The critical nature of associate work for coaches
This was one response when I started to research the value of associate business to coaches – from an experienced, open-hearted, coach. I was surprised, both to hear it from them and that the old myths around associate work are still strong.
Let’s get very clear – yes, it’s true, associates do help coach clients build their businesses. But what are the coach clients doing for associates? The very same thing – it’s a symbiotic relationship. Associates develop their own businesses through having several clients to whom they are an associate. They’re strategic about what work they want to win, how to position themselves to do that, how to get the relevant experience, learn what associate partners need from them, how to respond to that and build a sustainable profit base.
A quick note on how much you are actually building another coach’s business – margins can be shockingly low for your associate partner – remember that if you are tempted to moan about the chunk of change you feel you have given away to them for ‘doing very little’!
Associates need to be just as savvy as non-associates but with a different business focus. The associate model cleaves itself to what a coach is naturally good at, nurturing, relationship and trust building, supporting and delivering.
Good associates understand the commerciality of the market, they understand what role associate work plays and they treat it very seriously. The modern-day associate mindset includes understanding that:
the client is the associate partner NOT the delivery client;
credibility is crucial – they know how they are viewed by their associate partner will impact the business they are offered so they manage their brand;
there’s a need to choose their associate relationships carefully – not to be ‘everywhere’; and
they have the capacity to grow the profitability of their client’s business as well as deliver the coaching, and seek out opportunities to do so.
What is the market like for associates? It’s a bit how-long’s-a-piece-of-string but we know this - 76% of all corporate coaching (in a £1.8bn market) is bought through referrals or existing relationships.
The clever coach will note two things about this percentage:
they need to be directly connected to the companies who buy coaching; or
they need to be connected to the coaching companies (the associate partners) that corporate clients buy from.
Now, if you have the plan and the connections to do the former, crack on... but if you don’t, or you want to mix it up, exploring how you can be connected to the associate partners makes sense.
Accessing the right relationships for you takes time - the average portfolio might take 18 – 24 months to build. The obvious candidates for you to look at might be the coaching brokerages (TXG) and the bigger consultancies (LHH, Hay) – but remember their coaching pools are in the low hundreds, they are pretty full, and there are thousands of executive coaches in the market.
So where is the rest of the business? Much of the associate market is ‘underground’ – as in with small boutique companies, just one or a few coaches bringing in bigger contracts they need help delivering. Here fees can be more flexible, here relationships can be deeper. Once proven and trusted as an associate, they will turn to you regularly. Contracts represent a larger piece of the pie to them than the bigger players and they cannot afford to connect the wrong coach to their client.
The associate role can be critical for a coach to have a diversified profitable business. Coaching schools pay attention.
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