Disclaimer: I work with different coaching platforms providers. However this article is not intended to promote one, or in fact any, platform. I have intentionally not referenced any platforms in the blog and I have not provided any proprietary information (nor will I). It is simply intended to help coaches decide if the platform approach is one that suits them and what to consider when selecting a potential partner.
All views are my own based on my experience and opinions.
Comments are welcome. However please be respectful, helpful to each other and do not divulge proprietary information.
In the last 18 months there has been an almost explosive growth in companies offering digital coaching platforms. These range from platforms that coaches can use to manage their business to platforms that bring clients and coaches together. In this blog I’m going to focus on the latter. This blog contains information to help coaches decide if this is the right approach for you and your coaching practice.
What are these platforms?
Typically these are coaching platform that have been created by companies selling coaching services to businesses (B2B). Some also sell services to individual clients (B2C).
For many of these companies the intention is to make coaching more affordable – making it cost effective to provide coaching to middle managers, high potential individuals and others, rather than limited to the executive levels.
Coaching services are either sold stand-alone or as part of a larger package – for example where the platform provider is supporting their client to make a significant transformation. The platform provider may offer coaching as part of their overall program, which might also include goal setting, evaluations, workshops, strategy sessions etc.
What are the advantages for a coach to sign-up to this type of platform?
· More clients. The platform provider does the sales and marketing for you. This means as a coach you can get new clients, without the client acquisition process. The platform providers are also able to sell into larger companies, so you can get access to clients in larger companies that may only want to deal with another company rather than individual coaches.
· It provides the coach with a way of leveraging spare time. If your coaching practice is not full, with a waiting list, then this is a way of using those spare hours, albeit typically at a lower rate. Also, as you can provide coaching around the world in different time zones this also means that you can provide coaching at times that are less convenient for your local clients, that may suit your personal situation better.
· Depending on the platform this can reduce the administration overhead of dealing with clients. For example you may only have to provide one invoice per month for all your clients, or in some cases invoicing will be fully automated.
What are some of the things that you, as a coach, need to consider when selecting or working with a platform provider?
What is important to you?
This is going to be different for each coach, so think about what your priorities are. Some things to consider are:
Lets address the elephant in the room upfront.
Typically a platform provider makes money by selling your services at a higher rate than they pay you for them. This means you’re unlikely to get top dollar on a platform. The rates that the platforms pay vary a lot, because of their target markets, the geographies they service and their business models. There is usually a standard (non negotiable) rate depending on your experience and the type of clients you will be coaching.
Another factor to consider is what is actually included in your rate - for example, do you get paid just for coaching time, or also for preparation and post-call time? If you are only being paid for coaching time, how much additional time are you required or expected to spend (preparation, post session, weekly check-ins, answering client emails etc). Some platforms also pay you for your on-boarding and on-going education.
So you need to ask yourself what rate (all in) works for you in return for the service that you are providing and what you are getting from the platform provider?
2. Administration and Payments. How much administration will you be required to do? How do you submit invoices, what supporting documentation is required? What are the payment terms? Are your payments linked to client payments?
3. Community. Some of the platforms provide opportunities for their coaches to meet regularly in person or via video-conference. How important is it to you to have this community? Especially for video coaches, working from home, this might be an important aspect for you.
4. On-going education and development. Does the platform provider have an on-boarding process that further develops your skills? Do they provide on-going up-skilling?
5. Type of clients. Different platforms attract different types of clients. What type of clients do you really enjoy working with, which clients do you feel you can best serve?
6. Value Alignment. Do you feel that the platform provider and their representatives share your values? How important is this to you?
7. Platform clients vs your own business. How will you balance your time spent with platform clients vs your own clients vs time invested in growing your own business? What is the optimum mix for you?
What does the contract look like?
· Are the contractual terms based on a win : win : win relationship between the platform provider, the client and the coach?
· Is the contract fair and reasonable?
· How is IP handled (yours and theirs)?
· What obligations are placed on the coach – are there any penalties?
In my experience a short, clear, plain language contract is a better starting point than one that requires a legal background to understand.
Are you someone who will enjoy working on a digital platform?
· Video coaching. Platform coaching is generally done via video coaching either using a standard tool or something that the platform has developed. Are you an experienced video coach? If you are someone who likes meeting your clients in person will this work for you? What mix of in person and video sessions is right for you?
· How tech savvy are you? Are you comfortable using browsers, video conferencing and a computer and/or mobile device? Do you have a high speed internet connection, decent headphones and a suitable office area?
· Session length. Some platforms use short sessions 30 minutes or 45 minutes, whereas others use 60 minute sessions. How much experience do you have in providing coaching via short sessions? Do shorter sessions work with your style of coaching?
What capabilities does the platform offer.
If everything is integrated and done via the platform, how feature rich is the platform? Is it going to make it easy to manage you clients or is it going to be difficult working with clients on the platform and maybe interfere with how you manage your other clients?
· I personally find that appointment booking, managing reschedules and cancellations can create quite an overhead. I now use a scheduler that is integrated with my (selected) calendars. The platforms I’ve looked at have varying degrees of availability management and calendar integration – ranging from none (you have to manually enter and maintain your availability directly on the platform) to full integration with your selected diaries.
· how do you record the outcomes of as client session and the client’s accountability? Some platforms provide you and the client with the ability to enter goals, objectives, notes, etc. With some you can also use the platform to provide the client with their accountability, reading materials, tasks etc.
· some platforms work closely with the coaches to develop and enhance their platform. Is this something that you would dislike, like or is it not important to you?
What is the application / selection / on-boarding process.
Each platform has their own approach, but typically there are consistent steps as follows:
1) You apply to be a coach with the platform, by completing an application form – typical information required is your website, linkedin profile, certifications, years coaching, coaching hours, areas of specialty, target clients, motivation to being a coach, references etc.
2) Initial discussion usually via video to determine if it makes sense for both parties to proceed with further discussions
3) Detailed discussions
a. Detailed interview about your coaching experience, alignment to core competencies etc.
b. Sample coaching either role play or real play
5) On boarding – education on methodology, use of platform etc.
6) Profile creation
7) Ready to go
In my experience you learn a lot about the provider during this process.
· Do you feel aligned to their values, do you feel seen and valued, are you co-creating a win: win relationship?
· What are their quality standards?
· Do they align with ICF and/or other professional organisations?
· How important is it to this provider to attract and retain the best coaches?
· Will they help you and challenge you as a coach to develop and deepen your skills?
In my experience the more that the process challenges you to think about your coaching, the more serious the provider is about providing a high quality, valuable service.
Digital Platforms are a way of providing cost effective coaching to a broader audience. They provide coaches with the means to leverage spare time and reach a wider client base. In this start-up marketplace there will be new providers and there will also be consolidation. Some will fail and some will succeed and there will be a lot of interesting learning.
Do you want to be part of it?