This might seem obvious because to be an effective coach you have to be a skilled listener. But building a successful coaching business isn’t just about listening in the context of a coaching session. To build a successful coaching business you should always be listening.
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 Morrison.
Becky is a lawyer turned happiness and leadership coach and the author of The Happiness Recipe: A Powerful Guild to Living What Matters. Becky is a UC Berkeley Certified Executive coach who has built a very successful coaching business, Untangle Happiness, working with driven individuals to help them be better, happier leaders and live happier lives.
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?
Lawyer turned happiness coach is a curious path, isn’t it? I grew up — as many of us do — chasing the “shoulds.” I got the good grades so I could get the college education. Then I went to Georgetown University Law School, so I could get the good (read: high-paying and prestigious) legal job. Then a few years into my work as an antitrust litigator, I realized I’d checked all the boxes, I’d achieved all my goals and I still didn’t feel happy or satisfied.
I found myself one evening, the mom of a toddler, sitting on the bathroom floor with the cordless phone clipped to the back of my belt. I had papers spread across the floor, a notebook on the closed toilet seat cover, and a toddler in the bath. And I was simultaneously preparing an expert for trial and trying to bathe my toddler. I had two thoughts in very quick succession. The first was: “I’m killing it, I am literally doing it all.” This was quickly followed by: “This is exhausting. And unsustainable.” I had begun to realize that happiness and success don’t always go hand-in-hand.
From that point forward, I was drawn to discovering and fine tuning my own happiness recipe. I began to really explore what mattered to me and to my happiness, and to look for ways to live each season of my life in alignment with that. This led me on a sometimes-winding path through law firm administration, legal technology and entrepreneurial finance. Finally, just a few years ago, I found myself at another professional crossroads. That was when I decided to really lean into what had been the biggest constant in my work to date — people. I started my own coaching business.
Initially, I focused on helping leaders up-level their leadership skills. In working with leaders looking to grow, I found that many of them were like me — they had achieved success but not satisfaction. I decided to really unwind what it means to live happy — and thus my focus on happiness and my book The Happiness Recipe was born.
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?
Curiosity. I am insatiably curious. I’m that friend who needs to google the answer at the dinner table. As a leader, curiosity has supported my success in a couple ways. First, I am not intimidated by not knowing. In fact, not knowing is an exciting thing for me, because it means I get to learn. Second, I love learning new things. As someone starting and running a business, I’ve had to learn so much new information. Rather than being a drain, this has been exciting for me. Third, my curiosity enables me to resist jumping to conclusions. Instead of writing my own stories to explain situations, I ask questions.
In addition, I am often asked what skills I learned as a lawyer that help me most in my current work as a Leadership and Happiness Coach. The next two-character traits are part of the answer.
Being able to simplify complex concepts. As an antitrust litigator, I often had to find ways to explain sometimes complicated legal or economic concepts to clients and in courtrooms. As a coach, I often help clients by taking their complex problems and distilling them to their simplest essence. In doing that, the solution or path forward is often made clear.
Issue Spotting. Any lawyers reading this will be familiar with the concept of issue-spotting. Issue-spotting is when you take a complicated fact pattern and boil it down to the important questions or issues. It was the basis for the majority of law school exams I took, and it was a process I used as a litigator. It’s also a skill I use regularly in coaching. In the container of coaching, a client often brings a lot of facts to the table. One of my coaching superpowers, is to make connections between those facts, and boil them down to the key issues or questions. This helps the client focus their energy and let go of some of the noise that can be a distraction to moving forward — particularly in emotionally charged situations.
How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?
This might not be the answer you are expecting, but it is the honest one. I struggled with habits for a long time. I am an achievement-oriented doer. This means when I set out to achieve something, I like to get it done. I don’t wait, I don’t typically procrastinate, I like to check the box.
For much of my life, I took the same approach with habits. I tried to check the box so I could be done and on to the next thing. You can probably imagine that this approach is not ideal with habits. Going all in on trying to finish a habit is a surefire recipe for habit burnout. The reality is that you can’t ever actually finish a habit. There is no box to check, because a habit is only done when it is no longer useful or when you die.
Reframing habits as something I become — a new identity — rather than something I get done — a project or a task to finish — has been a game changer 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?
Because I think that habits are simply aspects of our identity, when you ask why it is important to create supportive habits, you are really asking: why is it important to have supportive personality/identity traits? When you phrase it like that you can’t help but imagine the ways that having good habits (or supportive traits) can set you up for success — in business or life.
As I launched my business, I thought about what kind of person I’d need to be to run a successful coaching business. Among other things, I decided that I needed to be organized, able to make quick and clear decisions and have the stamina to keep showing up for other people.
One habit that has become critical to my ability to do this is meditation. I am someone who meditates. I meditate because it allows me to reconnect with my inner wisdom, it quiets my mind, and it creates the conditions I need to make quick and clear decisions. In addition, it provides the space and restoration for my brain and nervous system to allow me to continue to show up for clients. Finally, it keeps me from getting overwhelmed — which inevitably leads to disorganization.
Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?
I don’t like to think of habits as good or bad — but instead as expansive or limiting. I’m not an expert in developing habits, but I can tell you two tools that I’ve borrowed from the experts that have helped me develop my most expansive habits. The first is — as we’ve already discussed — to make your habit an identity instead of a task.
The second, is to start small. I’m not alone in being action-oriented, and that can often mean that we jump into the deep end of doing. But when you are talking about shifting your identity — or building a new habit — starting small increases the likelihood that you will have the energy necessary to sustain transformation. Consistent small steps ultimately result in big change.
The same is true for habits that don’t serve you. Sometimes it works to quit cold turkey — but other times, it’s more effective to chip away at the behavior a little bit at a time. Here’s a small — but I believe effective example — I wanted to quit having so much sugar in the morning. I was a light and sweet coffee drinker, and it seemed cutting out the dairy and sugar in my daily coffee would benefit me. I didn’t switch to black coffee on day one. Instead, I started by cutting out the milk — a little bit at a time, until I was drinking just black coffee and sugar. Then I started cutting out the sugar — a little bit at a time. Now I drink my coffee black every morning and I enjoy it just as much as my old light and sweet coffee. That whole transition took close to six months. That might seem like a long time, but I wasn’t worried about the timeline, because I was trying to make change for a lifetime.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“And the day came where the risk of remaining in a tight bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom” — Anais Nin
This quote resonates with me because I see people go through this process all the time. Change is scary. Showing up more authentically and completely than you have been, can be scary. Owning your wants and needs, can feel risky. The reality is that lasting change comes when the risk of not doing it — of staying small and safe — finally outweighs the risk of actually making a change.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
There are two things that I’m really excited about right now. The first is my book — The Happiness Recipe: a Powerful Guide to Living What Matters. The Happiness Recipe is a grounded, approachable and tactical guide to finding your joy. It guides the reader to reconnect with what matters most to them; develop strong beliefs to support taking action; and then actually doing the kinds of things you want to while letting go of the rest. I’m excited about this book because it creates a toolbox for the reader of exercises and approaches that they can use any time they need to navigate challenges to their unhappiness.
The second is a group coaching/program membership that I’m building, called The Butterfly Society. I’ve seen the powerful impact that structure, accountability and community can have on outcomes. I want to create a container where happiness-seekers can come together to grow, learn and hold each other accountable for making the changes they need to make to become and stay happier.
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.
- Show up authentically and consistently.
Building a business won’t happen if you don’t show up consistently. And if you don’t show up authentically, the business you build won’t be one that makes you happy. One of the biggest lessons I learned as I built my business is what consistency really looks like. Consistency means showing up in a way that is visible to the outside world (e.g. social media, speaking, podcasting, blogging, networking) on a regular basis. Consistency means being willing to talk about the work that you are doing and the services you are offering publicly, a lot of times. Consistency means being willing to be seen in all your coach glory on a regular basis. Consistency can be scary and uncomfortable at first, but it gets easier with practice and its way more fun if you also bring authenticity with you.
Authenticity means being willing to show up in ways that feel right for you. Authenticity means sharing messages that are meaningful to you. Authenticity means talking about your work and services in a way that feels aligned — not simply following some prescribed script. Finally, authenticity means bringing your human vulnerability to all the places and ways you show up. It means being your full self, because when you show up as your full self you give your clients permission to do the same.
2. Understand that sales is just coaching.
When I started my coaching business, I used to say that I had no sales experience. That just wasn’t true. While I had never officially been in a sales position, I had spent my career “selling.” I sold ideas and projects to leadership, departments and teams. I sold services to clients. I even sold (mostly unsuccessfully) vegetables to my children. Sales isn’t magic, its actually something that most of us do every single day. When you demystify sales, and reframe it as something you are comfortable doing, it becomes so much less intimidating.
I think of sales as coaching. I don’t want to try to convince someone that they need to work with me. I want my clients to choose to work with me because they believe that coaching — and specifically my coaching — will be part of their solution. I approach most of my sales conversations like coaching conversations. I don’t ever think about “closing the deal.” Instead, I think about helping the potential client to understand what I do and get clear on the kind of the support they need to move forward. Then they can evaluate whether what I do is a match for the support they need.
3. Release attachment to the outcome.
This one has a couple of meanings to me. I believe that coaching is not about giving clients my solutions, rather it is about helping them find their solutions. To do that, I can’t be attached to any particular outcome for a client. Rather, I have to be completely focused on and committed to the process of coaching. This same approach applies to my business. If I am spending energy trying to control, worry about, anticipate, avoid or engineer a particular outcome I am taking energy from what I can control. I can only control my preparation, how I show up and what I do when I’m there. Any energy spent trying to control the outcome — in a coaching session or in my business — is energy that could be better spent elsewhere.
4. Get clear on — and comfortable with — your unique value.
As a coach you aren’t selling yourself, you are selling the value you deliver in the services you provide to your clients. Let me say it again, as a coach you are selling the value of your services, not your inherent value as a human being. It is important to get comfortable with the value you provide, and to establish how that is unique to you and your services. Yes, there are a ton of coaches out there, but there is only one you. What are your superpowers? What is different about your process, background, experience or program? Get crystal clear on that, and then be able to explain it to potential clients in words that are meaningful to them.
5. Always be listening.
This might seem obvious because to be an effective coach you have to be a skilled listener. But building a successful coaching business isn’t just about listening in the context of a coaching session. To build a successful coaching business you should always be listening:
- Listen to what your ideal client is saying — at networking events, in online forums, in articles. This listening can give you clues both to the kinds of services they’d be interested and the language to use in talking to them about your value and your services.
- Listen to what other coaches are saying. See how they are talking about their work, how they are positioning their services. Pay attention to what’s working and do a little thinking about why it might be working. It’s not just about emulating another coach — or saying it how they said it. Ultimately, you’ll need to use your authentic voice and approach. But seeing what’s in the marketplace can be a helpful guide.
- Listen to the people who aren’t buying what you are selling. Ask the folks who didn’t sign up to work with you what stopped them. There’s a lot of important data to be gleaned from people who aren’t buying.
- Listen to how your clients talk about what you do outside of your sessions — ask for feedback on the coaching experience. Ask what they would tell a potential referral if asked about what it was like working with you. Listen to how they are talking about the value they perceive that they have received. Those words provide important clues about the nature of the value you deliver and your marketing message.
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 first mistake I see new coaches make is believing there is a single formula for success. It’s easy to want to believe that there is a magic wand system and if you just learn it you will be set. Unfortunately, in my experience, that’s not how it works. Instead, you have to find the system that works best for you. There are a lot of great resources out there — use them, learn from them but never ever forget to ask: does this feel aligned with me? If it doesn’t, don’t use it.
The second mistake I see new coaches make is resisting showing up fully because they believe they need another certification or more education. I love learning — but there is no requirement that you learn more before you start showing up. Believe in what you already know, show up, and offer that. You can keep learning and your offerings will evolve — but don’t let the lack of a particular certification or education stop you from recognizing the value you can already provide.
Finally, and this is a big one, I see a lot of coaches not being willing to say no to clients, partnerships or projects that aren’t actually right for them. I think this mostly comes from a fear that if you don’t take the opportunity in front of you, you won’t get another one. But the reality is, when you take on clients, partnerships or projects that aren’t aligned with you, you are blocking better opportunities that could be finding you. Think carefully about what you say yes to — and never say yes to an opportunity that doesn’t feel right for your business, even a potentially lucrative one.
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.
Most of my coaching work is done in a 1:1 container. There are couple of simple steps logistical steps I take to make sure each coaching engagement is a successful one. At the outset of each engagement, I am crystal clear with every client on what coaching is and what coaching isn’t. I make sure they know what my role will be so that they know what they can expect from our sessions. I also make sure that they know when and how they can access me and how quickly they can expect me to respond if they reach out. Then I am careful to always meet or exceed these expectations.
In my first coaching session with every client, we do two important things. First, we agree on ground rules for the coaching relationship. This is important because, again, it sets the boundaries for the coaching container. This is also a meaningful part of making sure that clients know that I want them to speak up if something is not working or if they want to set a new boundary at any time during our engagement. Second, we set goals for our work together. Sometimes over the course of our work, these goals change, but having them as part of the conversation serves as a helpful guidepost against which to measure progress.
Finally, I’m not tied to a specific number of coaching hours. When someone decides to work with me, they know they have access to me for up to one coaching session a week with ongoing email and text support. I think clients appreciate knowing that I’m an accessible an active partner in their progress.
While I think these logistical steps are important, the real “Wow!” comes from the work. I am committed to showing up completely to each coaching session and, most importantly, to releasing any attachment I have to an outcome for the client. I am committed to allowing the client to discover the best outcome for them. And I’m committed to celebrating with them when they do!
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’ve sort of touched on it already but in my experience, the best way to find customers is to be consistently visible. I show up consistently and in a wide variety of places. I’ve appeared on 30+ podcasts. I speak to groups whenever I get the chance and I wrote a book. I find now that my leads come from people who already know me, already know the work I do and have sought me out because they want to work with me.
Remember, however, you don’t have to develop a huge online persona to be visible — you could be showing up consistently in organizations or social groups that you are a part of. You could be writing a blog. You could be volunteering. There are lots of ways to show up. What matters is not where you show up but that you show up. Consistently.
And when you show up you have to be willing to talk about what you do. You need the people who you encounter to leave the encounter knowing what you do, why you do it, and how you do it. So that they can have you top of mind when they encounter someone who needs what you’re selling.
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?
Two words: priorities and boundaries.
Start by getting really clear on what matters most to you in this season of your life. What’s your top priority? If it’s your business, that’s great! If it isn’t, that’s great, too! The point isn’t what it is — the point is to know what it is. Next communicate that priority to the people in your life who will need to know. In case you aren’t sure who that is, a good rule of thumb would be to share it with anyone who will be impacted by it. For example, if you will be less available to your family because your business is going to come first, tell them. Finally, let your top priority be your compass for making decisions — when you need to figure out whether to say yes or no to an opportunity ask yourself: how does this impact my top priority? If you are comfortable with the impact, say yes. If you aren’t, say no. It really is that simple — we just like to make it more complicated.
When it comes to managing your energy from there, boundaries are your best friend. Set boundaries with clients. Set boundaries with your team — if you have one. Set boundaries around your business. Define clearly when you will and won’t be available. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that you have to be extra available in order to be successful. Work and act with intention.
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 truly believe that I am here on this earth at this time to spread joy. For me that means helping people live happy, lead happy and build happy businesses. If I could leave any legacy it would be that more people would take the time to get to know what they want and need and would define and measure their success accordingly. In other words, that we could stop should-ing all over our joy.
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.
My teenage daughter would want me to say Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds — I’d love to meet them, too. They seem to have incomparable senses of humor and they are, I’m told, #couplegoals.
But I’m going to say Phil Mickelson. His recent win at the PGA Championship was nothing short of epic, but more impactful to me has been learning about the ways he’s increased his mental training to really allow him to continue to achieve. He told a story in his post-championship interview that has stuck with me ever since. He talked about his caddy — and brother — telling him that in order to win he’d need to take “committed golf swings.” He went on to explain that committed swings were those where you release attachment to the outcome and put your full focus on the action and feeling of the swing. I love this concept (probably not surprisingly) and I’ve incorporated the notion of committed swings into my daily action planning and action taking.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can find my book — The Happiness Recipe: A Powerful Guide to Living what Matters on Amazon and other places books are sold. You can also learn more about what I do, find all the places to connect with me, and the ways to work with me on my website at www.untanglehappiness.com.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!