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Wendy Buckingham / Creator, Life Coaching Professionally
Here's what you need to know about becoming an online life coach as well as face to face coaching. I cover some online coaching benefits and strategies, convincing your clients to change over and mastering the technology.
The recent Corona Virus (Covid 19) pandemic has meant that many life coaches who have only ever coached face to face, are now needing to master the skills of remote life coaching.
You may have only coached face to face because you believe the benefit compared with being an online life coach is that you get the whole picture of the client and can read their body language as well as listening to what they say.
It also makes life easier in getting folders and processes to and from them if they are not computer and email savvy which could be the case if you are working in a niche such as retirement coaching or with disadvantaged clients without many resources.
So If you have only ever been coaching clients face to face, and really believed that is the best and perhaps the only way to work, maybe your biggest challenge may be changing your paradigm about how you can coach successfully by telephone, Skype or Zoom.
I speak from experience as I have mostly worked as an online life coach for over 20 years using mostly phone and Skype.
Having said that, let's go and meet your challenges ......
The first step to becoming a successful online life coach is to embrace some of the benefits. So first let's consider these four advantages for you as a coach.
Believe me, you can connect with your client just as deeply and effectively as having them in the same room. I have had numerous clients that I coached entirely by phone and never met in person and was able to connect with them on a really deep level.
In fact, if you are using a phone, or social platforms with the video turned off, you may find that without being face-to-face, a client may feel safer and is often prepared to be far more intimate and revealing of details about their issues.
Maybe the biggest benefit is you can use phone and video meeting platforms to coach clients anywhere in the world.
Conversely, if you coach this way it means you have flexibility yourself and don’t have to be physically in one place to run your practice. A few year’s ago my husband and I spent six months in the UK on a working holiday and although I purposely had fewer clients, my coaching didn’t miss a beat.
Remote life coaching, as this way of coaching is sometimes called, is also a great time saver because the duration of the session is easier to control.
If you have been coaching from home there is no more getting dressed up, make cups of tea or coffee, or politely eating a fattening morning tea gift from the client.
And if you have been renting office space to coach from, think of the travelling time and money you will save.
No need for a dedicated work space that is fit to bring clients into and make sure the kids toys are not all over the floor and the bathroom is beyond reproach.
If children or your partner are around, you can coach in private from your bedroom and the client shouldn’t know the difference (more on that later).
However, you DO still need to be somewhere quiet and private where you won’t be interrupted.
Just as you may have to shift your paradigms when transitioning from face to face coach, your clients may also have to be willing to be coached in a different way. I admit I have lost prospective clients who just couldn't come at the idea of not being with me physically for their coaching sessions. They couldn't even entertain the idea of Zoom or Skype, let alone coaching by telephone.
Whilst we are in the midst of the CV pandemic they will now have no option, so it's your job to convince them that life coaching online will work for them just as well as sitting in a room with you.
I have already outlined the benefits of being an online life coach such as no travelling time and more flexible appointments for sessions. The client will also experience the same advantages.
Any testimonials you can show them from clients you have already coached remotely will also help convince them..
If there is still resistance you could offer them a free session by telephone or video platform so they could have the actual experience of communicating that way.
I always deliver my Discovery Sessions by phone so prospective clients got a taste of coaching with me remotely.
If you are anxious about how you are going to manage coaching over the telephone or online, then I suggest you set up a couple of practice sessions with another coach. This will get you used to the concept and build your confidence.
The principles and processes are the same as face to face but as you may not be able to see facial expressions or whole body language, you may need develop some extra listening skills.
It’s about listening more intently for clues as to what may be an underlying issue and maybe doing extra check-ins to make sure you have heard and understood correctly
Being face to face on computers with only a close up of your client’s head can often be far more intense than actually being in the same room with the whole person and for some coaches (including me) this can be a distraction.
When using Skype or Zoom I had a policy, (which I explained to the client to get their permission), of having a face to face chat at the beginning of the session and then switching off the video until it was time to wind up and finish.
You’ll have to experiment with what works best for you and the client. And, quite often, turning off the video function can result in better reception and sound quality
Just because you are on the phone or video, you don’t have to keep talking all the time. As in face to face coaching I’ve learned that one of the most important skills to master as an online life coach is to know when to literally shut up.
Ask the powerful question and then just stop talking, keep quiet and let the silence create the space for the client to come up with an answer or a realisation.
And, if after a lengthy silence, nothing is forthcoming the question “What’s happening?” will often result in a thoughtful and useful answer.
It is worth noting that you can also use Apple's FaceTime or WhatsApp for a coaching session. However I am recommending Skype or Zoom on your laptop or PC or a fixed iPad/Tablet.
I prefer the laptop or computer because they enable you to easily share screens with content on your PC or Mac if you have stored material.
Also, and perhaps more significantly, Facetime and Whats App don't always have the screen space to fully display a client's (or your) expressions.
Nevertheless, if a mobile device is the only option for a client, you NEVER want either of you to be actually holding a device while conducing a session. It does not create an intimate space for a quality session and is incredibly distracting.
Although Zoom and Skype do the same thing, they each have quite a different setup so you need to decide which you prefer using. If you already have one then use the program you are familiar with.
If the only reason your client is connecting to one of these programs is to work with you, then Zoom is probably the better option as you can simply send them a link to connect. Once they have downloaded the software or App, they are ready to go.
In both Skype and Zoom there is a free option which will be ample for one to one life coaching sessions.
There has been a lot of publicity about using Zoom recently and if you are unfamiliar with it, I suggest you watch the general instructional video below. However, it is important to know that these apps update all the time so there may be slight variations to your own experience.
Whenever you are watching an instructional video, check the date it was published so it is as recent as possible. YouTube doesn't not always deliver the most recent or accurate videos for your search request! You want something that is no more than a month old and, ideally, less.
With both Skype and Zoom, you can also use the chat option for 'in- between' session catch-ups which is almost the same as having a conversation. And it is also possible to share files whilst you are talking and even share the screen if necessary, so that one of you can see what the other is looking at.
Even though you may be coaching using an online platform such as Skype, Zoom or even Face Time, you still want to look and sound good as part of your professional image.
These 4 tips will help you get it right.
You want your face to stand out from the background and if the light source, such as a window, is behind you your face may look dark and indistinct. Have a neutral background and face the light source so your face is clear and distinct.
This is so the built in camera is not shooting up at you which is not very flattering. So, whether your laptop is on your lap or on a desk, elevate it so the camera is close to your eye level. Adjusting your screen position can also help with this.
Watch out for plants or ornaments that seem to be growing out of your head. Also make sure there is nothing in the background that is going to distract from you. You don’t want your client to be trying to see your wedding photo or the titles of the books you are reading instead of listening to you.
If you are working from home, dogs barking, the television, music, extraneous chatter coming from somewhere and so on can be a real distraction to both you and the client, so set up the session where you can be guaranteed quiet .
Many coaches offer email contact in between sessions which is extremely valuable to the client if they are suddenly stuck or want to share a win. It is also an excellent way of communicating with clients when they and or you are traveling.
However I can't recommend it as the sole method of working with clients.
Emails and texts are too one-dimensional and there is too much room for misunderstandings on both sides because there is no actual conversation with tone and inflection. A bit like social media.
The client may be emailing you what they want you to hear and you won't be able to pick up on what may they may not be telling you as you can with communication face to face or by telephone. (And it is usually what is not being said that needs spotting and drawing out.)
Using an online software program is becoming a popular way of leveraging coaching.
These programs are often marketed by experienced coaches or consultants looking for extra income and some of them, are excellent in taking the client through the goal planning and life planning process.
The software programs may be very comprehensive and ask the hard questions but I believe to be truly coached the client really needs a dedicated professional to properly draw out information, knows what to do with the answers and is able to ask more relevant questions.
Life Coaching is an interaction between two people that needs a bigger and more personal communication dimension than following a generic process.
However, they can be useful as an add-on where a coach personally guides the client through the processes.
My book, Be Your Own Goals Coach can stand alone but is also useful as a coaching aid with a bonus chapter for coaches. Have a look at the preview and see what you think.
So there you have it. Lots of options on how to practice as an online life coach.
The key is to be willing to be flexible and patient with yourself and your client as you develop your online coaching skills. It's the way to go!