By Jennie Nash
Jennie Nash is the founder and CEO of Author Accelerator, a company on a mission to raise the bar on book coaching.
Learn more about becoming a coach at bookcoaches.com/theprofessorisin and join Jennie and me for an informational webinar on October 6 at 6pm Pacific (9pm Eastern.) Sign up HERE. The event will be recorded so sign up even if you can’t make the date and time.
Teachers, like parents, aren’t supposed to have favorites.
But how can you ignore a student who is eager to learn, eager to listen, ready to work hard, and happy go the extra mile to improve themselves? Mentoring a student like that is one of the great joys of teaching. We want to have an impact, and when that impact is clear and visible, we feel a deep and abiding sense of satisfaction.
I’m a book coach, which means that I work with writers all the way through the entire process of writing a book. I offer editorial feedback, emotional support, and project management to my clients so that they can write a book that closely matches their vision. It’s teaching a specific skill (writing a book), but it’s also guiding a career, cheering on the individual, and helping them achieve a specific market-based outcome (writing a book that strangers want to read.)
Any Writer I Could Get
At the beginning of my book coaching career, like most self-employed people, I took every client I could get. If someone was willing to pay me for my services, I would serve them. I was excited to be making my fledgling venture work.
Soon, however, I began to resent the clients who missed deadlines because their mother-in-law was coming to visit or their dog needed to go to the vet. I have nothing against dogs and mothers-in-law, but I do have a problem with people who don’t value my time or their commitments.
I also have trouble with people who rush through the work so fast that they are simply pushing it back on me; who make the same mistakes over and over and over again because they are just trying to get the book done and not get it done well; who don’t seem to really want to do the thing they have signed up to do.
I began to pay attention to the connection between the clients I most enjoyed working with and inco,e. One year, I made a grid, and ranked my clients according to who I liked the best. It felt like heresy to admit that there was, in fact, a ranking – but as soon as I admitted it and put it on paper, it was an enormous relief – and a giant surprise.
I was making far more money from the clients I liked than those I didn’t. Close to 80% of my income was coming from the clients I liked, and all the angst I was experiencing was coming from the other 20 % of my clients.
It was that old 80-20 rule we know about from business and finance – the idea that 80% of the outcome is the result of 20% of the input.
Prioritizing to Those I Like Best
I decided to start saying no to the clients I thought would fall into the 20%.
I wrote manifesto about who I would not serve. I then designed an intake process that helped me identify red flag clients – the kind who asked a hundred questions before we even start working together; who indicated they want some sort of ironclad guarantee – of time, of money, of impact; who are more interested in what they were going to get than in what they are going to learn.
I made some changes to my offerings and to my website so that it would scare away the people who were not the kinds of people I wanted to serve and attract those who were:
- I increased my fees. A lot. I wanted to work with people who were ready to invest in themselves and charging more meant I would attract people who were serious about the work.
- I wrote a statement about there being no guarantees. Publishing is a fickle business, where luck and timing play a big role. I wanted to work with people who understood this truth.
- I talked about my coaching philosophy – how I am very tough about the writing and very compassionate about the writer. This would deter anyone who wanted a coach to go easy on their pages because they had already spent three years on them. You can’t get to excellent if you go easy.
- I developed a policy around cancellations and said they would only be tolerated in a true emergency. I wanted to work with people who honored my time and talent – and theirs.
In The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo speaks of only keeping the objects in your life that bring you joy. I applied this process to my book coaching business so that I would only keep the clients who brought me joy.
Trusting Myself and Trusting the Process
Once I made these changes, it became surprisingly easy to recognize my ideal clients and to recognize those who were going to be a problem. The trick then was to turn the problematic clients down. These were people willing to pay me good money, and I had to learn to trust that other people who wanted to pay me good money and who were also a good fit for me were just around the corner.
Like everything difficult, this probably sounds really easy. It was not so easy in practice. I would slip up all the time and find myself working with someone who did not bring me joy – and who had shown me the red flags early in the process.
The challenge became acting on my instincts. I know when someone is right and when they are wrong. I do not doubt my discernment. What I doubt is my right to say no. This is what that sounds like inside my mind:
- What if I turn this money away and the economy collapses in three months and this is the last client I will ever get?
- It’s a PANDEMIC for crying out loud. Take everything you can get!
- What if I literally never get an ideal client again?
- Who are you to get to be so picky?
These questions are all about what I have learned is called an “upper limit problem.” Gay Hendricks speaks about this in his book, The Big Leap. An upper limit problem is a situation where you have placed an arbitrary limit on what you can achieve. It’s self-limiting. It’s putting up mental roadblocks to your own success.
I started to recognize how I was getting in my own way. I started saying no and also believing that my ideal clients will show up.
Busting Through the Upper Limit
Saying yes to the writers whom I can best serve and saying no to those I can’t has turned out to be an excellent business strategy. Since implementing these checks and balances on my book coaching business, I have doubled my income.
It has been so successful, that I now teach this strategy to the students in my Business of Book Coaching masterclass. I insist that they define who they most want to serve and why, and that they write a manifesto for who they will not serve. I insist that they think about how much they want to be earning – not how much they think they can get away with earning, but how much they would earn in a perfect world. We work backwards from the fantasy to the steps they need to take to get there – including trusting their decisions and their instincts.
A business in which people you love to serve pay you money you feel good about earning? It sounds a bit like Field of Dreams – “if you build it, they will come,” and I suppose it is. But whether you are running a tutoring business or a college application essay coaching business or a book coaching business, it’s also a proven solid business strategy.