If you’re thinking about starting a creative coaching business (and monetizing it effectively, obviously) so that you can consult people and help them with something you’re passionate about, then KNOW THE FOLLOWING:

  • this may be the most fun you’ve ever had in life
  • this will likely be the most involved (translation: hard) work you’ve ever done
  • there may be a day soon when you wake up and cry* merely because you get to do what you love all day; and that day may be followed by many more days like it

*Not to imply that I cry over silly stuff, or anything like that, because I don’t. I mean, I’ve seen a few movies, TV episodes, and even commercials that make me cry, but I don’t think it’s a pattern, per se. Every other day is not a “pattern,” right?

You do not need a formal education in your coaching niche. You do not need 11 impressive credentials in your area of expertise. You don’t even need one impressive accomplishment to start a successful coaching business, because . . .

If you’re genuinely passionate about something, skilled, and willing to do the work to learn whatever you need to so that you can help others, then you can become an expert who provides valuable content to adoring, raving lunatic fans. Let me show you how. I’ve got 21 steps to share.

Y’alls ready?

The first things you may want to do are pick a name for your business, whip up a fancy logo, decide the coaching packages you will offer, and promote yourself to your target market . . . but don’t. After starting and abandoning a couple of businesses (actually, 7-ish), then starting, growing, and rebranding my current business, and helping multiple clients with their companies, I can comfortably say that your first steps are best in this order:

Steps To Starting Creative Consulting Creative Coaches Be Like

K, now let’s get started:

1. Determine your true passions.

Answer a few of the questions:

  • What am I naturally good at?
  • What do I have training or education in that I enjoy doing?
  • What do I have an interest in or find myself researching often?
  • What am I passionate about that I will still be passionate about in five years?
  • What activities do I enjoy most?
  • What do I receive compliments on?
  • What do I find the most joy helping people with?
  • If my business wasn’t profitable for six months or more, would I still want to do it?
  • What topics do I bring up in conversation most often?
  • If I were to write a book right now, what would it be about?
  • Thinking through what’s involved in delivering my passion as a service (this post should help), am I willing to go through all of the steps?

P.S. Find a BBF {best business friend}. This process is no bueno on your own. You need a business friend who “gets” what you’re doing, can provide feedback, and supports your efforts.
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2. Discover your best audience.

You should know the habits of your target audience, know how they like to learn, and know what makes them trust a new source. Use something like this Ideal Reader Survey to get to know your audience better.

Whatever you come up with, try to narrow it down further. Do you coach writers on how to write and publish books, or do you coach first-time, female, non-fiction authors on how to write and publish books?
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3. Decide what perception you want people to have of you. Determine your ideal reputation.

This one is big. And the moral of the story is: choose who you want to be. If you happen to online stalk me (thank you!), you may have already seen my Entrepreneur.com article on 10 Steps to Creating a Killer Business Persona. Well, take those 10 steps, purposefully. As you craft your identity, try to see through the lens of someone who fits your ideal client profile.

Don’t be fooled by how deceptively simple this step seems. This is a huge/long lesson in the class I teach because it will ABSOLUTELY affect every other step of starting a creative coaching business or consulting practice.
Creative Coaches Also Be Like Teach People How to Treat You
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4. Craft a content plan. Determine the types of content your audience finds ideal. Figure out what you love to create.

There are three types of content essential to growing your coaching business, four that are key to business success. {Proverbs, anyone? . . . Crickets? Cool.}

>>> Uno. Cornerstone content: that which your brand will come to be known by. I’m far from being some “it” blogger, but my “cornerstone” pieces thus far are the ones in my sidebar. They’re the posts others seem to consider most useful, actionable, and geared toward my ideal blog friends.

>>> Dos. Content that furthers your goal reputation. If you want to be seen as “that woman” who puts together the most epic outfit posts of all time, then publishing a mediocre post with “meh” outfits is a #fail. If you want to be seen as the most helpful small business blogger to ever walk the earth, then your posts should be as helpful as possible. Don’t start posting a bunch of opinion pieces and San Antonio Spurs fan fiction. I mean, I’ll read it, but I’m not sure who else will.

>>> Tres. Shareable content. Those times you write something so clearly, or make a video so beneficial to your ideal clients, that you feel compelled to share it with as many people as possible. You know that you would be clearing up a lot, or helping people out with something major, if they would just read/watch/hear your content. If you feel like that once you create something, there’s a large chance that your audience will feel like that too.

>>> Cuatro. Gateway drugs.
I mean content. Gateway content. Drugs are bad! Or something like that–okay, kids? Gateway content is valuable content that naturally leads people to other products or services you have available, at other levels of engagement.

I’ll use this post as an example. This post is free. Free for anyone interested in learning how to start a creative coaching business or consulting firm. You may have a mild interest (and browse over the post or read it intently to see if you want to start a creative coaching business in the future) or you may have a keen interest (because you plan to start creative consulting soon). Either way, it’s free.

the Creative Coaching Manual | byRegina.comBut, wouldn’t it be beneficial if I had another product that was available to the people who are at a higher level of “readiness,” if you will? And indeed, I do. I have a 10-course online school for anyone who wants to create income out of their knowledge and skills. Hmm. But perhaps a whole program is too much for someone who is interested in coaching, but doesn’t have a sense of urgency about starting. Good point my astute sister or brother. So I’m also making this content into a guidebook that’s less expensive (and less hands-on) than the class.
<<-----but shh, no one knows about the book yet.

See how that works? There’s a product for almost everyone at almost every level. Whether your clients want to spend $0 with you while they get to know you, or $5 – $20 once they see how helpful you are, or $50+ once they’re convinced you are the one who can help . . . whether your clients have a growing, mild, or deep interest in your content, there’s something for them. It’s all about the gateway drugs.
Gateway Drugs: Not for Kids Kids At Home Don't Read This

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5. Choose a name and business entity.

Based on all the great work + discovery you do in the four steps above, pick a name that suits you + your audience + your content. Make the highly debated choice between branding yourself as yourself, Sarah McGinnis, or yourself as a company, McGinnis Coaching, or a company company: Muffin Tops Consulting.

Then it’s time to choose whether you’ll operate as a sole proprietor or perhaps form an LLC. Here are a few facts on the common business entities for you (from back when I was writing about semi-boring things like that).

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6. Build your brand identity.

If there was a spectrum of brand identities, on the “bad” end would be brand identities that take away from or hurt your brand. Yeah. I’m talking to you if you built your logo with clipart in a word processor.

On the good end would be identities that excite or add awesomeness to your brand.

And in the middle would be brand identities (like mine) that neither hurt nor greatly enhance. Pretty much, if you like me, you like me for my content, and my brand identity doesn’t distract you or pull you out of my content in disgust. I think.

Whatever you do, don’t end up on the distracting end of the spectrum. My actual feelings get hurt when I see a brand that has a 15-color + 7-font logo, with all 15 colors and 7 fonts used frequently throughout the site. Please don’t act like you’ve never seen it.

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7. Build a business plan, vision + mission statement.

I wrote a post on business plans for bloggers you can use as a guide.

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8. Establish an online presence and strategy.

Which will include things like:

  • understanding the basics of SEO (search engine optimization)
  • understanding SMO (social media optimization)–check out this article on SMO and these tips and video recording on SMO by Peg Fitzpatrick as a start–yep, linked to her twice because she’s that amazing
  • getting with the Pinterest and Google+ movements, if applicable
  • learning the ropes of Twitter and how to add value with your tweets and connections
  • being engaging on Facebook, LinkedIn, and any other applicable social platforms
  • crafting an overall plan for how your accounts tie together
  • creating a consistent brand identity online (through graphics, tone + content)
  • figuring out the best web host and website solution for your business, then getting an attractive site and blog built

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9. Blog like it’s your only hope.

Mainly because it is your only hope.
Too dramatic? Okay. It is the vehicle most likely to get you to your destination. So find use your voice early on, you’ve already found it, because it’s yours. Learn about spreading your message/content attractively + consistently.

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10. Develop your products and services (with your clients, strengths, and passions in mind).

Remember the gateway drugs? Consider those when you create your products and services. Or imagine a huge funnel: lots fits in at the top but it keeps getting narrower and narrower. Better yet, I’d like to call it The Downward Triangle (because it’s awkward and memorable and makes it sound like I do yoga).
Just call it the downward triangle The Downward Triangle

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11. Price to win-win.

At the end of a coaching session/package, your client should feel like she won (as in, value > price; or value = price), and you should feel like you won (as in, price + satisfaction > time or stress).

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12. Gather or fund all your necessities.

You’re gonna need software, a computer, office supplies, a social media management platform, an accounting + collaboration app, a business phone number (or Google Voice, for free), and all the other stuff in my article about being prepared. If you need to fund some things, consider a crowdfunding campaign (Kickstarter or Indiegogo are great), a business registry (just like for weddings, but not), personal savings, or even a full-time or part-time job.

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13. Find your clients. Rather, help your clients find you.

Sure, you may take on some pro bono work at first to build your portfolio, confidence, and experience, but after a while, after building your creative consulting business the right way (with valuable content and everything else in these 21 steps) clients will find you and be willing to pay what you charge.

Tip: Don’t let people (friends included) “pick your brain” all day long for free. Marie Forleo killed it with her video on the topic.

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14. Learn to manage + run your business, your way.

As you get into it, you will discover whether you like to save receipts and do all your accounting at the end of the week/month or each day as transactions happen. You’ll figure out your favorite way of managing your inbox, planning out promotions, and more. The thing to remember is to find what works for you, and do it consistently, no matter how weird.

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15. Create a project process and workflow that benefits you and your clients.

As you plan out each service (or the delivery of each product to your clients), think through every single step of the process. Write out everything you do, every interaction with the client you will have, in the course of providing a service. This is a crucial step, and I’ll tell you why in a moment, but for now, your workflow or process may look something like this:

>> Client emails me or contacts me from my website expressing interest in a certain coaching package >> I email the client back with more details on the package and my Getting Started Worksheet; I also ask her how she found me and thank her for considering me >> The client emails back once the worksheet is complete >> I review her answers and determine if we’d be a good fit >> I email her to schedule an initial 15-minute consultation >> She responds with a good time >> I email back to confirm our appt. >> I call her at the specific time and we talk about her goals >> If the conversation goes well, I tell her I’ll send her an invoice for her package later that day >> I send the invoice >> I receive payment from my client via PayPal before any work begins >> I research her unique problem/goals and create a plan of attack >> I email her a few questions >> She responds >> I incorporate her preferences into my plan >> I email her the plan and request another meeting >> She responds with her availability >> I firm up a meeting time >> We have a second coaching call to review her plan >> Once a week for the next month, I check in with her via email to ask about her progress and answer any questions she has >> She responds with questions >> I shoot back answers and applicable resources on my website >> At the end of the month I send her my Wrap Up email

Planning out each little interaction like this is important because: (1) you can now develop a checklist, that you use for every single client (and keep in their physical or digital client file), and (2) you can develop resources and goodies for each step of the way that your client will enjoy. Things that will make the process more enjoyable for you and her. Things that will make her more likely to recommend you to others like crazy.
Create delight during each step of your coaching process Your clients will love you

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16. Manage money + accounting tasks like a superstar.

You have to get the hang of keeping receipts, recording all your income, changing prices when necessary, sending past due invoices, saving money, charging taxes when applicable, paying taxes, taking deductions, and more. You’ll be running a legitimate business and good money management is imperative.

And yes, I was horrible at most of it for my first few years in business. In fact, don’t tell the IRS, but I didn’t even know I had to pay and file estimated taxes for quite a while. Ahh, the joys of working for yourself.

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17. Develop a launch plan.

Will you have a party? Will you hold some promotions? How will you reveal your brand? Will you ask key friends for help? What’s your timeline for launch?

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18. Spread + promote your brand and passion.

After you launch, you need a plan in place to continuously spread your brand message and helpfulness across the land. A lot of this will be taken care of by an effective content strategy (#4), but think about things such as guest posting on other people’s blogs, collaborations with other brands, events, social media press releases, and your all-important email list.

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19. Always be analyzing.

There are multiple facets of your business that you will have to consistently review, analyze, and make adjustments from:

  • your blog analytics: which tell you your most engaging posts, your best traffic sources, and much more
  • client feedback: tells you what to tweak to make your coaching a better experience
  • pricing: will need to be changed at certain points to keep your business profitable and rewarding
  • client relationships: you have to figure out if/when to break up with clients
  • product offerings: you may need to continually adjust what you sell
  • etc.

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20. Create the ultimate planner or master task calendar. Organize your business now that you know what it takes and what you need to do.

I use stickers in my planner to remind me of important tasks. Real people in the real world use Google Calendar. Whatever, I’m 12. Did I mention my planner was a Lisa Frank?

I think about two of you took me seriously just then and lost all respect for me. I can’t blame you.

Use your master calendar to plan out your blog posts, to remind you to pay taxes, and to schedule in all of the tasks that you’ve come to learn are important for business growth.

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21. Stay focused for growth and for the big decisions headed your way.

When should you quit your day job? When should you pivot your business? When should you rebrand? If you’re staying focused on your business plan, and “you always be analyzing,” you’ll naturally begin to see answers to some of the big business questions.

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So, what do you think? Are you interested in starting a creative coaching business of your own? What is it that you are passionate about? Is this more/less work than you expected? Please let me know in the comments below.

Photo of woman: © funkyfrogstock – Fotolia.com