For some of us, the idea of leaving a comfortable, reasonably stable corporate job to venture out on our own is terrifying. For others, the idea of starting up a consulting or coaching practice with a few peers is exhilarating. Whichever group you’re in doesn’t necessarily equate with being in that group forever. As you evolve and as your interests and needs change, you may find yourself in one group at one time in your life, and in another at a different time.
Coaching has burst onto the scene as one of the fastest-growing services. At more than $1 billion per year in the US, the field is on track to surpass $1.3 billion by this time next year. So, it’s not surprising that many people are considering entering the field but looking to learn about some of the pitfalls from others who have learned the hard way.
A few years ago, Poonam Gole, founder of the life coaching business, Ctrl Alt Begin, found herself in the latter group. She blends her project management, technology and analytics experience with her coaching abilities. Armed with certifications, diplomas and sage advice, Gole sought to tackle the challenge that most people have – getting unstuck, staying productive, avoiding burnout and the tendency to feel overwhelmed. Grit Daily joined Gole to better understand what people need to know if they are considering launching their own coaching businesses.
Grit Daily: Thanks for taking some time with us today, Poonam. Tell us about your path from corporate (in your case, research centers) to launching your own coaching business.
Poonam Gole: My focus has always been on work/life balance and I saw how many people were struggling with it. I experienced this with my journey through a toxic work environment, quitting my job, realizing my true passion and then taking actions to follow it. My choice of coaching stems from service and purpose. It is great to see that coaching is on the verge of going mainstream. More people are comfortable with it than ever before and have realized that an external, informed perspective can make a difference. So, it also seems like the timing was right for me to make an entrance given all these factors and where I was on my own journey and how everything aligned with my interests and passion for the field. I help my clients identify their default tendencies, beliefs, and perceptions that they have adopted over the years. I work with them to alter the tendencies, patterns, habits that do not serve them and create new ones that empower them to make conscious choices.
Grit Daily: What makes you a good fit for an entrepreneur and how did you know that this is what you wanted to do?
PG: I’ve always had the dream of starting something up on my own. Once I thought carefully about it, I was convinced that this was what I wanted to do. Whenever I meet another coach, I like to explore how we could collaborate. It’s about the power of numbers: together, we can have a bigger impact.
GD: I’m always interested in how people come up with the names for their company and yours says it all. It’s clever. How did you arrive at it? Does it create challenges from a naming convention?
PG: It’s funny that you ask that! I seem to have a knack for naming companies as I’ve already named a few for other people. When it comes to crafting a name for your own company, that is somehow more challenging. I knew that the name needed to reference my technical background. And I kept gravitating to the word “begin” which signifies hope. It’s a word that has stuck with me for a long time because it also represents that you leave something behind and start something new. So you failed. So what? Take a break and try again. Begin!
It all begins with a choice. We often feel that we’re not in control of our choices but we are. It’s all about how we approach the outcome. You have to ask yourself, ‘What did I learn? What will I change?’ Our mindset is our choice. Whenever we make a choice, there is an action. There has to be. New habits are formed with that choice. Then it becomes a matter of identifying which habits are serving us – and which are not. This is what leads to a breakthrough.
GD: Pivots are a natural part of personal growth for most people and they are certainly part of a startup’s evolution. Have you pivoted and, if so, what did you change?
PG: I’ve always wanted to own my own business. As a child, I watched my father manage his own business in real estate so I knew that an entrepreneurial spirit was within me. I was a data analyst, a certified PMP, but I just wasn’t satisfied with what I was doing. One day, I decided that I needed to do something that I was passionate about. Yes, I had a job and a career path in a field that I was good at, but I wasn’t excited about it. And then I found coaching.
GD: What’s the greatest challenge you’ve encountered thus far?
PG: The main challenge is awareness. There is also a lot of misconception about coaching, what it is, what it means and what it involves. People have trouble defining how it can help them. Coaching people about technology or how to do project management is straightforward, everyone understands what that means and the expectations are clear. However, whenever I introduce myself as a life coach, some people literally roll their eyes and walk away. They can’t seem to understand how a person can be both technical and a life coach.
I recall one incident at a networking event. This man that I was speaking with was challenging coaching and its value. He was explaining to me what it is and what it isn’t. We debated on the issue of whether or not it’s therapy and if you can actually give advice to your clients. There is a fine line but coaches need to stay on the side of providing the guidance, not necessarily the answers and advice, on how to view problems with a broader perspective. Coaching is a collaboration between the coach and the client. Coaches are tasked with helping their clients see their own blindspots. All of us tend to see other people’s problems and behaviors more clearly than we can see our own. By the end of our conversation, he better understood that the art of coaching is about guiding clients on how to better see what’s already in front of them but they may have blinders on and be unable to see things clearly without external input.
GD: Do coaching credentials matter?
PG: Yes! Credentialing matters because you go through a one-year training program to learn the tools and techniques regarding what to do, and what not to do, with respect to guiding your clients. The central theme is that it’s all about the client – your opinion and your advice are not the focal point and need to take a back seat. You need to help people based on a deep level of service so that you can guide them to make more conscious choices and arrive closer to a healthy work/life balance.
GD: Most entrepreneurs seem to have a day job then start working a side-gig, how do you manage through it? As a PMP and data analyst, does being methodical and organized help you straddle both roles?
PG: Straddling a day job and side gig is something that we are seeing more often each day. It’s challenging but adventurous, too. Most of my clients are trying to advance a startup as a sideline and the daily hustle can be exhausting. Time management is incredibly difficult because you’re busy working for someone else while you’re dreaming about getting your own thing going. It’s easy to become overwhelmed so I guide my clients to stay focused on their incremental progress and to constantly be looking at what worked versus didn’t work so that they stay grounded and looking ahead towards their future.
GD: Tell us about Ctrl Alt Begin which you’ve just officially launched in July 2019 although you’ve been a practicing coach for some time. What have you learned thus far?
PG: It has been a BIG learning curve. I don’t particularly care for all the accounting, legal, and administrative stuff but it was essential that I figured it out. The administration aspect is not fun. Being self-aware so that you know what you’re good at and getting help when you need it will keep you moving forward – and sane! Spend time learning because everything you learn will help you in the long-term. Entrepreneurs tend to do everything on their own but this is exhausting. As soon as you realize that you are stretched too thin, it’s time to get help. If you wait too long before you ask for help, you’ll be burnt out by the time that you do. Balancing having enough money coming in versus going out is tricky. One way that I manage this is through bartering services. I offer what I can do in exchange for others offering me the services that they can do for my business.
GD: Since this is an article dedicated to entrepreneurial insights, perhaps you could share your advice. What would you tell other entrepreneurs to be mindful of as they begin their own coaching businesses?
PG: Keep going with a part-time job to sustain yourself with a break-even if you can. Doing so can really help take the pressure off. Having some money coming in reduces anxiety. Otherwise, you become so focused and desperate to get clients that they can literally sense your energy and you’ll end up going your separate ways.
GD: How do you think age and gender affect entrepreneurial success?
PG: I do think it has affected success more so in the past but the situation has considerably improved in recent years. Although I’m a woman of color, I haven’t yet faced any discriminatory situations. The trend is finally changing. It’s also about finding your community and becoming an active member of it, regardless of age, gender, or skin color. At the core of success is what you think about yourself, your actions and your personal metrics for success. Judgment is self-imposed. Once you change your mindset, you will project yourself differently.
Yesterday, I went to a networking event where four men were talking in a group, but I jumped in. I’m not intimidated. It’s a networking event and we are all supposed to interact and get to know each other. They were good about it and I blended into the conversation. However, shortly thereafter, I tried to introduce myself to two other men who absolutely shut me down. No smiles, zero engagement, and cold shoulders. I had two choices to make. One, I could have taken offense and decided they were treating me like that because I was a woman or a person of color which would have ruined my mood for the rest of the evening. Two, I could just move on and find someone else with better energy who would appreciate and respect me because my time is valuable, too. So, I walked to the other side of the room.
GD: What’s the best advice that you could offer to someone starting up a coaching practice?
PG: Hire a coach for yourself! That’s the best investment you can make for you and your business. Be authentic, experiment extensively and most importantly, have fun coaching!