When I was in high school, I can remember my father occasionally attending sessions with a business coach. A business coach? That was the first I’d heard of such a thing, and it confused me. My dad is good at what he does; he has a team of great people and consistently earns awards for his achievements. Why would he need to work with a coach?
Why? Probably for the same reason Michael Phelps has a coach.
Michael Phelps has raw talent, but it’s through working with a coach that he’s able to apply it in such a way that’s earned him 23 gold medals throughout his career. The uh, body, however, is all Phelps.
My journey toward coaching
For my first few years as an entrepreneur, I scoured the web for blogs and webinars geared toward photographers. I’d happily take free online courses and attend paid workshops and purchase whatever e-book big-name photographers would release in hopes that I too, would be successful just like them.
A few years into the industry later and I’d amassed dozens of half-read PDFs, several template documents for client magazines and timelines, and other people’s client email templates that I never used because they didn’t sound like my voice. My work had improved but I still felt overworked, underpaid, and no closer to being the next in-demand photographer.
I was being distracted by the latest shiny object to scroll past my eyes: an e-mail list freebie with the top ten ways to style wedding details; Instagram courses with tips on how to curate the perfect IG feed; and websites for photographer workshops in a far-off location with little information about what we’d actually learn, but loads of perfection porn and name-dropping of the sponsors who would be putting together a styled shoot… for 35 people. I was suffering from Shiny Object Syndrome, throwing money at whatever caught my eye at the moment. All of this distracted me from doing the real work I needed to be doing.
And as I’d eventually learn when I started my own business, one cannot do it on their own.
What made me want to hire a business coach?
My good friend and fellow entrepreneur, Beryl Young – a business coach herself – recommended that I reach out to her business coach, Kristen Kalp. I’d been a follower of Kristen’s blog for awhile, always gaining valuable information from her posts on marketing, time management, and effectively business-ing as an introvert.
But it was something she’d written in her e-book Introverts at Work that resonated with me so hard. She writes:
Vanilla is the enemy. Vanilla does what everyone else is doing and says what everyone else is saying. Vanilla blogs about generic topics a few times a month because it has to, not because it has anything to actually communicate. Vanilla hides quirky bits behind layers of fancy trimmings. Vanilla doesn’t want you to hit the buy button quite yet, because vanilla isn’t sold on the value of the product, either. Vanilla doesn’t swear, doesn’t have any pronounced beliefs, isn’t too vibrant or controversial or likely to admit to watching reality TV. Vanilla would never write an opinion without the qualifier “I think” scrawled before it. Vanilla pins all day, looking for inspiration, but isn’t actually inspired. Vanilla pretends to give a shit about marketing, but really wants to be left alone to do her work.
Only Vanilla loves her work. She doesn’t put that anywhere on her website, nor does she share that love with her clients. Vanilla’s love is guarded, and is only available to a select few. Vanilla follows the rules, or gives up and puts up the most boring website possible, promising to fix it later.
Bloody ‘ell. I’m so vanilla.
I’d always thought of myself as being some rainbowy, sparkly, magical flavor, but in that moment it hit me that my online presence was that of vanilla. I needed to work with Kristen ASAP.
Journey to finding my magical flavor
At the start of our first coaching call, she pulled up my website and asked me a few questions.
‘Would you describe yourself as chic? Elegant? Romantic?’
I nearly fell off my chair. Me? Chic? Elegant? Hell no! I couldn’t be any of those if I tried – and I did try on my wedding day, but instead I wore converse and did air guitar and rock n roll jumps to Led Zeppelin.
“Ah, but see, your website images and text make you come off that way. Based on how Beryl described you, I was surprised to see your website and wondered how her description could be so off. Your potential clients are put off by the difference between your web-self and your actual self once they meet you.”
So she’d confirmed that not only was I being vanilla, I was being the complete opposite of my true self. And not just online – I was living it as well! I’d fallen into the trap of trying to wear more neutrals and solids instead of colors and patterns, and I hadn’t ordered anything from ModCloth in at least a year. I was having an identity crisis which stemmed directly from trying to be a ~*serious*~ fine art photographer.
Our first few coaching sessions were dedicated to putting my rainbowy, sparkly, magical self onto my website. New headshots, new featured images, and new text that reflected the way I speak. I began getting inquiries that started with “I love your website!” “You sound like so much fun!” “I love whisky, too!” and I knew the real Alicia was coming back. (Here’s a blog post Kristen wrote about our first interaction together)
Throughout our time working together, we’ve worked on marketing calendars, co-hosting events with fellow business owners just for fun, and starting to do other types of photography besides weddings. She’s helped me learn how to be in control and set boundaries, to show off and be proud of my quirks, and to accept my shortcomings rather than try to change them. Together with Kristen’s help, I’ve been able to get back to the person I used to be, and I’m so much happier for it.
Finding a business coach
A good business coach is part life coach. She asks questions to get you diving deep inside yourself. It’s not personal, it’s business is a saying that doesn’t apply to entrepreneurs. Our businesses are an extension of our selves, therefore it’s all personal. Professional business coaches can see the link between your personal life and business life, and will help you manage both in a way that feels right.
The key to hiring a business coach is finding one that fits you – Kristen is amazing, but she certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Luckily, I know of several coaches who are successful, incredible women. For the record, I am getting nothing out of posting this – I simply support them and what they do, and want to spread the word.
Visit each of their websites and take a look around. Dig into the blog archives and see if anything resonates with you. Listen to their podcast episodes to get a taste of what they have to offer. If you connect with one of these coaches (or any other you may come across!) send them a note and let them know. Ask about group / mastermind coaching or personal coaching sessions – many business coaches will offer an initial call for free.
How to get the most from your coaching sessions:
- Be open and honest. Your coach is almost like a therapist, in that they can’t do their job unless you lay it all on the table. Coaches are great at reading between the lines, but she’s not a mind reader.
- Bring a list. Sometimes it can be helpful to have an actual list of things that you need help with. Recently, I wanted to update my pricing and offerings but felt stuck and indecisive. Throughout the course of our call, Kristen walked me through my options and I came away with a pricing structure I felt happy about.
- Don’t get defensive. Listen. Things may come out of your coaching session that you never expected. Coaches know how to read people and will be able to ask the questions you’ve avoided answering. The number of women subconsciously sabotaging their business because of a poor marriage and low self-worth is astounding. Your coach isn’t trying to ruin your life, but she may sense that things aren’t as they could be. You could be living your best life if only you allow yourself to accept the hard facts.
- Do. The. Work. Coaches are not miracle workers, nor will they do the work for you. You’ve got to be all in and ready to put an effort into making changes.
- Be patient. You will not likely see a massive change within the first month or two of working with a coach. The process takes time. Kristen and I spent several months working toward getting my website away from serious, passionate fine art photographer to quirky and funny and laid back photographer before we even touched topics like marketing and social media. Laying the groundwork will give your business a strong foundation on which to develop.
Being practical wins in the end
Hiring a business coach may seem like a big expense at first, but it’s more worthwhile in the long run. Especially over, say, paying for yet another Instagram e-course, or a pricey styled shoot workshop which leaves you battling for position with 20 other photographers. And bonus! Most business coaches do hold retreats with a handful of their clients, usually in gorgeous locations. Pssst: read more about my retreat experience here.
If you have any questions about working with a business coach, let me know, or reach out to any of the coaches listed above.