When I initially started my coaching practice, I thought I would be helping people who were wanting to make positive changes in their lives. It would be full of empowerment, warm and fuzzy feelings, and a lot of personal growth. There have been moments. But there have also been the times I have learned about myself as a coach. And let me tell you – it can be ugly.
I think for the most part, people who go into coaching, psychology or any helping field, do it with the intentions of helping people and truly want to be of service. It is not for the money – trust me. I went into coaching rather than counseling with my psychology background because I didn't want to dig into someone's past but take them where they were, in the present, and help them move forward. That's a very simplified explanation but it was my logic at the time. However, any time you are dealing with someone's present, you are always dealing with aspects of their past that brought them to you. It is the crap they went through, the events, the situations, the choices, that made them the person they are today and that have led them to the decision they need to change and need your help.
And, as a coach, you want to help them. You want to give and give and help them have those moments of self-actualization. Until you realize your talk of "you can't pour from an empty cup" also applies to you and that some people may know how to manipulate you into giving all of you away.
At first, my Ego was flattered that I had a couple of people contacting me all the time. They thought I was wise and could help them, my Ego said. But it wasn't long before I realized what they were doing. They were getting 'hooks' in, playing to the Ego side and to the helping side, where you get in this constant cycle of asking for insight and time. The other side is the client that feels entitled to share their problems and issues with you, yet, never wants to pay for actual services – they just want to suck up your time and is always trying to get something for free.
I used to think some coaches and spiritual advisors that set hard, clear boundaries were harsh. Now I know why they did it. There are scores of people who will suck up your time and energy all day if you allow it. And, when you realize what they are doing, you are angry that they did it and that you allowed it to happen to begin with. It has made me want to close my practice altogether – all because of a few people who pushed my limits. That is not fair to those who don't, who want help, who are maybe quietly in the background learning and growing, and it is not fair to me because this is something I enjoy doing and how I serve others.
This is an important lesson about boundaries. The boundaries we keep say a lot not just to the outer world but to ourselves as well. Some of my most defining moments have been when pushed by clients or when I encountered a person who was a problem. They showed me the areas of myself where I needed to put up boundaries. In my regular world, I like rules and policies; they provide us with expectations of behavior and give us a standard to adhere to. In spiritually based businesses, we often shy away from that because we feel like it limits us, but I am finding we need it here more than anywhere.
When I am putting up boundaries, I am not saying that the person is not important or valuable or doesn't need to be heard. I am saying that this is my time. This is my practice. My business. And in order to be able to be fully present for the clients, I need to preserve my time. Giving it freely to those who don't want to pay depletes my time and energy reserves for those who do. And it is not about the money. It is about the exchange. When someone takes from you, it is a form of thievery. They can steal your time and energy just as if they picked your pocket. The exchange becomes negative and affects and taints everything.
People treat us the way we let them. I have said that so many times in relationship coaching sessions and it is true. It also applies to all relationships – not just romantic. If we let someone take advantage of us, they will continue to do it until we put up boundaries to make it stop.
Establishing boundaries at the beginning is important, but it is also something that may need to be tweaked during different times of the coaching/client relationship. Some of these have helped me to establish stronger boundaries.
- Have an explicit contract: I know many people shy away from this because they want to keep things fluid for many reasons. They think that too much structure or rules are bad for the clients (wrong – that is usually one of the main reasons why someone hires a coach: to be held accountable!) and that it will limit them in some way. A contract helps explain what the client will receive and what you will provide in exchange for your coaching fee. If you are going to offer so many free check-ins, that needs to be included; if you will charge them if they exceed the time limit or number of phone sessions, put that in there too. That way there are no surprises for either party.
- Create a Client Expectation form: I started doing this and it has helped spell out what the client can expect from a coaching program and what my role is. It is separate from the contract; this lets the client know you are there to guide them and hold space for them but are not a counselor (unless you are an LPC) and it also lets the client know they will need to be willing to do the work.
- Limit the methods of contact: When I first started coaching, I let potential clients contact me on Facebook messenger, thinking it would make more accessible and be a great selling point. Wrong. It made me accessible. But no one ever signed up for coaching because of it. If anything, this was the biggest lesson I learned. Being so easily accessible takes away your credibility and the incentive to sign up for coaching with you. These potential clients would message me – sometimes under the guise of they were wanting to start a program – seeking advice and feedback but never bit the bullet. Social media and our phones have made us too easily accessible. We can see if someone has read a message and we feel like we have to reply or we seem rude. Instruct all communication to come through your email and that it may be 2-3 business days before they receive a reply.
- Have set rates/fees: The most successful coaches and practitioners I know, have set fees. You are saying your time, energy and training are worth something. This way you have clear pricing and you won't waffle on your value.
- Don't undersell or undercut yourself: When I was in advertising sales many moons ago, I always encouraged my clients not to discount their services or products. Sometimes, we feel like we need to give people something for free for them to book with us. I have seen it in groups where practitioners will offer a free reading or session in hopes of getting clients. Guess what? People take advantage of the free but never commit to the paid service.
- Take regularly scheduled breaks: Plan these into your calendar so you can let clients know. Coaches, healers, etc. can suffer from burn-out just like other helping professionals. Plus, it gives your clients a great example of how to practice self-care.
Just like any business, there will be struggles with having a spiritually-based business. Many of those struggles may be because it is hard for us to separate ourselves from our work. Remember to focus on the positive impact you are making and to use each challenge as an opportunity for continued growth.