Building a coaching business: How to get your first 5 clients

Winning your first five clients is an exciting time as you build your coaching business. You get to fine-tune your audience, listen to the market, and share your expertise. By putting a few steps in place now, you can build momentum to help a lot of people.

Create a foundation for building a coaching business by clearly identifying your niche and establishing processes to engage with and nurture your potential clients. Here are five steps to help you win your first five clients and build a pipeline for your next five and beyond.

Step 1: Establish your niche

Before you can win your first clients, you need to be specific about who you want to help and how you can help them. This is your niche. Be specific about the industry you want to focus on and what you can help your clients improve.

Executives in industries that are complex or going through major innovation, such as healthcare, technology, and education, can be ripe for coaching. They often need a knowledgeable sounding board to help them work through priorities, both professionally and personally. Many are overworked, being asked to take on new responsibilities, or looking for new opportunities to use their skills.

Across all industries, individuals need guidance in identifying skills gaps, understanding the value they bring to an organization, and possibly even helping make the switch to a new industry.

Once you know who you will serve, figure out how you can best serve them. List the skills and experience you have that make you the best person to help this group. 

What sets you apart from other coaches in this space? Do you have more years of experience in a specific industry or a valuable intersection of industries, such as an HR director and startup founder? Perhaps you have extensive experience with specific problems your clients might have, such as leading teams through change.

Create a value proposition that your audience will pay for. For example, you help emerging leaders in the financial technology industry prepare for their first management role. Or you work with classroom teachers who want to land a new position in education technology. 

Outline what you provide that helps them reach their goals.

Step 2: Identify – and earn – the right certifications

Once you know who you are serving, see if there are any gaps in your knowledge and take courses to fill those gaps. This can be either in the industry you are targeting or general coaching best practices.

First, do some competitive research. Is there a specialty, methodology, or framework that would serve this audience that other coaches aren’t using, such as an angle that takes into consideration behavioral science and decision-making? Explore books, certifications, or courses in your focus area that can help you stand out.

Also, see if there’s any industry knowledge or credentials you earned during your career that would be valuable to brush up on now that you are building a coaching business. Not only will this help you stay current with trends in your industry, but you also might find some good networking opportunities through those associations.

You may also consider earning coaching credentials or taking a few courses to learn different frameworks. It can also lend some authenticity to your new business – and grow your confidence. 

Organizations like The International Coaching Federation, Co-Active, and iPEC offer different credentials based on the coaching you want to do. Many colleges and universities, such as Columbia University and the University of Wisconsin, also provide coaching courses and certifications. 

You don’t need a credential to get started coaching, but it may provide you with some additional confidence, and you can start applying what you learned immediately.

Step 3: Grow your network through authentic interactions

Now that you know who you want to help and are confident in how you can help them, start reaching out to find your client base. Meet your potential clients where they are, and engage them with authenticity and curiosity.

Listen and participate on LinkedIn

Join online groups to learn about their concerns and understand the language they use. You may find some on Facebook; however, LinkedIn is a great place to engage with both groups and individuals.

Before you start joining groups or reaching out to people, make sure your profile is complete – including a recent photo – and focused on your coaching business. Highlight relevant expertise in both your work history and your about section so the people you engage with will clearly see the value you could provide for them.

When you find people on LinkedIn who fit your audience, start by commenting on their posts and sending requests to connect. But don’t jump in with a sales pitch – start by being curious about where they are. Ask questions such as:

  • What projects are you excited about?
  • What trends are you watching?
  • What are you struggling most with right now?

Be authentic and respond with resources and helpful information, possibly using an AI tool like Heyday to surface the main ideas from courses you took or materials you read. You can also use your new connections’ answers to help you create content tailored to the actual concerns of the people you want to help.

Join professional associations

Look for professional associations or groups you can join that cater to the type of professional you want to serve. 

Find specific industry associations, such as healthcare, software engineers, or K-12 teachers moving to the private space. There are also groups based on the type of professional you want to help, such as entrepreneurs, young professionals, and women leaders

Join your local chamber of commerce if there’s a good population of your target audience in your area, and also see what networking opportunities are available through your alma mater.

Create opportunities to showcase your knowledge

One way to find people in your niche is to apply to speak at relevant conferences or association meetings. 

You can also grow your network by identifying a parallel industry and co-hosting events. For example, a financial advisor could discuss how to manage planning for retirement while also paying off student debt, while you could show an organization that the audience members are ready for their first leadership role. This type of collaboration can expand your network and create a referral relationship.

And don’t forget to let your friends, family, and former co-workers know that you’re building a coaching business. You might offer them a free or discounted session so you can get comfortable with the flow of the coaching session and get feedback from people you trust. 

Step 4: Provide value to your audience regularly

Communicate with your network consistently and give them useful resources that introduce the value of having you as a coach. That starts with a well-designed website for people to easily learn about you and what you offer.

Use what you learned from the groups you joined to create original content that speaks to your audience’s pain points: 

  • Create free videos and checklists to introduce your value. 
  • Host interactive webinars and downloadable guides that require people to provide their email addresses for access.
  • Offer a free assessment or no-commitment coaching call so they can see you in action.
  • Host a blog or a podcast to share information you’ve learned through your certifications, personal experience, and talking with folks in your target market. 
  • Contribute to someone else’s blog or podcast to get in front of a new audience that might be interested in hiring you as a coach.

When you have a few great resources, repurpose your content into different formats. Podcasts make great blog posts, and excerpts from blog posts or webinars make great email content. AI tools like Heyday can even help you pull out the main ideas or quotes from video scripts, podcast transcripts, and blog posts to create a supply of consistent social content.

Step 5: Set up tools for running your coaching business

Choose technology that you enjoy using so you can keep track of people in your sales funnel. Here are a few tools you’ll want to make sure are in your technology stack as you build your coaching business.

  • Website hosting/building: Choose a tool that makes it easy to design and maintain your website, such as Squarespace or WordPress. Many of these tools also come with blogging capabilities. Tie your website to an analytics program, such as Google Analytics, so you can see how people are engaging with your content.
  • Scheduling: Embed a scheduling system such as Calendly on your website and include a link in your emails to make it simple for someone to set up a free assessment or initial coaching session. Connect it with a calendar you can access from anywhere to make sure you don’t miss a request from a potential client.
  • Content creation and management: Use a tool like Heyday to synthesize call insights into bite-sized social media posts or blog posts. Tools like Google Trends, Moz, and Semrush can help you do keyword research to identify topics that your clients might want to learn more about. Sign up for Buffer or Hootsuite to easily schedule social media posts. You’ll also want an email marketing tool such as Mailchimp or Emma that has strong analytics so you can measure the effectiveness of your campaigns.
  • Contact management: Find a customer relationship management (CRM) tool to manage your contacts, preferably one like HubSpot or Zoho that ties to your sales funnel. This way, you’ll have one place where you can see everyone who has expressed an interest in your content or working with you.
  • Productivity and smart calendar tools: From Trello to Slack, there are a variety of productivity and communication tools you can use to streamline your processes. Find ones that fit with your work style and align with your goals.

With a connected system of communication, calendar, and content management tools, you’ll be able to engage with prospects throughout their journey of becoming a client.

Preparation makes for a great first coaching call

Want to see how you can simplify your preparation, post-meeting recaps, and content creation process with a single tool?

Josh Chapman

Content marketer who specializes in SEO-optimized articles for SaaS companies.