In the 12 years I’ve been a coach, my love for the work has never waned. I still wholeheartedly believe in the process, a process designed to support people in becoming more self-loving, true to themselves, and even courageous.
But in the early days, it became apparent that my love for coaching was competing with—and sometimes overshadowed by—the challenge of growing and sustaining a successful coaching business. It seemed like, for every hour I coached someone, I spent a dozen or more hours on social media trying to attract new clients and convince them that coaching was a worthwhile investment—not just in me, but in themselves.
Conformity—At the Expense of Authenticity
Ironically, it was the very things that first drew me to coaching—focusing on the process, supporting people in making congruent choices, and helping people create their own futures on their own timetables—that also made running my business in the accepted ways feel so awkward, unnatural, and fruitless. I truly just wanted to be a practitioner who was patient, relaxed, trustworthy, and compassionate. So many of the things I was told I must do in order to build a successful business were incongruent with each one of my values. I started to wonder if this was just how it had to be. Would I have to compartmentalize who I really was in order to grow my business?
But no matter how much I tried to sever the two, I despised using scarcity tactics like high-pressure sales, predicated on overcoming the objections and autonomy of others. I never enjoyed building digital email funnels or diluting my work into Pinterest-worthy memes. And I never wanted to spend hours each day trying to capture attention and prove my worth on Instagram.
These tools left me feeling anxious, uncertain of my business, and unsure of myself. I ignored that anxiety because I assumed I was the problem and I just needed to stick with it.
The central hub of this advice was social media. It seemed like wherever I looked for guidance on how to grow my business; there were always people who seemed more successful than me selling me on these ideas—on tools they said were free and could capture a lot of attention. So, of course I tried what they were offering. Who was I to argue with more successful coaches?
No matter how many courses I took, editing software I purchased, or copy editing I tried, my social media presence felt like a slog. Not only was my business not growing, but my time was quickly being used up, and my anxiety only seemed to keep building. Anxiety fueled by subconscious comparison and a constant game of “Keeping up with the Joneses.”
How Social Media Uses Us
As it turns out, this is all by design. Social media is not the free platform for connection and visibility it’s promoted to be. In truth, it exploits us under the guise of offering a space for us to share ideas and experience connection. But beneath the surface, the mega-companies that run it are mining our behavior and habits and selling these psychographics to advertisers. We think we’re innocently enjoying a feed that reflects what we choose to see, but the whole thing is designed like a slot machine. Every tap and swipe of a finger fills our brains with another dose of open-looped adrenaline and the idea that something better is just ahead.
Our likes are being harvested for sales machines—not just to note what we enjoy, but also what kind of people we are. Our attention is their biggest asset. And it works because when we’re on there, we feel like we’re part of something. But when we leave, we go into withdrawals and begin feeling like we’re missing out.
Social media depends on us thinking we’re there of our own volition. But really, our sense of agency is being hijacked. This flies in the face of the primary directive of coaching—to keep our clients at choice.
The Pressure to Stay Trapped
While I won’t attempt to unpack all my motivations for using social media, there are a few key reasons I stayed so long. First, I thought it was the only way to get fresh eyes on my work. And second, I didn’t have any extra cash to spend on marketing.
When I ask my own clients and students to audit all the ways they’ve tried to grow their businesses in the last 90 days, 100% of them tell me they’ve spent the majority of their time on social platforms. When I follow this up by asking how many clients they’ve created in that same time frame, the answer is always a disheartened zero. Then why do we feel so compelled to keep showing up there?
While I’m sure there are people whose work has been positively impacted through these platforms, I’m not one of them. And it became exhausting thinking something was wrong with me for not understanding how to make these spaces work for me.
Then, one day, the powers-that-be handed me a gift in disguise.
A Blessing in Disguise
My Instagram account was hacked. For security purposes, it kept being shut down. I felt myself mentally launching into despair. I feared that I might lose years’ worth of posts and promos. Then, I noticed a faint sensation. Something I’d never felt in relation to social media. Ever.
That sensation was relief. It was small, almost missable. But it was the opposite of anxiety. That much I knew.
I started playing out scenarios in my mind. I imagined not having to spend another minute creating bite-sized content and beautifully edited photos. I imagined never having to check my feed for how many likes something got. I imagined not feeling that pervasive sense of self-loathing when I’d lose a follower. I imagined not getting sucked in and lost down the constant-refresh rabbit hole. I imagined not interacting with feeds all day that only made me feel worse about myself. Then, I imagined total congruency in how I showed up as a practitioner and a business owner—with my values intact.
Not long after, I imagined something radical. I imagined for the first time that, just maybe, all that anxiety I’d been feeling in these spaces, and blaming myself for not doing it right, was actually my gut screaming at me to stop the madness. To turn it off.
All that imagining what my life might be like without social media grew that small seedling of relief into a bonafide decision. I was done, and I was leaving it behind. I posted a goodbye post on Instagram on December 8, 2020.
Life after Social Media
And nothing seemed to happen. I didn’t lose business. I didn’t lose community.
Except something powerful did happen. I lost that anxious pull to constantly compare myself or only show the highly edited shiny bits of my life. I felt creatively free and realized that, through all those years on social media, I had really just been starving for real community and relationships as a coach and as a business owner.
If I could go back and give myself any ounce of advice, it would be this: Stop trying to vie for the attention of people you’ve never met and start serving the few people already within reach.
There are already people around us who are interested in, curious about, and ready for a coaching conversation. The way we, as coaches, approach creating clients is to overlook this group entirely in search of making ourselves appear valuable to those we’ve never even met. I am talking about all of those attempts to be visible. As if simply being seen were reason enough for someone to divulge their life to you.
Most coaches are only ever 5-10 clients away from a full coaching practice and the level of sustainable income they desire. Yet most of us are engaging in marketing tactics designed to influence hundreds or thousands of people—people who are a long way away from trusting us enough to hire us.
My goal with any form of marketing I engage with today is simple: to forge meaningful and resourceful relationships that are supportive to people even before they hire me.
When I turned off social media, the illusion of having access to lots of people to fill up my coaching practice faded away. Now, I had to actually turn toward my real relationships and turn that into a full practice.
Charting My Own Path Forward
I decided to give away 40 coaching conversations over 60 days. I opened a Word doc and started writing down what I’d been going through behind the scenes. The doubt, the questioning, and the unraveling in the face of my business not affording me the ability to do what I felt so called to do: coach.
I called it The People First Project, because that was what I was doing. I was putting my people first so that I could remember why I fell so deeply in love with coaching in the first place: helping people.
Then I shared it with my small email list and a few people I simply thought might be interested, and soon my calendar began to fill. In fact, over the next two weeks, all 40 spots filled.
Even though it wasn’t really something I was after, I discovered that through those 40 conversations, I could continue this work and create clients I genuinely loved serving. Not only was this process easeful, it also felt like the most honest and generous way I had ever created a client.
What I Discovered Along the Way
What I learned here is that, by setting aside my need to be visible and intentionally choosing my actual communities, there were more people than I’d ever imagined that were ready to dive in with me. This was a defining moment because I trusted myself and the path I could take, which changed the course of my business forever.
Having now run more than six coaching projects and given away 300 hours of coaching, I have a pretty good idea of why that first project worked so well, and why subsequent projects did, too—and not just for me.
The path I chose is at odds with so much of the marketing guidance we see out there today—the guidance that previously led me into so much anxiety and doubt. Unfortunately, many of the people offering that marketing guidance to us are not transparent about the amount of support they themselves have—from large sums of money and staff to countless affiliates and contacts.
Most of the coaches in my community don’t have that kind of support behind the scenes. They have themselves, maybe a 100-person email list, and a smattering of names from their various communities and networks. This is enough to build a coaching practice. And that means, if you choose, you can release all that anxiety-inducing effort and become more visible on your own terms.
On the surface, a coaching project might just look like a bunch of free coaching calls smooshed together over a specific amount of time. But that’s not all it is. Yes, a coaching project includes a specific number of coaching calls over a designated date range in your calendar.
But really, a coaching project is an invitation. It’s an invitation to have a specific, and individualized, conversation inspired by something that’s personal or meaningful. It’s an invitation for people to be part of something bigger than a single conversation. And it’s an invitation to try on coaching in a way that feels totally purposeful.
Here are a few of the titles of my clients’ projects: The Courage Project, The Becoming Wild Project, The Space Beyond Scarce Project, The Empowerment Project, and The Worthiness Project. These projects aren’t just speaking to the tool of coaching, but to the creation of something specific using the tool of coaching.
Since starting this process, I’ve realized a simple but profound truth throughout all these projects, and even in their names: No one says yes to just a coaching call. But they do say yes to an invitation to be part of something big and meaningful.
What people say yes to is something or someone that witnesses them as who they always secretly hoped they could be. To know they are already worthy, creative, wild, courageous, abundant, brave, and whatever else a project wants to unfurl. No one cares about that 15-minute discovery call because what exactly is there to discover?
We hire people who can see us as someone we already hope to be. We hire people who we know. We hire people who make us feel valued, seen, and understood before that first conversation even takes place. The project simply gave those already hanging around my work a more compelling reason to raise their hand and say, “I’m ready.” And social media? Well, it never did that for my business.
How we represent this work matters. And I believe that you are so much more than the norms social media is upholding for coaches. If you don’t feel like yourself on social platforms, they’re not for you. I urge you to listen to your gut, trust your intuition, and turn toward the connections you’ve already forged in your life.
If you could share one hope for the world through your coaching, what would it be?
Invite a handful of people into that conversation.
And let the magic emerge.
Editor’s Note: Over the course of the next several months, Andrea will be sharing a series of article with us. Want to know more about Andrea and her work in the meantime? Read our interview with her here.
Andrea Leda is a sought-after master coach, teacher, and mentor with over 10,000 hours of coaching experience since she began her practice in 2010. She is dedicated to helping each of us learn to trust our own innate value and worthiness so that we can show up for the work we’re truly here to do.
By harnessing her deep and practical knowledge of powerful coaching techniques—including NLP, journal therapy, mental emotional release work, and BodyMAP coaching—Andrea supports heart-centered coaches and visionary change-makers in reaching their fullest potential in both life and business. In her coaching work, she has been called "a force to be reckoned with and a brave woman who truly makes this world go round.”
In 2022, Andrea founded Braver Coach—a mission, a community, and an educational platform for coaches who are reimagining coaching by bringing forth all of who they are. As a certified training organization through the Association of Coaching, Andrea equips coaches so that they feel empowered to do the work they are called to do—and help their clients and communities do the same.
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