Stacie dives into a topic that she NEVER hears discussed: entrepreneur burnout as a coach -- "coach burnout." No coach ever wants to talk about burning out because it “shouldn’t happen to us”, but burnout can and does happen in coaching businesses, probably much more often than you think.
Stacie dives into what coach burnout looks like, why it happens, and why she’s on a mission to help coaches build sustainable, burnout-proof businesses -- even if it goes against everything the other “online experts” teach.
Read it over on the blog too! https://staciemitchell.com/2021/08/16/coach-burnout/
If you’re feeling really overwhelmed in your coaching business, I highly recommend that you download The Consistent Five. It’s 5 questions I ask myself and my clients that help pull us out of that swamped, can’t-keep-my-head-above-water feeling. When you sign up, you’ll also get my weekly email newsletters with special offers and stories I don’t share anywhere else! You can grab The Consistent Five at https://bit.ly/FreeTCFIVE
As many of you listening to the podcast know, my original coaching business found success when I niched from career coaching to burnout coaching in late 2019.
I realized how many clients in career coaching were actually suffering from burnout and didn’t even know it, when I went through my own period of burnout and found a way to heal it.
Now, I no longer am a burnout coach, BUT my experiences as a burnout coach inform the way I work with my clients who are coaches. And here’s why:
Helping professionals, like coaches, tend to experience some of the highest levels of burnout. And while burnout in coaching professionals has not been researched academically that I could find, coaches are still at risk of burnout given that we are doing emotional work -- and this is even if you’re not working that many hours.
And while it may be less emotional work than your typical therapist or social worker, you are still holding space for your clients and their emotions, and the research does show that burnout can be more likely to happen with this kind of work, and I think especially if you don’t have a means for processing some of that emotional energy somehow - whether that’s through having your own coach or coaching mentor, or some other means for having space held you for too.
Now, I do want to say, that emotional work is just one sliver of what can cause burnout, but the problem is that once you begin to experience burnout as a coach, it can really mess with your ability to be a great coach -- and you may not even realize that it’s burnout.
Because what happens is, your self doubt starts to grow. Your fatigue starts to grow. Your apathy grows. You find yourself feeling resentful of your clients. And you can’t find the joy in coaching anymore.
Now, if you don’t know that it’s burnout that’s happening to you: You might think, “I’m not a good coach, I’m not cut out for this.” But I encourage you if you’re feeling resentment or self-doubt or like you just don’t enjoy it anymore, but you did enjoy it a lot before, you might be burned out or on the edge of burnout in your coaching practice.
Before we dig deeper into that, I want to talk about some of the symptoms of burnout so that you’ll know if this might be happening to you.
We talked about a couple of these but I’m going to list them out here:
The Maslach Burnout Inventory breaks burnout down into three subcategories:
Here are a few example statements from the burnout inventory:
I feel like I’m at the end of my rope.
I feel fatigued when I get up in the morning and have to face another day on the job.
I feel emotionally drained from my work.
I don’t feel that I’m positively influencing other people’s lives through my work.
I have not accomplished many worthwhile things in this job.
So you can hear the sadness in these statements. And the hard part about this is that if you don’t know it’s burnout, you might just think you need to quit being a coach, that it’s not the right path for you.
But that might not be the case. It might be that you actually need to take a deeper look at your overall coaching business and see if you need to make some changes that will reduce your burnout and keep it from happening again.
Because it’s possible that you burned out for a number of other reasons, not necessarily just because of your coaching sessions or your clients.
And I want to talk here about the different things that come up for coaches when it comes to burning out in their businesses. And I’m talking about this because I feel like no one else in the industry does, which is interesting because I’ve been around long enough to see coaches do VERY well in their businesses and then confess months later that it all imploded because they overloaded themselves.
So let’s dig into why I think burnout can happen to coaches, what we can do about it, and why we need to talk about it more.
When I first learned about becoming a life coach, I heard many other business coaches say that a full coaching practice is 20 clients, so 20 hours a week of coaching, which I want to make clear, does NOT mean you’d have a 20 hour work week. Because to get 20 hours of coaching clients a week, you’d need to be spending at a minimum 10 hours extra working on admin and on marketing, but honestly, I’m not sure 10 would be enough unless you had help or you were really, really constrained and focused.
Also, I’ve been coaching for 9 years, and it would be incredibly difficult for me to coach 20 hours every week. I know that wouldn’t be true for everyone, depending on your natural strengths and talents, but that level of focused listening and holding space can be difficult for 20 hours every week. I’ve heard so many coaches say something along the lines of that being a mindset issue, but I actually don’t agree. We aren’t all the same. Humans aren’t robots. We have natural strengths, personalities, interests. Can they shift? Of course, but it’s rare for someone to be an introvert and shift completely into being an extrovert.
And on top of all of this, coaching packages have shifted. Many coaches aren’t just coaching within the session, they’re also creating content and worksheets for clients, offering email or Voxer access, and even if they’re not offering these extras, coaches still need to time to process client notes and prepare for sessions so they can be present and ready.
So if you’re feeling overwhelmed by clients, it might be time to think about charging more so you can take less, which we’ll talk about it a second.
This is why I think having some kind of consult call before starting with clients is so important. It’s important to be sure you can help the clients that sign on to work with you, that you won’t feel triggered by their issues, and/or that they don’t need other kinds of help. And also, just to make sure they aren’t terrible people, you just don’t want to coach!
I have openly told clients that they should see a medical doctor and a mental health professional and that I wouldn’t feel comfortable working with them given where they currently were. This doesn’t happen so much with business clients, but it did with burnout.
And finally, it’s important to take stock of whether your current messaging is attracting the right clients to you. This is deeper than just an “I help” statement or your niche. This digs into whether your content and branding is attracting the personalities you most want to help. It’s very nuanced and can be hard to figure out until you’ve had a couple of clients that aren’t quite right to make you realize it.
Tell your clients your business hours. Tell them how quickly they can expect a response if they email or if they text or voice message you if that’s included in your package. Set expectations for canceling and rescheduling and refunds. Let them know when you’re going on vacation.
Also, I think having the belief that there are no coaching emergencies goes a long way. We got into coaching to help people, but there’s a difference between helping our clients and creating a co-dependent relationship with our clients. You don’t have to respond ASAP or on weekends. There are no coaching emergencies.
The fastest way to burn out as a coach is to not have any boundaries with your clients! You want your clients to be able to live without you and to coach themselves, so be careful not to let them become too dependent on you.
Undercharging can cause a domino effect of hustle and burnout in your coaching business.
You undercharge for your services, then you realize you’re not making enough money, you hustle to sign more clients, and the cycle of hustle continues on.
When you’re thinking about what to charge your clients, remember not to focus on the number of coaching sessions or the logistics of what you’re providing. Because those things actually don’t matter.
What matters most is how much your clients want to solve their problem -- the problem you help them with as a coach, aka your niche. What’s the value of it to them?
The better you get at helping your clients solve this problem, the more you can charge them. It doesn’t actually matter how many sessions it takes. And actually, if you know you can help a client solve a big problem in 6 sessions, you can charge MORE than if you can solve it in 12 sessions.
We’ve talk about this before, but don’t choose marketing methods that you hate doing. Period. It will burn you out over time to be consistently doing things you don’t love.
If you never give yourself a chance to master a strategy or tactic, you will get tired and potentially burned out. Learning something new challenges your brain, which isn’t always a good thing. Choose your strategies and tactics, stay committed, choose when to evaluate how they’re working, and only then think about intentionally trying out a new strategy.
Repeat after me: Just say no to the $27 courses and the free webinars! They’re wasting your time and burning you out over time!
We tend to think we can do it all. But we can’t.
It’s really hard to run a successful coaching business without help somewhere in your life. Whether it’s hiring someone to help you clean your house, or dropping your dog off at daycare, or hiring a virtual assistant to help with certain tasks in your business.
If you know you need help somewhere, try to find some way to get it, whether it’s by asking your partner or a friend, or paying for a service.
I think this is especially true when you’re a new coach getting your business off the ground. It can feel like you need to think about your business all the time, that you need to fix something or figure something out.
But obsessing over your business wears you out just as hard as if you were actively working all of those hours. You have to find a way to disconnect.
And that also means scheduling vacation times where you don’t take clients, where you don’t respond to clients, and *gasp* where you don’t even think about your clients or your business.
We all need breaks!
This one gives me the most feels.
There are way too many coaches selling this idea that you need to get to 6 figures tomorrow, otherwise what’s the point?
They’ll post their screenshots of texts from their clients who are having $20k months or $100k months or whatever big number you can think of, and it’ll make you question your own business and whether they have some secret you need to be successful.
What’s funny is that most of my clients don’t even want million dollar businesses! But the 6 figure and 7 figure and 5 figure months and all the formulas and secrets and general gag-worthiness of online business can make you feel like you should.
But I personally think slow growth is better than explosive growth. Can your nervous system handle going from $4k months to $100k months and all that would entail?
I’m going to go ahead and say it: at some point, the pain of being cheap will outweigh the benefits of saving money.
Before I got really serious in my coaching business, I was always thinking about how I could save money on my systems. I didn’t want to pay for my call scheduling system or my social media scheduler or my course platform, and on and on.
And when you’re just getting started, it feels okay. Because your clients are trickling in.
The problem is that when you stay consistent, and you get over the hump, and you start getting more clients, you’ll wish you’d invested in systems that automate things for you.
Because you’ll be busy with clients! This seems like a small deal, but even if a task takes you 5 minutes every time you do it, and you do it at least twice a week, that time adds up over the course of the year. And consider if there are 10 of those tasks! It’s a lot of wasted time and energy on something that could be automated for $10-20 month!
I’m talking about this now because no one wants to admit that online business can drive coaches to burn out in their work. And it’s embarrassing because no coach -- whether life coach or health coach or leadership coach or career coach or any other coach wants to admit that they’ve burned out because we’re “supposed to know better.”
But that’s incredibly unfair. If anything I think there are far too many business coaches and business programs that push coaches too hard -- like where you have 3 months to create or redo every single foundational aspect of your business to fit a cookie-cutter approach that is all wrong for you, or coaches or programs that tell you to just keep selling, selling, selling to hit a 5 figure month when you actually don’t have the time or emotional capacity to serve so many clients -- it’s not a surprise that so many coaches end up thinking, “Maybe this just isn’t for me.”
And it makes me so sad for so many reasons but three reasons stand out in my mind:
Your attention span suffers, meaning you can't listen as well.The absolute most important skill you can have as a coach is listening, so this has a huge impact on your ability to coach well.
Your brain is automatically more negative and biased -- which makes it impossible to “stay out of the pool” and see your clients' stories as stories, which again, that makes it very hard to coach.
You're not as creative. (As if finding metaphors isn't hard enough sometimes!) It’s harder to see the patterns and tie them together for your clients.
You take more risks -- and not necessarily good risks because it’s harder to make good, informed decisions. So you might make bad investment decisions or work with clients who aren’t good fits.
Burnout can literally cause your brain to lose volume. It can take years off your life.
And I don’t say this to scare you, this is just what the research shows. It’s not a small problem. Burnout can have a lasting effect not just on your coaching career, but on your life.
And honestly, I wanted to record this because this is why I focus on helping coaches build simple, sustainable businesses that align with their strengths and that use routine and habit to make marketing easier over time. This is my deeper why.
There are amazing coaches out there throwing in the towel because they think they have to do business this certain way, that they have to hustle constantly or take a million clients, or do it all alone, or never take a break, to make their coaching businesses work, and they just don’t want to keep going.
But you don’t have to do it that way. You can slow down. You can get clear on what’s important. You can get help with your business foundations like your message, your signature program, and your marketing plan. And your business can suit you, exactly as you are. You don’t have to chase clients or cold DM people or run yourself ragged trying to make it work. I promise.
And if you’re feeling really overwhelmed in your coaching business, I highly recommend that you download The Consistent Five. It’s 5 questions I ask myself and my clients that help pull us out of that swamped, can’t-keep-my-head-above-water feeling. When you sign up, you’ll also get my weekly email newsletters with special offers and stories I don’t share anywhere else! You can grab The Consistent Five at https://bit.ly/FreeTCFIVE. You can also find the link in the show notes.
And if you loved this episode, let me know on Instagram! Tag me @staciemitchell and let me know what resonated most and then share it with your coach friends.
Sharing is caring and what allows me to grow the podcast and get the word out about building sustainable coaching businesses. It means so much to me when you share!
Have a great week ahead!