Rebecca Maxwell of Perception Insights: “Wowing our customers is actually quite simple”

Wowing our customers is actually quite simple — listen to what they are looking for, understand what they really need, find out what success looks like for them and make sure to deliver against those expectations. Get them the results that will make the difference they’re looking for in their lives or their business. The coaching industry […]

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Wowing our customers is actually quite simple — listen to what they are looking for, understand what they really need, find out what success looks like for them and make sure to deliver against those expectations. Get them the results that will make the difference they’re looking for in their lives or their 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 Rebecca Maxwell.

A business strategy & executive leadership coach, Rebecca Maxwell from Perception Insights combines hands-on operational, strategic & C-Suite experience with professional coaching, training & facilitation credentials, bringing a unique blend of insight & knowledge to her work with clients.

In her former life, Rebecca managed, developed & led teams & organizations to find focus, set priorities, design strategies & make decisions — her skill is building capacity within teams & developing leaders with the confidence to deliver. She works with clients across many sectors including professional services, manufacturing & retail — translating vision into action with route maps showing a clear way forward yet with the flexibility to adapt to the reality of an ever-changing world.

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?

I have to be honest here, I never really expected to end up as a Business & Leadership Coach. I had my career path set — moving through the tiers of management in UK Local Government & finishing up as a Chief Executive. I got as far as Deputy Chief Executive and that was the point I realized that what I really enjoyed doing was bringing out the best in other people — helping them solve their problems, learn new strategies, pick their way through tricky situations & cut loose from all the restrictions they placed on themselves & that were holding them back.

My two proudest moments were a young female colleague telling me I’d inspired her to think about becoming a manager because watching me she’d understood that she could ‘do it her way’ & not conform to the (then) macho stereotype, and seeing one of my direct reports see off tough external competition to become my successor when I left my last job.

When we moved to New York, starting a Leadership & Business Development company seemed like the obvious step & a great way to put my years of experience profitably to work. It seemed like it would be an easy transition. Little did I know…!

Almost 4 years later, it’s proved to be a good decision — and one that I wouldn’t change. The business is strong, the SheConnects® Women in Business community I host is thriving & get the chance to do what I truly love every day. But that doesn’t mean it’s always been easy.

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?

Well, optimism would definitely have to be one of them! Not the blind, hoping for the best despite all evidence to the contrary kind. Rather the kind of optimism that keeps you going even when you face setbacks — I suppose some people would call it grit or perseverance. Or perhaps it’s just stubbornness. Apparently I was always a willful child…

Our early time in New York was tough. We arrived knowing only a handful of people and none of them well. I had no network, no track record to speak of (at least not as a ‘coach’) and definitely no sales experience. The business plans we’d drawn up back in the UK fell apart in a matter of weeks. Things didn’t go the way we’d expected, no-one was biting. It would have been easy to be discouraged and give up. Or conversely to keep trying to make the original plan work.

Instead, it was back to the drawing board. Some keen observation of what was happening around us. A lot of research, questioning & fact finding. And hours of conversations with anyone I could get to spend time with me so I could get to know what made New Yorkers tick! And from that we were able to come up with an alternative — more successful — approach.

Which is probably the second important character trait — flexiblity. While I’m stubborn, I’m also willing to look at things again, notice what’s not working & find a new way forward instead. Being an entrepreneur is able about being flexible. I’ve heard it referred to as adopting the scientist mindset — develop plans, understand the assumptions supporting the plan, notice what happens when you start to implement it, constantly adjust based on what’s working & what’s not working & keep a close eye on what’s happening around you that might change behaviors & outcomes.

When the pandemic hit in early 2020, everyone jumped on to remote working & video calls. People seemed to crave connecting in whatever way they could. Then gradually Zoom fatigue set in and people needed something different. We still weren’t able to meet up in person, but the connection we’d initially found was a life-saver didn’t work any longer. Mixing up the approach for the networking sessions I was offering for the SheConnects® community was the way forward — listening to my clients & working out how to beat digital overload by varying formats, topics & even timing.

And I guess that’s the 3rd character trait that’s served me well — compassion & empathy for the other person. Not always assuming I understand, taking time to understand the problem before offering a potential solution & thinking about it from multiple perspectives. If there’s one thing that typifies the work I do & the skills I build with clients, that’s probably it — making the effort to see a situation as many different ways as possible, thinking about impact for others & choosing our behaviors & responses accordingly.

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

It’s time for another confession — I’m not really big on habits! I know that’s heresy from a coach, but as a Behavioral & Personality Styles practitioner, I know that we’re all wired slightly different. And my own personal wiring definitely prefers spontaneity to routine & habit — it’s how I’m most productive, and also happiest.

But having said that, I also know that our behavioral preferences are not an excuse to avoid the tough stuff we need to do — so, yes, there are some habits that I’ve made myself develop to help me on a day to day basis.

  1. Get up early most days. By early, I don’t mean crack of dawn 5am early — but certainly early enough to have cleared my emails, checked my schedule & done some exercise (not necessarily in that order!) by around 8am. It’s not a strict every day habit — but it’s rare to find me not up & about by 9am, including at the weekend.
  2. Set boundaries about working time — particularly if you work for yourself. It’s all too easy to let it invade all of your time, and I know from bitter experience how unproductive & ineffective we are when that happens. Burn out is real and effective ‘personal policies’ that protect recharging time are essential. As is understanding how you recharge — but that’s a whole different conversation…
  3. Find a piece of joy every day. Exercising our happiness muscle should be a daily practice. The seriousness of our lives can take over if we’re not careful — the challenges we’re facing personally and the dilemmas in the world around us. Intentionally seeking out & noticing small pieces of joy is a good counterbalance.
  4. Set intentions. My personality type doesn’t go for detailed goal or resolution setting but I do believe in setting intentions — what in overall terms that we’re trying to achieve, in business & in life. I make a point of setting intentions every year so that I know what success will look like and can plan accordingly. On a more micro level, I also make it a habit to set intentions for every meeting, call and workshop. I find it helps to keep me on track & purposeful in amongst my preference for spontaneity!
  5. Finally, always, always follow up. Not only does it make good business sense & avoid leaving money on the table — but it’s also an essential element of building trust. You can’t get very far without trust in business and showing that you’re reliable enough to follow up demonstrates that you’re likely to be dependable in other ways too. To make it easier, create routines — follow up folders in your email system, lists in a notebook, reminders on your calendar, post-it notes — whatever it takes to keep you on track. The ‘snooze until’ feature in my email system has been a life-saver for me!

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?

There are 2 main reasons why good habits help — they keep us consistent & reliable, and also they free up our brains for more complex tasks.

Habits short-circuit the thinking process — anyone who does things on ‘auto-pilot’ knows this. Our brains are actually wired to take the easiest option — like early computers, they only have so much processing power and working memory. The more we can push into routine & habits, the less of that power & memory we have to use, meaning the more we have for actual thinking.

And consciously creating good habits — or at very least being aware of & breaking our bad habits — is important for exactly that reason. We do them automatically, whether we like it or not, and if we’re not consciously cultivating them we are at risk of letting our bad habits — or unhelpful routines — get in our way.

When we first moved to New York from the UK, I treated myself to a new laptop. I quickly realized that while computers are pretty generic, keyboards aren’t. There are different layouts depending which country your laptop is from. Not so much the letter keys, but all the other ones — the punctuation, special characters and function keys. I spent a couple of weeks determinedly trying to remember the US v. the UK keyboard layout before deciding it was too deeply ingrained and would take too long to retrain my brain (& fingers). I had enough other things to expend my ‘processing power’ on — so I now I run my US keyboard on a UK setting and rely on muscle memory instead of see the keys!

Not quite an answer to your question, but a great example of how habits short circuit our thinking — and how tough they can be to change! Moral of the story — be aware of your auto-pilot routines, change the ones you need to, and if necessary, develop work-arounds for the ones that matter less.

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

The short answer is to start doing the good ones, and do them repeatedly, and stop doing the bad ones.

The slightly longer answer is find things that make it easy to do the right thing & hard to do the wrong thing. For example, if you want to drink less wine at night, don’t have any in the cupboard and have alternatives within easy reach instead. If you want to exercise more, build it in to your schedule intentionally & plan it for times when there are fewer competing calls for your time & attention. If you want to run in the morning — this is one I do — lay out your running clothes the night before, write it in your calendar & set your alarm for 15 minutes before you want to be out of the door, long enough to get ready but not so long that you have time to think twice about it!!

Another technique I use with clients is to plan out & vision in detail what doing the new thing will be like — when you’ll do it, where you’ll do it, how you’ll make sure you’re not disturbed or distracted, what equipment you’ll use and so on. Seeing yourself doing it consistently & knowing that you’re consciously choosing & making space for it is a great first step — and again, takes away the extra effort of thinking about it at the time, you’ve already planned for it & seen yourself do it.

And of course — whether it’s a good habit you’re trying to form or a bad one you’re trying to break — have a really powerful reason for making the change. What will it allow you to do that you can’t do now? What will you gain from making the change? In concrete terms, how will your life be better?

Also be realistic about what you’ll be giving up — be aware of it ahead of time & acknowledge the loss so that when it gets tough, you know you’ve already thought this one through.

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

I have what one of my friends describes as a ‘storage locker brain’ — relevant quotes frequently pop into my head. Three that I come back to time and time again — both personally and in my coaching work are:

  • “It’s never too late to be what you might have been” — Mary Ann Evans, or George Eliot (one of the leading novelists of the 19th century) as she is more commonly known
  • “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken” — who knows but usually misattributed to Oscar Wilde!
  • “Always be a first-rate version of yourself, not a second rate version of someone else” — Judy Garland

Growing up I was always trying to conform to other people’s expectations of what & how I should be. This carried on into my working life — and it took so much energy! I realized I was so busy trying to be the leader I thought everyone wanted me to be that I wasn’t using the skills, expertise & strengths I actually did have. When I gave myself permission to do it my way, be the leader I was designed to be, my performance sky-rocketed, I was happier & I had more energy. I also had more time for everyone else. I was just so much better in so many ways — pure & simple — it really was my Aha! moment.

In truth, being able to grow that confidence — and release — in other people is probably the main reason I was drawn to coaching in the first place. We are not all wired the same, so why should we expect to conform to a single standard way of being successful? Helping clients uncover their own personal way is a privilege to share on a daily basis.

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

Two things are really exciting me at the moment — continuing to develop our peer-to-peer Mastermind groups, where like-minded group members offer each other insight, challenge & support on a regular basis — like having your own personal Board of Advisers; and also helping teams navigate the remote, dispersed & now hybrid working arrangements that the pandemic has forced us all into. Helping leaders understand that it takes a slightly different set of skills to manage hybrid teams has been really fun.

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.

From personal experience, I would say that the 5 things that have helped me be successful as a coach are:

  • Knowing what my strengths are, where my true expertise lies and who gets the best results from working with me. There are many different types of client out there and not all of them will be good for you. Be clear — to yourself & to others — what the right fit for you is & focus on that. That way your clients get the best results, you develop an impressive reputation & you’ll enjoy your work way more into the bargain.
  • For example, I know I work really well with people, women in particular, who want to make an impact, have a strong sense of purpose, and are willing to say when they don’t know. They’re usually already successful but not necessarily in their own eyes, and/or worry that it’s all just been luck so far. They may be unsure of what to do next for the best, or feel like they’ve hit a bit of a bump in the road and want some help getting back on track.
  • On the other hand, my style isn’t really the right fit for highly driven, uber-confident alpha types looking to push on to their next life goal so that’s not the language I use when I talk about what I do.
  • Knowing my worth — and asking for it. This was an uncomfortable one to learn. I’m definitely the type that doesn’t like selling & putting a price on my services felt really awkward. Someone said to me early on, people often value things in direct relation to how much they pay for it. If we underprice our services we risk people undervaluing their experience with us. We also have to remember as coaches in particular, that although what people see is the hour we spend with them, what they don’t see is the time we spend preparing, reviewing & following up — and that all needs to be built into the price too.
  • I suppose another way of saying this is — know how much you need to earn, know how many hours you can realistically expect to be fee-earning, and set your prices with this in mind. For me, I work on the basis of a 60/40 split between delivery/fee earning & non-delivery/business development.
  • Saying yes to opportunities– speaking engagements, networking events, 1–1 conversations or introductions, even when it’s not entirely obvious where they might lead. That doesn’t necessarily mean saying yes to everything — going back to the point about intentions, there are likely to be some ‘opportunities’ that definitely belong on the Not To Do List — but it does mean being open & being curious.
  • Some of my best contracts have come from conversations I went into with no expectations and just followed the flow — which is good & more than makes up for those ones that we think are ‘a sure thing’ and then just don’t materialize!!
  • Investing in my network. There are SO MANY coaches out there, particularly in New York. Standing out from the crowd can be hard. Making sure your close network knows exactly what you do & who you work best with, and understands your track record & the results you deliver for your clients makes it much easier for them to spot opportunities that might be good for you. Doing the same in reverse for them makes it more likely.
  • I would say that 70% of my business comes from personal recommendations & word-of-mouth referrals. Those are by far the easiest ‘sales’ conversations to have. And if I trace it back, the other 30% probably comes from ideas, suggestions or opportunities put my way by people in my close network!
  • I see so many people — not just coaches — treating networking as if it’s a competitive sport, where the winner is the person with the most contacts. They spend time constantly ‘collecting’ new names instead of cultivating depth in a handful of good relationships & making sure they’re strong and stay that way.
  • Not being a purist. I often tell people that while my clients get great results working with me, from a technical perspective, I’m actually not a great ‘Coach’. I don’t follow a particular model, and I find it hard not to offer advice (a particularly heretical confession for a coach). What I do make sure I do, however, is absolutely focus on the client in front of me & what they need, and then use the most appropriate tools, techniques & models to get the right results for them.
  • As the saying goes, there’s a real risk when you have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail — and the best coaches are flexible enough to understand that, have a varied enough toolkit & are able to pull out the right tool at the right time.

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

Too many coaches think that being a successful coach is the same as knowing how to coach well. Unfortunately there are lots of great coaches out there who just aren’t making money because they don’t understand that they also need to sell. That’s probably the top mistake I see coaches — and not just new ones! — making. They have all the skills, they just don’t (or can’t) make the commitment to develop their business as well.

Another common mistake is thinking people care what we do, when what they’re really interested in is what we can do for them. It’s not the method or the process that people want, it’s the results they get from working with us. Learning to speak more about your successes with clients and their results, & less about x, y or z process or technique you use is the trick here.

The final thing that I see too many new coaches doing is spending huge amounts of time creating complex programs & products, polishing them until they’re perfect and then launching them. All without finding out if it’s what people are looking for, and usually without any thought of how they’re going to sell them. More often than not, the price point is also too high for an initial purchase when they haven’t built up a track record yet. Unsurprisingly they don’t make many — if any — sales and yet another month passes without any revenue to speak of.

A couple of quick ways to avoid this — test the market, early & often. Put ideas out and see what interest there is before spending time developing the full product. And find out if people are not just interested in general terms, but also — crucially! — willing to pay for it. Also, have some lead-in low ticket price products available as well that allow potential clients build trust in you before making a big spend decision.

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.

Great question. Creating raving fans is always a good business strategy!

Wowing our customers is actually quite simple — listen to what they are looking for, understand what they really need, find out what success looks like for them and make sure to deliver against those expectations. Get them the results that will make the difference they’re looking for in their lives or their business.

It’s not just about delivering what we have, it’s about making it work in context for them. Always tailor — cookie cutter rarely delivers a Wow experience.

It’s also important to remember that our role is to challenge as well as support our clients. We have to be involved whilst remaining objective — and to push back & hold to account as necessary.

I remember a client who kept finding other things to do — admittedly not unimportant things but other things all the same — instead of updating her website. As soon as I noticed this was happening, my responsibility was to make her aware of it too, remind her why updating her website was important (she was losing customers because it was unclear) & then work out with her a specific strategy for getting it done, removing the distractions & barriers & following up with her to make sure it happened. During the 4 weeks it took to complete the work, I don’t think she liked me very much for my constant reminders — but at the end, when she had her refreshed website completed & positive feedback from her customers, she forgave me!

Delivering a Wow! isn’t always about being nice…

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?

I’m a great believer in word of mouth, particularly for coaches where the personal chemistry is so important.

As well as having a strong, well informed network as I talked about earlier, I also have a policy of ‘show, don’t tell’. Let people see you in action and make up their own minds about whether they want to work with you. For example, for my Mastermind groups, I always invite people to come as a guest for their first session before deciding.

I also do a lot of speaking & taster workshops. Some participants convert into paying clients, others don’t — but I always make sure there’s a ton of value & people go away with things they can do straight away to make a difference.

There’s a body of opinion that you should reserve your best ‘stuff’ until your client is paying you. For me it’s not quite the reverse — paying clients still get a lot of new valuable information — but I’m quite comfortable sharing core concepts & tools, even at free talks or workshops.

For one thing, there’s always more — and for another, as coaches we should have confidence that it’s the experience of working with us that makes the difference for our clients, not just the tools or concepts themselves. It’s not the thing itself, it’s how we put it into action & the support we provide that is key. If it was as easy as just hearing something & doing it, everyone would just buy a book & that would be it. But we all know it’s not that easy.

So in short, show what you can do — build trust, demonstrate credibility & competence, prove yourself valuable & reliable and allow people to get to know you. Let them buy from you, don’t sell to them.

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?

I talked earlier about making sure that everything we do is absolutely in context for our clients. That requires us to be fully present & focused in all our interactions with them. And to be able to do that, it’s essential we safeguard our physical & mental wellness — so this is a really essential question for coaches, almost of all entrepreneurs.

My advice to others? First of all, go into this knowing it will be demanding. Forewarned is always better, that way at least we can start to think about tactics & strategies ahead of time, not when we’re already burnt out.

Know that you will make mistakes and you will fail in some things. Falling down isn’t the problem, not knowing how to get back up is. That’s where the scientist mindset I mentioned earlier is so useful — experiment, review, learn, move on. Rinse & repeat.

Having a good support network is also critical. Too often people think their network in business is about leads & opportunities, but it should also be about support & recharging. I think that’s why Mastermind communities are so effective. Finding your like-minded peers & using them as your sounding board really is important at all stage of having your own business, not just start up.

And then there are some practical things we can all do — like making time for exercise, it really does make a difference. Have a policy of doing something that makes you happy every day and something that you love every week. Smile often, find things that make you laugh.

And finally, one of the things I suggest to clients, particularly when they’re moving into unfamiliar territory (new job, new market sector, promoted post) — create your Little List of Awesomeness. I did this when I moved from being a successful senior executive to being a rookie coach. It’s all to easy to forget the things we’ve already done, the successes we’ve achieved & the kudos we’ve earned. Having a Little List of Awesomeness gives us something concrete to hold on to and look back at in those dark ‘What on earth have I done?’ moments.

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. 🙂

Rather than start a new movement, I’d rather use any influence I might have to amplify existing causes & movements.

Organizations like Read718, the amazing children’s literacy project in Brooklyn. We already support them by donating the ticket money from one of our event programs. I also volunteer with them when I can, but I’d love for more people to know about the amazing work they do to make sure no child is left behind because of difficulty with reading.

And also initiatives that encourage us all to be more accepting, understanding & tolerant of differences between us, recognizing that diversity brings strength & that it is the sum of our unique, individual strengths & contributions that will propel us forward as communities.

As one campaign in the UK said, We have more in common with each other than things that divide us. If we could live with that as our guiding philosophy the world would be a far kinder, better & more productive place.

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.

Am I allowed two people? I would love to have a private breakfast with Brené Brown & Simon Sinek. I’m a follower of the work of them both & it would be amazing to hear them talk to each other as well as have the opportunity to engage with them myself. And breakfast is my favorite meal of the day!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

The easiest place to follow me is through LinkedIn, where they can also find out what online events we’ve got going on. (

Or if they are interested in slightly longer reads, I also occasionally publish to Medium (

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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