Catherine Billam moved from the corporate to entrepreneur world and now helps others take the same path.
Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?
Catherine Billam Coaching coaches individuals and organizations who are going through major change. This includes helping them to understand and manage the emotional aspects of change. Through coaching they develop an increased capacity to deal with change and to achieve their goals.
What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?
I was a management consultant for Ernst & Young/Cap Gemini – specializing in change management and organization development, and yes this is my first business.
Who are your main competitors? How do you compete against them
There are a lot of coaches out there! There aren't quite as many who have the substantial blue-chip background or the specific change management experience that I have.
To succeed in this kind of competitive professional services market it's really important to have a clear niche. For individuals, I prefer to coach people from the kind of corporate background that I come from – they know that I will understand what they are going through. I really enjoy coaching people who are making the same leap that I have, from the corporate world to the freedom of running their own business.
Organizational clients love my change management background. Research has shown that the biggest influence on the success of change programs is the attitude and behavior of organizational leaders – and coaching is one of the most powerful ways of changing behavior, so the potential benefits to the organization are great.
How has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected?
I didn't realize how much I would miss my colleagues! As a solopreneur I found myself going a bit stir-crazy. I realized that I needed people to bounce ideas off, celebrate successes and moan a bit when things weren't going so well.
To counter this I have set up a series of support networks. For instance, I have a marketing group – four coaches who live locally, all with different skills and backgrounds. We meet about once a month, and take it in turns to critique each other's marketing activities. As one of us is a lead generation expert, another an ex-journalist, and the other two have a wealth of experience, we really learn a lot from each other.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
Taken my marketing more seriously earlier. I fell into the obvious trap of focusing on providing excellent coaching rather than on running the business.
What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?
I have done the "Get Clients Now" programme (the website has lists of accredited leaders). I can recommend it for anyone setting up in professional services. It really focuses your activities, and it made me put the hours in to get my sales and marketing up to scratch.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
Research the market. Talk to a lot of coaches about how much they earn and how long it took them to get there. There are a lot of poor coaches about!
Know that success will not just depend on you being a good coach, but also on being a good businessperson, which includes the sales and marketing.
Outsource the parts of the business you don't want to do – whether it is a person to run your diary or chase your payments or make your cold calls.
Set up a good support network – they can also be a good source of referrals.
Ask for help. People love to help, and I have been astounded how supportive and helpful people are. You don't have to do it all on your own.
Thank you for the valuable advice, Catherine!