#58: How To Be a Powerful Virtual Coach

Are you working with clients in person? Or do you have more of a virtual arrangement where you coach clients long-distance? In this episode we’ll talk all about HOW to coach virtually, how to bridge that gap, and still create powerful transformations. (Perhaps MORE powerful than if you were coaching in person!)

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Hello there health coaches! Are you working with clients in person or do you have more of a virtual arrangement where you’re coaching clients all over the place? Long Distance. I’m in the latter category myself. I have clients from literally all over the world and subsequently I get a lot of questions about how to actually do this. Now in episode number 52 I told you all about my setup, so what are the tools that I use in order to make a virtual practice work? So if you’re interested and that sort of thing, just go back to episode 52 and I will hook you up. But today is all about how to coach virtually like the skill of coaching someone when you’re not in the same room and how to bridge that gap of sometimes many, many miles and still create very powerful transformations for your clients.

I would actually argue that the transformations can be more powerful. I really, really love coaching virtually not just because it’s easier, not just because I can wear my yoga pants all day long, but I really do think that there’s opportunities to create even bigger change than if I were in the same room as my clients. I know it’s kind of a crazy big claim. See what you think as we move along.

Now, for those of you that don’t know me, by the way, my name is Michelle Pfennighaus. I’ve been a health coach with my own private practice for 10 years now. I act as a mentor for my fellow health coaches and if you’ve been a student at the Institute for Integrated Nutrition, then you may have even seen me in the curriculum there where I teach you about marketing.

Now real quick, before we get into today’s topic, you might know by now that I often host free events for health coaches. Things that I believe will help you grow in your practice, grow as a business person, and we had such an event coming up on Thursday, May 2nd. In fact, if you’re listening to this leader via podcast, you can always see what event we have coming up. If you go to healthcoachpower.com/events and you’ll see the newest and the latest event that’s open for registration, always free and this one coming up. I’m going to be joined by Abigail from That Clean Life unless her baby comes early. But we will definitely be joined by somebody from That Clean Life. Probably Abigail. Very, very pregnant Abigail. She and I are going to show you how to turn recipes and meal plans into client attraction tools. We’ve had her in the group a few times. We’ve done this type of event before. Always a different topic though and it’s always very, very popular event.

So please, if you want to grow your mailing list, attract new clients and make good use of delicious food as a way to draw people into your world. I mean, hello, people love food. I love food. Let’s talk food. Sign up to join us at healthcoachpower.com/event.

Okay, so today’s topic came from Janelle. I have never seen Janelle’s name pop up in the group before or maybe I have, but this is the first time I really saw Janelle saw her question and I was like, wow, this is something that we have to address. So, thank you Janelle. She said for those of you who have online health coaching practices, how do you handle pantry makeovers long distance? I’ve been trying to figure this out and I’ve yet to come up with a good solution and now my client has reached a place where she’s ready to listen, but I’m not sure how to do this.

Alright, so Janelle, I know you got some good feedback inside the group, like Oh, you could do it over facetime or you could use this technology or that technology. I just wanted to share how I handle these things in my practice. So even though a pantry maker is like one of those things that health coaches often do, I don’t offer a pantry makeover and it’s not just because I’m working virtually. I actually don’t like doing pantry makeovers. I had done them in the past and I end up feeling like, I don’t know, the cleaning lady or something. I’m going into somebody’s house and telling them everything that’s wrong with what they’ve purchased. It can be a little bit invasive. Now I’m not trying to sway you guys from doing it, but I just want to show the other side. I don’t think most people talk about the other side of the pantry make over.

Sometimes I feel like when you’re working in person with your clients, it’s easy to start doing things for them. Right? I hear, I’ll hear about coach saying like, I’m going to go to my client’s house and help her with her meal prep, or we’re good. I’m going to cook dinner with this person, or I’m going to teach them this and we’re going to show them that and then to take them to the grocery store, I’m going to whatever. And it ends up being an awful lot of hands on work that you’re doing for. And I do think there’s a great opportunity, especially when you’re working virtual to kind of back up and teach a man to fish instead of doing for them. So what often happens with my clients is they will say something like, Oh, I’ve been eating really clean, Michelle, you’d be so proud of me.

You know, I’m not eating the ice cream or the chips. I hadn’t had any of that in two weeks. Um Oh and I found this really great protein shake. Yeah, I’m really liking this protein shake in the morning. And I’ll say, oh that’s fabulous. Hey, why don’t you go grab it out of your closet right now? And they’ll say, oh okay. Cause we’re all excited about it. And they’ll go downstairs or wherever they are, they’ll go in the kitchen, they’ll find this product in their pantry and I’ll say, great, turn it over and look for the ingredient list. Tell me what it says. And so sometimes they’ll start with um, well it says there’s zero grams of fat and one gram of sugar. And I’m like, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, not that. Go down to where it’s very, very teeny tiny and it says ingredients and read me that list.

All right. So I’m kind of coaching them through this process of actually figuring out what’s in their food and then they’ll start reading it and there’ll be like, you know, whatever, soy protein, blah, blah, blah, a cane sugar, and they’ll stop, oh, I’m supposed to be not eating added sugar. And they’ll think to themselves and they’ll go, oh, I didn’t know there was sugar in this and we’ll talk about it, you know? Or it could be something else. Sometimes they read the ingredients and they have no idea what those ingredients are. And they’ll say, hey, do you know what soy isla protein is, and I’ll say, no. I say, okay, I want you to Google it. I want you to do some research on that. And next time we talk, tell me if that’s something that you want to include in your diet.

Because oftentimes that’s what the pantry makeover is all about. We’re going in, we’re reading all the labels for them. In many cases, maybe we’re showing it to them, but we’re doing more of the heavy lifting and then sort of being the person who makes a like, no, this is the bad pile. This is the keep pile and the, I just don’t know if that’s the most effective way to do it. So anyway, I don’t offer a straight up pantry makeover, but that idea comes up all the time. I’m thinking of another client right now who’s like, oh Michelle, you’d be so proud of me. You know we had a, we had shrimp last night, but don’t worry, I didn’t have any tartar sauce. And I’m like, I don’t care if you did have tartar sauce, like, wait, what do you mean? She goes, I just had cocktail sauce.

I did really good. Same thing. Oh, okay. That’s cool. Hey, do you have some of that cocktail sauce and I’m just curious, what are the ingredients in that? I don’t even know how to make cocktail sauce. I’ve never made it myself. Can you read the ingredient list? Starts reading the ingredient list. High Fructose Corn Syrup, some sort of red food dye. It’s all in there. She had no idea cause she never stopped to read it before. So you can teach these same lessons without actually physically cleaning out somebody pantry. Sometimes you know where they have something embarrassing heading in the back or it’s a mess or it’s just going to be uncomfortable because their husband is mad that you’re throwing out all of his Doritos. So same idea, but you can absolutely work that same sort of exercise into a virtual coaching relationship. I thought of a few other examples that kind of fall in this category of things that are sort of meant, I guess traditionally to be done in person.

But you can have a lot of the same type of conversation even when you are just on the phone with somebody even without video. Right. So another thing that a lot of health coaches will do is a farmer’s market tour or a grocery store tour. Again, to me, I don’t know, what do you guys think? To me it kind of feels a little bit top down. Like, hi, I’m the expert. I’m going to teach you some things now follow me. It doesn’t have to be that way, but I love the opposite. I love putting the ball into my client’s hands and say, here, look this up here, try this here, go to the farmer’s market and take pictures of everything that you don’t know what it is and let’s talk about it next week. You know, to put more of the ownership into their hands. It’s kind of in the same way when it comes to client notes, like after the session, you’ve probably heard me say this before, but I do not write long extensive notes.

Sometimes I don’t write notes at all. Just very, very quick. I feel that if someone is paying the kind of money that people pay to work with me, they will have a pen, they will have the paper and they’ll be writing it down. That’s on them. You know, I’m not here to hold their hand and create like a codependent relationship. I’m here to help elevate them inside of their own lives. So a grocery store tour or farmer’s market tour will sometimes look like this. I can think of one of my clients, Elaine, she said, oh, I’m, I really love the farmer’s market. You know, we love going there, Yada Yada. And I said, great, what do you buy when you’re there? And she told me some of the things that she buys, but she said, you know, honestly, there’s so many things there, I don’t even know what it is.

And so I said, oh, that’s, that’s awesome. You should try one of those things that you’ve never tried before. And she said, yeah, like chicory, I have no idea what chicory is. Um, but, but I see it there every week. I said, great, why don’t you try it this week? And in the meantime I’ll send you a couple of ideas of what you can do with chicory. So that’s what she did. She what? She found it, she bought it and I sent her a couple of recipes, you know, like a salad dressing or something that would taste well with chicory and then it was on her to sort of make the move. I’ve also done something where I’ll send a picture to a client. Like I’ll say, have you ever had s girl, I don’t know why this would come up, but something, you know, something like this will come up.

Have you ever had a, you know, radicchio or some or something that’s something ridiculous that they’ve never heard of and I’ll say, okay, I’ll send you a picture, go to the store, take the picture, compare it to the shelf and see if you can find it. Right. So that’s kind of a similar lesson or a similar way to coach someone without actually standing next to them for an hour in the farmer’s market or in the grocery store in real time. I mean so just think about like other ways of achieving the same end.

Another example, a circle of life. Any of you who are institute for Integrative nutrition graduates and maybe even some of you who are not, you may have heard of this exercise called the circle of life and it’s best done on paper I think, right? Cause you’re taking your pen and your draw and little dots and you’re connecting the dots.

It’s very visual. The idea is to see how satisfied you are and all of these different areas of your life, relationships, spirituality, your home, cooking your home. But when you’re on the phone with somebody or you know, if they don’t have a printout in front of them for whatever reason, you can’t really do the exercise right. But you can, you can still get across the same idea. So sometimes I will actually send people the pdf but then you’d have to, you know, Oh did you print it out or do you have it? It’s hard to do it together cause not looking at it at the same time. So here’s what I do. I just write down all the different categories inside the circle of life. Like I just mentioned, spirituality, your relationships, you know, home life, things like that. And then I just changed the exercise and I say, okay I scaled one to 10 how satisfied do you feel in each of these areas?

One is the least, 10 is perfect. And then we’ll go through them one by one and they’ll say six for ten one and will very obviously see which ones are scoring, high, which ones are scoring low. And it’s the same exact exercise. It just doesn’t require the physical piece of paper. Okay. So that’s another idea. It’s just changed the medium, the same exercise, the same type of lessons, different medium. You can do this.

Jill asked a question, um, about, this was yesterday when I said we were going to be discussing this topic and Jill said something about, she just had created a questionnaire or using Google forms. So, some of you might have paper forms that you’re handing your clients like an intake form or health history form, that kind of thing. And if you’re not going to be seeing them in person, then how do you do that?

So, Google forms is definitely one way to do that. I’ve used Google forms in the past. Absolutely. Another way to do it, which I am currently preferring, is to use the forms that are inside Practice Better. If you’re a Practice Better member, it’s not that expensive. And the forms, not only are they just beautifully laid out on the computer for your clients to fill out and it saves it for you forever and you can never lose it. And you can just, you know, send people to forms automatically when they book a session with you, you know, but you can make updates very easily. It just solves that problem top to bottom. So I never have to use Google forms anymore. I just use the practice better forms. But there’s other options in between. There’s something called JotForm. There’s tons of different online forums. Sometimes you have to pay to use them, especially if you don’t want the branding on it or whatever.

Um, but ultimately I think it’s worth it to pay for practice better and use their forms because they do so much more than forms. Obviously they’re doing, your payments are doing your scheduling and it’s not very much money. So anyway, online forums, our lifesaver and you can use those for lots of different things. Your intake form, your revisit form, your program agreements, I mean, anything that requires a signature, etc. So those are just some different ways that we might work with our clients and how you can do it just as well, if not better in person.

Janelle’s here. Janell says, I love your circle of life idea. Yeah, let you know. Sometimes these things are just born out of necessity. I’m like, ah, I really want to do this. I think you know, I used to send it to them and they wouldn’t print it out and then I’m like, how are we going to do this exercise?

I really need to talk to this person about their circle of life. So what do they say? Necessity is the mother of invention. Here’s one more thing about coaching by phone specifically. I’m not face to face. I think that, and this is me as like a, as a client, you know when I’ve gone to see different practitioners and also me as a coach, but I think that when you’re in person there’s benefits, there’s definite benefits. You can see someone’s face, you can see how their skin tone is their eyes and you’d get a real sense of some of these health just from looking at them. So you do give that up when you’re over the phone. However, sometimes in person, have you ever done this? You’re like, oh, I wonder if I’m fiddling with this pen too much or oh am I, am I looking at them?

Am I nodding too much? Am I blinking? And you know, you can become very self conscious about what you’re doing both in the client role and in the coach role. Oh my sitting weird where like, oh, you know, there’s a lot of things happening in the environment that can just be distracting, you know? And maybe for some people, not at all. And maybe for some people it’s overwhelming. It can be embarrassing to talk about your, I don’t know, the last time you went, number two, when you’re face to face with somebody, if you’re not comfortable talking about digestive issues, but on the phone I get the sense people relax, I relax, I don’t have to worry, is there kale stuck between my teeth from lunch, uh, whatever, you know, and they’re not worrying about any of that either. And sometimes I feel like my clients actually dropped into a place where they’re speaking a lot more intuitively.

They’re not worried about all this stuff. You know? Sometimes I encourage them sit somewhere comfortable, close your eyes and often I feel like I can go much deeper with somebody by phone even though I know that is totally counter intuitive. Try it. See what topic we have some other questions today. If you’re here with me live and I know many of you are, go ahead and tell me what you want to talk about in the comments. I’ll be looking for those. But I have one here from Jill. Excuse me. I’m going to take a sip of water.

Okay. Jill says, I am a cancer survivor and remember feeling alone after my cancer treatments were done, everyone around me went on with their lives and I was stuck in this limbo on my own. I’m wondering if this should be my niche instead? Instead of what she was going to do before. Does anyone else specifically work with cancer survivors?

All right, Jill. So, I don’t question that you could work with cancer survivors and any of my students inside Healthy Profit University know that there are some questions I always ask about a target market first. Is it specific? So when you’re talking about cancer survivors, that’s quite a spectrum. There’s children, there’s folks that are elderly, there’s everyone in between. There’s Moms, there’s people who’ve had a lesser bouts of cancer and people who have had very, very severe and very, very life threatening cancers. So I would encourage you to think more specifically about what type of cancer survivor you want to work with within the big umbrella of all cancer survivors.

Okay, so is it specific? The next question is, are they ready, willing, and able? Maybe very possibly. Right? They’re probably quite motivated because they’ve had this big health scare, so it’s very possible that they would be more ready. We’ll it ready and willing than the next person. Are they able this, I don’t know this. You would have to either talk to some people, draw from your own experience. Have they just spent their life savings on the cancer treatments or do they have disposable income and are they ready, willing and able to hire a health coach? I think the answer’s probably yes, especially if you pick the right population of cancer survivors. But just double check with that. And then the question is, are they accessible to you? That seems like a silly question, right? But like let’s say I want it to work with a Spanish speaking individuals who had some certain health problem, but I don’t speak Spanish.

Right? They’re not accessible to me. Are cancer survivors accessible to you? I’m guessing they certainly could be if you know where to find them. And so that’s kind of my question. Where would you find them or you already part of some different support groups. Are you involved with a doctor’s office or some practitioners clinic where you’re going to be able to reach these cancers survivors? Because if you just put a, you know, Sandwich Board on your body and walked out into the middle of the street looking cancer survivors, you know, how would you find them? That’s difficult. So are they accessible to you? Again, I think the answer would probably be yes, maybe with a little work. And then here’s the part that you’re missing gel and everybody, your target market is as much about the who, who they are as the what, what problem do you help them solve?

So what is the big problem that you’re going to help these cancer survivors solve? They’ve already beat cancer. So I could imagine that you’re saying I’m going to help them prevent a Reoccurrence or maybe cause you’re talking about how everyone else goes around with it goes on with their lives and you were stuck in limbo. Maybe you’re going to help them, the problem of reacclimating to their post cancer life. You’d probably say it a lot better than that, but that I think is the part that you’re missing to proposing this as a niche. You need the WHO, but you also need to know what big problem you’re going to help them solve. I’ll let you suss that out on your own. But for everybody who sort of struggling with and tearing your head apart, trying to think what should my target market be think in terms of those, those two areas.

Okay, I have a question here from Tracy and Tracy is saying, Hi Michelle. I’m interested in working with a specific population, anxiety sufferers and while I’m planning to coach virtually or be a phone session, I’m also curious as to the feasibility of coaching via email. I recognize there are limitations but also believe that some clients may be more comfortable with coaching that is not live any thoughts are special concerns? I know I need to be very clear in my client agreement about what coaching is, but just curious if having sessions and writing is problematic in any way.

Well Tracy, I have done coaching via email. I did it when my first baby was born and I had had no childcare or any kind of support so I was never able to schedule anything cause I don’t know when the kid was going to be crying or sleeping or nursing or I’d be pushing a stroller.

So I started taking on clients as email. Only it wasn’t the best, but it worked. And I think you absolutely could do it. And particularly if you’re working with people who had anxiety, like let’s say they have social anxiety, they’re going to be doing what I was describing earlier. Oh God, I’m fiddling with this pen too much. Oh, I don’t know, my hair is my hair. Okay. You know, it might be better for them to relax, be able to edit their thoughts and commonly hit send in an email. I would play with it. I would definitely play with it. I don’t think there’s any big downsides except for the obvious. Not only are you not seeing them, but you’re not hearing the tone of voice that they’re using. You can’t read between the lines as well when you’re just, you know, reading. We all know when you write something, write in an email, it’s easy to misinterpret it.

So I think that your writing skills will have to be up to the task. Um, but I would definitely pursue it. And people have asked about this before. You know the way I did it was I just charged per month and had some rules around the email and like there would be a 48 hour turnaround period. You can’t have someone emailing you all day and feeling like you have to email them back right away. That would be insane. So just draw some clear boundaries around that so that it works for both of you. But in the end I can provide some good support. I would test it out.

Okay. What else do we have here? Casey says if I am virtual health coach, how do I best get clients online?

Oh Casey, we had episode upon episode about getting clients. If it’s your first client, we have an episode about that. We have episodes about growing your mailing list. That’s some of the best ways to acquire clients. Please go back into the archives. You will find what you’re looking for.

Janelle says, do you recommend video, facetime or Skype versus on the phone for coaching sessions?

Personally, I hate facetiming cause it gets so distracted by seeing myself up in the corner, right? It can be really distracting. I always feel, depending how the camera is angled, that either they’re looking straight up my nose or I’m looking straight up their nose for like a whole hour and it’s so distracting. So, I, I don’t love it and I also don’t love it because at least with the women that I work with, most of them are not just at home in a comfortable environment where they can pop open their laptop and have the session.

Many of them may be at work and have to book out a whole conference room if they were going to do something like this, but on the phone they could just step outside. You know, they don’t need WIFI. I have clients who will take a call like while they’re on the train from New York to DC because they’re back and forth for work and they’re just sitting on that train for a couple of hours. So we’ve done a session that way. Again, it’s just like gives them more flexibility by phone and, and for me as well. When you don’t need WIFI, you don’t have to be camera ready. That’s my preference.

Okay. I have a question here from Melissa. She said, if you’re looking to invite someone onto your podcast as a guest speaker, what kind of questions would you prepare in advance to ask them?

I have sort of three levels of questions that I wanted to tell you about Melissa. I’ve been doing this type of work for a long time on different podcasts and shows like this. So first are the boiler plate questions and these are the questions that you’ll hear a podcast host ask everybody that they interview. So a very common one is what did you have for breakfast or just some kind of question that will warm up their guest. It will start to share something about that person that goes beyond their obvious bio and that can be interesting. I usually like that type of question just because it breaks the ice so you, but you don’t have to have them.

But anyway, there are boiler plate questions to consider. The next would be questions that I get just from looking at somebodies homepage and their about page. You have to assume that they’re putting out there the message that they want to talk about and that they’re best suited to talk about. So look at their, again, their homepage and their about page and form questions based on what you’re reading. So if they mentioned something about their five step technique for getting rid of cellulite, then you’re going to say, I understand you have a five step technique for getting rid of cellulite. Can you tell us about that? It doesn’t take a whole lot of research and you’re going to get the top line of all of the most important aspects of their business. And then if you really want to go deep or if you really are into a guest and you all ready or reading their blog posts, listening to their podcast, I mean you don’t have to do this for all of your guests.

It would certainly take a lot of time. But if you can read a blog post or two or if you had seen them speak on stage, you could reference those things. You can say like, Hey, I saw you speak on stage at this event in New York, and you said such and such. Would you explain that to our listeners? So that would be like the real, like you’re rubbing elbows now you’ve really got into the meat of their content and they’re going to love you because you’re paying attention to them. You’re proving that you’re into their stuff. Um, so I think that is the, the third and deepest layer of podcasting questions. Hope that helps.

Let’s see here. Oh, Jill is responding to what we said earlier. Her question was about the cancer survivor niche. She said, this is great, Michele. I guess my specific niche would be breast cancer survivors. And yes, I’m already spoke with my cancer surgeon, both of them. And they did indeed say this is a needed inside the community and I’d love to speak to me about it. Great. So that means that you have in with the surgeons, they want to talk to you about it. That means that the population will be accessible to you and you’ll just want to continue thinking about what is the problem that you’re going to help these cancer survivor herself without stepping, stepping too far out of your scope. You of course, you can never promise someone that their cancer is not going to come back, for example. So you’ll have to think carefully about that.

All right, I’m going to hit one more question before we end for today. You guys, this one came from Diana and she said, hi, I’m a certified health coach from the health coach institute. Can I call myself a health practitioner?

Woo, I never saw answers like this before. I don’t think I ever heard this question before from anybody. A lot of people were saying inside of the Facebook group, no, no, no practitioner really means something specific. That’s not who you are. You’re a coach, you’re not a practitioner. But I got to tell you guys, I hang out with a lot, a different holistic health practitioners as well as licensed medical practitioners. And you hear the term all the time. In fact, uh, last year when I participated in, or was it two years ago now? Oh my God, when I participated in Aviva Romm’s, functional medicine training, we had doctors, nurses, midwives, acupuncturists, nutritionists, health coaches all together in this group.

And that was often the distinction, the licensed medical practitioners versus the other practitioners. So I don’t think the word practitioner holds any weight in and of itself, but the words around it do. You would of course never call yourself a medical practitioner unless you were indeed a medical practitioner. Usually this conversation around can we call ourselves a nutritionists, can we call ourselves, you know, this, that or the other thing. I think it’s always best to go with coach because the states, the state that you live in May have some restrictions on what you can call yourself and it just gets a little bit tricky. So I do recommend you just call yourself a health coach and be done with it. But I think a health coach is a type of practitioner.

All righty. Before we go on to give a shout out to Kay Chiccolini who left this five star rating and review for us on iTunes. She said, Michelle is awesome at giving advice to coaches at any point in their careers and she’s super honest as well, which I really appreciate there will be left, there will be tips you never thought to consider. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. Thank you so much for writing that and you know what? What you said is exactly right. When you’re new to something often you don’t know what you don’t know. Like we’re, we just got brand new windows installed in our house, like all new construction. But the first question the contractor’s asked me where, what kind of windows do you want? And I was like, I don’t know. I just want new windows. What are you talking about? I didn’t even know enough to know that there were different kinds of windows and price tags to match. Now I know and I hope that what you guys get from this podcast, from this episode is that we’re not just getting answers to your questions from trying to do is answer your questions, but also answer the questions that you may not even know you have to. Thank you for listening, Kay Chiccolini and we would love to send you a thank you gift for taking the time to review the show. You can just email support@healthcoachpower.com and mention episode number 58 for all of you guys listening, please head over to iTunes and leave your own rating and review. Maybe I will read yours on an upcoming episode and in the meantime keep asking great questions. I’ll keep answering them. See you next week.