One of the questions that people in the coaching profession seem to dread is when someone comes up to them out of the blue and asks them what they do for a living.
In order to better handle that inevitable conversation, coaches (and indeed most small business owners) are encouraged to develop an “elevator speech” – a 30 second pitch for business that can be completed in the time it would take for an elevator to go from the ground floor to the top of the building.
When people come to me for assistance in crafting their elevator speech, I usually share the metaphor of the multi-handled coffee mug that I first learned from my friend Al Secunda…
Imagine that you make a spectacular cup of coffee – coffee so delicious it changes people’s lives for the better. The coffee is your product or service.
You need to put it in something (and being environmentally conscious paper or cardboard just aren’t going to cut it), so you find or create a mug that allows for maximum ease of drinkability. The mug is the delivery mechanism for your product or service.
And in order to make it easier for people to pick up the mug, you put a number of different handles on it – each one designed to be a natural fit for the desired coffee drinker. The handles are your marketing messages, elevator speeches, and brand positioning.
So if we’re talking about coaching, the coffee is your ability to make a real and positive difference in the lives of your clients. This is the most important thing you could be spending your time and money on developing, because if you can’t yet make a great cup of coffee, it doesn’t really matter what kind of a mug you serve it in.
The mug represents your coaching packages – do people hire you for one-off sessions or a month or year at a time? Do they pay weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annually? Up front or pay as you go? Face to face or over the phone?
There is no “right” way to create your mug – you are simply looking for a sufficient and satisfactory way to deliver quality coffee (coaching) to your customers that is at least as workable for you as it is for them.
The handles are your elevator speeches (which work best when they’re not speeches at all) – the explanations and examples and analogies you have for coaching that will make it most likely that people will pick up the mug and try the coffee for themselves.
One of the handles is how you think about what you do, but the rest can be hand crafted to suit the grasp of each potential client (or group of clients). What would be easy to pick up for an entrepreneur or businesswoman might be difficult for a house husband; what would be simple for an Olympic athlete to grab onto might be completely different to the kind of a handle that would fit the well-mittened hand of an Eskimo.
Of course, you could just forgo the handle altogether and begin to coach people the moment you meet them in hopes that they will be so wowed by your prowess that they hire you on the spot. But as you can imagine, most people just gag when someone tries to force something down their throat – even if that something is the most delicious cup of coffee in the world.
Here are a few of the ways I find myself talking about what I do as a coach – the coffee cup handles on my own personal coaching mug:
1. I help make people’s dreams come true
Most people I work with have a dream for their life or their business – and while sometimes those dreams change when we begin to work on them, much of the time the things people have always dreamed about just begin to show up in their lives.
2. I’m in the wonderful life business
Whether they come with goals for their business or their marriage, their physical health or their spiritual well-being, what everyone I have ever worked with wants is a more wonderful life. For most people, that will involve developing a more positive relationship with money, other people, their work, their body, and themselves. What’s nice about being in the wonderful life business is that it only really works if I become “a product of the product” and have a wonderful life myself!
3. I’m a cocoon salesman
Because my specialty is transformation, I sometimes liken the coaching relationship to a cocoon. What comes out of the cocoon may still look like what went in, but it also may be unrecognizable.
Of course, the problem with being a cocoon salesman is you can’t necessarily tell someone what to expect at the end of your time together. A Monarch butterfly will never come from a woolly bear caterpillar, not matter how hard you try. But what we can know from the very beginning is that whatever emerges will be beautiful, will be an authentic expression of what was inside you all along, and best of all, it will be able to fly!
1. Use the multi-handled coffee mug metaphor to better understand how to talk about your own product or service:
- What is the coffee? That is, what is the essence of what you do for others?
- What is the mug? In other words, what is the delivery mechanism through which people get to experience your product or service?
- What are some of the different ways for people to get a handle on your product or service? How do you understand it for yourself? How would you explain it to a potential investor? How would you explain it to a six year old child? How would you explain it to an Eskimo?
2. Practice! Speak your new coffee cup handles into the world and notice who is able to pick them up most easily. Don’t worry about getting it “right” in some sort of a generic sense – allow the point of the experiment to be able to generate multiple handles at will, not to only find the one or two you will use most often.
Have fun, learn heaps, and if none of your handles seem to be working, go back and check the coffee!