Business not Playtime

I used to think of myself as a freelancer.

Now I realise I was wrong about that.

I have a theory. Or an insight. I don’t know which it is. But its interesting. 

First off, there’s a big difference between the what you deliver and the way you sell it. Just because you know how to bake a cake doesn’t mean you know how to get some to pay for a slice. 

Similarly, there’s a big difference between coaching and sales. In order for this all to stand a chance of success, I need to be able to do sales as well as I’m able to do coaching.

The link between coaching and sales

Coaching is all about the individual setting the agenda.

As coach I listen and react, feedback and challenge. That’s what you’re paying for. I bring my knowledge, experience, and attentiveness to our unique relationship in order that you can be a better version of your present self.

But before we can get to that actually doing stage – the coaching – I need to be able to convince you  (the customer), or the person with the budget (the sponsor), that this product you’ve never experienced before and don’t realise you need (the coaching), is best delivered by me (who you may well have never heard of before).

Before we get to the coaching stage, it’s sales. Both are entirely different skill sets, though in the Venn Diagram that features both, there is a sweet spot in the middle – conversation.

Labels are (unexpectedly) important here

Bigger than that, is what we label all of this.

This thing that I’m doing is not ‘going freelance’. That phrase doesn’t cut it. It’s not just going ‘self-employed’. That doesn’t cut it either.

It’s setting up your own business.

That phrase is terrifying because it’s grown up. It’s sensible. It’s all or nothing. It is the biggest kind of risk. Personal risk. Reputation.

Connotations with the word ‘business’

There are a multitude of connotations with the word ‘business’ – a much-bandied around word. Pervasive. Loaded. Assumptions emerge from it like an invisible gas, one that makes us go a little light-headed and results in all sorts of unhelpful beliefs.

  1. All businesses are well-oiled machines, well-planned, successful things
  2. All businesses are staffed by people who wear suits (women and men)
  3. All businesses run at a profit
  4. Only grown-ups can run businesses
  5. A business must be underpinned by a rags to riches story
  6. Businesses are not for the faint-hearted
  7. You must be thick-skinned to run a business
  8. You must be pushy, uncompromising and ruthless
  9. You must be able to come up with a cast-iron idea quickly
  10. People must be captivated by you and everything you say

I could go on. I won’t.

I frequently think this stuff. It is noise. It is a form of self-doubt, I suspect. Or if its not as severe as that, it’s a monologue that distracts from the necessary thinking and doing required for getting work from people who don’t realise the extent to which their lives could be transformed if they hired you.

It’s as these points in time I have to remind myself what exactly a business is to me. It’s a way of selling the services that I do best, in order to get money to buy me the freedom that in turn helps me perform at my best.

What’s helping you and what isn’t?

But I also have to interrogate what other beliefs I’ve got about what I’m doing at this moment in time and assess what’s useful and what isn’t in pursuit of the end goal.

Picture the scene: a struggling writer with nothing but an old typewriter to bash out ideas, surrounded by previous attempts screwed up in tight balls of misadventure and increasing bitterness.

When I write (when others I know who write better than me reveal some of their process), I’m always trying and failing and trying again, driven by an insatiable need to make it work.

So I need to think of this new life as me setting up a business. That process demands melearning new skills (often deploying them ‘on the fly’), at the same time as maintaining a forensic level of self-awareness and self-regulation.

It is punishing. There’s no-one you can piss and moan to. No-one you can really delegate to either (unless you’ve got a never-ending source of capital to invest). You can either do this, or you can choose not to do this.

This is business. It’s a simple as that.

Jon Jacob is an ICF accredited leadership coach, mentor and team facilitator. Find out more about his professional background on LinkedIn.

Email him at or call him on 07768 864655.

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