The Self-employed Wellness Coach and Market Development – Part One: Closed Doors, Open Doors

Dr. Michael Arloski, Professional Certified Coach, Psychologist, Certified Wellness Practitioner

Wellness and health coaches (let’s just call everyone a wellness coach) who are building a business of their own face some of the same challenges as any life coach, but unique ones as well. All have to usually start from the ground up with very little capital. (Lenders don’t usually make business loans to small companies that offer a service instead of a widget for sale.) All face the challenge of acquainting the world with an unfamiliar service, but for the wellness coach this is even truer.

Many of the almost three thousand coaches we’ve trained through The Wellness Coach Training Institute (Real Balance Global Wellness Services, llc) (www.realbalance.com) are independent coaches who want to grow a coaching business with wellness and health as their niche. Talking with them, drawing on my own entrepreneurial experience and doing mentor coaching with coaches who have wanted to jump start their business or take it to a higher level, I’ve found some ways to help wellness coaches with their unique business challenges. Here’s my take (ideas and opinions) on three important steps for building your wellness coaching business.

#1 – Help others realize the true potential of wellness coaching. Wellness coaches, especially folks without a clinical background, often find doors shut to them. Disease management companies may be hiring R.N.’s and R.D.’s almost exclusively. Coaches are challenged by being seen as not having the background to meet the needs of medical patients. It’s outside of your “scope of practice” they are told. (Even though there is no evidence that medical folks make better coaches) This is where it is critical how we portray our services and our role in the healthcare field.

Wellness coaches need to hold themselves out there to the world, and especially the medical world, as experts in lifestyle behavioral change, not as content experts in the myriad number of dimensions wellness has. We need to be seen as allies of the medical field, not competitors. We need to portray ourselves as the solution, not the problem. We are the solution to the medical clinic, practice, community program that wants patients to live a healthier lifestyle and be medically compliant, but doesn’t have either the time or the expertise to accomplish that with their patients. We can take it beyond education. We can show results.

Remember, wellness coaching covers the whole continuum of health.

#2 – Realize the true potential of wellness coaching ourselves! Mentoring a wonderful wellness coach recently I helped her realize that she was presenting herself to her community in a way that eliminated perhaps 80% of her potential market. She was portraying wellness, and her services, as being primarily about prevention. Well, like they say about chocolate and breakfast, wellness is not just for prevention anymore! Who knows the real number, but it is quite likely that about 80% of the people that wellness coaches work with already have some type of chronic illness or health challenge. They already have high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, experienced an operation or some other medical intervention. The key here is reminding the world that lifestyle improvement helps with the course of an illness, not just it’s prevention. The person with diabetes who is medically compliant, loses weight, stops smoking, becomes more active and follows an approved diabetic diet may be able to thrive! Those who don’t suffer, but that is a whole lot of behavioral change!

Often the people who are referred to wellness coaching programs are the people who have been identified as having multiple health risks, and/or some form of life-style related illness. For some programs, despite warnings from health experts like Dee Edington (http://www.hmrc.umich.edu/) wellness coaches work exclusively with clients who are facing these serious health challenges. (Dr. Edington would love for programs to coach the healthy people to remain well. “Everyone needs a wellness coach.” are his words. See his book Zero Trends: Health As a Serious Economic Strategy.)

So, let the world know that you are able to help people make lasting lifestyle improvement when they need it the most! Look at the needs of your community and see what health risks are most prevalent. See where you may be needed more…and consider “specializing”.

Wellness & Health Coach Intensive Training – June 2012 in Colorado

#3 – Create even more value by considering specializing in helping people with specific health challenges. Instead of simply presenting yourself as a generalist willing to help “anybody”, consider how you might develop more expertise in working with a particular population focusing on a particular health challenge. “I help people with diabetes thrive!” sounds a whole lot better than “I help people be well.”

Study that particular health challenge. Learn the language, the common medications, treatment procedures, self-care steps, etc. As a coach you don’t need a treatment-level of knowledge, please refer your clients to get that kind of education and expertise. But, you do need to be able to talk fluidly with your client about their world. For example, if you are working with a client challenged by diabetes, you’d best know what an A1C score is and what it means when your client talks about a new percentage they just hit.

Any successful businessperson (and, as the ICF encourages us to say, coaching is a business, not a “practice”) with experience will tell you that it was a journey of open-doors and closed-doors, ups and downs, cash-flow blues and at times manna from heaven. We’ll take you further on that journey next time in this series as we look at more ways for The Self-employed Wellness Coach to grow their business.

Please add your comments here on the blog and share your wisdom.

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About Michael Arloski

CEO and Founder of Real Balance Global Wellness Services, Inc. and Dean of The Wellness Coach Training Institute. www.realbalance.com
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