- What sort of numbers is it realistic to expect a full-time enterprise coach to deliver?
- What does a healthy coach portfolio look like?
- If I employ 5 coaches to work in city of 750 000, what sort of results should I expect?
Well here are my thoughts….
The basic unit of coaching is the 121. Each 121 will usually take between 45 minutes to an hour. Of course they can take longer – but this is rarely productive.
121s are intense, often emotional and usually challenging. If they are aren’t, you are not doing it right! This means that a coach can do on average 3 x 121s in a day. This should mean that they can deliver well in excess of 600 personal coaching sessions in a year – 650+ is not beyond the realms of possibility. Of course geography matters – if clients are scattered across Northumberland you will spend more time travelling than if you coach in an urban centre.
I would expect to see a coach working with about 200 unique clients in the course of a year. Yes, three or so new clients coming onto the portfolio each week! I would expect to see each coach working with a catchment area of between 15 and 50 000 residents depending on population density and other demographics.
The one hit wonders
A proportion of clients will come once and may not return for months or years, if ever. We may have helped them enormously. We may not have helped them at all. We may never know – although if you are visible and accessible enough and they stay in the area you should be able to get some feedback. I have known clients who were clear on what they wanted to do after just one session and went and did it. In fact one client called me after 3 years and said that he had started his business and now wanted to expand – would I like to have a chat! Others just don’t come back when they recognise that:
- I am not in the business of giving them money or pulling magic rabbits out of hats
- They will have to do some work on this – it is not an easy option
The percentage that fall into this category can vary widely usually depending on the kind of marketing used to promote the service. If the marketing says ‘We can make your dreams come true’, ‘Funding available’, ‘Lunch provided’ or some combination of the above then the number of one hit wonders will be high. Where marketing is through word of mouth, real clients telling others about what the service is really like and what it has helped them to achieve then they should be much lower. Effective word of mouth depends on your service being quite literally ‘remarkable’ and you being prepared to actively ask clients for introductions and referrals. If they are not happy to give you these it is likely that your service is just not good enough.
If the number of one hit wonders creeps much above 25% I would be wondering about whether we had problems with our marketing and reputation – or whether the coach was just not able to connect with the client group.
The Ideal Clients
In some ways the ideal clients are the one hit wonders who just go and do it, start a business, and return years later to look at business expansion. But these are rare, and often can’t be counted for funding purposes! The real ideal client engages with us, takes seriously the notion of doing work between meetings and returns for subsequent visits to make further progress. We can build a strong relationship with them and provide much more support to them in developing their ideas and skills. We can also start to see a story emerge about our own effectiveness. We can record the progress the client has made and provide high quality quantitative and qualitative information on our effectiveness to funders. Such ideal clients will typically require between 3 and 6 121 sessions over the course of anything from several weeks to 6 months or more. I would hope to see good coaches with some 50%, or 110 plus clients each year. Of these I would be expecting around 15- 20 clients to actually go ahead and start their business from anything within 4 months of the first 121 up to a few years after the first meeting. There is much to be said for slow enterprise. I would certainly expect a good, established coach, working in an effective system, to support anywhere between 15 and 20 or so starts each year.
I would expect upwards of 80% of these new starts to be trading 3 years later. Survival rates should always be very carefully tracked, and serious consideration given by both the coach and the service as a whole as to how they can be maintained and improved. Helping clients to start businesses that they have not got either the commitment or skills to manage effectively or for which there is not a sufficient market to sustain will only help to set back the reputation of the service and the enterprise culture of the community. However attractive it might be to get another start-up box ticked we should be doing all can to slow our clients down until they really have the very best chance of long term survival. A much smaller number of really strong startups is worth much more to the long term enterprise culture of the community than a rash of sickly ones. I only wish funding regimes would recognise this.
Anything significantly less than this would set my alarm bells ringing that all is not right. The problem might be with the coach, with the enterprise coaching system (including marketing and administration), or with the enterprise culture in the community. The coach cannot do this on their own. There needs to be a substantial network of pro-enterprise individuals who can provide additional support and provide an effective counter the negative messages about enterprise that often pervade communities.
While the other 85 perhaps don’t start a business I would expect each of them to have been significantly assisted by the coaching process to clarify goals and learn how to be much more enterprising in their pursuit. These outcomes are valuable and should be recorded and wherever possible paid for (or at least reported to) by the appropriate funder.
The Demanding Clients
So this leaves us with perhaps 25% of our clients, 40 or so in the course of nay one year, who are really demanding. They need more than half a dozen 121 sessions. Perhaps they are starting from a long way back and need many 121s over a period of years before they start to make substantial changes – or decide to stick with the status quo. They may need referring to specialist service providers before our coaches can do much more with them. Perhaps they just like to spend time with coaches, fooling themselves and others that they are really working for a better future. Demanding clients may just need a higher level of support – live with it – or they may be a sign that actually a coach is promoting dependence, happy to keep working with clients who won’t make progress because they can just count the sessions.
The actual dynamics of a coach’s portfolio will vary depending on the geography, psychology and enterprise culture of the community they serve as well as their own experience and longevity on the patch. It may take a couple of years to achieve a stable portfolio of the type I have outlined here.
It will also depend on the type of marketing support they receive. Often well intentioned marketing activities can produce floods of clients that need to be seen, but who turn out to be one hit wonders of the worst kind. I am a big advocate of expecting enterprise coaches to develop their own referrals through word of mouth from existing clients, perhaps augmented with a little bit bit of judicious PR. Expensive advertising campaigns may attract punters to one off events and workshops but are much less effective at actually finding people who really want to work effectively and intensively with enterprise coaches.
The Role of the Manager in Supporting Enterprise Coaches
Call me a traditionalist but I think that the manager has a key role in both supporting the coach to develop an effective portfolio. Each coach should be seen ideally every week, certainly fortnightly to review the portfolio and the progress that is being made by specific clients. Ratios of one hit wonders to ideal clients to demanding clients should be tracked for clues about the performance of the coach and the system that they are operating in. Where specific clients are providing cause for concern (insufficient progress is being made, specialist services are requires that are beyond the boundaries of the coaching service, client behaviours are causing concern for example) explicit strategies should be developed for managing them effectively. At least three or four times a year the manager should observe the coach at work, accompanying them on 121s and providing them with feedback and coaching support.
Getting an enterprise coaching service to work really well takes years rather than months. Coaches have to become known, trusted and skilled. Marketing strategies have to be honed. The numbers I have mentioned here are achievable but not in all situations and never instantly. They have to be built towards with intelligence, insight and dedication. Sadly, funding regimes often encourage us to take the expensive and unproductive short cuts of putting adverts on buses, building flashy websites and holding conferences and expos with dragons, apprentices, millionaires and free lunches just to get punters through the door.
But it is not any punters that we need. It is those who believe, because of our reputation and our track record, that we can help them to use enterprise to transform their lives for the better.