The Coaching Cure, part 1: The Coach

Show transcript:

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace, and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This time…the coaching industry has exploded in recent years. And it’s dominated by women.

“Women in our corporations are dealing with a lot of bias that men are not dealing with. So they seek out help to acknowledge what they’re experiencing, whether it’s ‘I got fired on maternity leave,’ or ‘I am being overlooked for this promotion.”

And as anyone who’s sought out a coach knows, their services are an investment…

“I never really thought about hiring an executive coach, I’ve met executive coaches, but it always appeared to me they were very, very expensive, and I had excluded myself mentally from being the kind of person who would enlist an executive coach myself.”

But what value do we place on improving our lives – in and out of work?

“Sometimes, when people are skeptical of price there is always this thing to me of like well, what's the value of spending an hour or more a week with a person whose sole focus it is, is on you and what you want from your life. That's not nothing.”

Today, the first of two shows looking at women and the coaching industry.  

A few years ago when I still was in the habit of blogging regularly…I wrote a post called Everyone’s a Coach. Because that’s how it felt to me. Ever since I’d started doing the show in 2012 and spent more time plugged into this world of women and the workplace, I’d noticed just how many social media profiles of women there were saying they were a coach – very often, specializing in helping women realize their full potential. Now I have nothing against helping women realize their potential – of course. But as the months and years went by I was struck by the sheer numbers of women I was meeting in person or online who introduced themselves with the title ‘coach.’ I thought, but how can all these women be coaches? Is there enough demand for their services, and if so, why?   

 I’ll also admit that some of the relentless positivity of those profiles as well the pitches I was getting from coaches…it just didn’t sit well with me. It seemed too woo-woo for this cynical Brit. It was hard for me to buy into a lot of that personal growth industry lingo. That said I AM someone who believes in paying for help or advice if I need it. I don’t think I can solve all my own problems or issues. I do believe it’s helpful to have a total outsider’s point of view.

 The coaching industry is growing fast all around the world – the International Coach Federation estimates coaching brought in more than two billion dollars in global revenue in 2015, the last year for which figures are available—that was up almost 20 percent from a few years earlier. The industry is unregulated. And anyone can call themselves a coach regardless of whether they’ve done any training or not.

ICF defines coaching as the process of partnering with clients to help them maximize their personal and professional potential. And who wouldn’t want to do that?

Women it turns out are especially keen. We are the majority of coaches and the majority of clients. Many of us are paying out of our own pockets for a coach’s services and coaching does not come cheap.

But being a coach isn’t necessarily easy either – it can be incredibly rewarding work, but doing it for a living means developing serious sales skills and having a lot of happy clients to recommend your services.

I know from asking about this on the Facebook page that some you have hired coaches and benefited tremendously from the relationship. Meanwhile others are wary.

There’s a lot to discuss so I’m breaking this topic into two shows.

 In this first show we’re going to focus on a couple of women who do coaching work – one part-time, one full-time. We are going to meet a trainer of coaches. And I am going to ask everyone rude questions about money.

Kate Schutt is a musician by training and by trade. And for the last several years, she’s also been a coach. She was a serious athlete in college so the whole concept of having a coach to help you do better, it’s something she’s very familiar with. She lives in New York City.

Now Kate isn’t a business coach or an executive coach – she’s not focusing exclusively on a client’s performance at work…

“So I like to call myself, the easiest explanation is a life coach but I've kind of narrowed it a little bit to saying I'm a change coach.”

AMT: “And what does that mean?”

“I help people who are at a transition point in their life figure out what comes next. Or in fact I'd like to change that wording. I like to help them create what comes next.”

About ten years ago Kate stumbled across the term life coach online. She hadn’t heard it before. But it resonated with her.

“That really made sense to me because I had spent most of my life being coached and I knew the difference between a good coach and a bad coach. Everybody does. And you know as I started to explore it for myself it became something that I thought hmmm, I think I’d like to try this with other people.”

AMT: “Something you said just there, you said everyone knows the difference between a good and a bad coach, I disagree. I don’t think everyone does. Tell me from your perspective what is the difference between a good and a bad coach?” 

“Good catch, of course, I’m thinking from my own perspective. I projected that. What is the difference between a good and a bad coach? Challenge you, challenge you to think differently about how you’re showing up in the world. Challenge you to take action. I think that would probably be the biggest thing is taking action in your life towards the goals and things that you say you want.”

In 2010 Kate was at a crossroads. Struggling as a musician and feeling she was working like crazy but not seeing any progress. She says she needed someone to give her an outsider’s perspective and some guidance on how to think about what she was trying to do. She found a coach who turned out to be great for her. She says he helped her step back from all the negative thoughts and self-hatred she often had about not being where she thought she should be in her music career, her fears about not being a devoted enough musician. He encouraged her to see herself in a different light. And as she kept working with him she began to think, I’m getting so much out of this. How do I become this same kind of coach? She felt she was cut out for the work.

“I had always been and still am to a large extent the person in my world who people come to for advice about aspects of their life, their career, I’d like to think I have a very level head. I’ve done a lot of seeking in my life, I’ve had a lot of experiences. I’ve tested myself in many ways, so that…I bring everything to the table.”

When Kate started her coaching practice she worked mostly with women clients…which is typical for a lot of coaches.

“…and then through my conversations with people and just doing it for longer I have had more men come on board which is, I love it. It's very challenging. It's different. I find it very different.”

AMT: “How?”

“The question. The questions, to me…this is gonna be a blanket statement which we will probably get some comments about but women seem to be able to answer more readily the tough questions or the challenging questions or the questions that are like…

Maybe I ask them to take an action or something and they didn't do it or something like that and I say you know, what scared you about that?

Sometimes women seem to be able to answer that question or at least be willing to try and work with me through that and usually the men I work with…it takes a little longer to get there and I'm patient. We'll get there. But I don't think they're as good at off-the-cuff seeing themselves. Is this a terribly gendered response that I'm going to wish I never said?”

AMT: “I don’t think we’re gonna be shouted out of town. I hope not. But yeah, that speaks to the whole idea of self-reflection and self-examination. And I do think on the whole women, and I’m just gonna say that, on the whole women spend more time in their heads looking at themselves and their lives than men do.”

It’s interesting when you look at the statistics collected by ICF – the International Coach Federation. Their last survey showed that almost 70 percent of life coaching clients are women.

So after imploring her coach to get her started on the road to becoming a coach herself, he began giving Kate books to read, and more books – all of which she devoured.

“…and finally after that when he could see I was so eager he just said you should go take the Creativity Coaching Association's courses. I said Okay, great, what's that? So I Googled it, looked good, I signed up for the courses, I started taking them, and to be honest I never finished. I took all the courses you could take and the only thing I had to hand in to get my piece of paper from the Creativity Coaching Association was a book report on a number of books. Now I read anywhere between 80 to over 100 books a year. And for some reason or other I just couldn't make myself do that book report. So I actually never got a certificate from the Creativity Coaching Association but I think that, to me it doesn’t have to do with a piece of paper. It has to do with the coach’s outlook on life and how they view the world and how they propose to get you to where you say you want to go. And are they doing it in their own life? Is their own life a reflection of that?”

Which to be fair, may be a little bit hard for a prospective client to work out. Not all clients will ask those kinds of questions. They may feel they need help – NOW – and just plunge into the relationship.

Talking of plunging in, coaching is a one-on-one engagement and as such it tends to be quite pricey for an individual. Kate doesn’t coach full-time, she’s still busy as a singer/songwriter. And clients usually need to pay at least a few thousand dollars to work with her.

Kate says this whole business of rates and how much to charge can certainly be fraught. But she thinks most independent professionals – including her when she started her coaching practice – undervalue themselves and the work they do. 

“I'd say that our culture has this fantasy that everybody should do everything on their own and that you know advice isn't something you should necessarily pay for. And there's this element I guess when sometimes, when people are skeptical of price or that's shocking to them or whatever it is to them, there is always this thing to me of like well, what's the value of spending an hour or more a week with a person whose sole focus it is on you and what you want from your life. That's not nothing.”

Plus she says think about how many different types of professionals have coaches to help them perform at their peak.

“Coaches have always existed in some form, like, you would never become an Olympian without a coach, you would never become a great violinist, or the greatest musicians we love, they have coaches they just don't…they’re not called coaches they're called teachers, but that's a coach. If you want to be better at being yourself and doing your life, it costs something.”

Rachel Garrett is a women’s leadership coach, also based in New York City. She worked in the corporate world for 15 years and like Kate, she was the person friends and colleagues turned to for career advice. Unlike Kate, Rachel does coaching full-time. It’s her bread and butter. She and I met up in Brooklyn recently.

AMT: “When you left your company what level were you at?”

“I was director of digital marketing. The director level worked well for me, and yet I had two small children at the time, so I saw some of the folks who were more senior were having a hard time juggling their parenting and their career. That was one of the challenges, and that’s one of the challenges that my clients face, is that when they get to the destination of the more senior roles they find it hard to put the time in with their families. And that’s been the most exciting work I’m doing with clients is let’s change the destination, let’s show how you can create different boundaries, how you can prioritize your family, and it’s not just about you and your family, it’s modeling it for the other women who are coming up in your organization as well.”

AMT: “It is a little bit ironic that you were a senior woman in corporate and you’re now coaching women to try and help them get to that position, but you left your position to do that. So you’re one less senior woman in corporate now.”

“It’s true. And that’s something I think about a lot with my clients, you need to find what works for you. I knew building a business was always something I wanted to do…whereas a lot of my clients are really thrilled to be part of an organization, they want to build that structure. So what we do is figure out what is important to you and what does success look like.”

One of the questions I’ve been pondering over the last few years is why so many women are interested in hiring a coach. The majority of coaching clients all over the world are female, according to the International Coach Federation – except in Asia.

I’m guessing part of it is that women are perhaps more apt than men to ask for help with their lives and careers when they feel they need it. Rachel thinks it’s more than that…

 “What I realize about my clients is, they are the supports for everyone else in their life and that’s what we do as women, and they don’t have a lot of support in their lives for themselves. The mentors they might go to are so are busy themselves, friends have busy lives, many of my clients are not only mothers but they’re caring for a sick or elderly mother or father. And they just sit with me and we talk about here’s some permission to relax for a minute, you don’t have to do it all, and here’s permission to do it your way.”

 She says so many of the women she works with are stressed, guilty, they feel they can’t say no to things at work and a home. Plus she says…

“Women in our corporations are dealing with a lot of bias that men are not dealing with. So they seek out help to acknowledge what they’re experiencing, whether it’s ‘I got fired on maternity leave,’ or ‘I am being overlooked for this promotion’ to really get a reality check and then support to help them through these situations. My take on why women are reaching out for help more often is they’re dealing with the imbalance in the institutions we’re in.”

But what about career prospects for the coach herself? Because the more social media profiles I see of female coaches, the more gauzy websites I look at, and the more pitches I get in my inbox from women saying they’re a coach…the more I wonder…how can all these coaches find enough work? It can feel like there’s a coach for every woman in America.  

A few years ago I interviewed Terry Maltbia for a radio story – he directs the Columbia Coaching Certification Program at Columbia University’s Teachers College in New York. This is a prestigious coach training program at an Ivy League University; it’s always oversubscribed. I caught up with Terry again on the phone recently, but when we met he agreed, the market for coaches is ever more crowded…

“…if you talk to coaches they’re experiencing increased competition. So the supply and demand is a little tricky. It’s true the demand for coaching is increasing compared to when I entered this field in 2006…however the supply of coaches both trained and untrained is actually higher than that.”

And it keeps growing. In the last five years membership of the International Coach Federation has shot up by a third. And that’s just coaches who have a certain amount of formal training and certifications.

The number of coaches out there is something to bear in mind for anyone considering going into coaching. How will you distinguish yourself and make a living with so much competition?   

“I can’t tell you how many people in our first few cohorts were successful people in an organizational environment, often corporate, who for whatever reason decided to be a coach and left their day job in the course of this process. That was alarming to me because they had thought through the passion part of coaching but they hadn’t thought through the business side of coaching…and I think that there are 3 factors that contribute to a sustainable business…one is developing coaching capabilities, so going somewhere and understanding what coaching is, having a clear process, a clear set of ethical standards…most people who enter coaching do that. The other side is getting really clear about the economics for you. Not only individual fees, but are you only gonna do only individual coaching work and how are you gonna scale that? If you’re leaving a corporate job at the vice president level where you’re making a six-figure salary, to make that up in individual sessions is something that requires some thought.”

Now this is something Rachel Garrett did think through before she started coaching a few years ago. And she has now matched her corporate paycheck.

“I was lucky enough to have the marketing skills to get up and running fairly quickly. So I think that was a skillset that was really important for setting up the infrastructure, website and brand. Of course in the first year I was not making same money, but I am able to make the same money now and there’s potential for me to make a lot more than I was as a digital marketer in corporate.”

That’s because she doesn’t just stick to individual clients. She also works with coaching companies, and she’s drafted by corporations to teach workshops in-house. She loves the variety of it.

“I can take on different kinds of projects and scale up in a different way. I’m in charge. I get to choose the kinds of client, the kinds of project, there is no one I have to ask about what to do next. I think I was hungry for that while I was in corporate.”

Rachel is articulating something a lot of other women love about going into coaching or any other solo business – flexibility. Not only the ability to pick clients but the ability to build a business around their and their family’s lives. She loves that she can be a chaperone on her daughters’ school trips without feeling guilty about taking time off work.

Living in New York isn’t cheap. Her husband works full-time but Rachel always wanted to do well financially while helping people at the same time. And that means charging hundreds of dollars an hour.

“It’s taken me a while to continually raise my rates, I started much lower than I should have, but I was gaining confidence that first year out. I quickly realized I needed to raise my rates and my practice is so booked that I continue to do so. I always take on low cost pro bono clients, that’s important to me, I want to be able to make a bigger impact, but especially with corporate clients I am able to make a really good salary.”

AMT: “I think a lot of people listening might say, great, how nice to have a coach, but I can’t pay three, four, five hundred an hour for a coach. So explain from your perspective what you do as a coach that merits what sounds like more than what a lot of therapists would charge.”

“Yes, so for my coaching practice I focus on people creating a personal brand, finding confidence, advocating for themselves, negotiating the kinds of salaries they feel they deserve, asking for promotions, and stepping into the leaders they want to be. So it’s leading their team powerfully and rising through the ranks in their organization. That does change their lives.” 

Rachel says it’s not just New Yorkers who are signing up, either. She’s had clients as far afield as Texas and Oklahoma who meet with her on Skype or Zoom.

If you’re lucky enough to be sponsored for coaching, you won’t pay a penny. 

“I never really thought about hiring an executive coach, I’ve met executive coaches, but it always appeared to me they were very, very expensive. I had excluded myself mentally from being the kind of person who would enlist an executive coach myself.”

That’s Danielle Sauve. She works in marketing at a big company based in the Midwest. She says she kind of stumbled into her career. She started out as an assistant, it was just a day job while she devoted her evenings to working in the theater. But ultimately she gave up the idea of being a stage director and moved up the ranks at work. Last year she was invited to a meeting stuffed with executives and she spotted a senior woman she really admired. Like Danielle this woman had a bunch of kids and worked full-time.  

“I made a joke while we were heading to the rest room, like, oh my goodness, there’s a lot of women filling up the stalls, we’re usually feeling kind of lonely in these executive meetings, and she kind of laughed with me and at some point we ended up talking about how self-conscious we can feel in executive meetings…in this conversation something must have sparked in her mind because the next day she said to me, you know, I’m thinking about starting a pilot program to have women receive some executive coaching and I think you’d be a great  person to do this if you would like to. I’m making the funds available from my department, so it wouldn’t cost you and your department anything. It would be 7 to 10 sessions, there’s a book we go through. And I just said yes.”

 Next time we find out how Danielle’s coaching went, and we look at the past…

“Coaching was a thing your manager did for you.”

As we consider how and why coaching has become so big.

That’s The Broad Experience for this time. I will post show notes under this episode at TheBroadExperience.com. You can find out more about Kate Schutt and Rachel Garrett there. You’ll be hearing more from Kate on a totally different topic in an upcoming show. Thanks to Kate, Rachel, and Terry Maltbia for being my guests on this show.

If you enjoy the podcast please go and write a quick review on iTunes or Apple Podcasts. The podcast world is awfully crowded these days and an indy show can easily stay beneath everyone’s radar. Reviews do help the show get noticed by others who might not find it otherwise.

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I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. Thanks for listening. See you next time.