I first began coaching, I could not get clear on what my niche
should be. I talked to people. I worried. I
wrote myself long memos. Was it possible to distill the
components of a fun, successful, deeply rewarding coaching niche?
If you find that question to be compelling, take a look at "Seventeen
Niche Criteria..." below.
us for an amazing interview with Jon Haidt next week, 3/9/12.
Jonathan Haidt Interview (3/9/12). Info
2. Coaching Teleworkshop with Ben (3/22/12). Info
3. Seventeen Niche Criteria for a Successful Coaching
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Superstar Interview with John Haidt, Ph.D. (3/9/12). Info
Join Ben for a Q&A Interview with one of the
leading figures in positive and moral psychology, Jonathan Haidt,
Ph.D. author of the new book,
Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.
Bring all your questions.
Friday, March 9, 2012 1:00-2:20pm Eastern
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ABOUT JONATHAN HAIDT, Ph.D.
Jonathan Haidt is a Professor in the Social Psychology area of
the Department of Psychology at the University of Virginia (UVA)
in Charlottesville. For the 2011-2012 academic year, he is serving
as the Henry Kaufman Visiting Professor of Business Ethics at
the NYU-Stern School of Business in New York City. His new
book, launching next month is The
Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.
In 2001, Jon was already a recognized leader in the emerging field
of Positive Psychology, receiving the $100K Grand Templeton Prize
in Positive Psychology. In 2002 with Corey Keyes, he co-edited
Flourishing: Positive Psychology and the Life Well
Lived. Then in 2005, he published the highly-acclaimed
book, The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth
in Ancient Wisdom, which integrates philosophical
questions and ideas from world civilizations with current scientific
research to extract lessons about meaning and happiness that can
be applied to modern life.
For videos, links, and extensive information about Jon, click
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3. Seventeen Niche Criteria for a Successful Coaching Practice
NICHE CRITERIA FOR A SUCCESSFUL COACHING PRACTICE
Ben Dean, Ph.D., MCC, Version 2.02
don’t know the key to success, but the key to
failure is trying to please everybody.
– Bill Cosby
Success demands singleness of purpose.
– Vince Lombardi
Having a coaching practice focused on a narrow market niche that
you love delivers significant advantages. This is true for all
local businesses. It's even truer for a small coaching practice
focused on a national or international market. It is more effective
to market yourself virtually within a tightly defined coaching
niche than as a utility infielder who can coach anyone
Here are seventeen criteria you may find useful in evaluating
potential coaching niches. While not all criteria are essential
for a successful niche, they are all worth considering. (For definitions,
see the “Note on Niches and Specialties” below.)
1. Passion. Could you, the coach, feel
passion for the niche? Are these the kinds of clients you would
enjoy working with? Do you find the work you would will be doing
meaningful and satisfying?
If you're at midlife, this criterion is especially important.
At midlife, there is a drive to live the unlived parts of your
life. To live authentically. It is not sufficient to be highly
compensated. The niche must be satisfying, meaningful and fun.
An important side note: Often you cannot answer this question
in the abstract. Sometimes you must first interact with people
in the niche-by, (for example, interviewing niche members or attending
workshops for niche members) before you begin to feel the passion
2. A Burning Need. Is there an intense,
perceived need for the niche in the minds of your prospects? Are
they truly concerned about the issue which you can help them solve
with your coaching?
There must be some set of problems which you help clients in your
niche solve. The more intense their pain (or conversely, the more
attractive the benefit you help them realize), the more quickly
will they respond to your efforts.
3. Money. Can you help your niche make
money or improve their professional performance? This is not an
essential criterion. But all other things being equal, it is easier
for clients to justify staying with you month after month if you
are helping them make money or perform better professionally.
If you want to help them have balance in their lives, you may
want to work on that indirectly rather than making it the centerpiece
of your marketing. That is, don't focus on helping people live
balanced, rewarding lives. Focus instead on helping people, say,
achieve the professional success they deserve while enjoying a
balanced, rewarding life.
4. Underserved. Is the niche underserved?
You would not offer customer service training or coaching to Nordstrom
employees. They are already superbly served in this arena. One
of the things to research when considering a new niche is how
much training/coaching/consulting is already being offered to
All things being equal, a coaching practice will grow faster in
an underserved industry than in a highly developed one that has
many vendors trying to meet the given need.
5. Precedent. Are there already successful
businesses "on the ground" in this niche? When a colleague
discusses potential niches with me, I'm often reassured if they
can show me already existing local businesses that are serving
the niche they're considering. This tells me that most of the
criteria on this list may be met, not the least of which is that
people are willing to ay pay money to have a specific need addressed.
So if you're exploring niche possibilities, look for truly successful
people selling services to that niche. Finding them is good news,
I'd be more assured that there is a need that will be responsive
to your marketing if the niche has already been defined and addressed
Some of the risk is reduced if you know there are others that
are successfully targeting the niche on, at least, a local level.
That's what I'd want to find. Then in terms of my research, I'd
learn as much as I could about how people already in the niche
were marketing and delivering their services.
6. Be First. Paradoxically, can you be
"first" in your niche? Ries & Ries argue for the
strategy of picking a niche where you are first. One way to do
this is to take a successful coaching niche and narrow it further.
If you coach high school students to excel on the SAT, you can
be the first to develop a virtual (telephone) SAT coaching practice.
Or you can narrow the niche and be the first to coach hearing-impaired
high school students to prepare for the SAT.
7. Discretionary Income. Can your prospective
clients pay for your services? Can they, at least, afford $150
per month for membership in your virtual coaching groups? Will
A niche comprised of graduate students might be flawed in this
dimension. By contrast, a professional niche or one comprised
of small business owners may more easily be able to pay while
taking the coaching as a business expense.
8. Narrow Focus. Is the niche truly narrow?
See Ries for compelling arguments for the counter-intuitive importance
of narrowing your niche. Much better to offer business coaching
to a narrow professional industry (e.g., corporate housing services
or lemon lawyers) than to a broad group (e.g., all attorneys or
"boomers" at midlife).
9. Industry Focus. Similarly, are members
of the niche from a single professional group or industry? This
is not required, but it's a major plus. The problem with a niche
focusing on "Boomers" is that it cuts across every professional
group in the world. If you focus on a subset of a specific professional
group (e.g., sales reps in the computer industry or police administrators),
the niche is easier to penetrate. Your blog or E-mail newsletter
can focus specifically on this group's unique needs. You can market
through the group's national and 50 state professional organizations.
You can forge alliances with suppliers who serve this niche.
10. A Coherent Group. Do members
of your proposed niche feel they belong to a coherent group? It's
a major advantage if they do. You're more likely to have niche
members forward your promotional material to others if they know
who the "others" are. You're more likely to have the
benefit of state and national professional organizations. It's
advantageous if, as you specialize in the niche, members can say
with recognition about you, "She gets it." "He
totally understands my issues." A coherent group? Lemon lawyers.
A more disparate niche? People needing assertiveness training.
11. Can you find them? Can you locate members
of the niche? Can you find them in order to be able to use the
funnel of trust and to begin to develop a relationship with the
universe of your prospects over time?
12. Can you reach them? Social media including
email are the most cost-effective way to market to potential prospects
over time. Do most members of your niche have access to E-mail?
Do they go online? If not, how are you going to communicate with
them over time? All-But-Dissertation students as a niche may lack
discretionary income, but they universally have web and social
media access and thus rate high on this dimension.
13. Temporal Dimensions. Is the niche's
need for your services short-term or enduring? If your niche is
general business coaching for a specific professional niche, the
window of need of an individual or company can be years or decades.
This is good.
Other niches by their nature are time limited, such as postpartum
depression, college application support, or preparation for a
professional exam. All things being equal, I'd prefer niches with
an enduring rather than a time-limited need for my services. It's
easier to serve existing clients than to continually have to acquire
14. Partnership Niche. If your niche-selection
project grinds to a screeching halt, don't give up. Consider developing
a new niche with a partner. You can share costs, brainstorm ideas,
support each other, even split the investment in a topnotch coach
with whom you both could meet in a weekly coaching conference
call. You could partner with someone who has deep experience in
a niche, who can cover you while you get up to speed. You could
partner with an already successful coach, helping them enlarge
their reach within their niche and contributing that scarcest
of all resources--time.
15. Study Your Ambivalence. As you talk
to friends about possible niches, listen for your ambivalence.
Why do you not want to pick a niche? Why do you
avoid getting specific about the decision? Why do you avoid taking
Write down what you notice. Then get help from others (including
experienced coaches) to find ways around the blocks.
are some typical problems people run into when seeking a niche:
"A niche will limit me."
What if you are a bright, verbal professional and easily bored?
What if your highest signature strengths--like mine--are curiosity
and love of learning? You might say: "I don't want to pick
a niche. I'd have to give up all the fascinating people outside
the niche and that's most of the world."
In fact, you don't. You can have multiple niches. I know one successful
coach with six active niches.
Or you can be an Undercover Generalist. You can have a niche you
highlight in your marketing, but you can also enjoy working with
clients outside of your niche when you have the chance. This is
actually quite common.
"I wouldn't like these people."
You might consider a particular niche only to say: "I'd get
bored with these people. They're nothing like me."
Are you sure? Take a look at #1 above. Often you cannot know in
the abstract whether you'd find a given group to be engaging or
not. Sometimes you must interact with people in the niche to find
out. If after checking it out, you still feel little passion,
then that's the time to walk away.
You might say: "It's a plausible niche. But I can't make
it work. Others could, but not me."
Really? If others have made it work, hire them or befriend them
to get them to show you how.
I've always loved the mantra of a highly successful, now senior
coach who, despite her introversion, built a great practice in
about a year. She may not have been a glad-hander but she was
high in the VIA strength of persistence and she knew the value
of the stories we tell ourselves.
Her mantra? "If they can do it, I can do it."
If thousands of people have built successful coaching practices
(and they have), then I, myself, can build one.
16. Choose the Wrong Niche. If you don't
have an ideal niche, you can absolutely begin a coaching practice
with the wrong one. This is what I did when I began the ABD
Survival Guide (ABDSG), focused on graduate students
who had completed all but their dissertations.*
I knew it wasn't the right long-term niche for me, but I thought
it would get me started. I could practice learning everything
about a niche. I could learn how to do an email newsletter and
a website. I could practice promoting them. I could learn how
to market and lead teleworkshops. Even if the niche were wrong,
the skills would transfer when the right niche materialized. I'd
be ready to roll. In retrospect, this was a brilliant approach
for me. It was far better for me to learn by taking action than
to never have begun at all.
And when you pick the wrong niche on purpose, it takes all the
pressure off. You can say, "Even if I make some horrible
faux pas and humiliate myself, I'll just walk away and start somewhere
else. If I make mistakes, so what?" This, of course, frees
you to be twice as effective. I’m always better when I’m
swinging for the fences.
*Postscript. When the right niche came along, I had the skills
to start fast. Strangely though, the ABD Survival Guide is still
going strong, years after I began it in 1997. The editor is the
brilliant University of Pennsylvania psychologist, Tracy Steen,
Ph.D. And the ABDSG has now provided help, wonderful essays
and advice, and pro bono and sliding-scale coaching for several
generations of ABDs.
17. Stay a Generalist. Most new coaches
start as generalists. This is fine. I recommend it. But you could
decide to spend your entire career as a generalist.
Some coaches do this and are successful. While they may invest
a lot of time in marketing, they do not focus on any niche markets.
They have all the clients they need, charge good fees, and love
their work. Becoming a successful generalist is harder than focusing
on a market niche. (Note that there are many *unsuccessful* generalist
coaches. This is easy.) But, theoretically, you could be one of
the ones who pull it off.
An example? Anne Durand. She's never marketed to a single professional
niche. While it's true she's known for her executive coaching,
she's always worked with fascinating people across many industries.
She’s internationally known. She’s very busy. She
has a waiting list.
If you can get the clients, you can absolutely do this too. Should
this appeal to you, keep an eye out for truly successful generalists.
And be discriminating. Know that there's a huge difference
between actually being profitable and successful
and simply claiming you are on your website.
Learn how these successful generalists overcame the marketing
challenges of working without a niche. In short, how do they get
And, yes, I know you’re thinking, “Ben, but what would
the specific steps for making it as a generalist be?"
I suppose that's the subject for another essay.
Niches and Specialties.
It’s useful to unpack the word “niche” by separating
the two variables often conflated within the term. For our purposes,
“a Niche” refers to those to whom you’re delivering
your coaching. Your niche is made up of the people who potentially
could buy your services. (2) A “Service” refers to
what you’re delivering to your niche. If you’re a
coach, it’s the type of coaching you do.
An example. Your niche could be licensed mental health professionals.
Your specialty could be coaching them on how best to build a coaching
Note that the niche and specialty can be changed.
You could have a niche of mental health professionals with which
your Specialty is how to work with borderline patients.
Or your Specialty could be helping people build coaching practices.
But your Niche could be attorneys (or women attorneys or, say,
first through third year associates in major US law firms.)
So here’s one thing to listen for. If someone tells you
their niche is assertiveness training. And they work with anybody
who’ll have them. By our definition. They don’t have
a Niche with all the advantages that accrue. They are generalists
with a Specialty.
So usually, it makes sense to have both—a specialty and
Appropriate Skepticism. When talking to people
about their marketing, I'm skeptical when they tell me that all
their clients come to them by word of mouth. When they say,
in effect, that they're so good that they don't need to market.
This usually means they don't want to tell you how they get clients.
Should it actually ever be true, I'd want to know how they found
their clients when they were starting out. How did they
get to their current exalted position?
Upcoming Foundations and Master Classes
11-11:59 am Eastern (New York Time)
Starts Wednesday, February 29, 2012
detailed information, click here.
with Ann-Marie McKelvey
Calling from 5-weeks of play and coaching in Maui, Ann-Marie
talks about her upcoming class and what students can expect.
She talks about her life, coaching from the beach and onsite
with international clients from Paris to Abu Dhabi, positive
psychology, and her belief about the future of coaching
(23 mins.) Just click here. Or download mp3
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Starts Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Jan Hill, Ph.D., PCC
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A Conversation with Jan Hill, Ph.D.
Hear Jan talk about coaching and the Foundations
Coach Training Program. (19 mins.) Just
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Ben Dean -- Ben, Editor of Coaching Toward Happiness,
is a coach, psychologist, founder of MentorCoach, and... MORE.
Copyright 2006-2012. Coaching Toward Happiness. All rights reserved.