I was talking with a prospective client today and, like many coaches, she said, “I wish clients would just drop in my lap.”
You’re probably thinking, “Wouldn’t that be nice!”
But the truth is when you create a great client experience and stay in meaningful dialogue with people who know and respect you in your network, it often can feel like clients just drop in your lap.
And when that happens, it’s important to remind yourself that it is not happening by chance because the reality is you are doing something to manifest those clients even if it’s not obvious on the surface. And not just “something.” You’re being and doing things that are in alignment with what you want in your business, and that opens the channel for flow to happen.
One way to let that channel flow is by finding the right Extension Partner(s).
What is an Extension Partner, you ask? There are 6 primary ways coaches usually partner with other professionals in what I call a Strategic Alliance and the one that many coaches gravitate to the most are Extension (or Umbrella) Partners. These Extension Partners are companies or organizations that hire coaches to be part of their network of coaches, usually as a 1099 contractor.
In this type of scenario, they do the business development and marketing to find potential coaching clients for their coaches. By being on their coaching team, you essentially will have clients “drop in your lap”. In theory, this sounds amazing! In practice, however, it’s only “amazing’ when it is the right fit.
Not all Extension partners are created equal. What might be a terrible partner for you, may be an amazing partner for someone else. It all hinges on what you are looking for and what really makes you feel successful in your business.
7 Foundational Questions to ask Potential Extension Partners
There are so many different types of Extension Partners out there and each one differs extensively when it comes to how easy they are to work with, how much freedom you’ll have in how you choose and work with clients, how much support you get, how much oversight they have, and how you’ll be compensated.
That’s why it’s important to learn about the potential partner and understand the ins and outs of working with them before deciding if you want to engage in a partnership. That may feel like a no-brainer but it’s not uncommon for coaches to jump in headfirst and hit their heads on the bottom of the pool because they didn’t know what they didn’t know.
Here are 7 questions you can ask to help you understand whether an Extension Partner is a good fit for you:
1. What is your coaching philosophy?
Before you engage with a new Extension partner, you’ll want to make sure you are aligned with their philosophical approach to coaching.
For example, in a corporate engagement, they may have a certain methodology and format in terms of the amount of oversight the organization will have with your clients. They could want check-ins with the manager at the beginning, middle, and end. They may expect a 360 to be part of every engagement. Or they may grant you full autonomy to decide what’s best. You need to know that your philosophies and approach are going to be aligned and that you aren’t forced into taking an approach that you fully stand behind.
2. What are your expectations for the coaching process?
Extension Partners can have a variety of “rules of engagement”, so you’ll want to make sure your expectations are in alignment with the process that will actually unfold. Depending on the Extension partner, you might be required to:
- Use their coaching/leadership/wellness process and methodology, sometimes even dictating an agenda.
- Undergo training (which is often unpaid if you are a contractor) to be eligible to coach in their methodology.
- Be certified in a certain tool, such as a 360 Assessment. For some coaches, this can be enriching and exciting (I get to expand my toolbox!) and for others, it can feel prescriptive and even dogmatic.
- Or, you could be given full autonomy.
3. Do I have a say in who I work with?
With an Extension partner, you won’t always get to decide who you work with. Here are some examples of different levels of latitude you could be given:
- Do “chemistry calls” so that you can decline working with a client who is outside of your sweet spot or doesn’t feel like a good fit.
- Declare a certain niche or ideal client you want to work with.
- Work with any client assigned to you without being able to refer them to another coach if it doesn’t feel like a good fit.
4. How much administrative and non-coaching work is required of me?
It’s important to consider how much paperwork or documentation you want to engage in when working with your Extension partners. Extension partner agreements might require you to:
- Put notes in a system and do a bunch of administrative work for each client.
- Be available to answer any and all emails from clients, which can significantly impact your time dedication and profitability.
- Attend weekly or monthly “coach huddle” calls (sometimes these calls are paid and sometimes not). Many coaches love these calls because of the camaraderie, but for others, it can feel like a waste of time and energy.
5. What will I be paid and what does that include?
Obviously, you’ll need to understand what your compensation will be and how it will work. Will you get paid for the time you respond to emails or put notes in the system? Will you get paid for time you are in training? Are you paid a flat fee per month per client or for actual time spent?
If possible, you’ll want to know how it compares to what the client is being charged so you feel like your contribution is aligned with your pay. Some companies are not transparent with this, and compensations can range widely, from one Extension Partner charging a 10-20% finder’s fee to the coach payout only being 25% of what the client is being charged (or even less!).
6. What is the agreement and what does it mean for me and my business?
Strategic Alliance agreements for Extension partnerships also range dramatically between different Extension partners. Examples include:
- A simple virtual handshake agreement vs a mile long contract with a non-compete clause.
- Freedom to coach former clients privately once the original contract is completed vs a prohibtion against doing so at all.
- Be prevented to work with a client company directly or even in a specific industry for a certain number of years (or for infinity!).
- Act as if you are employed by the company and only offer coaching services as part of that employment vs allowing you to be transparent with the client that you are a contractor and offer coaching services outside of your current coaching arrangement.
7. How will my performance and success be evaluated?
It’s important to understand their philosophical stance on client feedback.
I once worked with an Extension partner that was always punitive to a coach if they received negative feedback without realizing that sometimes a bad fit can give the impression that they are a “bad coach” when they are simply the wrong coach for that person. It was very painful and hurtful to witness coaches being penalized when one client relationship went south, even after dozens and dozens of other successful coaching relationships. I recommend talking to a few coaches that work with the Extension Partner to get a full understanding of what it’s like working with them to see if it feels like a match for you.
Most Extension partners won’t have a well-thought-out evaluation process beyond passing along feedback from the client. While others will use performance evaluations and surveys to judge your performance.
When is the Right Time to Pass on an Extension Partnership?
If you don’t know how you feel about the answers to these questions, it’s important to explore them further. After all, you want to be “all in” and excited when forming a new strategic alliance, right?
Also, don’t be afraid to take your concerns to your Extension Partner. They may be flexible and willing to shift things so that it is a powerful “yes” for both of you do don’t be afraid to ask if they would be willing to negotiate some of their terms.
If you don’t like or align with the answers to any of these 7 questions, I highly encourage you to “pass.” It takes a lot of time and energy to forge and foster a new Extension Partner, and if it’s not a good fit, it can be a painful lesson in the value of discernment.
The Right Extension Partner can be a Game Changer
Just like any relationship, when you find a great Extension Partner it feels like each of you have won the lottery. It’s like 1+1 = 3. When it’s the right fit, it can bring a tremendous amount of joy to your business, as well as revenue. Likely when you find a great partner, they will become a foundational part of your business for years to come. Just like any relationship, sometimes our first impressions aren’t lasting impressions, and we can get invested before we’ve really thought it fully through. I hope that these 7 questions help you have the important conversations so that you can recognize when an Extension Partner is going to be that Game Changer for you!
What experiences have you had with Strategic Alliances and Extension partners? What have been game changing for you? What have you learned through partnering with others? Please share your thoughts below!
Tara Butler Floch