Get clients by being your authentic self: How one coach does it
Feel like you have to hustle your butt off to get more clients?
These days, it can seem like being “just” a great coach isn’t enough of a sell.
Not only do you need to know your stuff and be a natural “people person,” but to market yourself properly, you’re also supposed to figure out a unique coaching niche, define your brand, keep up with research, and regularly post polished, compelling content—on whatever platform is trending at the moment.
No wonder so many coaches feel overwhelmed and confused about the whole marketing thing.
(Not to mention icky. You don’t want to have to promise abs in eight days just to get some eyes on your business!)
Fortunately, there IS a way to market yourself effectively—using YOUR strengths, YOUR message, and on YOUR schedule.
Take fitness and nutrition coach Tia Smith.
Tia’s a 38 year-old coach living in metropolitan Atlanta. By most standards, she’s extremely successful.
✅ A full roster of loyal clients. In fact, her biggest challenge is scaling her business so she can make room for even more people.
✅ A highly engaged community. Her email newsletter has an open rate three times higher than industry standard.
✅ A clearly defined brand, voice, and niche clientele. She knows who she is, and more importantly, how to connect authentically with her clients. (No surprises: Her clients love her.)
✅ Zero stress about marketing. She works at a pace that’s do-able for her (with three kids, the 24/7 hustle culture was a hard no). She also doesn’t compare herself to other coaches or get distracted by all the stuff people say you “should” do.
Tia doesn’t consider herself an expert at marketing.
She doesn’t coach celebrities or have a million followers on Instagram. And she definitely doesn’t pretend to be perfect.
According to Tia, “I’m just doing my best.”
And yet, her marketing “strategy” is working.
In this article, we share five (non-slimy) marketing lessons from Tia that can also work for YOUR coaching business.
If you feel overwhelmed or uneasy about marketing, this advice is for you.
Marketing Lesson #1: Design your product or service based on what people actually want.
Prior to launching her coaching business, Tia taught fitness classes for women.
Before and after class, the studio buzzed with conversation. The women loved to chat with Tia, sometimes even following her out to the parking lot to tell her about their lives.
“They told me about everything,” says Tia. “Not just about their workouts and nutrition, but also about their kids, pets, husbands, jobs, and most of all, how hard it was to come to class because of everything they had going on.”
Over time, Tia noticed a pattern.
“These women all struggle to make time for themselves, or to get to the gym. They have other obligations on their mind. That’s when it clicked: They’re just like me!”
In the pandemic, the studio where Tia taught closed. A painful experience, but also an opportunity:
Tia realized that her clients still relied on her. More than anything else, they needed someone to be in their corner.
As Tia says, “My clients need someone to say, ‘Girl you’ve got to make time for yourself, because if you don’t, the day will not make time for you.’”
And that’s how Tia’s coaching business was born. Her specialty? Helping women make time for themselves and live a healthier lifestyle.
(Don’t know your niche? Read about how one coach found hers—and how you can uncover yours too: 4 ways to find your niche as a nutrition coach)
The key takeaway
Many people (and businesses) come up with an idea for a product or service, then try to convince people they should buy it.
A more effective strategy is to work the other way around: Identify a need in the marketplace, and provide a solution.
(Even if you’re an established coach, you can use this strategy to refine your offerings to better meet your clients’ needs.)
For example, since starting her coaching practice, Tia learned her clientele wanted more specific nutrition guidance than she was equipped to provide. So, she’s taking the Precision Nutrition Level 1 Nutrition Coaching Certification, and creating some new services around this demand.
(Interested in becoming a nutrition coach—or adding nutrition to your existing coaching? Here’s everything you need to know: How to become a nutrition coach)
Try it: Ask these questions during your next client consult.
To gain intel about what your clients need from you, Tia’s suggestion is simple:
Some of her go-to questions:
- What’s a typical day like for you?
- What are some competing commitments you have going on in your life?
- How do you feel when you wake up in the morning?
- How do you want to feel when you wake up?
Try to understand how your client currently feels, how they want to feel, and what’s standing in their way.
Then, use that insight to develop services that people actually need—and want to buy.
Marketing lesson #2: Your “Don’t Do” list is just as important as your “To Do” list.
People love giving marketing advice:
“You’ve got to master the IG algorithm.”
“Actually, TikTok is where to focus.”
“Post workout videos on YouTube! People love that stuff!”
But for Tia, none of that advice felt quite right.
“I tried to do video,” she recalls. “But it was too much. I have three kids. One of them has unique needs. And I run a business. I don’t do hair and makeup every day. So recording a daily video? That just isn’t for me.”
Tia decided to get clear on what she would do—and what she wouldn’t.
So, she listed all her options on paper.
“I crossed off anything I didn’t want to do. Then I looked at what was left and picked the ones that spoke to me the most.”
For Tia, that was an email newsletter, and a podcast.
With a background in journalism and her facility for good conversation, these formats allow her to express her personality in a way that feels natural.
Plus, by focusing on just these two marketing mediums, she’s able to stay creative—and productive.
The key takeaway
There’s lots of noise out there. You’re bound to encounter all kinds of (often conflicting, not to mention unsolicited) marketing advice.
To make progress and avoid overwhelm, choose projects you’re totally committed to—and skip the ones you aren’t.
Try it: Write your “not gonna do” list
Grab a piece of paper.
Write down all the things you could do to market yourself.
Now, review the list. Cross off anything that gives you an ick-factor, plus anything you don’t have time or interest in.
What’s left? Circle the top 1-3 things that you want to commit to—for now.
(You can revisit this list at any time, but the immediate goal is to get focused and get started.)
Marketing Lesson #3: Commit to a realistic schedule—for YOU.
Pop quiz. How often should you post on social media?
- Once a week
- Once a day
- Several times a day
Surprise! It’s secret option D: Post at the pace works for you—whether it’s regularly, or not at all.
It’s easy to look at peers in the industry and think you’re not producing enough. But unless you’re trying to become a mega-influencer, you probably don’t need to post daily to engage or build your audience.
Tia focuses on content that works with her skills and her schedule.
Her rationale: “I figured if I took away the pressure of blogging daily or weekly, the creativity would naturally flow. I could take my love for writing and focus on making my newsletter better and better.”
Tia’s strategy worked. She has an engaged following, and the metrics to prove it: Her typical open rate is 60 percent. (For reference, the industry standard is about 20 percent.)
The key takeaway
Resist the pressure to “keep up” with whatever other people are doing.
Simple and manageable IS an option.
Says Tia, “Choose your pace. Create in a way that works for you, that won’t add to your stress.”
Try it: The weekly action list
If you want to make progress with your marketing projects, one option is to schedule the crap out of your day. Book time with yourself as you would an appointment, and don’t you dare break it.
That approach might work for some people. But what if you need more flexibility in your day?
Enter Tia’s strategy: The weekly to-do list.
At the beginning of every week, she makes a list of all the marketing tasks she wants to accomplish.
Because it’s weekly, it’s less rigid and more agile. Says Tia, “I don’t hold myself to a certain day and time; I just chip away at projects throughout the week.”
Tia also suggests approaching your list with realism, and compassion (i.e. expect that you’ll often have more to do than you were able to get done).
Also, be sure to include self-care on your list. Include things you want to do for yourself on the list, whether that’s working out, or going for tacos with friends. That ensures some degree of work-life balance, and prevents burnout.
Marketing Lesson #4: Your imperfections are an asset, not a weakness.
Remember how Tia’s clients would follow her out to the parking lot just so they could continue the feel-good convos?
They didn’t follow her because they thought she was perfect or had all the answers to life’s mysteries.
They followed her because she is warm, caring, funny, down to earth, and (in Tia’s words) a little “rough around the edges.”
In other words, she’s Tia.
As humans, we relate to other humans: imperfect and messy, just like us.
“Truly, no one has it figured out, which means I don’t have to come off like some all-knowing fitness and food guru-goddess,” says Tia.
“I can say to people, ‘Oh, I tried that recipe and girl, it burnt, it was a total fail.’ People relate to that. It also leaves me room for error, to be human.”
This might come as a relief if you’ve ever felt you’re somehow not perfect enough—or not fit enough—to be a coach.
But it can also be scary to be yourself. What if you get rejected?
That’s when Tia reminds herself:
“Some people will relate to me, some people will relate to somebody else. There’s a coach out there for everybody.”
The key takeaway
Coaches often feel that to be taken seriously or seen as professional, they have to project a nearly flawless image. This feeling of pressure can lead to mega imposter syndrome.
But many clients actually feel more comfortable working with a coach who’s relatable rather than aspirational.
Says Tia, “I’ve learned that when you present your most authentic version of yourself with just a little professional polish on it, people gravitate to you.”
Try it: Find the commonalities
If you feel a bout of imposter syndrome coming on, try this exercise Tia uses before creating a podcast or newsletter or meeting with a new client:
- Imagine your typical audience member, client, or person you have in mind.
- Then, list out all the things you might have in common.
“I imagine the person I’m talking to. Then I say to myself:
Girl, you’ve got a significant other in your life, so do I. You have children, so do I. You have a job, so do I. Your parents get on your nerves cause they’re getting older and they don’t know how to work anything, so do I. You hate overpriced groceries at the grocery store, so do I.
I’m not that different from you.”
This exercise absolves Tia from feeling like she has to present herself as “better than.”
“I don’t try to pretend that I’ve unlocked some magic that gives me all of this fitness and food knowledge. I like eating Chipotle and Chinese takeout too. Not hiding that allows me to engage with people in a very human way.”
Marketing Lesson #5: Take a shot; it doesn’t have to be a slam dunk.
Starting any new endeavor can be intimidating.
But at a certain point, you have to take a shot.
“When I first started the podcast, I was like, ‘What if no one listens? What if this isn’t the right move? What if it’s not well received? What if no one cares?’”
And yet (eventually), Tia took the leap. How did she do it?
“I tell myself, everything doesn’t have to be a slam dunk. Not everyone is Steph Curry, right?”
You don’t have to be the MVP to serve your audience as best you can.
Also, keep your expectations in check:
It takes time to build an audience, whether it’s an online community, a podcast audience, or a steady roster of clients.
Just like in nutrition and fitness, results likely won’t be instantaneous. But steady progress pays off.
(You might be wondering, “Okay, but how much does it pay off?” Find out here: Health coach salaries: Here’s what you can expect to make in a year)
The key takeaway
In a world dominated by social media, we’re taught to think that success should be instant, that if we aren’t going viral we’re doing something wrong.
In reality, good things usually take time (and lots of iterating).
Allow yourself the grace to make mistakes, and keep at it.
Try it: Choose your metrics
How do you know if you’re making progress?
Track a few metrics that are important to YOU.
Here are a few things Tia looks for:
- Direct feedback. “When people tell me they like the newsletter and look forward to getting it, I know it’s working. I can tell they’re engaged from what they say.”
- Email open rates. “To me, that is the cherry on top of the sundae. If I know people are opening it, that’s a good sign I’m providing something of value to them.”
No matter what metrics you measure, a few tips:
- Don’t worry about tracking things that don’t matter to your business. For example, Tia doesn’t sweat how many followers she has on social media, because she’s not trying to be a viral sensation. Like Tia, you might not need a giant following or a mailing list, just a dozen or two steady clients.
- Focus on improvement rather than reaching specific numbers. Just like your client can’t control the number on the scale, but they can control their habits, you can’t control how many people subscribe to your content, but you can work on doing things a little bit better each day.
- Be realistic. Communities and relationships take time to build. If you keep the long game in view and your expectations in check, you can build something meaningful and substantial over time.
“Once you remove the expectation that things are going to be instant” says Tia, “you open yourself up to all kinds of possibilities. That attitude not only feels better, it works better too.”
If you’re a coach, or you want to be…
You can help people build nutrition and lifestyle habits that improve their physical and mental health, bolster their immunity, help them better manage stress, and get sustainable results. We’ll show you how.
If you’d like to learn more, consider the PN Level 1 Nutrition Coaching Certification.