I want to give a quick shoutout to my new friend Arzo Yusuf of the Sexy Boss Babe podcast. I met her through Facebook and it’s become one of those all-too-rare genuine social media connections. She hosts a weekly room on Clubhouse on Tuesday nights at 6pm Pacific time and has included me as a co-moderator whenever my schedule allows. Each week focuses on a different topic specific to female entrepreneurs, which is based on her podcast episode the week before. We’ve had some incredibly engaging conversations on there, so I’m grateful to have met her.

She also inspired this episode by starting the discussion about predatory coaching programs and how people, specifically women, can protect themselves. Check out episode 22 of the Sexy Boss Babe podcast for her take on this. Our Clubhouse chat about it a few weeks ago ended up going for almost 3 hours, and we had so many women speak up and thank us for talking about it. It’s something I feel strongly about, so I’m continuing the conversation here. 

I have had issues with the word “coach” for years when it comes to that line of my business helping services. I’ve never really figured out what to call myself in that capacity. Consultant sounds too stuffy and corporate. Advisor sounds too hands-on. Mentor sounds too egotistical. Coach is the most commonly accepted, but it has a lot of negative connotations, especially lately. I have gone back and forth with what to call myself for years and have never settled on anything I love. In March of 2020 when I updated my website, I finally caved and decided to use Coach, because that’s the word people search for when looking for those services. I still didn’t love it, but I was willing to concede that it was the best choice.

But then, during the pandemic, it seems that everybody became a coach. A lot of people were looking for new ways to make money from home, and that seemed to be an easy transition. And with that surge of new coaches in the market came a slew of horrible practices – bad advice, sleazy marketing, and false promises. I’ve been hearing way too many horror stories about these predatory coaches and coaching groups taking advantage. They are targeting vulnerable women and pressuring them into spending money they don’t have in order to “achieve their dreams.” That’s not what coaching is about. The more I saw that, the more I was reminded of my issues with that word. I left it on my website, but I changed it back to Consultant on my social profiles because I did not want to be lumped in with those people.

I’m going to stop here and offer my typical disclaimer. My comments here are generalizing. Not all coaches are bad. There are plenty of great, ethical, honest ones out there who genuinely want to help others. I don’t take issue with people charging for their services or building a business by using their expertise to assist others. None of that is the problem.

What I’m talking about is going beyond acceptable sales and marketing techniques and tactics. It’s one thing to identify a need and offer a solution. It’s another to find someone’s triggering pain point and use it to manipulate them into working with you. It’s one thing to explain to someone how your background and knowledge qualifies you to help them with their specific goals. It’s another to lure them into a commitment by promising to help them earn 5 figures a month or 6 figures a year. No one can guarantee success, and any coaching program that makes such a claim is trying to trick you. Is it possible? Sure. Guaranteed? Unless they’re going to pay you themselves, not so much.

I’m sure many of you are familiar with some of these tactics. You join a group on Facebook and someone posts a question that’s something along the lines of, “What are you struggling with?” or “What’s holding you back?” or “What if you could let go of the fear that’s keeping you stuck?” I automatically cringe at these posts because I strongly dislike the assumption that all women in business are struggling, being held back, or afraid. Many of us are doing just fine, thank you. We are in those groups to share value and connect with others in a safe space.

But someone poses the question and maybe you answer because you want to engage. It’s why you’re there. Then the original poster offers you a freebie of some sort, either a document they created or a 5-day challenge they’re holding, or something like that to help you with your problem. They’ll give it to you, but you have to give your email address to get it. I’ll pass.

Or, in a similar scenario, you answer their post and then they DM you, with or without your permission, and offer the freebie there. Or they start a conversation and ask you more leading questions that ultimately lead to them trying to sell you their services, program, or whatever it is they’re pushing. It’s so transparent that they do not care about you. They see you as a potential buyer and are using you to hopefully make a sale.

It’s easy for me to say that’s transparent. My logical brain sees right through it. I question everything and have a healthy dose of skepticism whenever someone I don’t know appears out of nowhere asking questions about my process that are clearly trying to identify an issue I’m having. I see right through that. And I’m not saying I’m smarter or better than anyone else because of that. I always say my brain works differently than most. Some of these people are master manipulators and it’s easy to see how they’re able to succeed.

The problem isn’t just that initial meeting of sorts, though, it’s what happens afterward. Whether communication started in one of the situations I mentioned, during a discovery call, or any other way, the follow-up is usually when the worst happens.

A quick explanation in case it’s needed, most coaches offer discovery calls, which are usually 15-to-30-minute free consultations where you can ask each other questions, get to know each other, and see if you’re a good fit to work together. This is an excellent service, in my opinion, because you shouldn’t commit to working with someone at that level without having had a conversation first.

When it’s the traditional email marketing formula, it’s easy enough to brush off. They offer you a freebie, you give them your email address so you can get it, and then they start bombarding you with a series of emails, often once per day. They’ll tell you about them, give you some tips, share something deeply personal they’ve been through to which they hope you’ll relate, maybe share some testimonials, ask you if you’re serious about your goals, give you some advice, and then they’ll give you the opportunity to purchase their high-ticket item at a heavily discounted price if you sign up today. I don’t like this approach. I’ve talked about on this podcast before. But I also understand that it works and I can’t fault anyone for doing it just because it’s not my style. There’s nothing malicious about it, in most cases. It’s a common sales technique, nothing else. You can ignore them and unsubscribe.

The bad practice, however, is the bullying type behavior that can take place on those discovery calls or when you’re actually having a back-and-forth conversation. Sometimes these coaches will do whatever they can to push you into giving them your money. A lot of money, too. We’re talking about thousands, sometimes even tens of thousands of dollars, for these programs.

Some of them will keep pushing at those pain points they’ve identified. They’ll try to make you feel stupid for not joining the program. They’ll encourage you to do whatever you can to find the money, even putting it on a credit card and going into debt. They’ll tell you you’re making an investment in yourself and you can’t afford not to spend that money. They’ll make underhanded comments to belittle you and make you feel like you must not be serious about succeeding if you’re not willing to go broke to work with them. They’ll try to convince you that it’s a solid plan and you’ll make more money than you can imagine. Just look at all the things they’ve done, right?

But they don’t care about the reality of your struggles. They haven’t been in your shoes, whether they’ve experienced similar situations or not. They aren’t you. But they’ll do their best to make you think they know exactly what you need. And they’ll give you everything you’ve ever wanted, if you’re willing to pay the price.

Don’t pay the price.

It’s so important to do your research before committing to a coaching program, or any service that requires a hefty investment. Ask specific questions about what they expect from you and what you should expect from them. How does their process work? What are the specific things included in the package? How much one on one time? How accessible will they be via email, phone, or other apps in between sessions? Will they help you develop a strategy with actionable steps to take? Will they work with you more on mindset and changing habits? How do they align with your specific goals and values? Don’t be shy about asking direct questions to make sure you feel like you’ll get what you need from working with them.

Don’t rely on testimonials on a website. Speak to their references. If they don’t have any, or aren’t willing to share their info, that’s a huge red flag. Some other red flags? Guaranteeing income or specific results. Pushing you to spend money you don’t have. Pressuring you into paying them during the discovery call, or in any way not allowing you to have time to think about your decision first. Talking down to you. Any kind of bullying behavior is not okay. Trust your instincts. If you get a bad feeling about someone, do not work with them. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Stay away. Protect yourself from these predators who call themselves coaches.

I don’t think I fit into the coaching mold. I break the typical rules. I encourage people to get to know me before they decide to work with me. That’s why this podcast is here, so people can get a sense of who I am without me even knowing they’re listening. I talk to them to make sure they’re in a place where they can take the right action before I take their money. I do offer monthly and longer-term packages because often real results do come from commitment, but I also offer hourly sessions, which many advise against. I think those are just as important, though. It’s another way for someone to get to know me. I’m surely not going to marry someone after we’ve had one conversation while standing in line at the grocery store. So why would I expect someone to make a huge commitment to me after one short call?

Maybe they’re not ready to spend thousands of dollars. There’s nothing wrong with that. Maybe they just have a few questions, or one situation that needs a little guidance. It doesn’t always require several weeks of working together to help. That’s why I’m here, to help. Not to entrap someone for months at a time. I don’t encourage dependency on me. If someone wants to keep working with me, that’s great, but I also empower people to do great work on their own. All of this goes against typical coaching practices. And I am perfectly okay with that.

I’ve asked it before, but I’m asking for your input again. What word do you think is best for me to describe these services? Should I stick with Business Coaching because that’s the most search friendly term? Is Business Consulting better? Business Advising? Business Mentorship? Business Strategist? What am I? Please help me figure this out! Call me names! Send me a DM or tag me on social with your suggestions – I’m @aardvarkgirl on all platforms. And if you’re on Clubhouse, join Arzo and I, along with some other wonderful moderators, on Tuesday nights at 6pm Pacific. Thanks for listening!