Practice Building: In Pursuit of Professionalism

by Ed Britton

The best college basketball players in the world are recruited into the NBA.
These guys are so good they run rings around the rest. However, when they get
on the floor with top-flight professionals, they are left wondering if they'll
ever get to touch the ball! Only after engaging at a professional level for
a while do these supremely talented young athletes develop genuine, world-class

It’s the same with coaching. Genuine mastery is achieved after engaging
in the real thing at a professional level. Without that, all the practice coaching
sessions in the world just won't get you there. Further, practice coaching doesn't
pay the bills and is not sustainable.

Globally, only half of coaches make over $25,000US a year.1
That's not practice building. That's not sustainable. That's not building a

There are at least seven solid reasons to emphasize a focus on building coaching

1. Coaching practice is the whole cycle of operating a service business: program
development, lead generation, lead conversion, branding, client retention, referral
generation, business management, network development, and on and on it goes.
A person can become a really great coach without touching any of this stuff.
But they cannot be a successful professional coach without getting really good
at all of it, and integrating the whole package with the coaching session.

2. Niche selection and development are imperative for success. To compete professionally,
coaches need to select a focus where they can really shine. “What am I
especially good at? Where do I have a particular advantage?” It is not
a matter of just being good; it is a matter of being world class. And if you
are not world class in your niche then you will get the feedback in business
results that steer you to make an adjustment.

3. The matching process is more rigorous. Clients are committing a lot of time,
money and hope into a professional coaching relationship. They want to have
high confidence in their selection of a coach. A good match is a grand key to
great coaching sessions and outcomes.

4. The focus of coaching changes. Clients want to make it count. They make
a mental shift from, “What would be nice to talk about today?” to,
“What do we need to accomplish in the next 30 to 60 minutes that will
return high impact to my life?”

5. Fee-based coaching means fee-based commitment.2
Coaching your friends and family, buddy coaching and pro-bono coaching are necessary
and good. But these are more relaxed settings. There is the perception (not
true) that if it does not work, well then no one is really out anything but
a little time. However, when there is $500 per hour or more on the line, then
suddenly, “Whoa, I’d better make this worth it,” kicks in.
It is not casual anymore.

6. The client demands value for money. When the client is writing a monthly
cheque for exclusive, high-priced service, then they want value for their money.
They expect more of themselves and of their coach. And the coach has an effective
lever for expecting more from the client. “You are paying me all this
money, but not completing the commitments you make to yourself? This needs to
be fixed. Explain to me where that is coming from.”

7. Obviously, only fee-based coaching is sustainable. If you cannot make a
living at coaching then you will not be doing it for long. You will never develop
true mastery because you will not get the exposure time at a professional level.
You need to invest the 10,000 hours of practice necessary to be a world-class
master.3 Without a sustainable, profitable practice
you will simply run out of time and money.

Practice building is not easy, but it is achievable. We need to take responsibility
for practice building on an individual and professional level.


1. International Association of Coaching, 2012 ICF Global
Coaching Study.

2. Stewart, Julia. 2012. Life Coach Salary: 15 Reasons Your
Coaching Fees Are Too Low.

3. Gladwell, Malcolm. 2008. Outliers: The story of success.
Little, Brown and Company. New York, NY.

Ed Britton
Ed Britton is a leadership coach based in mainland China. His focus is the application
of leadership principles in developing life and career in an international,
expatriate setting-particularly in developing economies such as China. Ed serves
the IAC in the role of Capacity Building Specialist.

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