How to Create Clients You Love

Robert Ellis
Apr 28, 2020 · 5 min read

I have an incredible coaching practice, full of clients I love.

It wasn’t always this way.

A few years ago, I accepted every client who came my way, whether or not they were a good fit. I kept a professional distance in my work. It wasn’t very satisfying.

Now my practice is full, I’m doing more powerful work than ever (client feedback), and I love — love — my clients.

What changed?

About three or four years ago, I completely reinvented the way I work as a coach.

Until then, I hid behind professional distance. I was halfhearted. I didn’t show up fully.

One of my intentions when I reinvented myself, and the way I work was that I wanted to be wholehearted. I didn’t want to hide behind a professional persona, I didn’t want to maintain a professional distance. I wanted to be open to having a deeper, more personal connection with the people that I work with.

Now, I invite people into a different conversation, a different relationship. I do it intentionally, make clear agreements, and commit to creating a bigger space, where more — much more — can be included in the conversation.

My Ideal Client

When I started coaching, I just wanted to make a lot of money. That’s what I attracted. I also attracted clients that I didn’t particularly love working with. That’s what I call failing by succeeding. You can become so successful that you begin creating what you don’t want. And that’s not my idea of personal success.

Most of my clients are entrepreneurs or CEOs or coaches who work with entrepreneurs and CEOs. But my ideal client isn’t a title, a demographic, or someone who meets a particular financial criteria. It took me a long time to understand who my ideal client was.

A few years ago, when I wasn’t as happy as I am now with my coaching practice, I fell in love with a client. Actually, I fell in love with most of the executive team.

I had so much fun working with them. I would come home energized. The work was challenging, edge work for me (it took me to the edge of my stretch zone). It was intellectually stimulating. Many on the team were trying to accomplish something they had never done before. There was a lot at stake (millions of dollars), and the team was committed to succeeding together. Everyone on the team had the attitude of a learner. They showed up in a supportive way for each other.

I knew there was something different about working with them. I started to journal about my experience. I made lists. What were the qualities of these people that made it so enjoyable and satisfying to work with them? What was it about the work that made it so fulfilling for me?

It took more than a year for things to crystallize. I now know — very clearly — who my ideal client is. When I do a dream session with someone (see my post on Why I Do Dream Sessions Instead of Discovery Sessions), if they are interested in creating a coaching relationship, I let them know I have very specific criteria for who I work with. I tell them I’ll walk them through the criteria, and they can tell me whether or not they feel we’re a good fit.

First, there has to be a lot at stake. What we’re working on has to be so important that failure is not an option. It has to be so aspirational, the client knows they will have to undergo a personal transformation to achieve it.

Second, it has to be a net positive. I don’t work with clients I feel are making the world worse. Most of my clients are impact entrepreneurs or engaged in projects that will have some positive impact on the world.

Third, they have to be coachable. How open are they to other points of view? How willing are they to take feedback? I will test them, asking them what I call a disturbing question, or a provocation, in the first session to see if they will engage with me.

Fourth, they have to be all in. That means three things. They are willing to put everything on the table (one of my core beliefs, which I discuss with the client in the first session, is that you can’t separate who you are professionally from who you are personally). You have to make a real commitment (I don’t work with anyone for less than three months, and they pay in advance). And the fee can’t be an issue (I charge CEOs $10k per month). If it is, go back to the first criteria. Is this important enough to you that you are willing to make a meaningful investment in yourself?

Finally, I have to like them. I think it will be fun to work with them, they have a sense of humor, I might learn something. If we’re not going to enjoy working together, we’re not a good fit. I want to work with people I enjoy working with, people who want to work with me.

Your Ideal Client

I recommend you do this exercise yourself. Who is your ideal client?

Your criteria should be different than mine. Think of all the clients you’ve worked with. Some you loved, some you liked, some you tolerated, some you couldn’t wait for the engagement to be over. What did the clients you love have in common? Write it down. Share it with your prospective clients.

When I first started sharing my criteria with my prospective clients after I’d coached my heart out in the first hour-and-a-half of our dream session, I noticed they had a fascinating reaction. They all began to try to persuade me that they fit the criteria. “This means a lot to me,” they’d say, “I think I’m coachable. I hope you like me.”

They enrolled themselves.

And why wouldn’t they? If it wasn’t true that they fit the criteria, they wanted it to be true. They wanted to be creating things that mattered, that had a positive impact. They wanted to be coachable. They wanted to be more committed in their lives. They wanted to have more fun. And so all of that also became part of our journey when we began working together.

Another fascinating thing happened after I got crystal clear about who my ideal client was.

They began to show up.

I’m an executive coach and the founder of Futurosity. I coach leaders and the coaches who coach leaders.

Better Than You Can Imagine

Make a list of everything you really want but think is impossible.

Robert Ellis

Written by

Make a list of everything you really want but think is impossible. I coach leaders. I coach coaches who coach leaders.

Better Than You Can Imagine

A handbook for creators and co-creators—leaders, coaches, and catalysts.

Robert Ellis

Written by

Make a list of everything you really want but think is impossible. I coach leaders. I coach coaches who coach leaders.

Better Than You Can Imagine

A handbook for creators and co-creators—leaders, coaches, and catalysts.

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