When I think of a coach, I see someone on a field. They’ve been in the game so long they had to retire from it — they’ve built the strategies and executed all the plays. The best coaches have weathered every ferocious storm. Their gift lies in their calm, insight, and wisdom. Guiding the next generation coming up in the ranks, identifying potential and transforming it into possibility.
When your livelihood is at stake, do you want to rely on someone who’s been in the game season after season? Or do you want someone who’s merely watched it on TV?
Over the past decade, I’ve purchased many courses and hours of people’s time. The courses ranged from incredibly valuable to violently stupid. And the paid mentorships were remarkable because the investment drove me to focus on coming prepared with my objectives for the engagement, what I knew going in and the gaps I needed to fill.
I’m not a colt wobbling on four legs — I’ve ridden in too many rodeos to count and I’ve got the grey hair and fine lines to prove it. So, I only pay for knowledge or someone’s time when:
- I’m looking to add a skill set to my toolkit that would make my existing skills infinitely more unique and attractive to prospective clients. For example, I’ve taken classes on data science and analytics not because I want to run a k-means cluster analysis, but it allows me to ask smarter questions of my data scientists and analysts and brainstorm new approaches to our work. I’m more of an active participant in the various stages of my work and I’ve positioned myself as the creative, artful storyteller who can fashion characters, plots, and new worlds, but I also know data and the power it yields when married with potent storytelling.
- I’m curious about other practitioners’ methods, approaches, and frameworks because although we all deliver similar results, our path to those results and the shape and form those results take will differ. I’m endlessly interested in how the younger generations approach a brand and content strategy and interpret the discipline. For example, I’ve devoured Regina Anaejionu’s freebies, curriculums, and courses for years because not only do I think she has this innate capacity to tell stories through the lens of data in new and fascinating ways but she invites you to show up as yourself. She’s introverted, quirky, and far from the boring, whitewashed brands pervasive in the marketing space. I don’t view other peers as competition, rather I see them as a way to evolve what I do and how I think.
- I need problem-solving on a specific issue or guidance on the more operational aspects of what I do. I’m always on the hunt for ways in which I can work smarter and eliminating insidious mindsets and manual processes that always seem to get in my way. Years ago, I took a course on effective client onboarding. I’ve purchased courses from Being Boss on strategizing on my business.
When I evaluate where I should place my bets, I look for four things:
- Track record
- Social proof
- People doped up on curiosity
- Doing the thing > marketing the thing
Let’s Talk Track Record & Proof
Have you done what you teach for not only yourself but for others over a period of time? Because I’m about to drop some opinions, and you may not like them and I don’t care — grab yourself a teddy bear. But if you teach a class on personal branding or brand building and your only success story is yourself, you’re not an expert. There could a confluence of reasons for your success that range from timing to privilege and I want to know if you’re able to replicate your magic for many other people who are not you.
The ability to use your skills and expertise to make others successful demonstrates your agility and adaptability. It’s the difference between someone who’s only run on a treadmill and someone who can navigate the unexpected in a terrain.
I don’t want treadmill runners — I want motherfuckers who have dodged snakes and bears in the forest and have come out with their spleen intact.
I also want to hear from people who have dropped coin on you. You know, social proof, third party validation — people you haven’t paid to sing your praises from the rafters. Because you telling me how awesome you are is cute, but it doesn’t close the sale. I want to know people took the risk in investing in you and reaped a return. And I’m not talking ROI so hold your pants — I’m talking about results from the objectives you’ve established at the onset. If you sell courses on how to start a business, I want to hear from people who have started a business.
You Need to Be Constantly Curious
I want people high on curiosity. I want that heat surging through your veins. These aren’t the players slinging the same tired course year after year — occasionally dressing it up in a cuter outfit — these are people who are committed to growing and evolving their methods, approaches, strategies, and tactics for what’s going in their business and the world. I want you to be as famished at fifty as you were at twenty, because this tells me you’re always learning and thinking. I want to learn from shape-shifters, not clockwatchers.
You Can’t Be Spending More Time Talking About The Thing Than Doing the Thing
I’m going to exercise massive restraint here because I can go on a long, non-productive rant on shady marketers and bloggers pretending to be marketers, but I’ll say this — invest in people who are doing the thing instead of talking about the thing. Read their articles and thought leadership — are they using their own experience and case studies to illustrate their points or are they regurgitating something an actual expert studied and wrote?
For example, I have zero interest in reading articles on marketing from people who are not marketers (and that shit is pervasive) unless they’re writing from the perspective of the consumer. Why? Because you’ve never had the skin in the game. You may be good at researching your thoughts and formulating a position, but has your livelihood depended on that position? What credentials do you have? How can you teach me something when you haven’t even done it yourself?
And for the doers, I want to know that you’re not spending all your time on flash marketing at the expense of getting better at the thing. I see this all the time — people playing to their personal brands like they’re in the Philharmonic without realizing they’re never getting better at their craft because they have no time to hone it. While I think marketing should be a core part of your business, don’t let it take you away from the thing you do that makes you an expert.
There exist a slew of bad players in this Wild West of unregulated, uncredentialled space where these fools only need a Squarespace site and a PayPal account to start digging through your wallet. Before you get swindled, first establish the purpose of investing in yourself. Do you want a network? Do you want to get started in a career or elevate one? Do you want to stay current and fresh or do you simply need a jolt of confidence which accountability often brings?
Define why you want to pay for a course or a coach and then map out your objectives, expectations, and budget range. Search for the people you vibe with, people who consistently show up and have established success and credentials in the thing you want to learn.
Broken record here, but don’t be blinded by the shiny marketing hype and stylized branding. Look for the meat. Identify whether the values they hold align with your own. And make sure their success stories stretch far and beyond the borders of themselves.