Get your systems in order and the rest will follow.
I set about writing this Blog post largely because I get a number of fellow coaches asking how I run my coaching practice, what's my set-up and methodology?
This is quite a full-bodied post and that's intentional. In this first part I will concentrate solely on the technology and hardware I use, take what you want from it and use what works, leave the rest.
I'll 'download' lots of information here in the hope that it will benefit coaches who might otherwise be struggling with their set-up. Another motivator for me in writing these posts is that when coaches and change-makers thrive, the world becomes a better place to live and that makes me a happy man!
When I first started out my life as a coach, around 2008 I was in a very fortunate position.
I had years of experience in the web industry and prior to that, had worked for Apple as a technical support analyst. I LOVE technology it's fair to say. Not just for the sake of loving it, but because of how it empowers me to do my thing, more effectively. How it can be in service of my streamlining, organising and evolving whatever area of my life I have my attention set on. This definitely put me in good stead.
2014 and coaches are inundated with choice and options around the technology, methodology and systems they can use in running their practice. This can lead to feeling like a rabbit in headlights and put a halt to implementing any new working practice choices. At least until an undefined later date...when things calm down a bit, or the eventual arrival of the proverbial rainy day. You get the picture...It doesn't happen and you struggle on.
Easier to stick with what I know? Not if it doesn't work.
We can get caught in the trap of the 'Duck-tape' business methodology. Thrashing around looking for clients at random and often inappropriate business events, predictably loosing the torn off strips of paper with session times scrawled on down the back of tube seats, feeling pestered with the ever increasing influx of spam in our Email and so on. We get by, but it's not pleasant and certainly not joyful. It barely holds together and certainly doesn't bode well for future projection and growth.
Time and energy are two vital resources that need to be carefully monitored when you run your own business, so getting some good solid systems in place now, spending a little time learning a few apps and web services pays off. Financially, mentally and emotionally.
Make tech your best friend.
I want to share with you how I personally go about doing this thing we call 'running a coaching practice' It’s not a definitive blueprint success formula by any means, but it's worked out well for me. Pick and choose what appeals and leave the rest. The following set-up has enabled me to build a practice from scratch and successfully grow it over a period of six years. Where I have mentioned services or hardware, I provide a direct link which will open up in a new page when you click it...
This one is probably the most frequently used tool for me, I spend a lot of time in the email environment sending and replying to prospective and current clients. I also dedicate a lot of time exploring new avenues and leads via email. There is an initial period of fending off unwanted nonsense such as spam but after you calibrate a few things you are golden. For me, Gmail is king.
It’s fast and feels to me that Google is ahead of the curve in trapping and filtering out unwanted, unsolicited spam.
Tell Gmail that a particular mail in rubbish and it’ll do a very good job of filtering all future mail that appears similar. This means more time focussing on writing emails and less on sifting through the fake Ray-Ban offers. This is a definite bonus, as the clutter and distraction of a full in-box sends me into disorientation and feels akin to when you get lots of printed junk through the front door. Highly annoying and intrusive.
I am visual and respond well to colours. Gmail allows me to set up filters for mail and associate colours to those filters. This means I know immediately if a ‘Luminous Lives’ mail comes in, as the label is green and I can prioritise my response.
Gmail has categories it intelligently filters mail into.
Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates and Forums, learning which emails are important to you over time, seamlessly. Again, streamlining your workflow and making it super-easy for you to dive right in and get your emailing done. Incidentally I allocate the first hour of each working day to writing and replying to email. I find I am most alert and fresh at that time, post-coffee anyhow!
The Gmail app on the iPhone (which is my phone of choice) is brilliant, very clear, fast, responsive, so you never miss a mail when out and about. Again, labels, colours, I glance down, know what and who to prioritise and it's all synchronised with no duplicates.
I intentionally don't have Gmail set to ‘Push’ on my phone.
This is a total distraction and fragments my awareness as it tries to snag my attention. My advice is wait until YOU decide to check your email, don’t be a slave to the 'bing’s and bong’s'. Being at everybody else's beck and call randomly will get you nowhere fast. Nobody died from not receiving an immediate response to an email (don't hold me to that). Truly though, If it's urgent, they will call you.
There is a methodology of just checking Emails twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. I am not so stringent. I tend to browse them over lunch and reply accordingly or between sessions.
2. Calendars and scheduling.
Again I go with Google and use Google Calendar. It has been around a long time and in that time, has proven to be ultra reliable. Also, there are a lot of third party iPhone and Android apps that support Google Calendar making accessibility painless. Here’s how I implement calendars.Create separate calendars within Google calendar and give them different colours.
I break down the categories into projects and area’s of time-based attention eg. Coaching Sessions, Men’s Work, Admin Activity, Face-to-Face Meeting, Workshop Development and so on. As a rule, use calendars to denote a circumstance where you have to be somewhere physically or, be somewhere with your attention. Think how much easier it is to hone in on the nebulous nature of life when you use the slices of the wheel of life tool. Breaking down your calendars in a similar way, allows you to allocate your time effectively and, you know where you attention and awareness should be at any given moment.
Don't let your calendar become a To-Do list.
Try not to cram each day with tasks on your calendar, visually It creates unnecessary pressure and anxiety and, as the day progresses the little timeline moves steadily along and the box full of incomplete tasks mount up. Don't do it to yourself. You can loose the will to live. Calendars are not the place for To-Do's.
Having multiple, specific calendars means you can temporarily switch them off and hide them, enabling you to quickly see any one realm of your time. Very useful if you are totalling your coaching hours for PCC application (in my instance the Coaching Sessions calendar) or for quickly seeing how many sessions you have had in the last few months with a particular client - ideal for painless invoicing.
Don't just schedule in work and client appointments.
This is important! Particularly in your early days as a Coach when you are formulating working patterns and habits. It's all too easy to shunt any available time into coaching and business building. Must. Get. More. Clients! The line between work and personal time can blur very, very quickly when you are tired and anxious about where your next money is going to come from.
Create a calendar for Pleasure, for joy.
Make appointments with yourself. FOR yourself. Scheduling in this vital time ensures you know that: Thursday 2-5pm is time you will spend to: visit the Tate Modern and have a coffee by the Thames, for example. You time. You owe it to yourself and it's an essential habit to get yourself into. Particularly when you are a service provider for people, walk your talk, make joy and wellbeing at least an equal priority to your clients.
3. Client notes & reference.
I swear by Evernote. Evernote is a web based subscription service that captures pretty much anything you throw at it. From images, photographs to sound recordings and Word documents.. It’s a catch-all which is accessible via a iPhone/Android mobile app, any browser and with the PC/Mac desktop app. Here’s how I use it:
Every time I have a session with a client I make notes, handwritten notes.
I also sketch things occasionally or draw a diagram to illustrate a point. At the end of the session I take a few photos of these notes, using my iPhone straight into Evernote. I also record sound into each note and record myself speaking a few comments regarding that particular session. I date the note and save. These notes then get automatically synced and stored in the cloud immediately. No fear of losing scraps of paper or the napkin that was handy at the time.
Evernote allows you to create notebooks or what it calls ‘Stacks’.
I have an individual stack for each one of my clients. The photo I took of my handwritten session note goes into that stack and I then shred the written note.
Everything is then accessible, searchable and protected. I find for me, this convenience allows me to dive straight into a client session
This means. no clutter in the office and client information that is immediately accessible with my phone, laptop or browser. Something to know, Evernote can be protected on the phone with a pin number and on the web with a username, password.
Stacks can be saved to your device locally, meaning you don't need internet access to read your client notes. I find for me, this convenience allows me to dive straight into a client session having briefly referenced notes from the previous session(s), wherever I may be.
4. Making client calls & low-down on headsets.
I have been through all manner of headsets, bluetooth in ear gizmo’s and the like. Having a decent, reliable connection with your client is key. They are paying you good money and you want to be totally ‘present’ for the session. You can’t be if you spend half of it re-dialing in because of dropout.
The right hardware and correct choice of service allows for you to relax into the session and not get flustered with tech issues. Here’s my set-up of choice.
Skype is wonderful and a consistent choice when you call another Skype connection.
Every 9 times out of every 10. If there is drop-out, turn off the video and it will open up more bandwidth for audio, giving you a much better connection. This is my most frequent go-to option. Skype to Skype, audio only.
I avoid taking calls from clients mobile's or landline's to Skype. In theory this is supposed to work, only the quality is flaky and unpredictable in my experience.
Something I offer all of my clients is an .mp3 recording of their session. This is an extra that really adds value to your offering.
Skype isn’t the only VOIP service out there, other providers give you great options.
An essential add-on addition for Skype is Ecamm’s Call Recorder.
Something I offer all of my clients is an .mp3 recording of their session. This is an extra that really adds value to your offering. Clients can download and listen to their session on their journey to work, revisiting and highlighting nuggets they might have missed in their process of the call. To send them the audio files I use a brilliant and free service - WeTransfer to email the file’s through to them after the session.
The right hardware for the job.
At my home office, I am a big fan of wires. Yes, I tend to avoid wireless headsets at this point in time. They just don’t deliver the consistent clarity or quality for the entire hour duration of a coaching session in my experience, they also need to be recharged pretty frequently. No fun when you jump on a call and realise you have 5 minutes talk-time remaining.
My set up is a Zoom H2n USB Microphone plugged into my laptop and a pair of noise canceling headphones which plug into the Zoom H2n. For me this is the ideal set-up. The mic transmits beautifully clear vocals and I hear my client uninterrupted through my headphones. What’s more, there’s plenty of cable, enabling me to be as animated as necessary in the session.
When out, I go wireless.
I use the Jawbone ICON HD Bluetooth earpiece. It holds a long charge, deals with unwanted noise in public wonderfully as it features ‘noise assasin’ technology which in effect dampens all other extraneous sound out except your voice. This I use for Skype to Skype audio calls on my iPhone. Solid, reliable and perfect when you are in town and want to walk around for the session.
5. Invoicing and tax
There was I time I used to bury my head in the sand when it came to getting on-top of finances. The overwhelming sense of invoicing, tax returns and getting paid, strangely found its place at the bottom of the pile when I started out my practice. My advice is get ontop of it ASAP. Set up simple systems to make the process dead easy and it promises to not to encroach too much on your working day, or into your thinking. Here’s what I do:
I use a brilliant cloud app called FreeAgent.
Through it, I can issue headed, digital invoices, have live feeds to my bank account, enabling me to see if clients have paid or not, I can automate payment reminders, easily reconcile expenses as and when they appear in my account, and basically relax into a system that has it all handled.
Tax returns are never a pleasant prospect for me. Using Freeagent it makes this necessity super-simple. The system also offers up reminders as to when you need to submit them, so you’ll never come unstuck and get stung with late return penalties.
Building on Freeagent as my financial hub, I found a FreeAgent-friendly accountant who understands the software and gets hands on with it. This means that I don’t ever have to allocate time or energy to the stuff that frankly, doesn't interest me. It also means I can relax, knowing my guy has it down. More time for focussing on what I am good at.
Tax returns are never a pleasant prospect for me. Using Freeagent it makes this necessity super-simple.
I still choose to do my own invoicing.
I find it a very satisfying process and energetically it feels like a valuable and tangible exchange to be involved with. In other words, It feels good to invoice knowing that this is money I have earned doing that which I love. A powerful antidote to the occasional nagging inner critic who still doesn’t believe coaching is a viable career choice!
Conclusion- Getting these things nailed and being prepared with a good tech. set-up, means you can be fully present and good to go for each and every session.
The initial financial and time based investment in reliable hardware and web services easily makes up for lack of stress through unpredictable connection and organisation with your clients. I make up that people are looking for dependability and professionalism both in you as a coach and, in how your run your practice. Having such systems, ensures that the unnecessary rough edges of operations are smoothed out and you can spend more time planning the growth and direction of your business in a relaxed, spacious frame of mind.
How do you use technology to get your practice running smoothly? Interested to hear your comments below.