Everything changes when you get your first few paid clients.
You go from dreaming about building a coaching business to actually running one. From wanting to give your gifts to actually impacting people's lives. And from overthinking everything to actually getting paid to do what you love.
On the other hand - if you can't get people to invest in your coaching, none of this will ever happen. And that's a shame. Because there are people out there who would really benefit from your support.
Unfortunately, there just isn't a lot of good advice out there about how to get your first few coaching clients. And the advice that you do find doesn't always work. Sometimes gurus will tell you to to do something one way even though that's not what worked for them.
That's why I decided to reach out to the most successful coaches I know and figure out exactly how they did it.
I asked them...
"How did you get your first three coaching clients?"
Why three? It's not a random number. Three is the tipping point for most coaches. It demonstrates that you have real traction and that this coaching thing isn't just a fluke.
Getting three long-term clients is what allowed me to leave my job, start coaching full-time, and later break six figures. So I know what a difference those first three clients can make for your income and your confidence.
Note: I'm running a live panel on February 22nd with six of the experts from this post so that you can get your questions answered for free - seriously! Click the button below to register:
I'd love to give a formal introduction for each of the experts below since they are all fantastic. But that would make this post prohibitively long. Instead, please feel free to click on the link next to each name if you would like to learn more.
Without further ado, here are the experts...
Michael Neill* - MichaelNeill.org
I got my first three coaching clients through a brochure in a bookstore in London in 1990 - they paid 33 pounds for two hours of my time and I thought I was raking it in!
After that it was mostly referrals and people who came along on trainings that I was teaching on who wanted to go deeper.
Nowadays they find me through my books, radio show, videos, etc. My fees did go up a bit, though... :-)
Lewis Howes - LewisHowes.com
I got my earliest clients by being known for a super specific niche topic - LinkedIn profile strategy - when hardly anyone else was into that. Word spread through referrals and I got my first joint venture webinar invite because of that reputation.
Once I got into bigger business coaching, I learned that just listening to the client was the biggest value add. Listening to what they were struggling with and where they wanted to be and guiding them through what needed to happen to get there. They actually figured out most of the steps themselves once I pointed out the themes in what they told me.
Ajit Nawalkha* - AjitNawalkha.com
First client was actually when I was speaking to a friend and just helping them out with some of their business challenges and they asked if I was coaching. I made a decision to try it out.
Second client came through when I was speaking at an event. I offered a new way of working with me from stage and had a person sign up.
The third client came through someone else's event. Where I was talking to people and I mentioned some of my past success and my experiments with coaching, they decided to become a client.
Steve Chandler - SteveChandler.com
I was a corporate trainer at the time and they saw me present a seminar. They made the assumption that I must also be a good coach, but they were wrong. Oh well, you have to start somewhere!
Pamela Slim* - PamelaSlim.com
I got my first three coaching clients by attending networking events, having good conversations, then recommending a follow up call. On the call, we discussed coaching options and packages, and I signed them up.
Jenny Shih - JennyShih.com
I knew that, to have any hope of snagging paying customers, I had to present people with who I was, what I did, and how I could help them with the problem they were facing.
In short: I had to get the word out about my business!
What creative, hi-tech, super trendy methods did I use to do this?
Client #1: Responded to a flyer I had posted in public places around town. The one she saw was posted in a coffee shop I frequented.
Client #2: Came in through a comment I posted on someone’s blog about quitting your job to pursue a passion-driven career.
Client #3: Contacted me after I emailed my entire professional network of 40+ women about my change in career path.
Charlie Gilkey - Productive Flourishing
I fell backward into my first three clients, largely because I wasn't intending on being a coach. I was simply working with people and helping them get stuff done because they were friends I had made via the internet.
I was doing it on the side of two other careers, and at a certain point, they asked how they could get more regularly attention from me and how much it'd cost. We worked through a lot of "I don't knows" and "let's see how it goes", but those relationships turned into my first three paid clients. Were it not for the persistence and pressure from one of them, I may not have ever went public with coaching as a service, as well.
Rebecca Tracey - The Uncaged Life
Client #1 was a friend of mine. She was an exact ideal client, so I reached out to her and asked her if I could coach her, for free. She eventually moved to a Pay What You Want option, and then became a full paying client!
Client #2 I met at a workshop. She asked a question and I knew I could help her, so I went up to her after and asked her if I could work with her.
Client #3 found me through my website. I started blogging and interviewing people right away, and within 4 weeks of launching my website someone found me through my site and hired me!
Kendrick Shope - KendrickShope.com
1. I saw someone ask a question on Facebook and offered to coach her for free.
2. Taught a free class to a very successful businesswoman's list and made an offer at the end.
3. Taught a free call and offered to coach all 200 people on the call for free.
Tad Hargrave - Marketing For Hippies
My first clients I just did coaching for free in exchange for testimonials and experience. The ones after that came mostly from my email newsletter or live workshops I did. But I never really pushed the one on one work because my main business model was about doing workshops.
What made them want to hire me was that they trusted me. They understood something of my take on marketing. They felt safe with me and trusted my approach. They'd been following me for a while or liked what they learned in the marketing workshop but they wanted some help in applying it. I don't think people really understand this fully. You can teach so much. You can be so clear and still, people will want your help to implement.
Christina Berkley - ChristinaBerkley.com
My first client was my roommate. She paid me $25/session so that I could start practicing my new skills. She was wonderful for giving me her time every week, and man, did that experience with her help me get that first inkling that - YES - I CAN do this as a career.
My second and third clients came from meetups that I ran. I began running three meetups a month and slowly, a community started to gather. I would make sure that everyone had a powerful experience in those two hours, got WAY more vulnerable than they were expecting (and then far more connected to themselves and each other).
Then I'd let them know that I was available if they wanted to go deeper into whatever it was that they were working on in that meetup.
Jason Billows* - JasonBillows.com
First I got really clear on who I wanted to serve, what they most needed/wanted, and the single most important result I could get them.
Then I tapped into my existing network. I reached out to people I thought would be good clients, and I also asked other people for referrals.
My entire marketing strategy focused around networking, referrals, and having simple yet direct conversations. That's how I got my first 3 clients. It's also how I got booked solid within 6 months of launching my first coaching business.
Don't overthink it. It doesn't need to be complicated.
Halley Gray - Evolve And Succeed
1. Listening to them a LOT so I could understand them better and using that to create specific services that solved their problems.
2. Hanging out where they were already hanging out online.
3. Writing sales pages that grabbed the right people by the outside ovaries.
Paul G. McManus - More Clients More Fun
I got my first three coaching clients all from LinkedIn. The process is remarkably simple. Decide who you want to target. Create a profile and summary that shows that market how you can solve a specific problem for them.
Then use the latest LinkedIn tools to attract them to your profile. Then engage them in a conversation and have them invite you into a sales conversation. And if you can show them credibly how you can help them solve their problem you have a new client.
And I've been using this same strategy every since I got my first three.
John P Morgan - JPmorganjr.com
I coached my fucking ass off for free. 😁
Bernadette Jiwa - The Story of Telling
One of the best ways to get clients is not to think about getting clients. The alternative is to focus on getting better at understanding the problems and challenges your ideal clients are likely facing right now.
Then start helping them to solve those problems in small ways by blogging, podcasting or perhaps creating networking groups. When you show people how you can make a difference, they and others will find (and pay) you.
Toku McCree* - Samurai Coaching Dojo
I'm always hearing from new coaches that they don't know where to meet clients, but I meet clients everywhere I go.
My first three clients were people I met at my Buddhist temple, start-up events, and social gatherings. They hired me not because my pitch was great, my packages were well designed, or my website was beautiful. They hired me because I showed up with an authentic desire to serve.
If you want to find clients everywhere you go, find a way to serve everyone you meet in a way they'll never forget.
Siimon Reynolds - SiimonReynolds.com
The best way to get your first coaching clients is to tell some friends what you're up to and would they like to do a session. Then at the end either sign them up or ask if they know anyone who could get value from your coaching. Friends are always the easiest way to start.
Izzy Arkin - Why Not Live An Awesome Life
Well, it is a bit of a blur when I think back to it.
It was so exciting that I decided I would coach a shit ton of people and see if they would be interested in hiring me. So, the simple thing I did was coach my face off and propose my face off. I was told 'No' 18 times before someone said 'Yes!'. But I did get that 'Yes'.
And then from there I got better at what I was doing. In the beginning it was about taking action more than anything else. It was about getting over all those fears. It was about follow through.
And after that, it was a similar process. I went out there, coached my face off and made proposals. Overtime I developed a process and structure to what I do. But in the beginning my major block was my fear, not my 'know how'.
Carolyn Elliott - Grit & Grace
I wrote an article, and at the bottom I had a link to my free Facebook group at the time....
... the article went viral...
... and I had 13,000 people join my Facebook group...
... I found my first 3 coaching clients by connecting with people in that group.
Michael Serwa - MichaelSerwa.com
Gumtree (it's a UK equivalent of Craigslist).
Steve Mitten - A Coach 4 U
My first 3 clients came from getting out there and talking to qualified potential clients about their challenges, what was working, what was not, and giving them a feel for how coaching would support them to make those important changes they could not make on their own.
Cam Adair - CameronDare.com
I hosted a local meetup every Thursday for guys who wanted to go out together and improve their social skills. What started as a meetup that only had 3 people every week grew to 30+.
Eventually people started asking me to coach them when they met me and saw the growth I was having. The key for me was going for coffee individually with people who were interested and asking them if they wanted to learn more about coaching. They would always say yes, and that gave me permission to go more into "sales."
Back then we didn't have Square, so I always met with them at a coffee shop next to a bank, so they could use the ATM to give me a deposit right then and there. Looking back that sounds a bit sketchy but it was essential for securing clients.
Peter Rubin - Your Business Midwife
Right out of the gate I was so excited about being a life coach in training that I would go to hipster coffee shops and strike up conversations with strangers.
I’d be curious about them and their lives, tell them my story, and offer a 15-minute initial chat.
Most people said “no” and enough said “yes” to chats that turned into full exploratory sessions, that turned into my first 7 (low) paying clients, which gave me the faith to take the leap from my day job, before I was even fully certified as a coach.
Looking back on this, the whole thing seems so hopelessly naive, and I really got my ass kicked those first few years in business. But that initial innocent enthusiasm was apparently disarming and appealing enough for my first clients to say “yes.”
My advice – be courageous, get out there, and have some conversations!
Nick Snapp - RealAccountable
I was launching my podcast during the early stages of my business and I saw value in offering free coaching on-air for people who were willing to be on the show. There was a novelty of sorts for clients who did this with me, and I created my first client from the value they experienced in being on the podcast.
The second and third came after listening to the podcast. It gave me a source of credibility and I used it as the foundation for my brand.
Tor Refsland - TorRefsland.com
Here´s how I got my first 3 clients:
Client #1: He reached out to me after I had created a free ebook on how to crush your goals, and asked if I accepted coaching.
Client #2: She was on my email list and we started to communicate (yes, that actually works). Then it turned out that she needed my help, and she became a client.
Client #3: He reached out to me for advice based on the blog posts I had published, and as you can guess, he became a client as well.
But getting new clients is just the first step. Then you need to pull up your sleeves and over-deliver.
Perry Gladstone* - PerryGladstone.com
My first clients asked for my help after I made an observation that acknowledged and validated their situation.
While each coach took their own unique path to three clients, they all did one thing in common: they got out there and offered their coaching to people. This is a non-negotiable.
What to do next
If you've gotten this far, congratulations. You must be really committed to making your coaching business work.
Since I know it can be overwhelming to apply all of this stuff, I have an invitation for you...
If you want to figure out exactly how to get your first three clients, I ran a live panel with some of the experts above. They answered some of the most important questions for new coaches. All you have to do is click the button below and you'll get the recording for free: