Many of the coaches I connect with through my speaking, my blog and Breakthrough Sessions often say that they really hate selling themselves.
Let’s face it, as coaches we basically are the reason people chose to work with us over someone else. This uncomfortableness often has talented coaches wonder “maybe I should just get a job because this feels too hard.” True, the biggest upside of having a job is the steady paycheck; no matter what you earn, you can count on how much money you will receive each month. Having your own business takes away that level of security we feel we have with a job.
When you run a business, you give up that reliable, non-changing income in exchange for a myriad of benefits including freedom and independence. But that variability in income can create a lot of stress. And is, in fact, the reason that many people never even try starting a business, or once they do, close it and go back to working for someone else.
But what if there was a relatively easy way to even out those ups and downs in your business income so it was more reliable and less stressful? There is but most coaches simply don’t make it a priority in their business, and that is staying in meaningful dialogue with your network of prospects, suspects (people you think will want to work with you but haven’t pursued it yet), Centers of Influence, referral sources, and colleagues. When you stay in meaningful dialogue with people in your network, you will be top of mind when they or someone they know is interested in hiring a coach like you.
“Meaningful dialogue” is communication that offers a direct benefit to the other person.
Whether you are sending a blog to your followers, or connecting to someone 1:1, meaningful dialog is about focusing on topics your audience or network cares about or can benefit from. The purpose is never to try to sell your services, but to position yourself as a thought leader who cares.
Meaningful dialogue is also not about reaching out to remind people you are available for referrals or clients. While this can work if you have a really strong relationship with a former client or Strategic Alliance, this type of communication (sometimes referred to as “push energy”) can come off as pushy, presumptive, and uncomfortable to the person on the receiving end. You are unlikely to see a positive response and are actually more likely to inspire people to unsubscribe or ignore you.
Here’s a scenario that you can probably relate to. At the end of your free exploratory session with a prospect, she seems like a great fit and expresses interest in working with you, but needs to take care of other things in her life first and isn’t ready to work with you in the near future, so she says she’ll contact you when she’s ready to proceed. But then she doesn’t.
Instead, you can suggest to her that you follow up with her (in a timeframe that seems like it would match when she may be ready) and ask if that would be alright. That way when you follow up, you can say “like we talked about, I’m reaching out to check in with how you are doing” and then be curious about how she is, what’s transpired since you talked, and if she has overcome any of the specific challenges she shared with you when you talked. In other words, inspire her to be in meaningful dialogue with you instead of trying to sell her on working with you.
I recently worked with a client who had four of these ideal prospects who had gone dark on her like this. She had tried following up with them, but never even heard back.
As part of our work together, I suggested that she do some research interviews to learn more about the biggest challenges her ideal clients face. She contacted these four people since they were potentially ideal clients and all of them agreed to be interviewed. During those interviews, 3 of the 4 expressed interest in working with her and wanted to set up time to talk more about working together. She didn’t bring it up, they did. This is the pull energy of meaningful dialog. If those interviews were thinly veiled sales conversations, they likely would have been turned off, but because she was having conversations with them about things they cared about (that she happens to be an expert in), it pulled them to explore working with her again.
Meaningful dialog isn’t just for prospects or current clients. Likely most of your prospect flow will happen through your network IF you have a systemized way of staying in meaningful dialogue with suspects (people we suspect are future prospects), former clients, Centers of Influence, referral sources and colleagues. The key is to identify these folks and determine how often and how you will stay in meaningful dialogue so you remain top of mind when a need appears.
Before I started working with coaches, I was doing executive coaching and leadership development and employed this idea of meaningful dialog to grow my own practice. I knew I gotten it right when I spoke to a new organizational prospect and she told me she’d asked 3 different people who she should talk to and all three of recommended me, but none of them knew each other. I had connected with them through different means, but all had come away with a clear picture of who I worked with and how I could help them through the various conversations that we had on a regular basis. As you can imagine, the prospect already determined I was the right person before we even had our exploratory discussion.
Engaging in meaningful dialog shouldn’t be something that you only think of when you need to fill open spots in your coaching calendar. It should be built in to how your run your business.
Depending on your personality and the industry or group that you serve, meaningful dialog can take different forms:
- Regular email newsletter that includes an informative article, with an invitation to respond with their thoughts at the end.
- Interviewing Centers of Influence in your niche to create content for an article, whitepaper or talk
- Sending articles/podcasts/videos to people in your network that you’ve come across that you know they’d care about
- LinkedIn or Facebook groups that you engage in personally and regularly.
- Podcasts where you answer listener questions.
- Attending networking events or conferences and engaging with the other attendees.
Each of these requires a different commitment of time and energy on your part, but all of them give room for the other person to participate in the conversation. If you are doing all of the talking, it’s not a dialogue; it’s a lecture. Be curious and ask great questions.
- Meaningful dialogue is about being in deep dialogue about the things your clients, future clients and network care about.
- Meaningful dialogue pulls your network in and reminds them of the gift you are. This is pull energy vs. the push energy common with sales.
If you want to have more clients, have more meaningful conversations with people in your network. Don’t try to sell them in these conversations. Bring up topics you know they care about. Be curious. Help uncover their challenges and help them think about them differently. This will establish you as a caring and generous expert and someone they would be comfortable working with or referring to others.
Tara Butler Floch