In this article, I want to explore why some supervisors struggle with marketing their supervision business. This is especially curious when they have already built a successful coaching business. Isn’t marketing supervision services the same as promoting coaching services?
Marketing is a significant area of interest for me, and I am curious why coaches and supervisors often find it a place of discomfort. I can relate to comments like “marketing puts me off” because I used to feel the same. I am fascinated by the buyer’s and seller’s psychology around sales and marketing.
For many years coaching was ‘just’ a passion for me and not a business. I lived by the idea that “if you do what you love, the money will come”. Well, I did what I loved, but the money didn’t come. So, I decided to focus on the business side of my practice, and marketing played a significant role. I qualified as a digital marketing expert, and I worked in marketing for a company to gain practical experience from professionals in the industry. It took me some time to learn that marketing doesn’t have to be done ‘by the book’ but can be adapted to suit you, mainly your values and make it your own – what I call authentic marketing.
This essay is based on my personal experience, observations and information drawn from conversations and feedback from over 30 supervisors about promoting their supervision services.
A supervision lens on marketing psychology through eyes 4, 5, 6 and 7 of the Seven Eyed Model.
I will attempt to explore the topic of marketing supervision services through the seven-eyed model, and I want to invite the reader to join me in my attempt with an open mind and allow me to adapt and tweak the model from time to time.
Let’s start with eye 6.
Eye 6 – The Supervisor.
I want to invite you, the reader, to look at what is going on for the supervisor in relation to marketing, their beliefs, thoughts and feelings.
I noticed that supervisors often come into the relationship with marketing with feelings of dislike, frustration or overwhelm; they use statements like: “I don’t like putting myself out there”, “I don’t want to come across as ‘pushy’ or ‘greedy’”, “I don’t want to look like I am self serving”.
These statements have “I” in common, which indicates a strong focus on the self, the supervisor’s ego. Almost all objections to marketing and selling one’s services are ego-based.
A question to reflect on for the supervisor is, “If you didn’t exist in a selling conversation, who would the conversation be about?” Of course, it would be about the client.
In their role as coaches and supervisors, focusing on the client is a skill they master well. So, isn’t it a matter of applying this skill to their marketing?
Good marketing and selling is just clean communication and relationship building.
Part of being authentic is communicating honestly about who you are. That’s integrity. If supervision is in integrity with the supervisor’s authentic self, then communicating the gifts they have to offer the world is part of their authenticity. Not communicating their offer is doing a disservice to all the potential supervisees that need them.
Marketing made easy is using our strengths, our uniqueness, in combination with authentic communication.
Eye 6 statements adapted from Hawkins & Schwenk in Bachkirova, Jackson & Clutterbuck (eds) (2011) Coaching and Mentoring Supervision: Theory and Practice:
- I am aware that _______ (describe a bodily feeling, for example, my heart is beating faster) as I talk about marketing/ promoting my supervision services, and I feel ________.
- I am feeling __________ as I listen to the potential client’s reaction as I tell them about my supervision approach/ services
- I’m getting an image of [a yin-yang symbol, with each part containing a piece of the other] _________as I talk about what I do as a supervisor.
There is a potential parallel process that could present itself when a supervisee brings to supervision their challenges with marketing. A few questions that come to mind from a place of curiosity are: what is going on for the supervisor? What thoughts and feelings are triggered? What impact does it have on the supervisory relationship, if any? How does the supervisor show openness and vulnerability?
Eye 4 – the Coach (or in this case the supervisee)
Next, I want to explore marketing from the coach’s perspective as the potential buyer and receiver of supervision services.
Here I would like to look at the importance of understanding the coach’s problems and desires and their need for supervision. What are the blocks that the coach needs help with to facilitate their clients and system better towards change? What are their most common supervision themes?
Eye 4 questions adapted from (Hawkins & Schwenk, ibid) for the supervisor to reflect on in relation to the coach/client from a marketing perspective:
- What is the coach experiencing in their body as you discuss supervision and your services as a supervisor?
- What emotions or thoughts does the coach have? What does supervision remind them of?
- When have they been in a similar relationship dynamic?
- What did they need to say in that previous situation?
- What clue does that give you as a supervisor to what needs to be said here?
- Where is the learning edge in the coach’s work? How can supervision support them?
Having answered the above questions, the supervisor will have an in-depth understanding of the supervisee/client and will be able to tailor their invitation to work together.
Supervisees are looking for solutions to their problems or desires, and they will be attracted by invitations that show understanding of the their needs.
I have experimented with a marketing post on social media that I would like to present here to demonstrate the importance and the effects of tailoring your messaging based on the client’s needs.
The post was designed for newly qualified coaches and is shown below. In the post image, I used a question that one of my supervisees asked. I kept her words as I wanted to make sure the question resonated with my audience.
I started the post with a few common questions brought to supervision that new coaches could resonate with.
I explained briefly what supervision was, and I have also included a few words about my experience for credibility and trust. I also shared the fact that I was training as a supervisor.
In the post, I offered two coaches a couple of free supervision sessions.
The outcome of the post was: 22 coaches have shown interest in being supervised, I offered (and had) 10 free hours of supervision and five coaches decided to continue with paid supervision.
I have asked coaches what made them reach out, and they all said that the questions in the post resonated with the questions they have been asking themselves. Most of them didn’t know what coaching supervision was, some hadn’t even heard of it.
I have made two other posts in the past, but they focused on my services, talking about supervision, and the response was nowhere near the client-focused post; I got one person interested.
Eye 5 – the relationship between the Supervisor and the Coach (as a potential client)
At the purchase decision stage, the relationship between supervisor and supervisee doesn’t exist or is being built. At this stage of the relationship, prospect clients are looking for answers to two questions:
- “Do you understand me and my needs (problems & desires)?”
- “Do I trust that you have the solution to my needs, and you can deliver?”
The invitation to work together should answer the two questions above. This is what the relationship is mainly about at this decision stage.
Showing understanding and inspiring trust can be done through content (in whatever form or channel is used: social media, blog, email, podcast, etc.) or delivered through in-person or virtual conversations (events, calls, meetings, etc.).
Sharing case studies, specific examples from other clients and personal experiences that people can easily relate to are great ways to connect with potential clients.
For example, in my chemistry calls with prospective supervisees, I give examples of some of the challenges I faced as a coach. I had a few calls with coaches who have learnt GROW as their primary coaching model, and they now feel that they need additional tools/ models to serve their clients best. I also had this challenge and talked about how it positively impacted prospective clients, making them feel understood and trusting that I have the solution to overcome this challenge.
Eye 5 adapted questions for the supervisor to reflect on their relationship with the coach/client from a marketing perspective:
- Let’s look at how you and I could be working together
- What could be helpful for you?
Eye 7 – The wider system
By the ‘wider system’, I refer to the supervisor’s and the coach’s networks.
As supervisors, we impact the coach, their clients, stakeholders, their entire system, and we have a responsibility towards the overall coaching profession.
The answers to the questions below can be taken into consideration as part of the marketing messaging – Eye 7 questions:
- What are the organisation’s values, and do these match the supervisor’s values? How might they show up in the potential client’s relationships?
- What are the organisation’s needs, pain points & desires?
- Who are the client’s main stakeholders? How would you describe the client’s relationship with each of them?
- How are wider political/economic/social pressures showing up within this potential work?
- What is the shift needed in the wider system? What shift is needed in the client to enable that wider shift to happen?
Knowing the client and the system they operate in are essential to impactful marketing messages.
I recently attended an event about how coaching supervisors can help executives in their reflections, which was new and intriguing for me, as I didn’t think supervision and executives ‘go together’. The presenter, an experienced coaching supervisor, explained how a few executives he was currently coaching had asked him to bring something different to the sessions, a different approach than coaching. Some of the participants had experienced the same request from the executives they were coaching.
The discussion continued about how leaders, especially after the Covid crisis, work in a different environment while still facing pressure to perform. They might be at risk to leave their need for reflection in favour of action. Coaching may not be the best approach to serve this need, but supervision focused on reflective practice might be better.
Some organisations might be open to supervision as a new approach to meet the new needs of their executives in today’s high-pressure working environment. In my opinion, this is a new business opportunity that can be explored by supervisors that offer coaching or training services to organisations.
A lot of what I have described in this essay applies to coaches as well as supervisors.
I offer business coaching and mentoring services to newly qualified coaches, and I noticed the same difficulties in promoting their services as the ones I see in supervisors.
So back to my initial question, “Why do some supervisors struggle with marketing their supervision business, especially when they have built a successful coaching business?”
Quite a few supervisors, especially those who started their coaching business ten or more years ago, built their business in a completely different environment. Back then, coaching wasn’t so widely known, accepted and desired as it is today. Some coaches tell me that their business is based on referrals, and some even said they never had to market themselves. So now they feel like they need to start from scratch with promoting their supervision business and are unsure of what to do.
A few common reasons why supervisors struggle with marketing (and sales) are:
- Lack of clarity about who they are as a supervisor, what they offer and whom they want to work with.
Clarity around themselves as supervisors is needed and can be gained by answering questions like: “Who am I as a supervisor?”, “What is my supervision approach and style?” “What experience do I bring, and I draw upon?” What changes do I help create?”. So, their “what” is not clear, making it hard to market themselves and their services.
When the lack of clarity is about whom supervisors want and don’t want to work with, the questions can help: “Who is the best fit for my supervision style?”, “Who are the clients that share my values?”, “Do I want to niche down? Do I work with any coach, new coaches, experienced coaches, coaches seeking accreditation, coaches who have transitioned from another profession like psychotherapy, counselling, etc.?”
Gaining clarity is a combination of learning, reflection, and practice, and often, especially at the beginning, it is about allowing the necessary time for these answers to come.
- Lack of confidence in our supervision skills can stop or delay reaching out to potential supervisees. A doubt that came up for a supervisor was, “Will I be able to deliver a high quality service?”
- Some supervisors, especially those with a robust understanding of who they are and what they offer, are struggling because they are missing the how: how to market their services: how to reach potential clients, present their services in a way that attracts clients, how to choose a niche.
I shared my ‘successful’ post with my colleagues, and soon after, a few more took action and got supervisees. The acting was triggered by a combination of now having an example of how to market and peer pressure.
- Irrespective of the format or channel, sharing what you do is essential, especially in a new business. A marketing expert once told me: “Andrea, think of yourself as an ice cream van; if you don’t play the music, nobody will know you’re there, and you won’t sell any ice cream”. So, I would like to encourage supervisors to play their music confidently.
- The supervisors’ mindsets and beliefs about what marketing is and isn’t can strongly influence their actions. For example, supervisors who have referrals-based coaching or therapy businesses and don’t have to promote themselves view marketing as an uncomfortable place. I want to challenge their view by asking, “Referrals are a marketing tool/ strategy; why not use it in promoting supervision?” We can always leverage strategies that already work for us.
Some supervisors view marketing as solely focused on social media, and many expressed their dislike or even repulsion towards social channels. There are many other marketing channels and strategies that can be used.
Past experiences – negative or positive – have an influence as well.
The shift of mindset from seeing marketing as something negative that we don’t like or know to have the courage to turn marketing into authentic conversations is a significant step.
Supervision is such a wonderful experience, and the more I study it, the more I practise and receive it, the more I think it’s a necessity rather than a ‘nice to have’.
I believe that we would do the coaching profession and coaches a disservice if we didn’t promote it. In a helping profession like ours, the focus is on the client, and that’s where it should be in our marketing as well. We must let coaches know that we are here to support them in their professional development and wellbeing.
I have attended several events recently where coaching supervision was discussed, and at every one of these events, coaches asked, “Where can I find a supervisor?”. This is excellent news for our profession because it means that there is demand. But it also means that we didn’t put our ice-cream van song on (yet), or it wasn’t loud enough or maybe not in the right place.
Marketing represents us as a person and as a supervisor. We can make it authentic and fun by just being ourselves. This is the best marketing strategy.
I recently had a conversation with a very experienced coach, who is also a supervisor, with a successful coaching business that really struck me. He said that after 20 years of coaching he now started to align his business with his values and only accept clients that share his values.
I want to encourage supervisors to build a value-based and authentic business from the start. How? By being aware of their values, being themselves and following their intuition rather than what the industry ‘experts’ say, when promoting their services.
We can fall in love with marketing our supervision services. We just need to give ourselves permission to be who we want to be as supervisors and create our authentic way of letting the world know that we are here to serve and make the world a better place.
“Marketing is about spreading the love” Jonah Berger