The Benefits of Developing a Coaching Niche
One significant feature of coaching, as distinct from mentoring or consulting, is that coaches don’t provide advice. Rather than being subject-matter experts, our expertise is in the art of coaching. We ask the right questions to help clients find their own answers. A good coach, we insist, can coach anyone. It’s counterintuitive to narrow it down.
But coaches need clients. Unless you’re a celebrity, supremely good at self-promotion, an internal coach practitioner, or happy to do some light coaching off and on, you’ll have to work hard to attract clients. This means setting up a practice or business and, in an increasingly crowded marketplace, a compelling business proposition. As I discovered when starting out down this path, lines like, “Coaching is about maximizing your potential,” and “You get to do all the hard work,” are not an easy sell!
People don’t buy “coaching.” They are looking for solutions to problems. So, coaches need a specialist area—specific problems to solve. A distinct niche allows you to:
- Pinpoint the kinds of people you’ll be working with and their challenges, opportunities, lifestyles, etc.
- Create a clear “elevator pitch” (here’s how I can help you, these are the benefits, etc.)
- Market appropriately to your target audience using relevant examples and terminology, tailored services and realistic pricing
- Become the “go-to” person in your specialist area and thereby build your credibility as a coach
Choosing a Niche
When I started out as an independent coach I struggled with the idea of specializing. Having spent many years as a change management consultant for a large corporation, I initially focused on personal change. This worked well enough when I was learning about self-employment and building up my coaching hours. But I soon realized that it was too wide. At the same time, other things were changing in my life. My mother was diagnosed with dementia and that was a huge change in my family life, daily life and emotions. But I couldn’t find any coaching support geared toward this. I decided that “people coping with aging parents” would be the perfect niche.
Based on my own experience and testing out the area, I figured out some characteristics of my target client group. For example, they are:
- Usually, but not always, “midlife” women
- Trying to juggle work, care, bureaucracy and family dynamics
- On an emotional roller-coaster fueled by guilt and the feeling that no one “gets it”
- Don’t have much time for social media although sometimes dip into Facebook
Developing the Niche
I began building up this niche by writing blog posts and giving presentations to local groups. I became an “Agony Aunt.” I offered clients a safe space to talk openly about the conflicting emotions of being a carer; i.e., caregiver. I helped clients figure out practical solutions, offering information and advice when asked. Clients were hugely relieved and grateful, but I discovered that this niche has limitations too. Family carers are stressed, already juggling time and resources and are more focused on supporting someone else than helping themselves. There are few easy answers and no happy endings. For the coach, the work is rewarding, but also draining.
I decided to broaden my niche to midlife change. This felt like a good fit for me and opened up new opportunities while still feeling boundaried. It also enabled me to include Executive Coaching with a focus on midlife clients. I’d been doing some pro bono outplacement work and found this increasingly interesting. So I added “midlife career change” and “ageless” CVs to my portfolio. Often, I see clients who are struggling with a combination of career, eldercare and midlife issues.
Less is More
So, what have I learned about “niche-ing” along the way?
- Having a defined area of expertise helps you shape your coaching business and identify a target market
- The niche may be an obvious one or it may take a while to emerge based on background knowledge, lived experience or passion
- Market research and piloting are important before committing to one area
- It’s good to keep your niche under review and flex the offering based on personal preference, uptake and client feedback
My initial worry was that narrowing down the field would limit the number of potential clients – the opposite turned out to be true. For example, midlife clients have recommended me to millennial friends and colleagues! I discovered that the niche is a great device for creating a unique selling proposition, building your reputation and attracting clients. Then, other opportunities follow.