Anna McKay of Parents Pivot: “Be coachable yourself”

…I’m going to give you a combo first. Perseverance in combination with adaptability is key. Perseverance because it takes a lot to start your own business or coaching practice and keep going when the going gets tough but without recognizing when you need to adapt you may just be doggedly going down the wrong path. […]

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…I’m going to give you a combo first. Perseverance in combination with adaptability is key. Perseverance because it takes a lot to start your own business or coaching practice and keep going when the going gets tough but without recognizing when you need to adapt you may just be doggedly going down the wrong path. It’s key to pick your head up every now and then and check in with where you are and see if you need to adapt.


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 Anna McKay.

Anna is a Return to Work & Leadership Development coach with 13+ years of coaching experience and founder of Parents Pivot, a company focused on supporting parents through career transitions like returning to paid work, returning from parental leave, and managing their work life blend as a working parent.


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?

After a decade in the corporate world, I went through my own career transition and became a certified coach in 2008. My mission became helping others find meaningful careers where people could show up as their best leadership selves.

I moved to the Philippines and China on expat assignments with my husband, had 2 kids, and decided to focus on being a mom while coaching on the side. We moved to Houston in 2013. Over all these years, I met so many other parents, mostly women, who were transitioning from high-powered careers to expat spouse and/or mother. After “opting out” of the workforce for a few years to care for their children and their families, many of these women were now ready to get back to paid work but found that they felt lost, isolated, and didn’t know where to start.

That’s why I decided to start Parents Pivot, where we help parents and caregivers find careers they love after a career pause. We help returners tackle fears and anxieties and position themselves better for the current job market. It’s incredible to see our clients transform into confident women who are able to carve out a new identity for themselves as working moms.

We are on a mission to make work work for all parents and so we also offer coaching support for parents considering a career transition and parents managing their work life blend.

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?

I’m going to give you a combo first. Perseverance in combination with adaptability is key. Perseverance because it takes a lot to start your own business or coaching practice and keep going when the going gets tough but without recognizing when you need to adapt you may just be doggedly going down the wrong path. It’s key to pick your head up every now and then and check in with where you are and see if you need to adapt.

I love coaching and know that it can be so powerful for people but in my early days of coaching, the benefits weren’t as well understood as they are now. Especially when I was living overseas. It took a lot of perseverance to continue to build my practice and educate people on the benefits of coaching when it wasn’t something potential clients were familiar with. Along the way I learned some things that were either biases or misconceptions that I needed to address. I learned from those experiences and adapted my pitch accordingly.

The third character trait is a genuine interest and curiosity in understanding what helps people grow and change, a belief that people have the capabilities within themselves to grow and change, and love of engaging in deep meaningful coaching conversations that help clients gain new awareness and shift their perspective.

It’s always a huge high when clients shift their mindset and build confidence. I had one client who had been away from paid work for 21 years. When we met she was not clear about what she wanted to do when she returned to paid work and she was not confident that she had skills that an employer would value. Within 4 months of working together she found confidence in herself again, clarity around what she wanted to do and landed her dream job!

How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?

Habits are super helpful to getting things done. For me it’s all about setting up a routine for my week. I have days allocated for exploratory consultations with new clients and business development, coaching days, and then time allocated for admin. Once I put this schedule in place things started to flow a lot easier for me and I feel so much more productive.

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?

Habits help hold you accountable to move towards your goals and help you feel a sense of order and clarity. Before I set up this routine for my work week, I felt like I was all over the place. I was doing things as they came up and didn’t have a system in place for addressing long term goals. I just did whatever was right in front of me. With this new system I am able to more clearly see my schedule, get the small things and the longer-term projects accomplished.

Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?

Habits take discipline to maintain but they also need to be meaningful and measurable. Understand what you are trying to accomplish in creating this new habit. Connect into the why behind the habit and make sure it is meaningful and exciting for you. Finally, find a way to measure your progress and see the changes that happen as a result of the new habit.

Similarly, when trying to stop a bad habit, tap into how this habit is holding you back. What are the long term negative impacts that will occur if you keep up the bad habit? What’s at risk if you keep that bad habit? Tap into your motivation to change.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

“May your choices reflect your hopes not your fears.” By Nelson Mandela. I love this quote and try to remind myself of this anytime I am looking to take on new challenges and try something a little bit out of my comfort zone. When we make choices out of fear we get stuck and hold ourselves back. When we think of the possibilities we are more open and willing to take on new challenges. When starting Parents Pivot, this was something that I needed to remind myself of all the time. Choosing to focus on the impact that I could have on the lives of my coaching clients vs. fear that anyone would hire me definitely helped me keep going.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

I love the power of group coaching. People learn so much and find motivation from others when they know they are not the only ones going through a challenging period and that there are several people out there rooting for them to grow, change, and meet their goals.

During the pandemic, we have read the reports of the millions of women who have left the work force to care for children and seen how it is a huge challenge to return to paid work. Our signature coaching program, THRIVE Like a Mother, helps people just like those women and people with a longer career pause address those challenges, return to paid work and…

  • build CONFIDENCE in your professional skills,
  • find CLARITY around job options or what’s next,
  • COMPETENTLY navigate resumes, LinkedIn, interviews, salary negotiations, and the job search process in a world that is very different from the last time you job searched
  • building CONNECTIONS with a COMMUNITY of other parents returning to paid work and
  • working with a trusted professional COACH with 13+ years of experience helping returners just like you successfully return to paid work.

Check to see when the next THRIVE session starts and hear from past participants here. People considering a return to paid work can sign up for The Ultimate Return To Work Checklist here.

We also coach parents returning from parental leave, transitioning to a new career, and working parents. Through 1:1 and group coaching we help parents have a meaningful career that is blended with their life as a parent to help them find the work, life, leadership, and parenting blend for them, reduce stress, and show up as the leaders they want to be. Working parents have been hit hard during the pandemic and coaching can help them work through these challenges. Check out our group programs for working parents here: https://www.parentspivot.com/working-parents-group

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.

  1. Be coachable yourself. If you are going to ask your clients to stretch themselves and get out of their comfort zones then you have to be willing to do this yourself. What challenges are you taking on? What are you doing to grow and stretch out of your comfort zone? I reminded myself of this often as I was starting Parents Pivot. If I was going to coach parents starting their own businesses or re-entering work after a career pause or making a career transition to a new job or a leadership position, then I knew that I had to take on challenges myself. I had to get out of my comfort zone, take risks, and start this business.
  2. Do some market research on niches that are interesting to you. Understand the needs in the market, who the players are. In all start-ups you must fill a need in the marketplace. Research and talking to your ideal client will help you uncover these needs. Before starting Parents Pivot I interviewed several women looking to return to paid work in addition to people who had successfully transitioned. These interviews helped me develop the THRIVE program to address the common concerns for returners. I did a similar research study to gather information to create the BLEND program for working parents.
  3. Pick a niche that you are interested in and passionate about. Picking a niche is key for attracting your target market. What need do you want to serve in the coaching market place? Both parenting and working are challenging but also so rewarding. I never tire of working with clients to help them return to meaningful paid work or transition to a career that is in alignment with who they are. These are coaching challenges that I get excited about each and everyday knowing that I am not only impacting my coaching client but also their family and coworkers for the positive.
  4. Most coaches hate selling and have a perception that it is “not them” or you have to be “super slick”. But the secret to selling is not to be “super slick”. As a coach, you already have all of the tools that you need to sell. Use your coaching skills especially active listening and showing the client you understand their challenges and can support them through coaching.
  5. Coaching is a growing field. You need to be able to differentiate yourself from the pack. How do your experiences, background, strengths, interests, values, etc. set you apart from the group and make you THE coach that your ideal client should choose?

What are the most common mistakes you have seen coaches make when they start their business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Struggling too long alone without support. If you are a coach, then you need a coach. Not only can coaches help you strategize around what sort of practice you want and how to hone your coaching skills, but they can also help coach you around business development. I have a coach and I have coached several coaches starting out in the field. Growth happens quicker when you invest in yourself.

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.

Add those personal touches to your customer experience. After my group coaching programs, I send a personalized note to each participant that highlights the strengths that I see within each client. It is something that they can keep with them to remind them of all that they have accomplished during the coaching program. They can see how much they have grown and if another challenge arises, then they can reflect on this experience and know that they can rise to meet the challenges again.

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?

Build partnerships with adjacent companies. Understand your ideal buyer and where they spend time. Seek out cross promotional partnerships with companies who also serve your ideal client but may not do the exact same thing that you do. For example, with Parents Pivot I serve people returning to paid work and parents in the work place going through a significant transition (career change, return from parental leave, looking for their next level leadership opportunity, managing their work life blend). I have partnerships with other people who serve working parents (like industry women’s groups and nursing support companies) or people returning to paid work after a career pause (like recruiters and job board). Speaking events with these partners are often the way that I get clients.

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?

That has definitely been me in the past, but I have learned my lesson from burning out too many times. It’s funny, I love my work so much that at times I have convinced myself that my work was my self-care, but it’s not. It’s important to implement other self-care practices and set boundaries so that you can have the work life blend that you want. This is something that I would with my clients on too. It’s important to put those guardrails up early on. What are your non-negotiables? For me, I want to be able to pick my kids up from school every afternoon and be able to spend time working on homework and connecting with them in the afternoon. I have set up my schedule to make this happen.

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. 🙂

I am on a mission to show employers that people with a career pause like stay at home parents have a lot to offer in the workplace. At the same time, I am on a mission to make sure that parents get the support they need in the workplace. Men and women. Mothers, fathers, and nonparents. I want to see employers value the skills that we develop in parenting instead of being biased against parents, especially working mothers and caregivers returning to paid work.

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.

Well, I will call on a fellow Houstonian! I am a huge fan of Brene Brown and would love the opportunity to meet with her. The work that she has done to empower people to show up as their whole selves is huge and so in alignment with the Parents Pivot mission of helping parents feel empowered to return to paid work and working parents leverage lessons learned in parenting and leadership to live and work as a more authentic leader.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Sign up for the Ultimate Return to Work Checklist here: https://www.parentspivot.com/newsletter-signup

www.parentspivot.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/parentspivot/

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/company/parentspivot or

Anna’s LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/company/annammckay

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/parentspivot/

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!

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