In the inaugural episode of the Coach Factory podcast, Pamela Slim, business coach and author of the book The Widest Net, and BoldHaus CEO, Angelique Rewers, share practical advice and insights about how to develop your niche as a coach.
Instead of getting lost in labels and marketing, Pamela stresses the importance of pinpointing a problem you can solve. It’s more about the problem-solving and less about stating, “I’m a [insert type] coach”.
Following her own journey from the corporate world to coaching, Angelique discovered a three-step process for finding your niche: awareness, curiosity, and testing. Don’t underestimate the power of your previous experiences; they shape your skills and expertise.
Both Pam and Angelique share the challenges new coaches face when starting out. Most are experts in their fields, but not necessarily entrepreneurs. This is where Pamela steps in to help, focusing on converting expertise into a brand.
Angelique shares how she first stumbled into her niche, which was largely influenced by her network and the market demand she noticed when she started interacting with her audience. From awareness to curiosity, and finally, testing, she managed to carve out her unique space in the coaching world.
Pamela brings up a key point – it’s not just about demographics. Choosing a niche is about addressing a specific problem, not targeting a specific type of person.
Also, don’t rush your niche selection. Make sure it’s a good fit and it’s viable.
To wrap up, Angelique lays out her five rules for coaches carving out their niche:
- Follow the money.
- Know thyself.
- Grow where you’re planted.
- Think big, start small, and move fast.
- Conversations create cash flow.
So, whether you’re a seasoned coach or just starting out, this episode is packed with tips to help you find and flourish in your niche.
There’s a lot of information and direction I think that coaches get, especially around developing a niche. It’s everything around branding and marketing, things like having a catchy phrase for your brand name or describing yourself in a certain way. People torture themselves; “Should I be an executive coach or should I be a life coach?” And all of these terms I understand are very important to us internally in the coaching world, and they literally mean nothing to people who you want to work with.
The more that you are clear about describing your service without even mentioning the fact that you’re a coach and really directing it toward what is that problem or challenge you’re helping people to solve. You could say, “I work with people who are totally afraid of making more money and they don’t understand why and it’s completely holding them back and their family back.” You could be an accountant, you could be a financial planner, or you could be a coach, but when you’re describing a problem or challenge that way, the average person who’s listening can hear themselves or they can hear somebody they know in that description and that begins that first kind of amplification of a business.
Hi, and welcome to the Coach Factory Podcast, where we take you behind the scenes to learn the secrets of successful coaches who’ve been right where you are. I’m your host, Shawn Hesketh, Executive Director of Coach Factory and a fellow coach and entrepreneur. Today, we’re exploring one of the first steps to building your coaching business: finding your niche. You’ll be hearing from two different coaches about different processes you can use to evaluate your interests and your experiences to find the right market for you to support your clients. And you may gain a bit of insight into the different types of niches out there.
The honest advice you heard at the beginning of the podcast was from Pamela Slim. She’s a business coach, the author of several books, and co-founder of the Main Street Learning Lab in Arizona, along with her husband Darryl. She’s the author of The Widest Net, a book about expanding your client base and network, and Escape from Cubicle Nation, which is full of tips and advice for breaking out of corporate jobs and into coaching. During our conversation, Pamela explained that building a coaching business in a niche requires knowing the problem you want to solve and being passionate about solving that problem.
The foundation of your business that you know is going to have life and growth and it’s going to be connecting with ideal customers is first solving a problem that you care about solving. So if you’re just chasing what feels like the latest thing that people are talking about in the market that you’re not really interested in, you’re probably not going to have any longevity in that area. You want to make sure it’s tied to your direct experience, skills, and capabilities. You don’t have to be perfect, but you do have to be solidly competent and excited to learn more to support your clients and customers, and it has to be a problem that people are willing to pay to solve.
The way Pamela approaches finding and understanding the right niche for you is centered on problem solving and the resource you become to your clients. And one coach whose story embodies this idea is Angelique Rewers. Angelique is the CEO and founder of Bold House, but before she founded her business on coaching, Angelique worked for 15 years in the corporate Fortune 500 world, and it’s exciting to hear her tell her story of discovering the world of coaching and how she began to find her niche.
My journey as a business owner, as an entrepreneur really began many years before I even started a business. From day one that I worked in the Fortune 500, I was supporting C-suite executives and often ended up involved in the hiring of outside subject matter experts, service providers, vendors, suppliers, not typically from the procurement side of things, but more from the special projects and special initiatives that the senior executives were working on, things like mergers and acquisitions, business transformation projects. And I would sit through an awful lot of meetings with these outside vendors and service providers and suppliers. And 99% of the time it was a pretty miserable meeting. And little did I know, at that point in time, that I was really training for the niche that I have today.
So many people who become coaches aren’t aware that this is an opportunity. The moment when Angelique chose to move from working for a company to running her own business, I think, is inspiring. And that’s the first part of the three steps she has for testing out a niche; becoming aware.
There was this night that I was in the office very late. It was not uncommon for me to be in the office until 1:00, 2:00 in the morning. That was a regular occurrence. On this particular evening, it was around midnight, I was one of the last people left on our floor in the building. And one of the things that I really needed to get done before I left was signing off on invoices for several of the outside subject matter experts that were supporting me on a very large financial communications project that I was leading. So I pulled out their invoices and started reviewing them.
And as I’m going through these invoices, I mean A, I’m tired, and B, I’m frustrated, and C, I just want to go home and I’m going through and I’m looking at the list of items on these invoices that they’re billing us for. I’m looking at how much they’re charging and I’m seeing this huge number at the bottom of the invoice. And I remember thinking to myself, “Every single one of these items that is on this invoice, I had to essentially handhold them through and really direct it to give the input of what exactly needed to happen.” And yet, they’re making two and three times what I’m making. And I want to be clear, I was making great money, and they’re still making two and three times that but they’re not stuck in the office at midnight, and I’m the one who’s really the brain power behind the work that they’re doing.
So it was really a V8 moment for me of, why am I here making half to a third of what they’re making? Why am I not on the outside? Why don’t I have my own consultancy and my own agency versus being an employee inside of this organization?
And Angelique’s story is not the only one where someone in a corporate job took their skills into their own coaching business. Pamela has worked with several coaches in this process of transitioning, and it could be really tough because there are so many new and unique demands in being a coach, but the expertise you bring builds both your credibility and also your personal connection with clients.
So, a common type of coach that I have often worked with throughout my own practice has been somebody who has had deep expertise in their field. They might have been a very successful person in a corporate career that was working in training and development, for example, or in finance or in IT. And in that work, they noticed that one of the most enjoyable things that they did was having conversations with people who they worked with or with customers about deeper issues that were often a little bit more difficult to describe when they were in their corporate job.
So very often they go through a coach training program, they learn some of the skills of coaching, but then suddenly realize that knowing how to coach, having natural skills around coaching, which is so important and critical and important, does not a business make. I would often say in the early days when I started to blog at Escape from Cubicle Nation, that hating your job intensely is not a business plan. And so there are very concrete things that if you are new to entrepreneurship, you need to understand and put in place in order to begin to have a flow of clients.
Angelique’s story has a unique experience with this idea because she transitioned into a niche early on in her career because of the network she built and the needs she encountered while talking to other coaches and entrepreneurs. Changing your network can be one of the big stressful words in coaching, but it has a huge impact on the clients you connect with.
So one of the things that I started to do when I started my first business, that first agency consultancy, was to start networking in a new way. You really want to build up your network. And so I had befriended another woman business owner in the city where I was based at the time and she had decided to put on a local conference in that city for women business owners. So she asked me if I would come and speak to these women business owners and teach them how to get media for their business. And twice I said no, partly because that wasn’t my primary focus, I wasn’t a PR firm, and two, doing PR and media for corporate is very different than when you’re a small business owner and you’re trying to get coverage for your business, it’s two different animals. So I really felt that there was nothing I could offer of value at this conference. I really felt sort of, who am I to do that?
Took me out to lunch a third time and said, “Angelique, I’m not really asking you. I’m telling you you’re going to come and present at this conference.” And I said, “Okay, okay, okay.” So here I am. I walk into this session, we’ve got tons of folks there ready to hear me talk about media, but they introduced me and they talk about the clients I’m working with and what my firm does and I’m maybe, I don’t know, maybe I’m four or five slides into my slide deck and someone’s hand goes up and basically interrupts me and says, “That’s great, but did you use media to get all of these clients that you have?” And I’m like, “Well, no.” And then I go back to trying to talk about the media again and next hand goes up. “Well, if you didn’t use PR to get those clients, what did you do?”
And so there’s this tug of war that starts to take place between me and my slide deck that I want to get through and the curiosity I’ve now unleashed in the room. So that tug of war continued for a good 75-minute session. We go to break, one of those coffee breaks afterwards, and I basically get mobbed by people from my session who want to know if they can hire me, if I do any type of coaching or consulting around helping other business owners to get B2B and corporate clients. And of course, my answer at that point is no, it hadn’t even occurred to me. You have to understand, there’s no awareness in my mindset at all about teaching small business owners how to grow their business. So my answer was just, “No. I work with corporate,” and also I’m very busy by the way, I’m at this conference and I have a million deadlines for my corporate clients going on, so I’m not even really in this receptive place.
But saying no right away doesn’t always mean that it doesn’t work. I was really inspired by how Angelique saw this new niche growing and then the steps she took to get involved. And it’s so interesting to see how it grew from an interest others had in her to an interest she had in the problems they were facing.
The very next day, several people asked me if they could take me to lunch to pick my brain. I actually said yes to the first person. Nowadays, I would never say, “Yes, you can just pick my brain,” but I thought it was really interesting. I was curious. So I think the next phase I was in was curiosity.
So phase one was awareness, right? I become aware at the conference. Phase two, I’m now in a phase of curiosity. What are people doing to get their clients? What elements don’t they understand about how to get their clients? So I started doing some lunches and coffees with people, letting them pick my brain, and I kind of did that casually for a couple of months. And then eventually actually there was a woman who showed up at my front door and she knocked on my front door and she’s like, “You’ve been dodging me, but I’m not going to leave until you agree to take me on as a client.”
And so that was really, after curiosity, I was really now into a test phase because I agreed to do it for her as a test. I said, “I’m not going to promise, commit to this long term. Let’s put something in place. You can pay me by the hour at this and I’ll see how it goes.” So now we’re really moving into that test phase. I don’t even have a system at this stage or a framework, so I don’t know that I can teach this. So we really went from awareness to curiosity to pretty quickly, now I’m a quick start for those who know Kolbe, but I would say I was in testing probably four months to five months after that conference. So, it moved pretty quickly.
Angelique’s three-phase process for finding her niche; awareness, curiosity, and testing, can be really helpful for coaches as they start to evaluate and take the first steps into exploring a new niche. But like she said, it’s not an overnight change or decision. And sometimes exploring one niche, while working in another, can present other challenges, which Angelique had to navigate as she explored the small business niche while also trying to keep up work as a corporate coach. But she learned a lot of lessons along the way and it was interesting to hear how she overcame it.
So when my business was 50/50 between working with corporate and working with small business, it was a really tough place to be. I had to do everything in my business twice. I had to have two websites. I had to have two marketing strategies. I basically had to have two accounting systems because the way you bill is separate. I had to have two different client lists. I had to have two different sets of services, different branding. It was really tough to operate in that 50/50 world and it was killing me. I mean if you can just imagine how hard it is to run one business, now you’re running two businesses, it’s not really going to work. So at this point, I am just treading to keep up with water so I don’t drown under all of this.
And I decide at this stage that I am going to really have to make a decision as to which direction to invest in the business, where was I going to really put my time and my energy? And I started going to some conferences for small business owners more in this new space. If you are considering going in a direction with a niche, you need to go swim in that niche with other people who are already there because not only is it going to accelerate your business and your development in that niche, but you’re going to find out really quickly if that’s water you want to be swimming in or not.
While sharing her experiences at different events, one thing that stood out to Angelique was her interest in this new niche and her business. The positive response to what she was doing became a huge reassurance to her during the process. And it’s interesting to hear how reinforcement can help in the testing phase.
It was really great at that stage to get third-party, objective input on the business to make sure that I wasn’t crazy. And that, I think, was the kind of final flick of a domino, if you will, of getting someone who had advised so many businesses, who looked at that and said, “There’s so much opportunity there. Folks don’t know how to go sell to corporate. You’ve got to go all in on this.” And so that really gave me that sort of final nudge, if you will, to really start putting, it wasn’t that I fired my clients and if stuff still came to me from the corporate side, I kept doing it, but I wasn’t proactively cultivating that side of the business. I was putting all of my time and energy from a business development perspective, a thought leader perspective into NewCo, if you will, the new direction.
Getting referrals and encouragement from other coaches and professionals in your field is huge when starting into a niche. And Angelique’s experience is a perfect model of that. That reassurance changed when she committed to her coaching business, it was a transformation. And while I was listening to Angelique’s story, I was reminded of something Pamela said about the transformational journey that coaching takes a client on and how the niche you choose sets you on a special part of that journey.
I love looking at the entire transformational journey that your client is going to take, given your area of expertise. So if you might be a financial coach, your client might start feeling overwhelmed, not having resources, maybe not understanding different models of how to make money or save money. And when you think of the end of their transformational journey, they are abundant, they have a strong mindset, they have new financial habits, they literally have more money in their accounts. In order for them to make that entire transformational journey, because from their perspective, that’s where they want to go, you have to decide as a coach, which parts of that journey do you specifically want to help them with?
And I know that a huge step to finding your niche is finding how and where you want to support your clients, but discovering the niche you want to work in isn’t the last step. The testing phase can present a lot of challenges early on when you’re working in a new niche. And a challenge Angelique faced that really inspired me is the assumptions that she brought in about the work she’d been doing in this new niche. She had to step back and really understand the work.
I never gave myself that moment of purposefulness and mindfulness maybe is a better word to use. I didn’t say, “Oh, isn’t this interesting? I’m starting to really explore this other area. What baggage and assumptions am I bringing with me to this new business sector?” And what I mean by that is, all of the things that I was doing in corporate and all of the service offerings that I was offering over there, I went almost into a default that I had to provide them in a different market, that I was making a segue but I couldn’t leave certain things just on the corporate side and that I was bringing that stuff over.
So I think really what would’ve helped me more is just more mindfulness and purposefulness, calling a timeout, and really asking myself, am I making some assumptions here? Am I jumping to some conclusions? Are there rules that I’m playing by that I don’t even realize I’ve given myself those rules? They’re just kind of baked into my mindset. So that really, I think, would have helped me.
One of the many lessons we can take away from Angelique’s experience is to evaluate a niche before you start working at it to avoid these same mistakes. Assumptions can cause you to struggle in coaching work that would otherwise be exciting and impactful without creating these barriers to your success. Pamela takes it in another direction when it comes to choosing the niche to work in, her encouragement to be specific when you start in a niche comes from the experiences and the challenges she faced early in her career.
It is very important to be specific. Many people interpret needing to choose a niche or needing to be specific as tying them to a specific demographic component of their market. So they might say, “I really don’t want to limit myself to only working with women or only working with people in the oil and gas industry or only working with 35 year old environmentalists.” All these demographic characteristics. When we talk about a niche, it really is an area of a problem, challenge, or aspiration that you can really build a body of work around.
So, for example, at first I thought I would mainly be getting demographically people who came from creative industries who maybe were in their mid 30s and liked my approach, being more of a creative person myself. I ended up working with people all around the world from just about any demographic that you could possibly imagine from 24-year-old hip hop artists in Indonesia to 55-year-old IT consultants in Iowa. And so it wasn’t so much a niche of a particular demographic kind of a person, it was more an approach to solving a specific problem. In that way, I think it’s super important that you do have a focus and clarity. And it also does depend though, when in your coaching journey that you’re deciding because if you narrow in too soon, you may not know the kinds of things both that you’re interested in and that the market is willing to pay for.
As I listened to Pamela’s story, this theme of doing what you know well and knowing how you can positively impact others really caught my attention because it’s so central to the process and different phases of choosing a niche. I mean if you’re like me, you got into coaching because you wanted to help transform the lives of your clients. And a real key to that is to choose a niche that deeply resonates with who you are because when your expertise and passion is naturally reflected in your coaching, you’ll be more authentic and effective. Today, Angelique helps other coaches understand the best ways to discover the right niche. And she’s developed five rules that came from all the experiences she went through in her coaching journey. And after hearing her story, I can see how each one serves a purpose and can guide coaches as they find their niche.
If you want to find and develop your niche as a coach, I’m going to give you our rules of business at Bold House because this is, in large part, why we built them. And the first rule is follow the money. You’ve got to follow the money when you’re looking for a niche. Your business is an economic engine. If it’s not an economic engine, it’s going to be a really challenging journey and not in a fun way. So number one, follow the money. Number two, know thy self. You really have to be self-aware when you’re looking for a niche. If there is something that is anti to all that you stand for as a human being that is not for you, if there’s a field that you’ve always sort of gravitated to, been curious about, and learning about that industry or that field comes naturally to you, there’s a built-in curiosity, that’s something to listen to because you need to understand your market better than anybody. So know thyself.
Number three is grow where you are planted. Grow where you’re planted. So what I mean by that is, number one, understand where your professional experience has been. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Just because you had a toxic experience inside an industry or a employer doesn’t mean that you should never work in that industry again, it’s very different when you’re a coach and you’re on the outside. It’s completely different, it’s going to give you a huge advantage knowing that you were planted there. Another way to interpret the idea of grow where you’re planted is to be practical about geographically where you currently live. If you live in California near Silicon Valley, I mean there’s a couple of niches in your backyard. For Baltimore, biotech and healthcare is one of the biggest industries there is in Baltimore. If you’re in Northern Virginia, it’s all about the defense contractors and the government contractors. So grow where you’re planted from your own resume, your own Rolodex, your network is your net worth. And then look geographically at the map of where you are, understand what companies are based where you are.
Rule number four I shared with you guys already, but I’ll share it again, think big, start small, move fast. Don’t rule anything out or 100% rule anything in until you’ve gone out there with some degree of curiosity and some degree of testing. And rule number five is conversations create cash flow in your business. So this isn’t about writing a bunch of content and publishing it on LinkedIn and then seeing if you get any hits or building a whole program or a whole marketing funnel. You need to get into conversations with your ideal target decision makers and explore those conversations, not from a sales pitch perspective, but from a curiosity perspective, from a, are you spending money with people in this field? Where are you finding those people? So you’ve got to get into conversation.
And so I would say that those five rules have really served our clients well when it comes to getting clear, getting clarity around their niche as a coach or a consultant. It’s made a big difference and they’re such simple rules to remember, and yet it really just anchors everything in your business very, very quickly.
And I really hope you can take Angelique’s five rules with you. To recap, they are, number one, follow the money. Number two, know thyself. Number three, grow where you’re planted. Number four, think big, start small, and move fast. And the one I connected with the most, number five, conversations create cashflow.
There’s so much to learn from the journeys these two women have been on in finding their niche and the ways they support other coaches who are at the beginning of their own journeys. And whether you were inspired by Pamela’s words of wisdom or Angelique’s five rules, listening to both of them share their stories and the lessons they learned along the way has hopefully given you the tools and maybe even the first step to take as you find the niche that’s the right fit for you.
A huge thank you to both Angelique Rewers and Pamela Smith for their tips and stories, at finding a coaching niche, but also for sharing some of the challenges they faced along the way. Thank you so much for joining me today for this episode. I appreciate your time and I can’t wait to hear what niche you explore as you continue to grow your coaching skills and your practice.
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 CoachFactory.co.