Be humble. You have to know that you always have something to learn. Something to improve upon. To be honest, I struggled with this when I was younger. I needed to be humbled. No one had really ever put me in my place before. I did what I wanted. I said what I wanted. And it wasn’t beneficial to my personal growth. Once I started to challenge myself to have more uncomfortable experiences and figure out my strengths and weaknesses, I started to be a more humble person. As a coach, that allowed me to know that just because I’ve done something that has worked, it won’t always work and it won’t always look the same for everyone. It truly made me a better coach and person.
The coaching industry is now tremendous. It is a 15 billion dollar industry. Many professionals have left their office jobs to become highly successful coaches. At the same time, not everyone who starts a coaching business sees success. What does someone starting a career as a life coach, wellness coach, or business coach need to know to turn it into a very successful and rewarding career?
In this interview series, called “Five Things You Need To Create a Highly Successful Career As a Life or Business Coach” we are interviewing experienced and successful life coaches, wellness coaches, fitness coaches, business and executive coaches and other forms of coaches who share the strategies you need to create a successful career as a life or business coach.
In this particular interview, we had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Erin James.
Erin James is an Agency Growth Specialist and Business and Marketing Coach. She is the creator of the Agency Owner Lab and empowers entrepreneurs to streamline and scale their business with less headaches. Erin is also a certified personal trainer, sports nutritionist, and yoga instructor and founder of SQUAY, a wellness platform and community for people who struggle with autoimmune issues, fibromyalgia or chronic illness that want to try a vegan and holistic lifestyle to feel better.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and what brought you to this particular career path?
Thanks so much for having me! I have a mixed background of operations and public relations and marketing. I worked with solopreneurs in high school and college to help them streamline their business, implement growth strategies and up level their marketing. In college, I studied PR and business so they’ve always been the base of my background. That’s also when I started to dive deeper into PR and marketing and ended up working at PR & marketing agencies after school, both boutique and international agencies. When working at the smaller agencies, I was typically involved in the operations and business growth side as well as the client side. I realized that I thrived best in situations where I could focus on solving problems. I was very good at PR, building relationships with media, and training younger professionals, so I set out to figure out what the best role was for me, which led me to become an Agency Growth Specialist and Business Coach.
There aren’t many business coaches that have worked within niche categories like PR & Marketing agencies so I am able to offer my clients a unique perspective where I also combine consulting to get hands on in their business and truly help them implement changes, which sometimes even includes working with their staff to train and support them.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
The top three traits that have helped me are not being discouraged by no’s, taking so called failures as learning experiences, and being a good listener.
Many business owners get discouraged by no’s especially when first starting out. But you have to remember that if you stay consistent, things will typically work out the right way. When I first started, I had people say no to my pricing and that they talked with someone else who charges much less. What I learned is that I know my value and the transformation I can bring and didn’t let these no’s impact my plan. By staying with my strategy even after no’s, I was finally able to connect with people who could see the value in what I was offering which allowed me to generate my goal revenue. If I had been discouraged by those no’s, I would’ve decreased my pricing which also would have stopped me from providing as much value to my clients as I do because I’d have to take on more clients.
The pandemic truly impacted many small business owners, including myself at first. I had just signed a handful of new clients the weeks before lockdown started and then woke up one day and everything was put on hold, including current clients because they didn’t know when they would be active again either. As a small business owner, it can be scary to see your planned income on hold, with no knowledge of when it will return. Even though it was out of my control, I felt like a failure because I did my best to plan everything in advance yet I had no control anymore. It took some time but I realized that this so-called failure was actually an amazing experience for me to get out of my comfort zone. It allowed me to focus on passion projects while also figuring out where I wanted my business to go in the future. Most importantly, it gave me self care and reflection time which I truly needed just as many business owners do. When you feel like a failure, take that moment and flip it around to see how it can make you better.
As a business owner and especially as a business coach, you have to know how to listen. Not just listen but listen, digest and respond. It’s something my clients always call out to me that they feel is different from other coaches they’ve spoken to. I understand that although there are certain strategies and processes that work well, not every business is the same. You have to customize everything for each business, and more importantly the small business owner. You have to listen to both the owner and their people to truly understand the current situation, challenges, and needs. You have to understand how the entrepreneur works to build a business that works for them so it is sustainable. When I start with a client, I do a deep dive rundown where I just listen to them tell me about their business and I ask some questions. I then do the same with their people in a 1:1 environment. This way I can customize everything to the entrepreneur and their business so that it works long-term and helps them reach their goals.
How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?
As someone who thrives off systems and processes in business, I sometimes think of habits as my life systems and processes.
Every Sunday I take time to plan out my week from business tasks to meal planning and even workouts. I write everything down in my planner because I know if I see it written and assign it a day, time and/or due date, it is more likely to get done.
I also plan out my days where possible and create blocks in my schedule to do specific tasks. This way it holds me accountable while also keeping me productive to finish something in a certain amount of time.
I’ve learned to listen to my body and brain. So I make sure I don’t take more than two days off working out, even if it’s something light like yoga. It helps me feel good which plays into all other parts of my life including work and relationships. I also try to start each morning with meditation and a hot lemon water while just watching the world outside to appreciate what I have. It sets a positive intention for the day.
Another habit that has transformed my success is taking breaks. I am someone who can get caught up in a project for hours without realizing it, but I know it drains my energy and brain power. I’ve created a habit to take breaks when I am sitting at the computer, even if it’s just getting up to walk around, to do a quick bike ride on my indoor bike, or to enjoy a snack. I try to get up every 40–60 minutes if possible. Taking these breaks helps my mind stay fresh which makes me more productive.
The last habit I would say that has transformed my life is reducing the amount of decisions I need to make daily. I plan ahead so that the days I have a lot to do, I can just wake up and go about my day. Each decision you make uses brain power so by creating schedules, planning ahead, and creating systems for how I go about doing things, I am reducing the amount of decisions I need to make daily and allowing my brain to focus on the more challenging items.
This will be intuitive to you but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to create good habits? Can you share a story or give some examples?
Everyone is different. We operate differently. Our habits may not look alike in terms of how we go about them but I do believe having habits that work for you are important to personal and professional growth.
For example, having a workout habit helps us stay strong and healthy. It will look different for everyone but a habit keeps you in a routine. Without a habit, you may work out for a few days and then not again for a few weeks. Consistency is key for results.
When it comes to your professional life, habits help you reduce stress and get more done. When I first worked in PR, I made it a habit to reach out to a certain amount of new people each week to form a relationship. I made it a habit to follow up with a reporter within 3–5 days and then, yes, I’d even pick up the phone to call them if I needed to. In PR, these habits are what drive results and without them I wouldn’t have been as good at my job. Every industry’s habits will look different, but there are certain things you need to frequently do to excel in that role.
Sitting down after each day to figure out what I need to focus on the next day is a habit that helps me be more productive, more focused, less stressed and even work less because I have a plan for the following day before I even get started. It only takes five minutes at the end of your day and if you make it a habit, it may just transform your day.
Habits can also include the way you do something down to the specific details. I think habits are helpful because they create consistency and consistency typically creates results.
Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?
Stopping bad habits is hard but I’ve figured out a three step process for doing so that has really worked for me over the years.
First, you have to identify the bad habit. You have to own and accept that you do whatever the bad habit is. If you can’t own it and accept it, then you can’t let it go because you’ll just keep thinking it doesn’t exist or it isn’t a problem. I think many times people don’t want to admit they have a bad habit because they don’t want people to look down upon them. But in reality we’re all human, no one is perfect, and our flaws and life lessons are actually what make us unique.
Second, you have to figure out what triggers that bad habit. When does that bad habit occur? Figure out why you are doing the habit so you can identify the cause and either prevent it or be prepared before you do the bad habit and change your actions.
Third, you have to figure out what the good habit is that replaces the bad habit. Even if you don’t need a habit to replace that action, you may need a new habit to help you stop that action. Figure out what that looks like so you have a plan to stop the bad habit.
With these three steps, you can prepare yourself to identify, stop, and adjust your bad habits. No process is perfect, but it truly helps me.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“Get comfortable with the uncomfortable.” I’ve started saying this the past few years and it’s really helped me grow as a person. I never really had to step outside my comfort zone when I was younger and I think I was doing a disservice to myself because it didn’t challenge me or force me to grow. I’ve learned that growth, success, and even personal satisfaction happen when you are comfortable with the uncomfortable. You have to experience new things, learn different things and sometimes you have to try something even when you’re scared. I’ve actually learned to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and it’s an amazing feeling.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I’ve mainly done 1:1 coaching to this point as most of my work is very hands-on in my clients businesses. But I’ve actually been working on three projects I’m really excited about that we are just launching.
One is Agency Owner Lab, where I’ve taken all my training and tips and turned them into courses, guides, and even done-for-you kits where agency owners can get pieces of their business already built and all they have to do is customize the information to fit their specific business. This is mainly for PR & marketing agencies, founders and consultants. It’s really about helping those people who can’t afford a large price tag but could still use support. It includes templates, SOPS, and even overviews of my thought processes as you learn the little nuances each time you do something. These are tricks I share to help people answer questions before they even have them.
I’m also launching a marketing lab for small business owners who could use marketing support on a DIY level, but more to come on that this summer!
The last project I am really excited about is more of a passion project. It’s called SQUAY (sounds like sk-way). The name actually comes from a nickname which represents living your best life, your healthiest life, and your happiest life. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis in high school and I feel like I used to live at the doctor. I could barely walk up stairs without pain, I’d get really bad migraines and brain fog, and I just never felt good. It really impacted my life including my mental health after a few years.
After getting injected with steroid shots a few times a year by doctors and living off medication with no relief I finally took my health into my own hands. I had a chiropractor that also practiced some naturopathic medicine. He did a really cool test that showed my body couldn’t tolerate wheat and that started me on my wellness journey. I stopped listening to the doctors, cut out gluten from my diet and slowly started educating myself on nutrition, food, and overall health.
Around 2018, I went vegan as well and have since stopped taking all medicine. I feel amazing. For the first time in my life, I could run without pain and I started to challenge myself to run up mountains. I had random people clapping one time because the hike was hard and I was running like it was nothing. I even surprised myself. It was the best feeling in the world. I no longer felt pain everyday and finally started to feel like myself. I was in control of my body and life. My mental health also greatly improved and I know for a fact it had a lot to do with what I was putting into my body.
So this summer I launched SQUAY, something I’ve been wanting to do for almost two years. It’s about supporting people to feel better with natural tactics. Especially those with autoimmune diseases, fibromyalgia or a chronic illness. I spent some down time last year getting certified as a personal trainer and sports nutritionist and just finished my yoga certification. SQUAY offers guides, recipes, workshops, courses, and a membership to help people transition to a gluten-free, plant-based, and soy-free lifestyle that is autoimmune friendly but is also a fit for anyone that just wants to live a clean, more holistic lifestyle. Being vegan and eating for autoimmune is really hard and it took me a long time to figure out so I just want to share what worked for me in case it can help anyone else.
The last thing I’d add is that sometimes we need to trust our intuition a little more. When I was in college, I almost switched my major to nutrition after taking a nutrition class that I fell in love with, but I was already so close to finishing college that it seemed too late. Now years later I’m doing a full circle back to nutrition. I want to say to students and young professionals that if you really have an interest in something, figure out how to learn more about it and get hands-on experience. You never know what the future holds!
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Many coaches are successful, but some are not very successful. From your experience or perspective, what are the main factors that distinguish successful coaches from unsuccessful ones? What are your “Five Things You Need To Create a Highly Successful Career As a Life or Business Coach”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
I mentioned this before but for starters you have to have actual experience. You can’t be a business coach without working on the business side of a business, even if it isn’t your own. I often see and hear from others that many coaches are just buying content from other people, using it to create a program and then are selling something they can’t really do. Coaching is something you have to be able to actually do. You have to be able to help people and if you can’t then you aren’t a coach.
My top five things you need to create a highly successful career as a life or business coach are:
- Experience, especially experience that has helped you personally grow. Coaching isn’t about what you’ve read in an ebook or course, it’s about the hands-on experience you’ve had which provides you with ideas and thought processes that make you unique.
- A good ear — you have to be able to listen to people and truly hear what they are saying but also what they aren’t saying. It’s up to you as a coach to understand your client’s needs, challenges and goals and adjust everything accordingly.
- Be humble. You have to know that you always have something to learn. Something to improve upon. To be honest, I struggled with this when I was younger. I needed to be humbled. No one had really ever put me in my place before. I did what I wanted. I said what I wanted. And it wasn’t beneficial to my personal growth. Once I started to challenge myself to have more uncomfortable experiences and figure out my strengths and weaknesses, I started to be a more humble person. As a coach, that allowed me to know that just because I’ve done something that has worked, it won’t always work and it won’t always look the same for everyone. It truly made me a better coach and person.
- Patience. When you are working with clients, you are typically working on their weakness areas or something they struggle with. When this occurs, it’s easy for people to get defensive at times. You have to have patience to know when to push and when not to. You have to have patience to know the best path to approach a challenge for your client. And most importantly, you have to have patience to know that your client can’t magically change and adjust overnight. It takes time, so you have to be patient and be their support system.
- Systems and processes. I believe having systems and processes are what enables a business to thrive. As I mentioned, I help my clients with a lot of this but I know I wouldn’t have been able to build my business without creating these from the start. You have to figure out what works for you, write it down, execute, adjust as needed, and repeat. Once you want to start growing a team, you’ll realize you cannot scale without systems and processes. They are critical to being able to bring on more clients, increase your prices, and help you grow as a business owner.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen coaches make when they start their business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
That’s a great question. I’ve seen many people who lack the right experience to truly help others which means their own business isn’t sustainable. I also see many people who skip the basics in terms of business building and then as their business grows, they aren’t in a position to handle the scale. I’d also say I see many people who aren’t clear on what they are offering. Coaching isn’t a typical service. It’s not about the tasks that are done, it’s about the results. Figure out what result you can actually offer and focus on promoting that.
Based on your experience and success, what are a few of the most important things a coach should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience? Please share a story or an example for each.
You have to know your client’s business. I talk with many business owners who have hired coaches and received no value. There are so many coaches out there that haven’t actually done what they are trying to sell. I worked in agencies and small businesses doing operations and marketing before going out on my own. I used my jobs to get the hands-on experience I needed to make true changes for my clients. You can’t just take a course without having the experience and expect to make a Wow! Experience.
As I mentioned before, you have to customize everything to each business and you can’t do that without hands-on experience. Figure out how you can get real experience and then use that to help others. Or find some beta clients who know you are just starting out and are open to you using them as a test client for a discount. You can also find a mentor who is a coach and work with them to see how they operate, how they think, and how they provide value and learn from them. I do this with many people just starting their business. I offer a working mentorship program where they actually work with me in my business to learn how to run a business and how to offer business or marketing services.
Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business, and particularly in coaching. What are the best ways for a coach to find customers? Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?
You first have to know who your customer is. This is also where experience comes in and having a niche, such as PR & marketing agencies for me. I use LinkedIn and Google mostly to find people I haven’t connected to before. I also leverage past clients, connections and networking groups to expand my reach. I always focus on a Wow! experience for my clients so they are more than happy to tell their friends with similar businesses that our work changed their business. PR and content marketing are also great tools that don’t cost money and help position you as a thought leader and expert.
You also want to know how much you are charging for your services as that will help dictate where the right clients for you hang out.
Lead generation can be tricky, that’s why I help my clients build a lead generation strategy for their business, again based on their business, their goals and their strategy. That’s also why I’m starting to offer online and done-for-you tools and strategies for people who can’t afford a coach but want to improve their business and all they have to do is take the information and customize it based on their business. It’s about finding what works for you.
Coaches are similar to startup founders who often work extremely long hours and it’s easy to end up burning the candle at both ends. What would you recommend to your fellow coaches about how to best take care of their physical and mental wellness when starting their business?
Set schedules for yourself. Allocate a time to start and end work. Don’t check your phone for at least 30 minutes after waking and before going to bed. Take time for yourself whether it’s reading, walking, working out, meditating, or even cooking. Find something you enjoy doing that isn’t work so you don’t get burned out. And also make sure to charge for the value you are giving. Don’t charge a lot just to charge a lot but figure out what you want to offer your clients and an appropriate price so you can give them the time and focus to make true changes while giving yourself a comfortable life so you aren’t distracted or stressed out. Also make sure you build a business you enjoy. If you are doing something you don’t want to do, it won’t be sustainable and you won’t be happy.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
There are so many things that come to mind but I would say at a high level it’s creating a better life for people which is three-fold.
For one, that means creating more opportunity. It means teaching people new skills and being dedicated to their learning and training. There are so many smart and hard working people around the world who could change the future if only someone would give them an opportunity. The internet has also given us the chance to connect with people globally so location should hinder anyone’s success.
The second is basic human rights. I grew up sheltered and privileged and as I got older I finally started to understand the world better. It changed me as a human but also made me realize how unaware I was of how other people were living. So many people don’t have water, food, homes, opportunity, safety, or hope, and it’s heartbreaking. It’s just not okay, it really isn’t. We have so many people who have the resources to help change the world yet we’re spending money on things like space when people here on earth are dying every day from a lack of food and water. We have to learn to take care of each other. It’s not about being the first to do something, it’s about changing people’s lives and helping create a better future and world.
Third is protecting our planet. I’ve started to educate myself on how our everyday actions are impacting the planet, and our health. We are literally destroying the planet, people’s health, and the world for future generations because it’s too hard to change the way we are living now. We have companies and even countries that talk about sustainability but aren’t truly taking enough action. We have to act now. We have to stop cutting down forests. We have to stop polluting the water, land, and air. We have to stop being comfortable and we have to make changes. We can’t put the planet behind making money anymore. There are so many people who talk but don’t take action and many of them are older. They aren’t realizing that they are destroying the world and that our children and their children may not have a safe planet to live on. We soon won’t have enough farmland to feed the world and there is so much farmland that is currently being destroyed by climate change. We need people to stand up and say that although it will be uncomfortable or maybe they won’t make as much money, they know that we can’t continue the way we are now.
If there is anything I’ve learned, it’s that we are each our own person but we are also brought together as a group, which is humanity as a whole. We have to open our eyes to how every decision we make impacts people around the world now and in the future. We have to speak up and put down biases and differences and make the world better. It may sound cliché but it’s the truth. We have to work together to protect people and the earth. We have to be selfless, not selfish.
We are blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
There are a lot of people I’d like the opportunity to have a conversation with, but MacKenzie Scott is top of mind right now. I’m very impressed with how she is putting her money to work to help people now. Her focus on uplifting voices of non-privileged people is what we need to do more of. I do believe there is a lot more we can do and that’s what I’d like the opportunity to discuss with her. There are many people with substantial wealth who aren’t putting it to work to help others, or are committing to give it away once they pass, but in reality that doesn’t really help or make changes that need to happen now. We can’t wait to help people nor to change the inequality that exists in the world. We have to act now to truly help people and change the future for the next generations. I believe that goes beyond just donating to organizations but taking it into our own hands and creating the change. It is our responsibility to make changes for the future, for people and the earth.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can find me in multiple places.
For my business and high performance coaching, go to www.erinjames.co. You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram at @iamerinjames or LinkedIn at Erin James.
For Agency Owner Lab, visit agencyownerlab.com or check out our Facebook Group called Agency Owner Lab. You can also find the lab on IG, Facebook and Twitter at @agencyownerlab.
For SQUAY, visit www.livesquay.com. You can also follow on IG, Facebook and Twitter at @livesquay.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!