How Will You Sell Yourself and Your Services in 2011?

Greetings ACO Community,

I am particularly excited thinking about how 2011 is going to look business-wise. As it seems the market is quickening and funds are freeing up, I am noticing that the clarity of our message as individuals and ADHD coaches is even more important than ever. I’d like to share with you a couple of my personal perspectives.

Many of my clients are entrepreneurs and my background in business is in the sales, marketing and management arena. On reflection, I find that I have supported a great number of people who are working on where they are going with their business. I’d like to separate out two crucial pieces that I believe we MUST utilize in order for our business to have the impact that we wish it to.

Know thy ideal client.

I am aware that many of us have heard this time and again and may or may not have felt connected to it.

One typical response to the suggestion to niche down is: ‘But I have to make money.’  What I say  is: I must know my ideal client, right down to their hair color, eye color, what their favorite color is, what kind of shoes they buy and what they had for breakfast this morning. When I know my client this well, I can seek out them and only them. This seeking will contain passion. When I do this, many others come along for the ride.

Another typical response—which includes my own that I have continually been working through—is ‘But, I don’t want to limit myself. This viewpoint, in itself, creates self-limitation. You may say: ‘But I have a great number of tools and skill sets at my disposal and if I name my client, people might miss that.’ That is simply not true. When I broaden my focus, it serves to dilute the power and passion of my uniqueness. Those elements are what attract a strong clientele. I can tell you that as I personally have let go of these things, clients continually show up that utilize all my skill sets.

Use thy personal story.

Our personal story of our own path is what infuses our coaching. It also is the signature of our uniqueness.

Many times coaches are struggling to differentiate themselves and yet forget to leverage their personal story. Another thing that happens is that coaches can gulp when asked by a potential client for their background. We can have an internal belief that the client is judging us based on what we say and that it had better be good so I may not dare to share anything that would leave me vulnerable. It CAN be true that people will not choose us because we share with them who we really are. However, I have a perspective (especially as coaches, where part of our ethics is that a relationship must be a two-way fit) that perhaps the person who judges my history and self-selects not to work with me may well not be a good fit for me either.

I recently had an experience with just such an challenge. I’d like to share with you the exchange. I have client permission to share this content and have changed the names to protect confidentiality.

Here is the initial email:

Hello Ian-
I know you are working on some references for us. I have a couple of related questions. In your office, you discussed that you coach many people in Steven’s age group who are going thru transitions, etc. Given that at this point in time, Steven’s primary goals are learning effective study and organization habits, I would like to know your own academic experience and degrees, as well as some of your experiences in coaching college students with these issues.
Thank You,
Jane Client

At that point, I gulped a bit. I wondered if they might accept me if they knew my story. I worked very hard  not to assume anything. Also I have recently shifted to actually loving my story—all of it. So, I responded from a very grounded place.

My response:

Hi Jane,
Thank you for your question.
This is a bit of a long story (might be an easier thing to do on the phone), however, I will offer the shortened version.
First off, I ‘was’ Steven and maybe even more an ‘extreme case.’
I struggled all through upper high school and into college. I always did very well on standardized tests but homework or anything that required ‘output’ was brutal. At college I found out:

  1. I was completely in over my head, and
  2. I had no study skills or even an understanding about how to go about studies (other than the painful, painful way of procrastinating til the 11th hour and cramming).

I also was WAY more interested in my social life (stimulating) than I was in studying (non stimulating). I somehow pulled out ‘ok’ grades—2.75—but was in lots of pain. Ultimately, I attempted suicide (was not about dying but was more about not knowing what to do with all the pain I was in and just wanting ‘someone’ to help). All of this I went through without any support, not being understood by others, both being called ‘lazy’ and wondering if that was ‘just the way I was’ by my own voices in my head, while all the time knowing that I was ‘smarter’ than all these other kids that I was looking around at. Eventually I dropped out and went home.
From there I took a much different route that looked like entering the working world. I rose fast in companies, but crashed fast too. I learned fairly shortly that I was adept at sales and marketing and had people skills that helped me be a natural manager. I also learned before long that because of my tendencies, I really would only be able to work for myself. That was the path that both served me and didn’t. Again, all my tendencies continued to show up in every environment causing lots of pain and turmoil.
As I had shared with you the other night, I was in my early thirties and when I started more deeply understanding myself, learning that it was my underlying ‘programming’ that was causing a lot of my pain and recurrent situations. I finally understood why all the different organizational ‘systems’ (which I was great at creating) I had tried never supported me to be more organized, significantly more effective or less distracted in any sustainable way. They worked short term but never long term.
I did not finish college. I have a plethora of trainings and certifications under my belt from management, to sales, to leadership development, to facilitation and to coaching in a number of modalities.
So, while I honor and am in line with Steven’s goals (and can support), I have a bigger desire that he succeed in being happy in life, whether he succeeds in college or not. If his desire is strong enough, he may well be able to do both.
These challenges are universal for all ADHD and/or gifted people who face them. I have supported a number of college students to go where they wanted to go (I was able to offer a couple as references) and I also have supported a number of college students that did not have the internal desire or ”stick-tuitiveness’ to actually look inside themselves, address their challenges and make real change. Only time would tell about how that might work with Steven.
I have also attached a newsletter that I was recently interviewed for that will likely be an interesting read on the overall as the entire issue is about ADHD. This newsletter is for the ‘Twice Exceptional’ (2e) crowd, meaning highly intelligent/gifted and having another vulnerability such as ADHD, a learning disorder or other things on the spectrum. I see Steven as one of these individuals.
Again, thank you, and I look forward to connecting again soon.
Best regards,

Here is the response I received. I was both surprised, and deeply moved:

Thank You, Ian—for the attachment, the chuckle and your story.
I asked the question, not because I have any expectation that someone has to have a college degree to coach someone thru college, but because I wanted to know about your experiences and who you are.
I knew when we met that you want Steven to be happy, and your ‘big picture’ focus is important. I also know that just this semester, he needs to learn to organize, study, and to check in regularly—with DRES to support his academics. Had we known about the ADD (we just learned he also has an extremely slow processing speed relative to his IQ) I am guessing Illinois would not have been his first choice.
Back in my day, no one knew about learning issues—people were labeled smart or not, and tracked into areas. I, like Steven, scored very high on testing, had dropping grades as a senior, went to U of I, and went on probation after being the Queen of all-niters (to study!) . I took a semester at Illinois State and lived alone instead of a sorority house. Somehow I learned to learn again, improved my grades, went back to U of I (my dad taught there) and then ended up getting a Masters at Wash U.
Part of my concern is that both John and I come from very academically focused families. Steven’s older brother Jonathan is following that path—To his grandparents, academic success isn’t a goal, it’s an assumption. This has all contributed to Steven’s drop in self esteem.
My wish for him is also to be happy and to know what is really important in life. When he was in Junior High, his nickname was S S Leno. He was full of joy and humor. Unfortunately, that guy has been hidden away in shame for the last 5 or 6 years.
I appreciate you sharing your story, and it is clear that you were Steven. I am very grateful that John found you!
You will hear from Steven soon.

At a bottom line, sharing ourselves and being absolutely clear on who WE want to work with is paramount to creating the shift and healing that we want in our world. What’s the power of your story? How does it inform who your exact client is? How will you be with those truths in your business this year?