“Executive, life, health, career….”.

These are some of the titles I hear when I am marketed by private practice clinicians who have expanded into coaching and are looking for new clients. These words don’t tell me anything I can use to refer to their practice.

The coaching market is a competitive one – master’s level and PhD with dozens of disciplines and certificate programs. It is imperative that as you build your practice, you stand out. That does not mean, you are committed to seeing only one type of client in your career. It means you have a focus – something that you have found that ignites your curiosity and commitment.  And as you describe your passion to a referral source, the authenticity will be apparent. And as someone who refers at least 2 times per week, I know, that I feel a whole lot better sending someone to a therapist or a coach who shines and is enthusiastic about his or her niche.

Let me give you an example. My friend and colleague, Pat is a career coach. And a lawyer. She doesn’t see just any client–she specifies. “Give me a lawyer who is starting out – my favorite is an attorney with great potential who needs development with professional presentation and her team interaction.” Wow. Why would I send that client to anyone else? The coach that tells me “they like lawyers, too” has nothing on Pat. And by the way? After I referred to Pat a couple of times and heard through the firm how things were going…they referred again and again. They have the same investment as Pat–they invest in their team–wholeheartedly. And Pat, while enjoying her niche, sees that some of the same characteristics she loves about developing young lawyers shows up in other professions–medical residents, for example.  She can expand her niche by carrying the theme through to another kind of client.

The problem I have when I see ambivalent coaches who are marketing their hearts out, is the goal does not seem to meet their personal commitment. I know it feels counter intuitive, especially as you are starting out – but you must spend some time exploring the one thing that floats your boat, that you never tire of talking about, that shows up and interests you. It’s the client that you slide your un-slidable fee for, the problem that you see clearly with energy and verve. I call it the Sunday morning appointment niche. Who would I talk to on Sunday morning for free? (Answer: A beginning coach who is finding their niche!)

If you don’t believe me, try this. As you develop your Marketing Plan which includes your Elevator Speech, pick a friendly colleague to practice on. Use two different approaches–go the general route and talk about your commitment to being an available and affordable coach who sees a wide variety of clients. Now, do it again. This time, pick a client with a favorite issue. See that client in your mind’s eye and think about how you proceeded through their coaching plan. Tell your colleague that’s your niche and tell them why. Explain how you plan to proceed. And–forget the available and affordable bit. Just talk about your niche. Ask your colleague to rate which speech had more impact on a scale from 1 to 5 (with 5 being the best). Yep. The second practice speech usually wins.

If my Sunday morning appointment test and my practice speeches still don’t yield your niche – look a little deeper. Pick a therapeutic category or a descriptive – health, wellness, career, executive, personal development, organization…..and see if there is a theme that started with you when you first became interested in the human condition. I find that most coaches have a particular penchant for the thing they know best – through their own experience, family or life events. (I won’t give him completely away, but there’s a reason Pat likes to mix it up with developing attorneys!) Group words together that appeal to you – imagine the client who has those characteristics. Feel your inner advocate take over. I’m betting that you feel your energy rise as you develop the profile.

If all else fails, here’s a surefire way to determine your niche. Think about the client with whom at the end of the session, you were so caught up in the discussion, you once again forgot to collect the fee! Tell me that isn’t a clue about your commitment!