When you hear the term “coaching,” it’s easy to think of the whistle-blowing leader of your child’s little league team or a motivational life coach who pens self-help books.
Yet a stream of young professionals are now giving that term new meaning. They are spinning off parts of their businesses — and even creating whole new businesses — on the idea of coaching a specific skill, tool or industry.
How did they get started? Where did they find clients? And, perhaps the most perplexing question in the work-for-yourself world, how did they decide what to charge?
We talked to three pioneers in the career coaching world about how they got to where they are and what they want to do next.
Coaching the Business of Freelance Writing
Jenni Gritters and Wudan Yan, The Writers’ Co-op
Freelance writers Jenni Gritters and Wudan Yan both got into coaching after a continued flurry of requests for advice. Both have a presence on social media and had written viral articles about their professional experiences.
For Gritters, it was a piece she wrote on Medium in June 2019 with an eminently clickable headline: “How I made $120,000 in my first year as a freelance writer.” For Yan, it was a piece published around the same time about her saga of successfully extracting late fees from publications that were late paying her. In both cases, Yan and Gritters found themselves inundated with requests from people who wanted to “pick their brains” and ask for career advice.
At some point, they both decided that offering their time for free was not financially sustainable.
To streamline their advice in one place, Yan and Gritters decided to start a podcast, The Writers’ Co-op, which has since become a guidebook for freelancers with worksheets, webinars and even coaching. They also started their own individual coaching businesses, offering one-hour sessions with prospective and experienced freelancers.
Finding clients was never too much of an issue. Yan’s and Gritters’ relative internet fame assured some level of success. But deciding what to focus on and how much to charge posed bigger problems. Both Yan and Gritters lowballed their rates at first — Yan was charging $35 a session while Gritters was charging $50. Both have since raised their fees: Gritters is at $150 while Yan is at $200.
They advise being realistic about how much work coaching will take and charge accordingly. Remember that a one-hour coaching session does not just take one hour: It takes time to schedule the session, prepare for it and send a follow-up email with tangible guidance, as Yan and Gritters do.
Remember, also, to be thoughtful about what topics you choose to coach. Although Gritters was a longtime editor and once taught high school journalism, she knew she did not want to teach the creative elements of writing. She wanted to save her creative energy for her own work. Instead, she focuses her coaching on the business of freelancing.
Coaching Social Media for Nonprofits
Dana Snyder, Positive Equation
When Dana Snyder initially started her own social media marketing business for nonprofits four years ago, she wanted to emulate an agency. Her plan was to be on monthly retainers with nonprofits managing their social media.
But once those contracts ended, she quickly saw that her clients went back to their previous practices. She wanted to help them long-term.
Much like Gritters and Yan, it was a sort of serendipity that pushed Snyder into coaching. In the first year of her business, a nonprofit reached out asking if she would be willing to work with an internal employee. The leaders knew enough to know what they didn’t know — and that was social media and the digital world.
The coaching paid off. At the end of the year, the nonprofit’s CEO reached out to Snyder to tell her that they had had unprecedented success on social media channels.
Since then, Snyder has made the pivot from the agency model to business coaching and speaking engagements. In a twist of fate, 2020 was the first year Snyder decided to focus 100 percent of her business on online courses, coaching and speaking engagements.When COVID-19 hit, she saw a rush of demand for virtual professional development sessions and planning virtual events.
She offers pre-recorded online courses for purchase on topics like Facebook and Instagram, planning a virtual event and reaching ideal donors. Those range from about $39 to $70 per course. She also offers social media audits to nonprofits, which function as a one-time coaching session. Snyder asks about an organization’s business goals, researches their competitors and the nonprofit’s own content before presenting them with digital strategies for the future. Those start at $1,000.
But in the age of COVID-19, Snyder has found real success in webinars. She offers professional development series for nonprofits that can book her as a speaker. She also received the unique opportunity to become an approved speaker through CharityHowTo, a site that connects nonprofits with relevant webinars. That has both increased her presence in the community and taught her more about how to make an engaging presentation.
Snyder is an example of the power of having a diversified revenue stream — audits, online courses and speaking engagements — at a variety of price ranges.
Coaching How to Pitch to News Outlets and Brands
Austen Tosone, Keep Calm and Chiffon
Austen Tosone did not initially become a full-time freelancer by choice. After getting laid off from two different magazine jobs, Tosone decided to pursue her blog, Keep Calm and Chiffon, and while writing freelance full-time.
As her work was getting published in publications like Refinery29, Teen Vogue, Bustle and The Zoe Report, she started receiving messages from people wondering how she got there.
“I really want to get into pitching magazines,” they would say, “and I would love any advice.”
But Tosone didn’t have the time to answer every one-off message. She decided to compile a resource that she could hand off to anyone with questions — for a price. That’s how she created her e-book, “Right On Pitch.”
The e-book focuses on the making of a successful pitch and looks at pitching brands and publications. She also has a section on negotiating rates. The book is priced at $9, which Tosone reasoned would be the cost of an actual coffee date, if each person who messaged her were actually able to take her out for coffee.
Tosone also learned the power of sharing your work with a small group before releasing it out into the world. Before launching her e-book, she shared it with about 12 beta-testers of freelance writers and influencers to get feedback. That helped her tweak the product to be ready to go.
The bulk of Tosone’s marketing for the e-book occurs on her own social media platforms, but she has paid to advertise in freelance writer Sonia Weiser’s Opportunities of the Week newsletter. She continues to do that, because she’s seen a good return from that $25 investment.
On top of her freelance writing career, Tosone now works full-time as a beauty content director at Jumprope, a company that helps users create how-to videos. But she’s still managed to find time to grow her e-book sales. In 2019, the e-book made up nine percent of her total freelance income. In 2020, it grew to 16 percent.
Tosone found success by compiling all of her advice in one place and marketing it as a low-cost product. Her decision to use beta-testers shows how fine-tuning a product with potential clients can help identify issues on the front end.
Elizabeth Djinis is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.