Fake It Til You Make It: How to get your first clients and then what you actually do with them
Hi guys! I'm starting to post some more excerpts from my upcoming book. It's called Confessions of a Six Figure Coach: How to build your dream practice in 7 steps. Here is my chapter on faking it til you make it!
When I first started working for myself, I had little experience, lots of chutzpah and an outrageous amount of confidence in my own ability to figure things out.
Luckily, that particular combination worked more often than it didn't.
Even though in some years I felt that I under-earned compared to what I felt was my potential, I was learning massive amounts about how to run (and how not to run) businesses.
Again, here, I think it's important to get some context before we dive into the coaching-specific stuff.
My first freelance work looked like this:
I was an independent representative for several different lines of clothing/handbags. I actually used my own money to buy the sample collections (at a huge discount) from the designer/wholesaler/manufacturer. Then I traveled around the east coast to visit independent and chain retailers to convince them to buy the stuff.
In my first month with one particular brand, I became their top sales person. Out of the entire US.
Still, this was not the cash cow I had hoped. It required long hours, tons of cold calling (I had no "book" of buyers from a previous position), and many of my collections were obscure brands no one had heard of. Getting in the door to get a visit was hard. Heck, even getting a buyer to take a phone call was tough. Once there, though, I had to convince the store that my brand would sell for them.
This is what was really hard. Even if the product was great and well-priced (I worked with contemporary to luxury price points), a buyer had to feel that her customers were also going to buy it. No one wants to take a chance on a no-name brand just to have it sit on the sales floor for months.
So, my job was actually pretty hard. I also supplemented my income by traveling to trade shows in NYC, Atlanta and Vegas to do sales for showrooms and brands. Working these shows wasn't particularly lucrative unless I was on commission. My day rate was $175. And didn't always include travel. Seriously.
But what it gave me was access. Suddenly, if I was working for a big showroom that had massive brands, I got to interact (and get business cards and establish a relationship with) buyers from all over the country/world.
Even though this doesn't seem like an obviously fantastic decision, working the trade shows gave me a little bit of cash, but more importantly it showed me the bigger picture of the industry and helped me make connections that helped my next steps.
People I met at trade shows hired me to do marketing, branding, sales, and even design.
They were where I first realized the power of taking an interest in other people's businesses. At the time, I didn't realize that the work I did was more akin to coaching/consulting than traditional sales, but this is where I really started.
Several different brands hired me to do sales, and then that sales work creeped into organizing events, creative directing their web sites, handling their small time PR efforts, designing new collections, and even sourcing materials and production sites in Italy. Basically, if they said they needed it, I said I could do it. Even if I had zero. idea. how.
That's right. I faked it til I made it on countless projects.
I would say,"Yes. Absolutely. That'll cost $xxxx." And then I'd have to go figure out how to do it. I'd hit the internet, ask people in the business and otherwise try to figure out best practices.
These small companies took a chance on me to do sales, and then gradually gave me more duties.
After several years of this, I really wanted to help these companies in a more impactful way. With uber-creative people at the helm, sometimes they did things that drove me nuts, but I had built up enough trust equity with my clients to be allowed into the inner sanctum of decision making. I was still stuck on the outside, trying to make sales and feeling hamstrung by some of their other products, processes, and systems.
I also wasn't quite sure how to re-frame who I was and what I offered in a way that made sense, and helped them see why they'd need to pay me more dollars for it.
On top of that, I suffered from what I call "If it's not my dream, then I'm not gonna do it" syndrome.
As soon as I realized (consciously or sub-consciously) that what had seemed like an ideal gig was "not in alignment" I tended to self-sabotage the gig, usually through gradually decreasing my level of performance and engagement.
Btw, "not in alignment" is basically code for, "This shit is tedious, I'm so over this client's ego, and I can't wait to do something else."
I'm not proud of that trend, but identifying it was a crucial piece in the lifetime of my business.
Here are the circumstances that helped lift the veil on my own role in the devolution of some of my client projects:
It was the fall of 2008. I had met this crazy and creative designer. She did interesting, wearable work and had cash. She wanted to grow her business but didn't really have a model or a plan. "Perfect!" I thought. "Here's my chance to help a business owner from a place of a real coach."
I wasn't going to have to do execution; she had a team for that. I would help her strategize, prioritize, and grow her business.
She paid me $2000 a month for this work.
And I pretty much became her shrink. Her inner workings were wild. Nor was she committed to profitability. Hers was a vanity business and she wasn't that much fun to work with.
I took on some logistical responsibilities (things I knew I hated and am not necessarily good at) because I was feeling insecure about my price tag. I dropped the ball on some of those logistical responsibilities. And because this woman is a bit on the insane side, I got to heap all kinds of blame and scorn on her and give excuses about why I had messed up.
After another month or so, neither of us wanted to continue the relationship, so we called it a day. But I got to take the "high road." Obvi it was her fault. Geez. I need to get better at screening my clients. No more crazy people who don't care about profit. What a waste.
I booked a yoga training in Mexico, had one of the best weeks of my life, came back in a different space and suddenly realized, a few days later, as I was driving to the gym to teach a yoga class that I had actually experienced thissame exact scenario with other clients in the past.
And as far as I know, they don't know one another. Nope. I was the only common denominator.
Shit. I couldn't hide from the new awareness: I was responsible for the whack clients. I was responsible for not delivering my deliverables. I was responsible for the not-so-great boundary and expectation setting. I was responsible for the way things ended. Painfully.
And I felt like shit.
Until I realized: I can change this!
So I broke down the elements of the patterns to see what was actually going on and what I could do about it.
Here's what I came up with:
1. I started from a place of desperation. I wanted a client. Any client. Actually, any paying client. So I was less discriminating about looking for red flags (Like lack of attention to profitability and even personality.)
2. I didn't build up to a higher price point. In fact I went from low to high overnight. I wasn't ready to own my value and stand in that with power.
3. I said yes to doing things that I neither enjoy doing nor am particularly skilled at. Recipe for mistakes, my friends.
4. When I did make mistakes, I didn't take responsibility. (Eek, it's hard to admit this publicly, but I definitely didn't do the right thing every time. I got defensive.)
5. When the time came to part ways, I wasn't willing to make an amicable exit. It was more crash and burn.
FYI in yoga we say that how you do anything is how you do everything. In a scary parallel, these same behaviors were visible in my relationships with family, friends, men. (Double eek. It's even harder to admit that.)
So when I started tackling the roots of this junky biz behavior, I also had to excavate the junky personal relationship behavior too. (This was painful but eventually really positive.)
Of course, awareness is one thing. Actually doing something with the awareness is something else entirely. How did I manage to change my internal business operating system?
Hahahahahaha, that's a long story. I'm telling it with this book. Keep on reading!
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