Women… Know your Limits!

Freedom and Growth through Coaching and Niching.

Post-International Women’s Day, I’d like to pose the question as to whether we should niche ourselves by helping those who are just like us. Or whether, instead, we might look further afield to do better work, increase our inclusion and be kinder to ourselves.

Firstly I want to throw a cat amongst the pigeons. I am happy to stand corrected…

I don’t really know why we need an International Women’s Day — I worry it perpetuates the patronisation and ‘silo-isation’ of women. On the one hand, we are trying to move away from being seen reductively as ‘men’ or ‘women’. Instead, we want to be seen for being ‘us’. We are concerned with neurodiversity and a move away from gender normativity — looking to better ways to differentiate ourselves. So, I am not sure I understand how — on the other hand — it helps to mitigate stereotyping but celebrating how women stand out because they are women, or indeed any group of people, by dedicating a day to them and thus continuing to ‘otherify’ them. Women don’t need any more recognition or to be differentiated… We need integration and to move the conversation on.

I believe it is not a case of Lest We Forget and more a case of Change The Record.

But hey — who am I to comment… I know nothing about the Gold Standard… though I do love little kittens…

Being a woman has been challenging for sure. And there have been some profoundly inspiring women who have come before us, to whom we can look as beacons of bravery and hope. And here we are today. And I like the idea that we do not need to keep talking about our woman-ness. Rather than always having to look out for our own — whether as a woman, as a Jew or any other ‘underdog’, paranoid about the next attack – I like the idea that we can be empowered and emboldened by how our identities and skills transcend sex, gender, race, religion or location and focus on those whose internal and external systems we think we can help change, and how we can get more confident about putting ourselves out there to do so.

Technology has proven that we need not be constricted by geography, for example, to do good work and I would like to suggest that we should equally not be restricted to work with people who look like us and are on a very similar path “just because”.

Why Niche?

Why do you need to niche as a coach? Is your niche your approach to coaching or your ideal client? 

It can be both. And it doesn’t need to constrict you forever. It’s just a choice for now, based on your values, limits and what energises you at this time. It makes some people feel better to also remember that just because you are talking mostly to a particular audience, doesn’t mean that you need not help anyone else. People will find you. But to choose not to focus in on a particular audience at all may well mean people cannot see, or communicate to others, what your strengths are. There are many, many, MANY coaches who can help “people who want to change career” or with their “well-being”, as we all know.

We love how Lucinda Empson talks about how we start to niche as children… When we are in the playground choosing friends, finding subjects that interest us, deciding which crowd we want to be in, and when we start to think about what our Purpose In Life is. We also love the concept of the Squiggly Career (example of more women doing cool shit!)… that you can ebb and flow in and out of what are oftentimes seemingly unconnected roles, wondering how they all lace together. Eventually though, in retrospect, it all makes sense. And the stories we can tell our grandchildren about how we ended up here seem to have been thought out from the beginning.

Niching is a way of focusing in marketing.

Niching helps you be clear about how you are best positioned to help someone as a coach — based on your empathy, authority and your own journey. It also helps you to avoid burnout. Because by talking with clarity and focus to those that you wish to surround yourself with, and being able to resist trying to offer something to everyone, means that you need to generate less — or that all of your content is likely to land more successfully. You can better focus on the Journey of Consciousness once you are clear on your ideal client. And you can show up with confidence and with more enthusiasm about helping — and this energy can be detected and will breed more confidence and thus attract more clients. Fact.

The question is, how do we decide who we are best placed to work with? The assumption is that we should work with people who are most like us… that we can best guide those that are on a similar path. It makes sense that if your journey is only a few steps ahead of your client’s, that they would see quickly how you got to where you are now.

There are two risks with this — one is what I will call the Tony Robbins Rags-to-Riches risk… Robbins was born into a home life that “was “chaotic” and “abusive”. When he was 17 years old, he left home and never returned. Robbins later worked as a janitor, and did not attend college.” And yet he is now a multi-million pound coach and inspirational speaker, who is “on a mission to change lives”. As Susan Cain says in her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, the fact that Robbins’ first book is called Wake the Giant Within “says it all”. We encourage coaches to think of themselves as guides not heroes. But even as a guide, we can create a sense of imposter syndrome and fear of failure amongst clients who may look to us as successful archetypes of what they should aspire to become. See also Simon’s theory about Magic Beans.

The other risk of your niche audience being people just like you concerns your mental health: You are likely to have transitioned to coaching from something else in life, perhaps due to a moment of clarity or a triggering experience that catapulted you to want to create change for yourself and others. The assumption is that we are more qualified to help someone with similar challenges to us. Look at Alcoholics Anonymous as a model, for example, and the idea of a Sponsor. And yet, how close you are to your experience — the challenging one that created the epiphany to move into coaching — the more painful it might be to revisit its themes every time you coach. If you have an entirely healthy relationship with your moment-of-realisation, then great!… go for your life. Help people just like you. It will be a very compelling story…

Lucinda Empson is one such coach in our community, who assumed that she would be best placed to help people like her: burning or burned out doctors. And yet, in getting her marketing going and having conversations with potential clients, Lucinda soon realised that it was all a little close to the bone. Furthermore, her frustrations with not being able to change a system (the NHS in her case as a consultant anaesthetist) would keep coming back to haunt her as she helped other doctors to navigate it and not burn out.

“You don’t have to live with it to coach it.”

Instead, Lucinda is now focussing her attention on professional women going through a divorce. Rather than having gone through a divorce herself, Lucinda’s experience of it is via friends and family. She can, therefore, divorce (sorry!) herself from a triggering personal experience when she helps other women who are navigating it. In working with Lucinda, professional women are able to turn divorce from being an apocalyptically life-threatening situation to another wonderful self-growth opportunity. And for it to affect positively their career and identity more widely. Through niching on divorcing professional women, Lucinda is able to make impact without burning out again, because the work is exciting and rewarding rather than emotionally exhausting and frustrating.

Finding your niche as a coach is about finding space

Finding a niche can — and should — be reflexive and not reactive. It should allow you to hold space with empathy but not too much passion. Though, in identifying a niche, you can certainly, and passionately, create system change.

To find your niche, why not start with our Better Bolder Braver Limits Compass exercise?

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