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.
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