Keep developing yourself. You’re never baked. Read, have a coach, do seminars, and learn. Walk your talk, do your own “hard” work, and don’t let yourself slide.
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 Thea Sommer.
Thea Sommer is a world-class master coach with 30 years of experience as an Olympic-level trainer in the arena of human transformation. She is the creator of Beyond Ten, a proprietary methodology designed to empower her clients — individuals, couples, and organizations of all sizes including the not-for-profit sector — to create results beyond what they have been able to achieve on their own.
For the past three decades, Thea has guided hundreds of people and organizations from around the world in creating extraordinary breakthroughs in their work and in their lives. Her love of people and commitment to making a difference are a source of energy and value to her clients, who come to her with a myriad of goals they’d like to accomplish.
Thea’s own life story is proof that challenging circumstances can be stepping stones to extraordinary fulfillment if they are harnessed in the correct manner. Thea has dedicated her life to helping people from all backgrounds and circumstances succeed and transform their lives, as she has, in the face of difficult life and work challenges.
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?
My backstory is quite a story. Growing up, I had a pretty “rough” childhood. I was lucky enough to have some really incredible friends who brought me into the world of transformation and personal development at the height of some very dark times for me. Once I had a taste of it, I was hooked. I loved participating in the world of self discovery and development. I began my career working for an organization that was at the forefront of that kind of work at the time. I was on staff there for 17 years and from there, I began my coaching practice, Beyond Ten, and am now in my 22nd year of my business.
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 would say that the three traits most instrumental to my success were, and are:
- Commitment: Don’t shy away from working hard, even when the desired results aren’t happening. There has certainly been many a time in the past 22 years when my business results were not what I wanted. I didn’t ever really consider shutting down or doing something else. I was and am able to relate to the ebbs and flows of results as just part of the business process.
- Integrity: I take my work and the trust of my clients, very seriously. Staying true to my work ethic, and my word are an integral part of why I believe I’m successful. I won’t sell out for something I don’t believe in, so I have a very strong “guiding beacon.” I don’t take on all the potential clients who seek my services. It’s because I know that not everyone is necessarily ready to have a coach and I know that no matter how insightful I may be, it can’t make a difference for someone who is not ready or willing to do the work of being coached. Although perhaps it’s not the best business decision to turn down work, I know that in the long run that will end up being better for them and will be more powerful for the business.
- Curiosity: I am insatiable when it comes to wanting to learn about the human condition. It’s the fabric of my work and my own self-awareness. I love that the work that I do is endless in terms of the way one can look at what drives the behavior of human beings. I am also always on my own journey of self-awareness. I am always, reading, getting coaching, being in seminars, and trainings. Even though I’ve been doing this type of work for almost 4 decades, I am still as hungry for the next opportunity of learning as I’ve even been.
How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?
As it relates to my business, I’ve been working from home for 20+ years. One of my daily habits is that I do not work in my pajamas. It doesn’t matter if I have one hour of work or eight hours of work to do. I get dressed to work. I imagine that the act of changing clothes, is one of changing my mindset and focus.
Another incredibly powerful habit is working from to do lists and my calendar. At the end of each day, I do my to do list for the next day. It serves a couple of purposes. I can disconnect from the business because I know what I’ve accomplished, what I haven’t accomplished and what I need to do moving forward. It’s a way of being complete with all of that before moving into my “down” time. I also start work in the morning, ready to go, knowing what needs to be accomplished and clear about the day ahead, as opposed to starting my day sorting all of that out. If I could suggest one thing to take on, it would be that practice.
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?
That’s such a great question. Habitual behavior is so powerful in terms of what it produces in our lives. This, of course, is both on the positive and negative side and I’ve known both. Knowing how impactful negative habits were and are in my life, I’ve been lucky enough to experience the success and satisfaction because of positive habits.
There’s a powerful phrase that I believe comes from the 12-step program. Right action leads to right thinking. As human beings, we are often programmed to live our lives based on how we feel and what we think. While our thoughts and feeling are meaningful, important, and impactful, they are often the enemy of powerful action. It seems that powerful habits are born of intention and commitment regardless of one’s thoughts and feelings.
My sons are great teachers for me. I am so inspired by them both. My oldest son has dealt with anxiety and depression as he was growing up. We did all kinds of things to help him deal with those dynamics. He had a great therapist and lots of powerful family support and guidance. One of the things he learned is that if he does certain things every day, he won’t go into a bad space that spirals. It’s not that he won’t have “bad” days, but it won’t spiral into that dark place. He knows that doing those things daily are his access to being powerful in the face of this. That’s the kind of thing that practices and habits provide.
Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?
I think it may be the same answer for both. Make a commitment, a goal, a promise and then get someone to support you to do or stop those things.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
I have so many, but today, I think it’s, “Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” It reminds us to be awake and present to others as we move through our days. It also reminds us that we too are fighting great battles and remembering that can have us breathe a bit easier about those tough things we’re dealing with. It’s an amazing way to pop oneself out of being judgmental and impatient. I know I need those reminders all of the time!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I’m working on developing leaders within organizations as well as training coaches. I absolutely love this type of work because it’s helping people strengthen the muscle of empowering and bringing out the best in others. That makes them more powerful, but it also reaches through to those I may not meet because they will be impacted by those people I’m working with.
The other incredibly exciting part of my work now — and it has been for more than a decade — is working with moms. I facilitate a seminar: Freedom, Power & Peace: A Workshop for Mothers. I created and began leading this workshop out of necessity. I was going through such a hard time as a mom, and I knew that I couldn’t be the only one, and I was right. From that, the workshop was born and I am so grateful that it was. It is a workshop I make sure to lead at least one time per year.
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.
- Keep developing yourself. You’re never baked. Read, have a coach, do seminars, and learn. Walk your talk, do your own “hard” work, and don’t let yourself slide.
- Go the distance to take care of people in terms of doing great work with them. Everyone is so different. People need different things at different times to be their best, to create powerfully, and get through the tough times. Do the work to figure out what people need and then figure out how to provide it. If you can’t, be straight up about that.
- Take on those you know you can make a difference with and have the courage to refer those that are not a fit to someone else. In the long run, this is better for everyone. They will feel better if they’re not failing, you will feel better when you are making an impact, and you won’t have someone out there that you haven’t made a difference with. That’s the kind of thing that affects your business in the long run.
- Get really organized. If that’s not your thing, hire someone to help you.
- Get great at communication — speaking powerfully and listening powerfully both in your work and your own life.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen coaches make when they start their business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
I don’t know if I’d call it a mistake, but the biggest obstacle I’ve seen with coaches starting their business is self-doubt. It literally can kill off creating a powerful business. If you’re not nervous when you start any business, let alone a coaching business, I’d honestly be concerned. You have people’s lives at stake, so feeling nervous or insecure, without being paralyzed by the fear, is natural and normal. People often give up at this point. They feel that the fear or nervousness or the uncertainty are reasons to stop as opposed to signals to keep moving forward.
Another mistake new coaches make is getting “stuck” with one way of dealing with their clients. Coaching is an art and a science. Doing it well requires such presence and fluidity, dancing and bouncing with clients as opposed to having “the” way to respond with people.
Lastly, clients come and go — that’s part of the business. It takes something to not let that feel like failure or make you feel like a failure. New coaches make the mistake of taking things too personally at times. One has to be open-hearted and thick-skinned at the same time.
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.
Creating a “wow” customer experience has to do with the impact you’re making with your clients. Help them have insights, they will be “wowed.” Help them take actions they haven’t been able or willing to, they will be “wowed.” Have them wake up to their power, they will be “wowed.”
I have many examples of those conversations where there was a real insight or transformation. I call those “pops.” Whether those breakthroughs are big or small, my goal is to have them happen regularly on each of my calls. Of course, the real measure is what happens in the lives of your clients after their calls with you, so don’t get too mesmerized by what happens during the session.
Another aspect of creating a “wow” experience is something you can’t fake. It’s taking care of and serving your clients by going the distance. Going above and beyond in terms of fulfilling their requests, timeliness, and taking actions that make them know how much you care about them.
Lastly, at least for this conversation, is follow up and follow through. For many of your clients, you are their accountability person. When they make promises and commitments, when they set goals, when they talk to you about behaviors that they want to change — follow up. Create a system where those kinds of things are managed. It makes such a huge difference when we know that someone has really heard us.
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 not a good person to speak about lead generation. I have been so blessed that my business has been 100% referrals. I believe that’s the most powerful way to build any business. Produce such great value that people naturally want to share it with others.
You have to start somewhere and for coaching, everyone you speak to is a possible client or contact or knows someone who is. If you become about selling yourself everywhere, that won’t work either. You’ll come off as “salesy” and no one likes or trusts that. The guiding beacon is always thinking from your commitment to help people and make a difference.
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?
Work hard, play hard, don’t be a martyr. Push through to be powerful with the actions you’re resisting, and rest when you need to. Walk your talk. You will be coaching your clients to have balance and well-being. You can’t be effective with that when you’re not taking care of yourself. If you’re not reliable with yourself about that, talk to your coach!
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. 🙂
That is such a powerful question. I think the movement I would create, or continue to empower, is the one of each day making a difference for at least one person. Each day, being concerned for another as we are for ourselves.
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.
Arianna Huffington is one of the top on my list. I am so taken by her authenticity, her life journey, her capacity for growth and change and rising from her own ashes — and taking all of that to help and make a difference for the rest of us. I appreciate that she has a revolutionary spirit.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!