Should a coach have a niche? A specialism? This is a question I’ve been thinking about quite a lot recently – lots of guidance for professional coaches will say ‘Yes’, you should absolutely have a specialist niche that is the focus for most of your work. I read a blog by a coach that I know (and have a huge amount of respect for) recently who was writing about the things prospective clients should be looking for when choosing a coach, and they went as far as to suggest that if a coach doesn’t have a clear specialism then that undermines their credentials as a coach.
I don’t agree.
Coaching is about people achieving their goals and aspirations. It’s about asking questions and working with the client to help them identify the best way for them to move forward, and in coaching’s purest form a good coach can coach anyone towards any goal. I’ve run group coaching sessions in the past, asking generic questions and guiding the group through the process as each participant considers their own responses and how they might move ahead with their own individual goals. Similarly, it’s not uncommon to run what could be described as ‘one-way’ coaching sessions – a one to one conversation, but the topic the client is focussing on is sufficiently sensitive or confidential to mean that they’re not giving voice to their thoughts or answers. This sort of session can be hugely beneficial to the participants and clients, though I’d certainly agree that you’d expect more impactful or quicker results if it was a truly two-way conversation. Though, to be clear, that’s because the coach has the opportunity then to tailor their questions based on the responses the client gives, and to qualify and clarify points with the client – ensuring that the session remains focussed, and as effective as possible. It’s not because the coach has particular knowledge or experience of the subject the client is concentrating on. In fact, there’s a school of thought that says coaching is more effective when the coach doesn’t have specialist knowledge of the subject. They can’t then (even subconsciously) impose their views or ideas on the client, and as a result the client stays in complete control throughout and gets the maximum benefit from the coaching process – they’re empowered, motivated, inspired and that’s much more powerful when it comes from within.
Having said all that, there is a strong argument for operating within a niche and with a specialism – and that’s about marketing, about attracting clients. Identify your ideal target market and direct your services towards that group. My background is in sales, business development and relationship management and as a result I have a ‘specialism’ in working with individuals that work in those sort of roles, or with people establishing and growing businesses. In practice of course the sessions that I have with those clients follow a blended approach – some coaching, some training and some mentoring. A huge portion of my coaching work is outside that ‘niche’ though. In many ways I’m a generalist, with clients working towards many and varied goals (including health and fitness, financial wellbeing, work / life balance, passing professional exams, job hunting, business start-up, career progression and even house building).
So, as a coach, is there a benefit to having a niche? Yes, there can be. Does a coach need to operate within a niche to be a good coach? No, absolutely not.