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My Journey as a Pro Bono Coach for The Coaching Academy

Most of us, the people who have gone on a learning journey in order to be able to provide a service that improves people’s lives, are faced with the prospect of doing pro bono work at some stage in the early stages of our practice. Whether you are an aspiring therapist, counsellor, mentor or coach, chances are that at some point you will have had the opportunity (usually a requirement) to hone your skills by practising on a number of clients for free.

Besides the usual number of pro bono practice clients I was required to find in order to qualify for my Personal Performance Coaching diploma (The Coaching Academy strongly discourages , for deontological reasons, asking for payment before you qualify for your diploma) I was privileged to also be offered the opportunity to provide 26 hours of pro bono coaching to a range of clients otherwise unable to afford coaching services. This is not a requirement of the course, but an opportunity given by invitation only, to some of the students who already have some experience or contacts in the charity sector, or aspire to work with some of the less privileged people of our society.

Other than the satisfaction I already know I gain from helping people to cope and recover from life’s difficulties, this pro bono work was a great opportunity for me to gain a significant number of hours of experience coaching people in order to build my confidence.  Even though I was already familiar with the GROW model and was coaching staff in-house for my work as senior manager of a charity, I didn’t have much systematic one-to-one coaching experience and I approached this as a prime chance to gain additional skills before setting myself up as a professional coach.

I have always approached doing good in a practical way, by trying to follow the Buddha’s  Noble Eightfold Path in the way I approach life. This includes choosing the right livelihood (I am quite confident that working for a charity that helps people in need and coaching people fall within that category) as well as adopting the right view, which for me relates to being aware of and improving on the impact my actions have on the people around me. Doing pro bono work for The Coaching Academy helped me practice the second, while preparing for the first.

The obvious starting point for me was the charity I work for. However it soon transpired that I was facing the same difficulties I faced years ago when I conducted research using some of our service users. There were obvious data protection issues, in the sense that I couldn’t use data meant for another purpose (offering emotional support, information and practical help) for coaching clients, and recruiting people for my purpose would prove to be laborious and counter productive. I then turned my attention to other local charities and put forth a number of coaching offers to coach overworked (and dare I say, underpaid) staff facing the stress of working with clients in distress on a daily basis.

This appeal was heard, and my first client was a charity service delivery worker who faced symptoms of burnout. My work with her helped her develop her reflective skills and gain insight into the causes of the burnout she was experiencing. At the end of the coaching sessions, she was able to take drastic decisions in her life which led to its immediate improvement and change of work and life environment, leaving the main causes of stress and unhappiness behind her.

While the first client satisfied my need to help people who are doing good, I also started to look into another area of personal interest: working with artists and creative people, people who are consumed by the need to create, sometimes at the expense of their own financial security and life balance. I soon realised that my own circle of artists (I am also a musician) was too close involved to be coached. Therefore, my next step was to advertise through a recording studio owned by a contact of mine.

That’s how I received a phone call enquiry from my second client: a musician struggling to find time for creative work due to her difficulty to free up time as she needed to run her own micro business in order to survive financially. Our work together (which still continues to this day, beyond the pro bono requirements) helped her focus on freeing up the time she required, by working on her business and getting to the stage where she was able to delegate some of the work to a staff she recruited for this purpose. Currently she continues working on developing her artistic identity (or amplifying her inner voice, as I like to describe this process).

As word got out that I was receptive to clients needing pro bono work, my ever expanding network brought me a third client through a mentor/therapist I am doing reciprocal work with. This client was a charismatic filmmaker struggling to find creative space due to financial pressures (can you spot the theme?). He was consuming too much of his time doing good (including making charity documentaries that were financially or artistically not rewarding) and had somewhat neglected his financial security and overarching creative aspirations. Our work centred on helping him to double the revenue in his film teaching business. He is now at the point where he doesn’t need my coaching any more as he has developed the confidence to concentrate on his creative work without worrying about the finances.

Without a doubt I learned a plethora of skills through my 26 hours pro bono coaching. I earned valuable coaching experience with a number of people presenting a wide range of topics and challenges. It helped me to define my niche (working with ethical businesses and creative people). I didsome good with people who wouldn’t otherwise have been able to afford the services of a professional coach. Furthermore, I learned to search for clients more effectively by using my own network, work contacts, friends, referrals from other clients etc. I learned to ‘sell’ my services more effectively by preparing a range of coaching program offers and discussing with a wide range of people the benefits of coaching. As a side effect of my pro bono work, I got a paying client as well; one of my clients continues to work with me after finishing our pro bono sessions as she is now able to afford payment through the work we did!

In summary, working as a pro bono coach has helped me to gain confidence, expand my network of clients who are now spreading the word on my behalf and define my client base. It helped me discover what I love doing most, gave me the opportunity to become more professional and to acquire non-coaching skills that are essential for coaches who want to start their own business (such as marketing, promotion and being able to do an effective ‘elevator pitch’ on the services I offer). It has been a pleasure and an invaluable experience, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who wants to practice honing a range of skills, while doing good.

Kostas The Coach is a Personal Performance and Small Business Coach based in Slough, UK. I help creative people develop their individuality and businesses grow sustainably while remaining ethical.
Kostas The Coach site
Email: Kostasthecoach@gmail.com

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#Inspiringstories II: Interview with Creative Artist Daniel Neagoe

One of the challenges I face as a coach, is many people’s limiting beliefs that they are not creative. I often come across such beliefs when I ask my clients to think out of the box and come up with creative solutions to change what needs to be changed in order to start achieving the results they desire. For, as a wise man once said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results”.

Their response is quite often “I don’t know how to do this, as I am not a creative person”. This explicit belief is in part fed by a tradition and reporting in the media that creativity is a gift for the few, which is inaccessible to most of us. Hence we worship artists such as writers, painters, musicians and (especially) pop singers as some kind of demigods blessed with a rare ability to give shape to a vision which leads to our entertainment and moves our emotions. They are able to tune in to that most elusive of all frequencies, the one where Divine Inspiration resides, and return back to the world of mere mortals with gifts of creativity and inspiration (interestingly, some creative people actually encourage the belief in divine inspiration, but this is for reasons not relevant to this blog).

This point of view can be more easily challenged if we start seeing creativity under a different light; our skills to think differently in order to tackle the challenges of day-to-day life are often of a remarkably creative nature; they give an individual touch in such trivial things such as how we motivate our co-workers to do things for us they don’t really want to do, how we make a better than average cup of tea, how we avoid potholes on the road without damaging the car or swerving dangerously or -as Dan himself points out during the interview- how we negotiate traffic lights. The creative skills used by artists and musicians are not that different in that respect; as my vocal coach used to tell me, the difference between an ‘ok’ singer and an exceptional singer is merely in the details. The exceptional singer is able to add nuance, intonation and vary the tempo subtly in a way that the average singer hasn’t (yet) learned to do. And this is a skill that takes 90 percent perspiration and 10 percent inspiration, to reference the famous quote.

Regardless of whether you believe in divine inspiration or not, few people who know Daniel Neagoe will argue against the fact that he is one of these people who seems to have tuned in successfully to that place where inspiration turns into creation. As a composer, songwriter, musician and sound engineer, he has been involved in countless bands and projects over the years, creating his own music or helping others to create theirs. He has recently expanded his activities to include woodcarving (to create a special edition box set for one of his bands) and video recording and editing. His energy and drive seem unstoppable and as someone who has collaborated with him musically over the years, I thought these are good enough reasons to hold the conversation which follows below. Find out what drives a person with endless creative urges, how he manages this unstoppable force and how he incorporates his creative activities in a life which involves family duties and a day job!

Kostas The Coach is a Personal Performance and Small Business Coach based in Slough, UK. I help creative people develop their individuality and businesses grow sustainably while remaining ethical.
Kostas The Coach site
Email: Kostasthecoach@gmail.com

Interview with Ethical Business Owner Jaya Patel

As a life coach, a significant part of my work centres around helping people to fulfil their potential. Once in a while, we all meet a person in our lives who seems to live and breathe for their unique talent to inspire and bring other people together. Those people are not necessarily what the -rather materialistic- western worldview would consider to be ‘successful’. Their ‘success’ doesn’t necessarily translate into material wealth; this doesn’t mean that they can’t achieve wealth, and indeed they often do as a side effect of their strong work ethic based on the deeper values that lead them to positive action. However, their gains are first and foremost internal, and their influence upon others cannot be measured solely by quantitative figures. It is rather akin to a slow burning flame, which is passed on in an almost unnoticeable and inconspicuous manner to the people around them.   Their leadership is powerful and infectious, and yet they don’t shout, demand or intimidate.

I believe that Jaya is such a person, and in the 30 minute interview below I speak to her about her life and food philosophy, what motivates and drives her forward and how her customers react to her work. You will hear about her holistic views and how the ancient Ayurvedic philosophy influences her cooking methods. Her approach has a strong effect on her customers, whose loyalty and enthusiasm are visible to anyone who has ever set foot in T Caddy- Jaya’s Veggie Haven.

This is the first conversation is a series of interviews I plan with inspiring people who I feel can act as an example to others who also search to tune in to their inner drive and amplify that tiny little voice inside in order to roar like a lion.   I hope you find this conversation as inspiring as I did.

Kostas The Coach is a Personal Performance and Small Business Coach based in Slough, UK. I help creative people develop their individuality and businesses grow sustainably while remaining ethical.
Kostas The Coach site
Email: Kostasthecoach@gmail.com

You Are Doing It Wrong: Why I won’t ‘check out’ your band and what you need to do

As a recognisable individual within a number of subgenres in the world of amateur music, I often receive messages on social media from unknown bands and artists asking me to ‘check them out’. A typical message from such an artist is formulated like this:

Thanks for the add! I am a member of band x.  If you have some time check out our music here (insert link); If you liked our music, you can support us by purchasing one of our albums in CD or digital format.
Once again my apologies for disturbing you. Thank you for the support.

At first sight, it’s hard to fault this carefully crafted message. The author is aware of the fact that their message can be perceived as spam, and has taken the time and effort to ensure they don’t come across as intrusive and inappropriate. He/she clearly directs you to the link where you can listen to, and if you like, purchase their music. What could possibly be wrong with that?

Nothing, except of the fact that I can’t remember ever following any of these links, and ‘checking out’ the music. This is not at all reflecting on my perception of the music itself and its potential. For all I know, this could be the ‘next big thing’. It could be exactly what I have been looking for to quench my appetite for new and original music, after years of fruitlessly searching at the outposts of creative endeavour. And yet, I don’t even give it a chance, and I am pretty sure that hardly anyone does. Why?

Creative people usually shy away from business terms, but there are some similarities between bands/artists on the one side, and (small) businesses on the other. Both of them need to define themselves one way or another, and both need to connect to their potential clients or audience. A successful business often has an effective positioning statement at its heart. This answers, in a few sentences, what the business does for whom, how it does it and ideally (and in my view most importantly) why it does what it does. This is not different for artists who want to develop their own creative identity. Unless you have invented a new, completely unheard of musical genre (in which case congratulations, but also good luck with finding an audience for it), the questions you need to ask yourself are:

  1. What is different and unique about my artistic identity compared to other artists in the same genre?
  2. What is my ideal audience? 
  3. How do I want to come across to my ideal audience? what do I need to do in order to connect with them? 

As it becomes evident from the above, the artists asking me to ‘check them out’ are skipping a number of steps in the process:

  • Other than the name of the band and the genre they (say they) play, I have no idea about what makes them individual and unique (often called a USP, Unique Selling Point, in business)
  • They make the assumption that I will be interested to listen to, and potentially buy their music, without knowing much about me other than the fact I play (and hopefully listen to) music in the same genre they do. In short, they assume my commitment to their sound and musical identity because we share a number of characteristics.

Unfortunately, the three questions above cannot be ignored and sidelined. It takes time and effort to connect to an audience. The good news is, that if you are aware of the steps you need to take, you can be ahead of the competition in how you go about developing rapport with your ideal audience. The following tips might help:

-> Be natural: in a previous blog I wrote about the importance of finding your inner voice in order to amplify it for all to hear. Listen to your instincts and experiment. Use your senses. How do you like to sound? What is your visual identity? How do you behave and move about on stage? How do you want your physical output (cds, vinyl, t-shirts, other merch) to feel? If you don’t have any physical output or merch yet, visualise how you would like it to look. Imagine how it would feel to hold that CD or shirt in your hands and commit to making it happen.

-> Define your audience: it is very tempting to believe that everyone should listen to your music and could potentially like it. After all you are passionate about it and strongly believe in it, right? Why wouldn’t everyone else feel the same? However, as we have seen above, just because other people are passionate about music too, it doesn’t mean that they will be naturally tempted to ‘check out’ your band. Unless you are able to connect to them first, you will be just a drop in the vast ocean of music, giving them no incentive to find out more about you. So concentrate on those most likely to connect with your artistic identity (they might not be who you think they are!). Perform live in a number of various settings, and observe reactions to find out who are the people most likely to be interested in what you do, as well as what is the ideal setting in which your musical identity best comes to its own.

-> Get to know your audience: you may have an idea of who your potential fans are, but unless you show genuine interest in them, you won’t get them to be interested in you either. Talk to them before and after your gigs.  Frequent the places they go to, whether it’s online forums and social media, bars, live venues etc and engage in conversation with them. Who are they, and what do they look like? What are they interested in? What is it about today’s musical scene they like, and equally what do they feel is lacking, and what frustrates them? You may be able to fill the gap!

Once you get to know your audience and you show genuine interest in them, you have started to create rapport with them. It may take time, but remember that once people are committed to what you do, they are likely to follow your activities for a long time to come. Furthermore, the more they get involved in what you do, the more they will become a living advertisement for your work. Even in this day and age of social media and technological advancement, word of mouth still remains the most effective method to spread the word and get others interested in your artistic identity too. When a friend or someone you know well sends you a link asking you to ‘check out this band’, chances are you will actually follow through this time and listen to the music. Because you are already connected to them,  you are more likely to commit to sharing and enjoying the same interests, and there aren’t many things people will want to share more than music!

Kostas The Coach is a Personal Performance and Small Business Coach based in Slough, UK. I help creative people develop their individuality and businesses grow sustainably while remaining ethical.
Kostas The Coach site
Email: Kostasthecoach@gmail.com

Why Taking Control of your Life Matters

One of the main reasons people seek the help of a professional coach, is because they feel they need change in their lives or careers, or feel some dissatisfaction about their lives. Often, they might not know exactly what needs to change. They might not even feel a sense of dissatisfaction per se; they just have the feeling that things could be better or that somehow they lack complete fulfilment: something is holding them back from getting the most out of their lives.

A recent UK survey has found that the factors most strongly associated with personal well-being are health, employment status, relationship status and people’s sense of choice and contentment with their situation. With other words, having the sense of being able to make choices and take control of our lives, makes us happier and increases our sense of well-being.

It is clear from the above that wanting to change and take control of your life, is a good thing; getting to a place where we feel fulfilment, satisfaction and that things in our lives are perfectly balanced, is a cause more than worth striving for.  However, people often don’t know how to initiate that change process. Furthermore, whenever they get to the point where they start making changes in their lives, people often start feeling that the change they hoped for is beyond their control, and they start seeking excuses and finding obstacles. This self-sabotage is an unconscious process, often referred to as the inner Gremlin as stated in a previous blog* . This often means that they revert to their old habits, and they don’t experience the fulfilment and satisfaction they had hoped for.

It is worth noting here that this fear of change is not just a fear of failure, but often also a fear of success. Commitment to change is commitment to do things differently; this often means hard work and potentially learning from your mistakes over a period of time, until results become apparent. There is also a cultural element often at work. Here in the United Kingdom for instance, where British people value a certain element of formality and predictability in their day-to-day interactions, change can often  be seen as ‘hassle’, even when we can clearly see its long-term benefits!

A life coach helps to challenge your self-sabotage and focuses the mind on positive results rather than obstacles and excuses. Whitworth, Kimsey-House& Sandahl (1998), address this self-sabotage in their outstanding book ‘Co-Active Coaching’. In their own words about this self-sabotaging Gremlin: “It’s important that the coach and the client become skilled at noticing the Gremlin…one of the best strategies is to notice it, recognise it, name it. By bringing it out of the shadows, it begins to lose its power. It can’t stand up to too much scrutiny” (p.26).

Clients value the coach’s full commitment to their journey towards change. The life coach shows unconditional belief that the client will eventually get the results they want, moving to a place of more control, fulfilment and happiness. Working with a life coach is an excellent way to create a shortcut to this place of more control within your life.

Kostas The Coach is a Personal Performance and Small Business Coach based in Slough, UK. I help creative people develop their individuality and businesses grow sustainably while remaining ethical.
Kostas The Coach site
Email: Kostasthecoach@gmail.com

*the term ‘Gremlin’ was coined by Richard Carson in his book ‘Taming Your Gremlin’

 

Being an Ethical Company

Recently, I was involved in a long discussion with a gentleman who claimed that companies only exist to make a profit. His stance was that since any company’s single aim is to make as much profit as possible, they can’t therefore be ethical. In fact, they must be ethics free.

This gentleman was wrong.

Before we examine why, let us first define what is means to be ethical. According to the Oxford Advance Learner’s Dictionary, being ethical is to be connected with beliefs and principles about what is right and what is wrong. An implication of this definition, is that being ethical is a subjective choice.  This means that what is ethical for me, might not be the case for you or the other way round.

It’s true that companies don’t need to be ethical. Their main goal is, as the gentleman above pointed out, to make profit. However, this makes them far from ethics free. Any decisions about how to make this profit, are per definition ethical choices. Will you use ingredients that are sustainable and ethically sourced for your manufacturing process? Do your products pollute the environment, or contribute to climate change? Are they tested on animals, or otherwise impact on animal rights? Do your products or services directly or indirectly involve people whose worker’s and human rights are suppressed?

There are various dimensions in which a company can define its ethical stance, and people tend to give more or less emphasis on some of them depending on their values and beliefs. The magazine Ethical Consumer provides guidance that some people might find helpful. Based on its research, it lists four main categories in their ethical ratings: environment, animals, people and politics. In addition, they have a fifth positive ratings dimension which includes company ethos and product sustainability.

As the owner of a small company, it’s important that you not only establish your own identity, but also communicate it clearly and effectively to the outside world. It’s not enough to know that your values and beliefs reflect your ethical stance; you need to be perceived doing what you preach. Your mission statement and positioning should reflect that identity, as well as make clear what is important for you. You should use words that you would like people to associate with your business, and your statement should contain information about what makes you different than other companies out there which operate in the same field. Furthermore, it’s crucial that not only you, but also all staff associated with your business consistently bring across the same message. If you are doing all of the above right, chances are that your transparency and authenticity are seen by your customers as great virtues, leading them to rate your company highly and spread the word, increasing your client base.

Kostas The Coach is a Personal Performance and Small Business Coach based in Slough, UK. I help creative people develop their individuality and businesses grow sustainably while remaining ethical.
Kostas The Coach site
Email: Kostasthecoach@gmail.com

 

The Mouse that Roared*

“Be yourself no matter what they say”
Sting, Englishman in New York

As a creative individual or aspiring business person, chances are you will have received at some point The Advice. It usually takes the form of: “In order to be successful in your field, you need to do X or Y; if you haven’t been successful, it’s because you either haven’t read The Advice, or you haven’t followed it through correctly”. Every year there are literally hundreds of articles, books and blogs containing The Advice. It doesn’t restrict itself to one field; you can find it in the creative enterprises, in businesses and in all forms of human endeavour where there is room for growth, success and self-improvement.

But do you really need The Advice? Would you be unable to cope and be successful unless you follow a certain formula, usually given by self-proclaimed experts in their respective fields?   

You don’t. No matter what they tell you, not many of the experts who give advice know whether the advice they give is directly related to their success. Just because people are good at something, it doesn’t mean that they know what makes them successful.

In his excellent book The Inner Game of Tennis”Timothy Gallwey points out that any performance occupies aspects in two different parts of our minds, both underpinned by different neural circuitry; the conscious mind is preoccupied with the technical aspects of performance. As these aspects are easier to perceive and measure, most of The Advice is concentrating on such aspects. If you play in a band, chances are you will hear advice about how to network, how to talk to labels, how to create and sell your merch etc. As a business, you will hear things about making a SWOT analysis, identifying your ideal customers, conducting market research etc. Gallway points out that while the aspects related to the conscious mind are important, what truly enhances performance is the way their conscious mind interacts with the unconscious mind. He calls this the inner game, a game which takes place in the mind of the player, and is played against such obstacles as lapses in concentration, nervousness, self-doubt and self-condemnation.

The idea of the Inner Game is that the unconscious mind knows what needs to be done to achieve success and enhance performance, but it’s usually sabotaged by the conscious mind which likes to be in control. His solution is to be consciously unconscious: to create a state where the mind is so concentrated, so focused that it is still.

This state of being consciously unconscious requires you to amplify your inner voice in order for it to be heard above your conscious mind, and above that of The Advice that tells you what to do and how to do it, often against your inner instincts. That unconscious voice is faint and weak, as it is often suppressed by the constant humming of your conscious mind. You need to listen carefully to your inner mouse, and understand what it is telling you. You need to amplify that inner voice, in order to hear its roaring.

The conscious mind is your critical voice and as it has helped you navigate the perils of life, it feels entitled to be there at all times as a background commentary to everything you do. For that reason, it is often referred to as your Gremlin. The problem with the Gremlin is that, blinded by its success in negotiating your survival, it feels it needs to be constantly in control of the proceedings, even when it’s not appropriate to do so.

The Advice can only take you so far. Chances are that, unless you are an absolute beginner in your field, you would have read it and followed it through at some point. However, to be truly successful in what you want to achieve, you need to do more than enhance the technical aspects of your skill and follow through the ‘formula of success’. Because as you are doing so, hundreds of other competitors in your field will be doing exactly the same. To make the difference, you need to understand what makes you unique, different and what makes you tick. You need to conquer your fears, acknowledge and understand how the Gremlin is holding you back and create your own path to fulfilment, success and ultimately inner and outer wellbeing.               

Kostas The Coach is a Personal Performance and Small Business Coach based in Slough, UK. I help creative people develop their individuality and businesses grow sustainably while remaining ethical.
Kostas The Coach site
Email: Kostasthecoach@gmail.com

*The Mouse that Roared is an excellent Cold War satirical novel by Leonard Wibberley which has also been adapted to a film starring Peter Sellers. This blog is not related to either the film or the novel, but focuses on how to unleash your inner voice and make your inner mouse roar like a lion!