Show Notes

Pamela Slim, business coach and author of The Widest Net, emphasizes the importance of catering your work to your ideal client. Luisa Zhou, business and entrepreneurial coach, shares the catalysts for her shift from her 9-to-5 job into coaching. 

Pamela opens the episode by emphasizing the importance of catering your work to your ideal client as they will be the best referral — sharing you with those around them who are in the same circle of need. 

Pamela goes on to talk about the three-step process she uses to find the right client and market for your coaching business. She discusses the resources and networks (watering holes) ideal clients are going to, and provides steps and tips to get into these communities to reach your ideal clients (tiny marketing actions). 

Pamela’s first book, Escape from Cubicle Nation, acts as her base for how coaches at different levels can approach clients and be visible to clients. She encourages coaches to evaluate where their ideal clients are, be clear when describing who they want to work with, and have something concrete to sell. 

Luisa Zhou’s journey from corporate to coaching acts as a model of Pamela’s theory. She shares her journey from corporate grind to coaching triumph — a journey not without challenges. Luisa bravely navigated family medical emergencies and job challenges to forge a successful coaching business.

What’s her secret sauce? Luisa stresses the importance of strategic client engagement, savvy risk management, and harnessing steady growth over flashy leaps. Her business exploded once she committed fully to coaching, but it was by no means an overnight journey.

Expanding on Luisa’s experience, Pamela shines a light on the importance of developing intellectual property. She warns new coaches about the potential overwhelm from a sudden influx of clients and advises staying focused on your target market.

Luisa chimes in with her golden trifecta for increasing visibility: consistent lead generation, sales, and delivery. She shares the importance of risk minimization and sustainable growth, vital strategies for coaches looking to expand.

Pamela steers the conversation towards networking with other coaches, outlining the benefits of a supportive community. She introduces her ‘Watering Hole’ concept, a testament to her relationship with Guy Kawasaki, which propelled her coaching career to new heights.

And remember, you don’t need to solve every client problem! Pamela encourages partnerships with fellow coaches, forming a referral network to better serve clients.

Lastly, Luisa advocates for keeping your marketing style consistent with your business focus. Find what you love doing, use that to get your business visible, and strike a balance between monetizing and fulfilling outreach efforts.

So buckle up, grab a notepad, and join us as we explore ways to expand your coaching brand’s reach!


Pamela Slim:

To me, the center always of everything I do is around really looking at what I create and creating it for that person who I most want to help, which is always my ideal customer in my business. What do they need? What are they struggling with? And where you can create something that delights them. They’re often the ones that can run off and tell somebody else that they’re working with how they need to be paying attention to you.

Shawn Hesketh:

Hi and welcome to the Coach Factory podcast. You just heard from Pamela Slim, business coach and the author of several books including The Widest Net. I’m your host, Shawn Hesketh, and on today’s episode of Coach Factory, you’ll hear from two top coaches on how you can expand your coaching brand’s reach. Pamela continues with her process of finding the right clients and expanding your business to reach them.

Pamela Slim:

So there’s an analysis of the ecosystem that surrounds your ideal clients. The whole method is built around the premise that your ideal clients that are focusing on solving a particular problem, let’s say they want to grow their business. They are probably listening to podcasts that can help them. They go to conferences and events. They may have a whole number of different coaches. They might have a mindset coach. They might have a financial coach. They read books. They might belong to associations. So already our ideal clients are connected to what I call watering holes, places in person and online where they’re going to for resources, support, and information. So our job in this next phase is to do an analysis about the best watering holes that have the largest amount of our ideal clients, and then to find easy, highly relational, non-pushy ways to begin to participate in those communities and eventually connect and often speak to or share in these communities to reach your ideal folks. I call them tiny marketing actions.

Shawn Hesketh:

The best part, whether you’re an experienced coach looking to expand or a new coach taking the first steps, this process helps coaches at every level.

Pamela Slim:

This applies to any coach at any stage because I’ve done a lot of work early in my coaching career. My first book was Escape from Cubicle Nation, and so I worked with many, many people who were doing coaching for example as a side hustle to a full-time corporate job. And we’re at different stages of business. You focus on different things in the early stages. I always suggest to clients that you’re a little bit less precise or stressed out about the perfection of things because it will stop your momentum. You need to still be making sure that you’re visible, be clear in how you’re describing who you want to work with, and you have to have something very concrete to sell. At any stage of business, you’re going through that evaluation exactly your focus, the way you go through it, the importance, the investment of how you do it is going to be a little bit different at different stages, but the approach is really the same regardless of where you’re starting.

Shawn Hesketh:

The experience of transitioning from a nine to five job into coaching is something many coaches can relate to, and Louisa Zhou is one of those stories. She’s a business and entrepreneurial coach who left her corporate job to establish her coaching brand on the side. Luisa makes it clear that her success didn’t happen right away, but that she worked full time while facing her own struggles to expand her brand’s reach.

Luisa Zhou:

So it was not an overnight success, which people always think it is. But the time when things came together was after I’d been trying and working on lots of business ideas, failing, having little bits of success here and there for a really long time, and then things finally came together for me to make $106,000 in four months in my first side business online before I left my nine to five.

Shawn Hesketh:

That’s a fantastic success story. But if you look closely, most overnight successes actually took a long time. Luisa worked in several different coaching markets, but she credits two specific moments with helping her move into coaching and finding the brand that she wanted to build into a sustainable business.

Luisa Zhou:

So for me, there are two key moments when that just made the difference. The first was personal and what motivated me to really get serious. In short, I’d been trying to start my own business semi seriously on the side for about two to three years, but I would make some progress and then give up and have a month or two or three before I decided to try again. And what happened was that over the span of a year, everyone in my family had something crazy happen to them.

My mom was diagnosed with cancer, my dad was rushed to the ER for heart surgery and my sister got hit with a snowball and almost lost her eyesight. Throughout all of that, I was able to be with them for a little bit, but I couldn’t just say take a year off and expect my job to be there waiting for me. So that gave me the motivation to say, “Look, the job is good enough, but I want to have something where I can be there for my family when they need me. Otherwise, what’s the point of any of this?” And that gave me the motivation to overcome my fears and really figure out, “All right, how can I get serious about building a business that replaces my income?”

Shawn Hesketh:

Now, this might be the moment you’d expect Luisa to stop everything else and focus on only her coaching business, but she saw the problems with that idea. What stands out to me was that she started connecting with her clients even before she stepped away from her corporate job.

Luisa Zhou:

I think there’s this really sexy idea about burning the bridges and going all in. And I was tempted, I feel like I had this conversation with my mom every other week, “Mom, something happened at work. I’m just going to go all in and turn in my notice.” But I’d worked my butt off to have a really good salary and career, and I wasn’t going to just have no backup plan and then what have to go put a financial strain on my parents or maybe find another job that kind of set me back from all the work I’d put in. And so basically, I didn’t realize this at the time, but I think I made the decision I wasn’t going to leave my job until I had replaced my income and I was in the right place at the right time too. Facebook ads were relatively new to small businesses.

I had the knowledge people wanted what I had to share. And so I just got out there, I was talking to people. People started getting really great results, words spread, and really quickly what happened was in my first month, I made one sale. Next month I made two. The month after that, things started really coming together. I got a handful of clients. At the end of that, I was booked out solid because I still had my job, so didn’t have a lot of extra time. So I started launching a small group program, hustled, sold that out. And then by the end of month four, beginning of month five, I was essentially $106,000 in sales. And so at that point I knew, “Look, this is my chance. I’ve got to either go all in on this or the momentum might die down.” And that’s when I decided, “All right, I’m going to turn in my notice.”

It was completely the opposite of all the things you think about when you think about working for yourself glamorous, having freedom of time control, it was full on work mode because I knew it was kind of do or die, and so I could use momentum I built or I could just let it die out. And so what happened was I was actually in Chicago at the time and I was like, “Okay, I want to cut expenses, so I’m going to move in with my now husband who was in New York.” He had a rent kind of subsidized apartment because his job paid him so little, so they subsidized the rent a little bit.

And so we moved into this. I moved into his apartment, cockroach infested, all the good stuff and kept my expenses really low. And I worked nonstop for the first year. And my husband likes to tell the story where he would come home at two or three in the morning because of his job and he would see me still hunched over the computer typing and working, and then he would go to sleep and then he’d wake up and I’d still be there.

And so that was what it was like for the entire first year where I just went all in on talking to people, just doing more of what had been working to really build out that reputation for myself and build a stable base.

Shawn Hesketh:

I love how Luisa’s story hits on the very real challenges lots of coaches face when transitioning from a full-time job into coaching. Pamela builds on this idea and gives a look into what comes next in the work of building your clientele.

Pamela Slim:

When coaches are successful at establishing their business, beginning to work with people, develop a reputation and develop their own intellectual property models and frameworks and approach to the work that they’re doing. Very often demand starts to increase and they get more referrals. And before they know it, they begin to get really, really busy. And they go from worrying about if they’re going to have any clients to worrying how they’re going to have time to spend time with their family or they feel always overrun and stressed. And it’s at this point and that they often have to make choices about exactly who they’re working with, what they’re doing, how they’re delivering services, and in some cases, to not just do it themselves, but to begin to hire and bring on a team. It is really easy to be overwhelmed by all of the different techniques in transactional ways that you can grow your audience.

The best advice I have for people at any stage of business is never skip the foundation. If you get caught where you’re not exactly clear who you’re marketing to, but all of a sudden you start to spend all this money on Facebook ads or complicated marketing funnels, things that can be very effective if they’re dialed in on top of a solid strategy, that’s I think where a lot of people get overwhelmed. So I always recommend get very specific and essential at your foundation so that you’re excited about what you’re doing, you’re clear in the way that you describe who your ideal clients are in a way that’s not filled with jargon. And then you’re able to be strategic about the kind of marketing activities that you do. It’s not about doing everything all the time, it’s about choosing the specific marketing vehicles that work for you that you notice over time get you a consistent flow of clients.

Shawn Hesketh:

That really resonates with me because it’s easy to fall into the myth that you need to become a viral sensation or become a Facebook ads expert, or worse create some kind of no-brainer low cost offering, but it’s critical to get crystal clear on who you’re marketing to, and then you can get really specific about the marketing channels that’ll work best for you and your clients. And Luisa has three non-negotiables that really stood out to me for coaches who are looking to increase their visibility.

Luisa Zhou:

Well, I want to get down to this type of business. There are a few things that really form the baseline. You got to be driving new leads as often and consistently as possible. You got to have a way to make consistent sales, and then you got to have a way to deliver. It really comes down to those things. So once I boiled it down to those non-negotiables is like, “Okay, what I need to be doing every day to at least get myself out there a little bit.”

So in the beginning for me, the strategies I chose were ads because that’s what I knew. And then using my own Facebook group to post content and be in front of my audience. For sales, I hadn’t at that point figured out how to do sales in an evergreen always on method. And so it was, I’ll reserve my sales from when we’re doing the big launch, those work well enough. And so when we’re in launch mode, that’s going to be the sales part. And then delivery would be the rest of the year where we would be running delivering the group program or I’d be delivering on whatever I was working on with my one-on-one clients. And so those were literally every day the non-negotiables. I’m checking in on ads, maybe creating new ads. I’m posting one post in the Facebook group, I’m writing an email to my email list, and I’m of course delivering what I promised to my clients.

Shawn Hesketh:

But with that added visibility comes risks. And taking big risks for faster growth doesn’t always work. So as coaches, it’s important that we protect our business and clients.

Luisa Zhou:

Another principle that has really made a big difference for when we choose what strategies is risk minimization. And so the way I’m always thinking about it is, what is the least amount of risk that we can use to take on to get to our next phase? And sure, you can argue sometimes there’s an offset for growth. If you are willing to take on bigger risks sometimes that means you get to grow faster, but honestly, I know these days I value my peace of mind and stable growth versus maybe a really big quantum leap that as the potential also to fail and really screw a lot of things up.

And so whenever I think about something, I’m thinking about, “Okay, it doesn’t have to pay off necessarily right away, but if that’s the case, what do I need to do to keep revenue going until that strategy has paid off? And what does that look like?” And so it’s always about what’s sustainable, what’s going to minimize risk versus what I think a lot of other people talk about, which is what’s going to grow us the fastest and the biggest. Again, there’s a time and place for that, but I just think peace of mind and stable growth is underrated.

Shawn Hesketh:

Slow and steady wins the race. I think it’s also helpful to recognize that the coaching industry is huge and we can use that to our advantage. Pamela says another way to increase visibility is by connecting to and referring other coaches.

Pamela Slim:

Then you start to look out in the world and because you have clearly defined what’s the problem, challenge, or aspiration that your ideal clients want help with, you need to recognize that there already are places in person and online where other people are helping them with those same problems or challenges. All of us have probably been at a stage of business, either we’re doing something new or we’re just starting out or it feels like we’re just yelling into the internet, hoping that somebody will find us dropping things in LinkedIn or social media, getting no feedback, wondering if anything is working whatsoever. And I do believe it is important to be visible and have a presence and share as a long-term consistent strategy.

A way to shortcut that experience would be to say, “If I am helping people to break through that glass ceiling and get the promotion that they want in their company, who are other associations maybe that are helping women to do that? What are the podcasts that are the most listened to on that topic? Is there a conference that’s specifically focused on executive women that if I go to it would be a literal place where I could find ideal clients anywhere I go. Any of the people who might be speakers at that conference could potentially be referral partners because most likely they’re going to be talking about things that will be highly complimentary to services that I’m offering.”

So the next phase of your research and development is really to look for places where people already are looking. And the quickest way to do this, if you have worked with even just a handful of people, is to ask them questions like, “What is your favorite podcast?” About the topic that you know that they are working with you on or, “If you could go to one conference a year, what would be that conference and why?”

Gathering this information over time, collecting the data is super important for you then to begin to reach out, plant seeds, make connections, test and experiments so that you can find out if these watering holes are really great places for you to be. And if they are, I’ve known plenty of clients that have a very focused marketing strategy, and that could be sometimes presenting at a core conference maybe that has, that delivers in different parts of the country four times a year, or that’s their main source of clients because they know when they speak there, when they show up, it’s a good fit for values, it’s on the same mission, it’s highly complimentary.

And so these are the ways that we can begin to really dial in, where to spend our time, and then also make certain decisions about how we are sharing our own point of view in what I call your beacon. So you can go places where other people are which is great, and show up there as a guest on a podcast or as a speaker on a stage. But then you also want to have a very strong home base where when somebody goes preferably to your website, they can immediately know what’s your point of view, who do you work with, and have lots of good ways that they can understand what it means to work with you.

Shawn Hesketh:

Pamela lives this approach and it’s inspiring to hear how her experience connecting with Guy Kawasaki changed the way she connected with clients. It’s during this process of working with her community that she developed a watering hole concept for coaches who are looking to grow.

Pamela Slim:

The concept of Watering Hole came to me in 2006 when I was a very new coach. I had been online for about six months. I had a blog at that time, and I wrote a post called An Open Letter to CEOs Across the Corporate World that was basically giving them straight advice that I had gleaned from spending 10 years as a management consultant before I became a coach when I was in Silicon Valley, observing the behavior about what I saw senior folks do well and not so well in terms of attracting and retaining clients. So I wrote this blog post that was very clear and passionate I will say. I imagined myself speaking to a room filled with the CEOs, and I just laid it out. And on a whim, I had been reading Guy Kawasaki’s blog, Guy Kawasaki wrote The Art of the Start.

He’s now the brand ambassador, chief evangelist for Canva. He also did it for Apple, very well known person in the startup world. And on a whim, I just reached out and sent him an email at 10 o’clock at night saying, “I just wrote this, and it just seemed like you would be interested in it.” He loved it. He emailed me right back and he ended up publishing it on his blog the next day. And I went from my dad, my sister, my best friend, reading my blog to tens of thousands of readers all over the world because all of a sudden they had somebody in the watering hole that was guy’s blog in 2006. That was the perfect connection. So when they found me, all of a sudden they were all excited about what I was doing even before where I was just sharing little bits for whoever would pay attention.

When I went a place where a Guy had already spent the time to gather a community, a strong beacon, a way that he was communicating at lots of subscribers, when I showed up in that place with my message, people immediately had more trust and credibility in me. And we’ve talked about it, we’ve been become good friends from all the years since. But he said that he really has this specific approach. Some people can wait for that influencer to touch you on the forehead with their magic feather or whatever it is to give you visibility. He said, “A lot of people think that I have the Midas touch or whatever I touch turns to gold.” He says, “They totally have it wrong. I only touch gold.”

For me, what’s always been that lesson for everybody, regardless of the stage of business, and I really try to honor this in my own work, your main job as a thought leader in your coaching business is to be creating really highly effective, useful, revolutionary content and IP. And when you do that, and then you are clear who are other people who are working with your ideal clients and customers, when you reach out to them, if they happen to give you time, if they check into what you’re doing, they’re going to find gold. They’re going to find that you really are somebody who has rich information and solutions. And that’s always the approach that I’ve taken. And it’s where you see this connection between your own thought leadership and these watering holes, the places in person and online where somebody else has gone to great care to assemble a very large and very passionate audience.

Shawn Hesketh:

So leverage those communities and resources. Look for other coaches who compliment your offerings and vice versa. There are more connections out there than you probably realize.

Pamela Slim:

No matter how many years, decades, now that I’ve been in this business, I know that I can never provide all of the support, resources, and information that my clients need to make the transformation that they want to make. And so when you decide the parts that you know can help them with, then you’re going to be looking for the partners. I call them peanut butter and jellies, people who with highly complimentary and non-competitive services that you can recommend to your clients that can be good sources of referrals. We were mentioning Ramit Sethi, who now has a new Netflix special, How To Be Rich based on his book, I Will Teach You To Be Rich.

Ramit and I for so many years have been peanut butter and jelly partners. I’ve gone in and taught in his programs. I’ve shared his books and classes with my clients because my clients need to have a more solid financial foundation, and that is not my area of expertise. So when you think about it that way at first, what are all the things that your client needs to do to get to their destination? Then you can be precise with what you offer. And then by definition, you’re going to be finding the other partners to do that work with them, which means that probably there’s going to be a super healthy referral network where the more that those people know about what I’m doing for example, then they can be referring people to me for the things that they know that they don’t want to do.

Shawn Hesketh:

These kind of peanut butter and jelly partnerships or relationships are just one avenue, and there are lots of ways to explore them, but let’s be honest, the hard work of expanding and finding new clients can be daunting, and it’s easy to feel lost and not know what you should be broadcasting to your audience. Luisa has some advice that might help.

Luisa Zhou:

A really key foundational aspect for growth is to understand the business that you’re actually in. What I mean by that is a lot of the time coaches and course creators and consultants, they think I’m in a coaching business or on online course business, et cetera. But the truth is that’s just how you monetize and how this is, if all you did was coaching all day long, would you still have a business?

And so to understand and to really kind of reverse engineer that, what it really takes to grow, especially if you’re using online as your medium, is to understand that you are essentially in the content business, content of some way, shape, or form. It can be social media, ads, blogs, whatever. The form is up to you and what you want to do best, but it’s understanding that you’re in the content business, which completely shifts how you prioritize. Because if you are not creating content every day, then you’re not doing what you’re doing, which is running a content business. And once you understand that, it really shifts how you invest your time and resources to be able to grow your business so that you can then do the things that are both monetizing and fulfilling you just to have the people come and find you and buy from you so that you can help change their lives through your services and products.

Shawn Hesketh:

And at the end of the day, we’re in the business of changing lives. Luisa’s story is a great model of putting in the time to develop your brand. That along with Pamela’s advice on building a network, provides some tangible steps you can take for expanding your business. And that’s fundamental to the work we’re doing here at Coach Factory.

A huge thank you to both Pamela Smith and Luisa Zhou for the resource they’ve been and for sharing their stories with us. Be sure to check out Pamela’s book, Escape from Cubicle Nation. And be sure to check out the Coach Factory website if you’re looking for more resources to help you in your coaching journey. Thank you so much for joining me today, and I can’t wait to see how you build and expand your own coaching business.

This episode of the Coach Factory Podcast was produced with the support of Come Alive Creative. To hear more episodes, get the show notes, and learn how to start, run, and grow your coaching practice, visit

Become a Coach Factory Member Today for FREE!

Listen to the full-length interviews, plus get instant access to our growing library of tools, training, insights, and resources you need to elevate your coaching game... completely free. No upsells. No gimmicks. Free forever!