Imagine yourself: you – for many years, have been investing into and developing your own career path, as an independent, professional coach. You have years of experience behind your back, serving many different companies, many personal accomplishments, highest (and rarest) industry credentials, tens of thousands of community followers around the globe and lots of industry recognition, coming from the most recognized industry leaders. Now, you are at the point in your life, when you still have enough energy to continue doing what you have been doing. However, you come across, what seems to be, a great opportunity: you can join a great team, at a great company and work with some great people – as a full-time employee. What do you do? What do you need to consider, when deciding if such transition is a good idea for you?
Initial Reporting Alignment: At the time of on-boarding, you want to make sure that you are positioned, organizationally (reporting-wise), in a way that will provide full backing and support to you, your profession/role and line of work. It implies that your line management understands really well the essence of your role, as it is defined, according to the highest industry standards (could be different from an internal definition).
Reporting Alignment Over Time: Organizational structures tend to change: re-orgs, down-sizing, strategic realignments. Although it is impossible to predict what exact changes may take place, it is important to inquire about any known plans for such changes for a foreseeable future, at the time of on-boarding.
Becoming a Report-Into Person: One of the key conditions for being an effective coach is your ability to create a safety space around yourself: for your coachees, as well as junior colleagues that might be looking up to you, as a role model. If you become a manager of other people, they will perceive you differently and your coaching relationship with them will most likely change. It is strongly unadvisable for a coach, to take on a managerial role, at least, in the area, where coaching will take place.
Focus of work
General Expectations: To an extent possible, try to discuss upfront what an organization will be expecting from you, as a coach, once you join it full time. Will your role and responsibilities be consistent with your own understanding of what a coach should/should not do, as per well-defined industry standards? How much of an impact will “staff augmentation” factor have on you? Will there be any gap between what is expected of you as a coach (and related activities: consulting, training, mentoring) and other responsibilities you may have (a.k.a. conditions of employment)? Do you foresee any conflict of interest between multiple roles assigned to you?
Opportunity to Deliver Unique Value: How well is an organization aware of your unique coaching/coaching-related capabilities (e.g. trainer, mentor) that you bring to the table? Will it see value in quality and authenticity of learning and education that you bring? It is very likely that what you bring to the table is a significant extension to what an organization has today: if you don’t explicitly explain this, they will not know.
Exemptions and pre-clearance
As an independent professional coach, over many years, you have made a lot of investment in your personal growth. How much of this personal investment would you have to surrender, if you join a company, as a full-time employee?
Community Support: You spearhead local and global virtual communities, run public events, present at seminars and webinars, speak at conferences. For many years, this has been a huge part of your professional growth, as coach and the requirement to achieve and maintain your unique coaching credentials. Will your new employer demand that you stop your activities? Will it require a tedious approval process to continue each individual activity?
Blogging, Publishing, Audio/Video Recording: You love giving back to a community. Over many years, you have written many articles, published and co-published books, have recorded podcasts and educational videos. Will your new employer demand that you stop your activities? Will it require a tedious approval process to continue each individual activity?
Outside Business Activities: As a professional coach (also, trainer and mentor), you have unique capabilities to deliver coaching/mentoring/training content to general public – and it is in high demand. You have built your own curriculums and intellectual property (lots of it is under creative commons) and this enables you to deliver your unique content. Teaching online classes and running mentoring cohorts is a part of your annual income. Will your new employer demand that you stop your activities? Will it require a tedious approval process to continue each individual activity?
Important: It is important that you discuss the above with your potential employer prior to on-boarding. It is also critical that you make it very explicit that none of the above activities will be at expense of your paid work (focus, quality) that you will be expected to do for your employer. You must also make it very explicit that you will not be using any of your employer’s intellectual property or proprietary information, while engaging in outside activities. Inquire, if you can receive in writing a one-time blanket exemption that will allow you to continue performing the above activities.
Compensation & Benefits
Base compensation: At the time of onboarding, explicitly discuss your base compensation that takes into account not only your current income that you generate as an independent coach but also the fact that your internal growth, and therefore, base compensation increase, might be different from that of a traditional employee. Today, many traditional organizations still set employee compensation, based on how many people report into a person. As a coach, most likely you will have no people reporting into you, as his is inconsistent with how a coach should be positioned organizationally and relate to other people (see above).
Subjective compensation: Today, many companies still have subjective monetary incentives/bonuses, as a part of overall compensation structure. “How much of an overall compensation is represented by a bonus?” – it varies from industry to industry. Many companies still pay bonuses, based on individual performance of an employee. (Side note, as a coach, you may have to deal/challenge some of these existing organizational norms, as a part of your job.) On a personal front, since you are a coach, all/most of your deliverables will be soft and not easy to measure (standard metrics don’t apply). Therefore, you want to make sure that you are comfortable with your base compensation, so that if there are any omissions/shortcomings with your year-end bonus, the financial impact to you is minimal. Ideally, you want to be less reliant on a subjective bonus, as a part of your overall compensation (“have the question of discretionary moneys removed from the table”, as per Daniel Pink)
Stock options: You should inquire about common and/or restricted stock options. Make sure you also find out about how equities are vested. Some companies, may offer a stock, as a part of your retirement (see below) or bonus (see above) but under conditions that you remain employed with an organization for a certain number of years.
Pension & Retirement: This is usually standard for all employees: 401(K), annuities, other. Make sure you inquire about matching policies.
Health benefits: This is usually standard for all employees: medical, dental, other special coverage. Make sure you inquire about who is a medical carrier(s), availability of family coverage, cost of premiums, deductibles.
Imagine yourself: You have been an employee with the same, or a few, reputable companies, for a number of years, as an internal coach. You have learned a lot about internal organizational dynamics, structure, culture. You have reached a certain point in your career, where you feel that you would like to become an independent coach and explore other opportunities. What do you do? What do you need to consider, when deciding if such transition is a good idea for you?
Financial Cushioning: As you enter the world of independency, the first thing you must think about is how you will generate income. Your income flow may not always be steady, there could be gaps between your engagements. In consulting work, it is to be expected. However, before disengaging from your employer you should either line up a few clients (at, least, short-term) or have enough financial cushioning (savings) to get you through the initial phase of being independent.
Your Personal Capabilities: As you become an independent coach, be also prepared to become your own boss, and a ‘jack of all trades’. Your responsibilities may now include: extensive networking and business development, community service (public speaking, presenting, newsletter, etc.), becoming incorporated, purchasing general liability/other insurance coverage and other logistics.
Pipeline of Clients: As you enter the world of independency, you will have to learn how to balance between delivering quality work to your clients and developing your own ‘book of business’, for future engagements. This may require a very effective time and WIP management. Consider going back to your past employer(s) and ask for referrals or ‘follow’ other exiting employees to their new places of work – and offer your services there.
Network and Public Visibility: As an independent coach, you will have to significantly step up your networking efforts (LinkedIn, Meetup, personal web site, presentations, podcasts, webinars) and increase your public visibility.
Uniqueness of Your Current Value: Today, the coaching market is significantly diluted. Over the last few years, many people with “used-to-be” roles have renamed themselves into coaches. The current market supply of coaches is artificially inflated with professionals of low quality. Unfortunately, majority of organizations are still not good at seeing a distinction between a great coach and a coach-pretender. How do you envision positioning yourself, so that you stand out and draw clients’ attention to yourself?
Pursuit of Unique Credentials: Just like the industry is flooded with coaches-pretenders, it is flooded with various certifications. Be careful about certifications: not all of them come from authentic and reputable organizations; some of them are not even legit. However, there are some unique, guide-level (elevated) credentials from more reputable organizations- industry leaders that can really add a notch on your professional belt. Consider pursuing those for your coaching and training credentials.
Opportunities for Partnership: You may wish to consider looking for people like yourself, independent, energetic individuals that have professional assets that complimentary to yours (personal certifications, training/coaching/certification capabilities, sales/marketing/networking skills). Consider forming a team. You don’t necessarily nave to be legally bound for such partnership. Alternatively, you may consider sub-contracting through another larger and more established consulting organization (please, be careful with your choice, as not every big consultancy has a great reputation), while developing your own book of business and clientele.
Overall Business Plan: You may wish to create a dynamic business plan, with short- and long-term goals for your business and professional development. Please note, that these two are not the same: you don’t want to excel in one dimension at expense of another dimension. Another words, you want to stay balanced. Otherwise, you may end up being temporarily in high demand (e.g. due to great sales and marketing techniques) but underqualified or being in low demand (underutilized) but over-qualified.
Please, weight all pros and cons in all of the above dimensions, for both types of transitions and extend your research further, if required, before you make a decision.