Our main objective here at the National Coach Academy is to enable aspiring coaches to reach their full professional potential. One of the most effective ways to educate students about the world of coaching is by offering them a window into the world of real, practicing coaches and showing them all the different ways coaches make a difference in the lives of their clients.

We hope today’s interview adds another insightful glimpse into the dynamic world of coaching.

Today we are interviewing David Smith. David is an Executive and Personal Life Coach based in Atlanta, Georgia.

NCA: Can you describe your coaching practice and the kinds of clients you typically work with?

David: My coaching practice has three areas that I focus in on: first is life coaching, second is executive coaching and leadership development, and third is emotional intelligence training, as well. We are a small boutique company that works with individuals, organizations, government, and schools to help them in those particular areas of their individual growth for their managers. We also work with individuals who want to get more goal-oriented, better at time management, etc. That’s the work I’ve been doing for the past 12 years. 

NCA: Can you elaborate a little bit on specifically the kind of work that you do with schools?

David: Absolutely. I work with universities and local high schools in here in Atlanta and across the United States, as well. On the university side, most universities have business schools or a business department, and they bring me in to talk about leadership development, leadership skills, leadership styles, etc. I also work with universities to establish executive coaching as part of their curriculum and training for their undergraduate students and those in their MBA program. I believe that component is critically important. What we’ve found across the board is that once students come out of their MBA programs and move into their careers, they’re great in their technical/tactical/operational side, but lacking in the soft skills side.

In schools, I primarily work with young people on these soft skills: how to communicate effectively, deal with conflict, resolve conflicts, and how to advocate for themselves. I work with them on their interviewing skills for those who are interested in going off to college or into the workforce. We work on speaking and presentation skills to help them project their presence to achieve the best results.

NCA: What initially got you interested in this career path and what kind of degree or certifications did you need to complete, if any?

David: I have a Bachelor’s degree in Communications and Rhetoric from Oglethorpe University and I then I also hold a Master’s of Science in Leadership Development and Executive Coaching from Bellevue University. I’m also a board certified coach, as well.

I believe in education. I believe in training. Even though the industry is kind of unregulated at this particular time, people are beginning to ask for ICF certification. I wanted to bring not only the skills that I have in coaching but the scholarship and theory behind it. It was critically important for me to finish my Master’s degree, but it also was important for me to sit for the certification as well because we are dealing with people’s lives. We’re dealing with their livelihood and we need to know what we’re doing.

Coaches should be reading. You should be building your library. I’m reading a book a week. I’m always reading, I’m always researching.

If I’m to talk with an MBA student and I don’t have a Master’s degree, why would they listen to me? Or if I’m going to a school where the teachers have an EdD, a Doctor of Education, or a Master’s level or above. I’m walking there talking about discipline and life skills and all those kinds of things and I haven’t completed anything. For me, the credibility and authority has to be struck on the front end. I need to walk in there with all that in place. Automatically I can walk in, command a certain fee and command a certain audience. It’s important to us as coaches to present ourselves in that way.

Coaches should be reading. You should be building your library. I’m reading a book a week. I’m always reading, I’m always researching. The data is out there, so understand the research. There’s so many great books out there.

When I’m speaking with a client and they are interested in more resources, I can offer a book. I can offer a resource beyond my skill set or to add to the skill set. So when we’re not in a relationship together — say we’re meeting once a week or maybe every other week — in that between time, they have work! They have something that they can go back to that solidifies or that offers a guide. When we’re back together again, I could say, “What did you think about the book? Have you started reading it? What do you think about the material?” 90% of the people that I’ve coached, they actually get into to the material. They order the book or they go to the library and get the book. They do the research and then they do the things they need to do to be better.

So if we’re asking people, as coaches, to step into their lives fully, and we’re not reading the present data that’s out there, if we’re not reading books from fiction to non-fiction and the gamut, then I’m not quite sure what we can really offer to people beyond what I want to call “mother wit.”

NCA: What is the most rewarding part of your career? And on the flip side of that, what is the most challenging aspect of the work that you do?

David: The most challenging aspect of the work is self-care. We, as coaches, take on our clients. We hear so many stories throughout the day and we live with that. We’re thinking about them. We’re thinking about the things they said and many times, we don’t know how to turn that off.

We get bombarded with a lot of stuff. A lot of challenges, a lot of problems or problem-solving. We’re helping people push through, and we have to have time and space for ourselves to rejuvenate and take care of ourselves. I did not learn that until a couple of years ago. We also need to be taking care of ourselves.

I have seven or eight different conversations in my head most days from my clients. When I get done with a client, I got to go for a walk. I gotta put some music on, I got to leave the house, I got to go to the gym, I got to go for a swim, I got to do whatever I need to do to shake that because I got to get them off of me, right? That’s one of the biggest challenges. It’s taking care of myself as I’m taking care of others. That’s on the personal side of things.

The tactical challenging aspect of coaching is growing the business. I think a lot of people don’t tell the truth around how to build a successful coaching practice and what it actually takes to run a successful business. We talk about coaching but we also need to talk about the business of coaching. I think that’s critically important as well. I want to hear more conversations around that because that is one of the greatest challenges: how to keep clients, how to move from one-on-one to group, how to do the books, how to get on the speaking circuit, how to scale properly so you can continue taking care of your clients but also grow the business. The business of coaching is a big challenge for most of us if we’re honest.

One of the biggest challenges for coaches that we hardly ever talk about is how coaches are taking care of themselves because we get bombarded with a lot of stuff, right? A lot of challenges, a lot of problems or problem-solving, we’re helping people push through.

NCA: What is it that you think about the common perception of running the business that isn’t quite accurate in the way people are describing it? 

David: That if you just put a website up and that you’re going to be poppin’ the next day. And that’s not true. People aren’t telling the truth about what it took for them to get to this place where they are now living off their coaching while they take care of themselves and their families. People are not telling the truth around what it really means to build a coaching practice. 

They talk about the skills for coaching — we got the coaching down. But when we hang the phone up or we close the laptop, how are we running our business? And that is something I want to hear more coaches talking about. How did they learn how to price? What do they do with clients? How did they set up their contracts? How did they know if they’re a good fit for their clients?

I’m a big proponent that we should be talking more to one another as coaches. We need to talk about our business to one another so that we can all grow and take care of a lot of things that people bring into us on a higher level.

What I have noticed is there’s an amount of competition among coaches. We don’t share because we think if I give you my information, you’d want to take the next client that comes. I don’t operate like that. If another coach calls me and they’re starting out, I’m going to give them everything I can because I want them to win. They can’t do what I do and I can’t do what they do and I’m OK with that. I’m not trying to get into their particular area as well. I want coaches to really build a healthy coaching community so that we can all do these things. We should be sharing information and sharing resources.

I get about 4 to 5 calls a month from people who say “I’m interested in becoming a coach” or “I just started coaching and I see you’ve been doing it for a while. Can I ask you a few questions?” Why would I, a person who is in the service of being a servant leader to others, turn around and deny them my information? I’m just not going to do it. I want more coaches to be more generous — with boundaries of course — but to share amongst one another and also help the newcomers out so they can fly. I think there’s enough bandwidth among the community. We got the capacity to do it, but I don’t think we have the willingness as much as I would like to see.

Why would I, a person who is in the service of being a servant leader to others, turn around and deny them my information? I’m just not going to do it. I want more coaches to be more generous.

NCA: Can you think of one client or mentor who challenged your beliefs or made you rethink the way you approach your clients or your work?

David: I had a mentor who was a psychologist by training when I was getting my feet wet in the industry. She challenged me on the way I coached, my presentation around coaching, how do I explain what it is versus what it isn’t. And that was real eye-opening for me because I had learned all that I thought coaching was. But I couldn’t tell you what it wasn’t. 

And so she was teaching to me in a very real way that forced me to know the difference between coaching and consulting, coaching and counseling, coaching versus mentoring. She asked me the right kinds of questions which forced me to really dig deeper into the industry and what it actually is and what I’m actually doing. And that opened me up in an intellectual way so when people call me, I know exactly what I’m listening for versus just taking a client. And that was huge for me. 

For instance, if someone calls me and said they’re dealing with social anxiety, she would say, “You need to know that’s not what you do and you need to be able to define that to them and then step away from that if you’re not properly trained in it.” That was setting up a business ethic on the front end that I hadn’t even thought about and I appreciate that from her today. That was 10 years ago.

NCA: Finally, what advice would you give someone looking to get started in the career path that you chose?

David: My career advice would be to ask themselves, do they want to coach or do they want a coaching practice? And to define what those two different things are. It’s one thing to be a coach. It’s another thing to run the business of coaching. And for me, it’s critically important that that conversation is had. 

Really define the business acumen. Understand how to run a business, how to open up a business, get all the state and federal things behind you. Get everything that you would need: the confidentiality agreement, the insurance — everything that it takes to make sure that the foundation of the business is laid.

Of course, you can be an in-house coach with a business or organization. You’re on the payroll and you are an employee. Or you can run a coaching practice. To define those two things on the front end are very helpful to become really successful.