Identify a target audience. Yes, certified coaches have the skillset to work with anyone. I often see new coaches who are afraid of pigeonholing themselves into a niche. In practice, though, identifying your target audience and over-delivering for that group is what sets you apart from other coaches. It also brings you more business.
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 Bri Salsman.
Bri Salsman (she/her) was checking all the boxes until everything abruptly changed in 2017. A brain tumor diagnosis brought a crispness to her future vision that she was previously missing. She immediately began actively designing a life she was excited to live every single day and continues this journey today. She now leverages this experience as an International Coaching Federation Professional Certified Coach as she supports those who are asking themselves, “what’s next?”
She fundamentally believes that everyone wants to be known, and that begins with knowing yourself first. Her clients explore where they are now, who they want to become, and how to connect the two. They walk away knowing themselves on a deeper, more intimate level that allows them to have a Life Lived by Design.
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?
Sure! I built a career in education. First at the higher education level, then at the secondary level. As I progressed, I was having less and less direct connection with and impact on the students I was serving. So, I began to consider what work beyond the field of education might be fulfilling.
Around the same time, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor, which was the catalyst behind my experience with posttraumatic growth. I evaluated every aspect of my life and decided to hire a career coach to help me explore other paths. By the third session, I came to realize that the approach she took with me was the same approach I leveraged with students. Before my coaching package was complete, I enrolled in a coach training program and started building my own coaching practice.
Today, I am an International Coaching Federation (ICF) Professional Certified Coach. I support women who find themselves in similar situations to my own story: Women who are accomplished and yet still yearn for more in life. Women who ask themselves, “what’s next,” because they know they have more life to live.
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’ve found that consistency, scrappiness, and responsiveness have all led to where I am now in my business.
I started my coaching practice alongside full-time employment and made a commitment to myself that I would work on my business every day — even on the weekends and even if I only had 10 minutes to give. Consistently working my business kept it at the forefront of my thoughts, which led to new ideas for growth.
Once I developed the daily habit of giving time to my business, I began getting scrappy with its growth. I partnered with non-profits to offer individual coaching as a complement to their program. I led workshops for anyone willing to put me in front of my target audience. I taught myself how to build a basic website. I posted weekly to a YouTube channel. While these cost me my time, they didn’t cost me money, which was a tradeoff I was willing to make in the beginning. I did whatever it took to get my name in the ears of my target audience as long as it aligned with the values and mission of my business.
As I began enrolling my initial clients, I created opportunities for feedback loops. I was transparent about where I was with my growth and regularly asked clients to provide input on what was and wasn’t working. I let them know that not only would this feedback help adjust the support I offer them, but it would also shape the program moving forward. Today, my book, the work groups, and the training I offer are in direct response to feedback from clients. Being responsive to my clients’ requests and suggestions has had a significant impact on the growth of my business. It has even prompted me to add consulting services for new coaches who are now building their own coaching practice.
How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?
Habits have been a critical part of developing the consistency I just mentioned. The key to developing habits is creating simple systems that are easily duplicatable. In business, you can take these to the next level by making them automated.
One of the most impactful habits I’ve created is developing a daily “must-do” task list. I use a digital platform to manage the full scope of my business, from my marketing strategy to my client follow-up. Though the software is great at keeping the big picture in focus, I still get great satisfaction from physically crossing an item off a hand-written list.
To this end, I make a shorter list each morning of the things that must be done that day, based on the broader scope from the digital platform. This is not a list of all the things I want or need to get done, but rather a list of the things that I must accomplish before I go to sleep. It’s usually enough tasks to feel accomplished at the end of the day, but not so many that I become overwhelmed. For me, this is between 4–7 tasks.
This approach ensures that I have focus for the day that also aligns with the larger strategy and vision for my business. What tends to happen as a result is that the momentum I gain through completing this “must-do” task list overflows to other areas. I end up accomplishing more each day than I originally set out to achieve without the worry of burning out.
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?
When you have strong systems in place to support good habits, it increases the likelihood that you will experience flow. Flow frees up mental space for you to tap into creativity and increase productivity.
Think about taking a shower. I’ll bet you have a particular system for the order in which you bathe, and it’s probably been the same for years. Maybe you’ve tweaked it here and there, but generally speaking, it’s the same. You’ve created a system that has developed into a habit so strong that you don’t have to put thought into the steps. Since you don’t have to think about what you’re doing in the shower, this frees up mental space for some of your most amazing ideas. This is the quintessential example of a strong system that creates a habit, which induces flow.
Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?
The best way to develop good habits is to make adjustments to what already exists. We all have habits. They may or may not be working well for us, but nevertheless, they exist.
Strong habits lead to the results we want. If you’re not getting the results you want, the first step is to look at the system underlying the habit. Rather than completely throwing out that system, identify the point at which a small change can have the largest impact. While overhauling an entire system can work, you’re more likely to find long-term success by increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of what already exists.
Think about your habits and the underlying systems as a set of dominoes lined up, ready to be knocked over. It takes a lot of time to set each one of those dominoes to create the flow we’re working toward. Instead of knocking them all down and starting over, consider which domino in the series can be shifted slightly to create a new path that gets you closer to the goal.
Let’s make this even more clear with an example. Adrian is late to work by 10 minutes every morning. Before they get out the door, they need to shower, get dressed, and pack their lunch and work bag. A few examples of shifting one domino in this scenario could be setting the alarm 10 minutes earlier, choosing their outfit the night before, or meal prepping, so lunch can be grab-and-go. There are a number of slight adjustments that Adrian could make to help them get to work on time. The key is to find the tweak that is simple enough for Adrian to duplicate, again and again, every morning.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
My favorite life lesson quote is one from Bob Marley. “Love the life you live. Live the life you love.” I found the first part of this quote etched into a bench while on a road trip shortly after my diagnosis. It was exactly what I needed to hear at that moment. Until my diagnosis, I had been living life according to others’ expectations. This was the nudge I needed to let go of these expectations and start creating my own.
When I learned the second half of the quote, I had a huge ah-ha moment. Not only should I love the life I live, but I should intentionally design a life that I was excited to live as well. This quote has been so empowering to me personally and also had a large impact on why I started Life Lived by Design.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I am most excited about my Examined Life Work Groups! I recently published a book entitled The Examined Life Workbook, and some of my clients and readers suggested that I create a book club, so they could complete the workbook in community with others.
My book isn’t a traditional self-help book. It has you pulling out a pen, looking inward to learn about yourself, looking to the future to design a life you want to live, and putting a plan together to connect the two.
This inspired me to take the idea beyond a book club to a work group where ten journeyers meet weekly over four months to complete the workbook from cover to cover together. We exchange ideas, hold one another accountable, celebrate one another’s successes, and challenge each other’s growth. It’s a transformational experience for journeyers. One journeyer shared, “The personal growth and self awareness I am experiencing through this working group is phenomenal, and the weekly accountability is key.”
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.
- Identify a target audience. Yes, certified coaches have the skillset to work with anyone. I often see new coaches who are afraid of pigeonholing themselves into a niche. In practice, though, identifying your target audience and over-delivering for that group is what sets you apart from other coaches. It also brings you more business. For example, someone who’s interested in buying organic foods can get them from a store like Kroger. However, the selection might be limited, and the quality may be lower because Kroger isn’t targeting organic shoppers. On the other hand, Whole Foods not only has a wider selection but can also charge a premium because they’ve identified themselves as the best provider of “the finest natural and organic foods available.” This doesn’t mean that every organic shopper will buy at Whole Foods, but it brings in more than enough business to be sustainable.
- Develop a client journey. While you may get a few clients who are ready to jump right into individual coaching sessions with you, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to build a business solely on individual coaching. Broadening your services and sequencing them into a client journey allows prospective clients to work with you at a lower price point and with a lower time commitment before making a larger investment. When sequenced well, each milestone in the client journey provides more value to the client while also asking for a larger investment of time and money from them. This also helps streamline your marketing efforts and allows you to work directly with those who are most invested. As an example, my client journey starts with self-paced work guides, which lead to live, interactive workshops, a complete workbook, small work groups, and finally, individual work sessions. Having a client journey doesn’t mean that every client will follow it exactly, but it provides structure so they know what to expect as they take a “tour” of your offerings.
- Build feedback loops. Rather than waiting for clients to volunteer feedback, create strategic systems to actively seek feedback at all levels of your business. Be specific, but open with your questions so you receive useful insights. For example, instead of asking, “what went well,” ask, “what part of the workshop was your favorite?” By creating these feedback loops, I’ve been able to draw on the pointed messages for more compelling testimonials. Best of all, every new offering I’ve created has been in response to a client request or suggestion that I received through this process. My clients have a direct impact on how my business grows, which increases their loyalty.
- Make your services tangible. Even though the coaching industry has been around for decades, there are still a lot of myths circling about what coaching entails. People generally understand what life coaching is in abstract terms, but many struggle to identify it as useful in their circumstances. Making your services more tangible can help fill this gap. What physical products can you offer that are in alignment with your brand and can serve as an educational tool for prospective clients? My tangible offerings include various self-paced work guides, as well as a workbook. Other coaches have written books, created digital products, built online courses, and developed membership communities. These are all ways to show prospective clients, in a tangible way, how coaching can benefit them.
- Leverage professional organizations. Organizations like the International Coaching Federation (ICF) offer a wealth of resources to coaches. It’s not necessary to recreate the wheel when you have access to a network of successful coaches. Write articles for their publication. Remain active in your local ICF chapter. Register your events on the ICF event platform. I offered a workshop to kick off International Coaching Week and had folks from around the world register for it. This brought international attention to my other offerings. Leverage this network and the resources they offer. They exist to help coaches succeed.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen coaches make when they start their business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
The #1 mistake I see new coaches make is in spending a tremendous amount of time, energy, effort, and even money working in their business instead of working on their business. They build the perfect website, create seamless automation, spend hours writing regular blog posts, and worry about how they will manage every social media platform right away. In their effort to build the perfect business, they miss out on actually talking to others about their work, which prevents them from working on the strategy of their business. This is what brings in clients.
For coaches just getting started, I recommend regularly asking yourself, “What’s the least I need to do to get this out to the world?” For websites, this is as simple as four pages — a home page, an about page, a services page, and a contact page. For automation, skip it. I can promise you that you’ll spend a lot of time creating automation that doesn’t work once you get clients in your funnel. You need to know the natural flow of your business first and then create automation in response, which will enhance your client journey. For social media, choose one platform (two tops) that you feel most confident using and add other platforms later.
Your top priority as a new coach is gaining new clients. Your first clients will enroll with you because of you, not because of a fancy website, automated systems they don’t see, or your social media presence. This means you have to put yourself in front of your target audience in order to get the ball rolling.
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.
I like to call this ‘surprise and delight,’ and it comes in many forms. First and foremost, it’s in building a business that provides my clients with the simplest and quickest path to what they’re looking for. My website is clean and easy to navigate. There are no hidden pages, no hoops to jump through, and you don’t have to meet with me to get all the details of my offerings.
When clients are ready to enroll in individual coaching, it involves two seamless steps. Because I have a well-developed client journey, prospective clients and I have already had a chance to connect. This means that when they’re ready to invest in themselves, all they need to do is let me know — by text, email, social media, or carrier pigeon. That’s step one. Step two involves me sending the coaching agreement, invoice, and session scheduler in one swoop. Once the agreement is reviewed, the invoice is paid, and they’re in my calendar, we’re off to the races. I had one client who did all of this in a single day. Simplicity for your client is key. You want to make it as easy as possible for them to take action.
Surprise and delight also comes in the form of over-delivering on your promise. I’ve been known to send other resources to my clients, snail-mail them a gift with a hand-written note, and pop into their inbox months after our coaching sessions have ended to ask about that new job they snagged. Hearing from me when they least expect it, in places they least expect, and with value they least expect shows you care about them as a person, not just as a client. This will keep them returning to you and referring you to their network.
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?
The best piece of advice I ever received about finding clients was to go where your people hang out. Since I work with accomplished women who are asking, “what’s next,” I hang out in organizations like Women Belong and in social media groups for empty-nesters and women travelers, to name a few.
Because I’ve identified a target audience that is true to me, and I go to the places where they hang out, the conversation naturally follows. It doesn’t feel “salesy” because these are my people. This is the work I’m meant to do, and it is very evident to others.
The combination of finding your people and sharing your genuine message is key. If I were to go to a room full of men or college students or retirees, the leads would not follow. I might have the passion and a clear message, but those are not my people. The opposite is true as well. If I’m in a room full of accomplished women, but I’m afraid to share my message, or I don’t believe the message I am sharing, that will also fall flat.
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?
From day one of launching my coaching practice, I’ve had the endgame in mind. Beyond the scope of my business, I knew I wanted to have the flexibility to travel much more. From this perspective, I set boundaries within my business that would support that larger vision. For example, I only meet with clients virtually. While my home is in Chicago (US) when I’m not traveling, my clients span the United States and into other countries, including Chile, Brazil, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, and India.
In addition, I keep my availability to my clients limited to specific hours. I do my best work when I can spend about an hour in the morning being creative — creating new programs, writing my newsletter, or developing a workshop. From this place of creativity and imagination, I am primed to meet with individual clients until mid-afternoon, when I will need to step away from work completely. After about an hour break, I come back refreshed to take care of administrative tasks before closing my laptop for the day.
Pay attention to your natural flow of the day and try to build a business that supports your best work throughout the day and week. I know I’m not at my best as a coach early in the morning or late at night, so I see clients in the middle of the day. Conversely, I’m not motivated in the morning to do administrative work, but coming off of the high of coaching, I’m able to get it done in the afternoon.
Building my own structure and flow for my business rather than making my business fit inside a particular Monday-to-Friday-9-to-5 box has allowed me to work when I’m at my best, rest when I need it, and travel when I want.
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. 🙂
One of the core tenants of my business is financial accessibility. Hiring a coach can be expensive, and sometimes those who need it most can’t afford individual coaching. I want to challenge every coach to look at their business from top to bottom and ask how they can make their services more financially accessible.
Financial accessibility doesn’t mean cheap or free. You still have a business to run. My challenge is to get creative with what you can offer. What might it look like to offer a scholarship? What about having all payment options come to the same total amount, so those who can’t afford to pay in full are not punished? What about offering special rates to folks under a certain income level? Break the mold, so we can bring the benefits of coaching to every corner of every industry, every school, and every country.
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.
I would absolutely love to have breakfast or lunch with Glennon Doyle. As soon as I read her book, Untamed, I knew I needed to get it in the hands of every journeyer in my Examined Life Work Group. My workbook is the practical outworking of the insights she shares in Untamed. It’s as if my thoughts were flowing through her pen to the pages of her book. It would be an honor to geek out over our work and dream about a larger impact together.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can find me at www.lifelivedbydesign.com. All my social channels are there, and you can also order your copy of The Examined Life Workbook or join my next work group.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!