Over the years, I have been involved in training thousands of coaches and helping them build their coaching businesses and there is one area that often seems to be a major stumbling block. This one thing can keep coaches stuck for months in a holding pattern in which they don’t move forward to create a sustainable coaching practice.
This one thing is the coaching niche.
Coaches agonise over it. Should they have one? Do they have the right one? And how do they find a coaching niche in the first place?
Now, unlike many people, I don’t think a coaching niche is essential and if finding it is holding you back, I’d encourage you to let go and just find people to work with, of every type!
However, if you feel that having a coaching niche will help you focus, gain clarity, forge a strong message, do the work you love and create long-term sustainability and impact, then there are some key areas to look at to find your coaching niche.
In this article, I aim to lay out the 8 “lenses” you can use to cast your eye over your life and interests to find where a coaching niche might lie.
As you might have guessed by the title of this article, I have an acronym that not only covers these 8 areas but does so in a way that will leave you inspired!
Guessed it yet? Yes, it’s INSPIRED.
I first created the INSPIRED Model back in 2012 to help some coaches I was mentoring at that time think about who they’d like to work with. Since then, it’s been used by hundreds of coaches to find their coaching niche.
It’s important to say INSPIRED is not a step-by-step approach in which your final, chosen niche must map to every part of the acronym. Think of it more as a map, or a set of lenses, to explore your life and experience that you can look at to find inspiration.
Each element presents an area of your life that you can dive into to find out whether it offers a possible route to a coaching niche. After all, who is going to focus on a niche that doesn’t in some way come for their life experience and interests.
So let’s take a look at the 8 areas of INSPIRED.
I is for Interests
Take a moment to think about what interests you. Don’t worry about whether it could be a business just yet. Just list out all your interests.
You might love cycling, wild-camping, opera, music, cars, travelogues, biographies, design, cooking, astrophysics, late-night politics, psychology or any number of other weird and wonderful things.
To start with you might think they have nothing to do with your niche but don’t be too hasty.
Perhaps they represent something more than the thing itself. Let’s imagine you enjoy wild-camping. Well, perhaps the real love behind that is connecting to nature away from the busyness of life, or finding solitude, or tapping into self-reliance as you purify water from the nearby stream! These things are bigger than wild-camping and lead you to who is the you behind the activity. Or perhaps it’s as simple as that wild-camping becomes a quirky way of working at a VIP level a la Running Wild with Bear Grylls in which celebrities reveal their deeper sense of self out in the wilderness!
You are the architect of its meaning and the insight enables you to be aware of it more clearly for your business.
N is for Networks
Somewhat more pragmatic than Interests, Networks is about who you know or who you can get to know who could catapult you towards a working coaching business.
One exercise I have always had coaches do when they are starting out is to make a list of everyone in their life they know and to split into three columns.
In the first column are all the people who could potentially become clients.
In the second column are all the people or groups who could potentially refer you to people who could be clients.
And in the third column are all the people who simply don’t feature in your business building efforts.
Handled well, the first and second columns are brilliant launchpads for any coaching practice.
Strictly, speaking this doesn’t create a niche but what you are likely to find is that there will be commonalities in the list that begin to point you to a coaching niche. This might be industries they work in, things they are concerned with, stages of life and so on.
An often-overlooked area within this element is that of people who can connect you to other networks. Perhaps you know a headteacher and this headteacher can connect you to a local group of heads. Now you have the potential for a niche emerging.
Take a moment to do this exercise and list everybody you know and where they map to these columns and you will be amazed how this can support you to identify your coaching niche.
S is for Similarities
The Oracle of Delphi said it best with “Know thyself!”
Another saying goes, people like you, like you!
You are a great starting point for a niche and in this case we’re looking for who is like you.
Common similarities that can lend themselves to a niche include gender, race, sexuality, faith, age and other such broad characteristics.
But don’t stop there. Dive deeper into who you are that other people might be like. The book “Quiet” by Susan Cain struck a worldwide chord as people started to resonate with her description of introversion “in a world that can’t stop talking”.
What would other people resonate with that is about who you are in some way?
What makes someone be like you? Could they become your coaching niche?
P is for Passions
Unlike the earlier element of Interests, Passions is more powerful. These aren’t interests of which we have many but the one or two things that really drive you.
As a business owner, I am interested in many things from history to science and from fiction to walking, but I am passionate about entrepreneurship and creating businesses. This takes up most of my time! It frustrates me, infuriates me and challenges me but I love it and I wouldn’t be me without it.
I’ve noticed over the years that we don’t all have one of these areas and if you don’t that’s fine. But if you do, then perhaps it can be part of your coaching business?
Do you have passions you’d love to build your coaching niche around?
I is for Issues
I used to call this element Irritations but it never felt right. It always felt too weak a word and then I realised that what I was really talking about were issues that you care about and wish you could put right.
That might be wanting to help young people feel more confident as they leave school or prisoners feel more purposeful as they end their sentence. It might be wanting leaders to be more emotionally intelligent or politicians be more able to have genuine dialogue.
It might be centred around forms of inequality, missed opportunity, a sense of social isolation and any number of other areas.
What aspects of life might you want to make an impact on? Where do you want to create change for individuals or even at a wider scale?
R is for Relatable Experiences
Relatable experiences are those things that are peculiarly personal yet so often carry universal resonance.
What have you been through that others would resonate with?
Perhaps you’ve been through divorce, bereavement or bankruptcy.
Maybe you’ve gone from rags to riches or riches to rags. Perhaps you’ve faced health issues and emerged through them with deeper insights.
Maybe you’ve cycled the world, climbed the seven summits of the world, or dived to the depths of the oceans.
Perhaps you’ve worked in deprived communities or worked in circumstances that helped you see your own life differently.
Whatever it is, this is your personal journey but it speaks to something more universal that can shape a sense of who your ideal client is.
E is for Expertise
We know that coaching is inherently non-advisory, yet in reality, many coaches, very sensibly, create their business around areas in which they have expertise, whether that’s in relationships, leadership or weight-loss, trauma recovery or any other conceivable area of life.
This makes sense. Many people wouldn’t consider working with someone who doesn’t have an expertise of some sort in their field. This is especially so the case with executive coaching.
As a coach, you learn the art of facilitating someone’s thinking and self-awareness, but as you build your business, you might well find that part of what you do involves teaching, consulting, advising or mentoring.
So, don’t discount the expertise and experience you have built up through your life.
What expertise and skills do you have that might lend itself to a coaching niche?
D is for Demographics
The final element is somewhat more prosaic than the others yet incredibly useful nonetheless.
If the other areas fail to identify a really key area to focus on then why not simply focus on a group based on certain characteristics that you can target through your marketing.
These could include income brackets, location, age range, gender and so on. In other words, the classic marketing demographics.
Whilst this is the least personal approach it nevertheless offers a way to target your message and marketing methods and is a useful fallback option.
How to use INSPIRED Model to find your coaching niche
There’s no real mystery to INSPIRED. It just takes a little commitment and time to think through it carefully.
As I said at the start of this article, the niche you choose does not have to match all the elements and you could well focus on an Issue or Passion or Interest that doesn’t match any others but which truly grabs you.
The best way to use INSPIRED is simply to use it!
Get a pen and paper, or your laptop, or however you like to work, and work through each element. Take your time. Maybe you can complete one element per day so that after 8 days you have a fully fleshed out set of ideas, thoughts and possibilities.
Then just sit with it and allow the possibilities to sink in. Which ones speak to you. Which ones don’t? What can you imagine working with for a few years at least and which do you feel would bore you, tire you, or simply be a temporary interest?
INSPIRED is not intended as a logical process that takes you neatly to a final destination but simply a series of lenses that provoke new ways of thinking about your coaching niche.