Your Network is your Net-worth

“People do business with people they know, like and trust. Companies don’t make decisions, people do.” – Mike Fishbein

Mention the word “network” and most people shudder with dread. It conjures up visions of awkwardly attending events that you would rather not attend, making stilted conversation with total strangers and passing out your business card to someone that you know will probably never look at it again – or if they do, they’ll screw their nose up in frustration trying to remember the person who gave them the business card, before throwing it in the bin.

Does this sound familiar?   Well, my hope is that you will feel differently by the time you’ve finished reading this and will have developed different, healthier strategies around your network and networking that are congruent with who you are.

I’m going to start off by playing with the word “network”, which has many meanings, depending on the context in which it is used, and on whether it is used as a noun or as a verb. For the purposes of this article, let’s use two definitions that came up in an internet search on the word:


  • (Noun) A group or system of interrelated people or things
  • (Verb) Interact with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts.

First, I’m going to highlight two important points from the EnviroSCAN on page 12 of the May 2019 issue of SA Coaching News.  It looked at research conducted by Nicky H.D. Terblanche, Rajesh J. Jock, and Marius Ungerer: Creating and maintaining a commercially viable executive coaching practice in South Africa.

“… participants emphasised the importance of alliance formation and saw it as a consequence of their networking efforts.”

“After having defined their market, the vast majority of owners acquired business through their networks instead of marketing their business. Participants repeatedly emphasised the importance of network, relationships and associations.”

Clearly, your networks and interpersonal relationships are a key success factor in building a successful and sustainable coaching practice. If you reconsider your network in the light of building alliances, does this make networking more palatable for you? With creating alliances as the goal, where should you concentrate your networking activities, and who should you be networking with? Who – in your current network – would be potential alliance partners?

In a 2005 Harvard Business Review article, How to Build Your Network, the authors said that “individual success is tied to the ability to transcend natural skill limitations through others. Highly diverse network ties, therefore, can help you develop more complete, creative, and unbiased views of issues. And when you trade information or skills with people whose experiences differ from your own, you provide one another with unique, exceptionally valuable resources.”

They suggest an exercise in which you map and diagnose your network by creating 3 columns on a page. The left-hand column is a list of all the key people in your network. These are people through whom you have gained access to broader, influential networks, who stimulate creative thinking or who have specialised skills (I would even add in an additional column here to list the attributes of these key people). In the centre column, list the people who introduced you to the key people in your network (you may see patterns start to emerge that identify certain people as connectors). The right-hand column is for you to list people that you introduced to your key contacts (the people in the left-hand column) so that you can start to see where you have acted as a broker or connector for other people.

The authors of the HBR article highlight two aspects of networking that can work against your network being an effective, key success factor in building your business:

  1.  The self-similarity principle, where your network consists mostly of people who are in the same industry as you, who have similar skills or expertise or who hold a similar world view. Research has shown, however, that too much similarity restricts creative thinking and problem-solving as there is no-one to challenge your world view or to offer alternative perspectives.

The article cites a great example of some research conducted at the University of Columbia in 2002 among executives who were studying there. The executives all had to attend a networking event, at which they were given the opportunity – and were encouraged – to meet new people. The study showed that they all gravitated to like-minded people or people who held similar positions. The criteria for networking success at this event was for the executives to meet new contacts who held different roles in different industries from them. The researchers concluded that the barman at the event was ultimately the most successful networker!

2.  The proximity principle, which says that we tend to build the strongest networks with the people that we spend the most time with. In doing so, we limit the potential diversity of our networks, and their ability to be an efficient business-building tool.

Rather, they recommend that we should network based on shared activities as this gives a base on which trust can be established and built, and which “bring together a cross-section of disparate individuals around a common point of interest.” These might include people that you meet through participating in group social or sporting activities, through volunteer work or by joining professional associations.

When we network (v), it could be said that we are interacting with people with intention. I want to be very clear that I am not promoting that you look at the people in your network with the express intent of using them for your own gains. Rather, look at your network in terms of how you can create mutually value-adding relationships, alliances and joint ventures to (jointly) create something much more powerful and beneficial for your potential market. Your network is one of your key strategic business and marketing pillars.

We all have a network (n) of interrelated people: personal, professional, social. One thing we know for a fact is that business has always operated based on relationships. If you’ve met me in my professional capacity, I can guarantee that you will have heard me talk about the 3 primary factors in how potential clients choose their coaches. Yes, I’m referring to what I call the “TRC”. That’s not the Truth & Reconciliation Commission; it stands for

  • Trustworthiness (which included word-of-mouth referrals)
  • Results
  • Chemistry

Research into how potential coaching clients choose their coaches consistently tells us that the initial choice is made based on other people’s recommendations, and only then will they also look for evidence of the results that these coaches have achieved with their clients. This is where client testimonials play such a huge role, so don’t ever hesitate to ask for them. We also know that first impressions count enormously, and that one of the critical success factors in the coaching relationship is good chemistry between coach and client.

I’ve strayed a little from talking purely about our network, BUT word-of-mouth referrals come from our network, and clients – the ones that give the glowing testimonials and who refer people to us – are also an important part of our network. Are you thinking differently about your existing network and how to leverage it effectively?

As a final thought, do you remember “6 degrees of separation”? It was a concept of network theory first postulated in 1929 by Frigyes Karinthy, who said that any person was connected to any other person on the planet by no more than 5 individuals. That’s quite mind-boggling. I know of a couple of people that I’d like to meet, and I’ve had great fun playing with the intervening degrees of separation – and even managed to work out how I would be able to connect to some of these people. Is there someone you would like to connect with? Where would you start in your immediate network? You might be quite surprised if you played around with it.

Happy networking and net-worthing!

References: How to build your network by Brian Uzzi and Sharon Dunnlap, HBR December 2005


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Create a Water-Tight Coaching Contract

contractThere are certain things that underpin every successful coach and coaching intervention – and a clearly defined, well-articulated coaching contract is one of the fundamentals that every top coach has in place.  Indeed, you will find contracting the coaching relationship among most coaching professional bodies’ competencies or behavioural standards.  But what are the building blocks of a water-tight coaching contract that protects both you – the coaching practitioner – and your client (or clients, in the case of a sponsor situation)?

The coaching contract needs to do three things well:

  1. Provide clear structure to the coaching intervention;
  2. Allow sufficient flexibility within the structure of the contract to embrace the quintessential fact that the coaching intervention is in essence an organic relationship between coach and client, and to allow for safe re-contracting should the boundaries of engagement shift;
  3. Create absolute clarity and unambiguity on every aspect of the coaching intervention, from the engagement of your services, to clarifying what your services include (and exclude), through to the termination of the contract and everything in between.

The number one thing that you need to remember is that there will ALWAYS be scope creep.  This is why we enter into contracts, in business in general, and in the field of coaching. As a coach, the objective is to enable optimal learning for your client at the best possible return for your time (which includes time you spend outside of the coaching relationship preparing for, or reviewing the coaching session). A coaching intervention has a life, and as the coach you want to add the maximum value to your client within the contracted time, so you can’t afford to be side tracked in any way.

Coaching has evolved into a mainstream industry and profession, and coaches will be increasingly held to the highest standards by their clients, client sponsors and professional bodies. So, to be successful and maintain demand, you need to be focused on delivery against the defined objectives and outcomes of the coaching relationship, and to be prepared to manage situations where the temptation arises to digress. The contract is a means of doing just that: it creates the boundaries, defines the scope and stipulates the life of the intervention.

There are different levels of contract depending on who you are contracting with, and you may be asked by a Client or Sponsor to sign their companies’ contract. When using the client’s contract, ensure the contract is balanced and equitable for both parties.   Don’t forget that you have every right to have someone in the legal profession scrutinise a client or sponsor’s contract before you sign it. You have developed your coaching model over a period of time, and you use it to earn your living, so protect your intellectual property.

A point to keep in mind is practicality and balance in creating the coaching contract, and there are definitely differences between contracting with businesses and with individuals. As an example, a contract for life coaching will probably be far more compact than a commercial contract with a sponsor or organization.

In a “tripartite” contract situation, where there is a sponsor and a coachee involved, the sponsor contract and coachee contract may differ slightly in length and in the attention that it pays to different parts the contract. For example, the coachee contract may not include details of the coaching fee or payment terms.

Contracts don’t always need to be written either. Verbal contracts are also legally valid, provided they are covered by the regulatory umbrella including the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, the POPI Act and Consumer Protection Act, and meet the requisite elements. In fact, in South African law, the only time that contracts must be in writing is for the purchase of land or buildings! However, that isn’t an excuse not to have a coaching contract, and you will find – with experience – that a good contract will be a valuable foundation to a great coaching relationship.

There are 6 standard requisite elements that must be established to demonstrate the formation of a legally binding contract, and it is good practice to turn each of these elements into a question that needs to be answered each time we contract with a client. The elements are:

  • Offer
  • Acceptance
  • Consideration
  • Mutuality of obligation
  • Competency and capacity
  • Certain circumstances, a written instrument.

In any contract there is a commercial aspect and a normative aspect. Contracting with a sponsor or organization could include a detailed commercial contract, focusing on the business aspects, including methodologies, deliverables, cost, and guarantees and you need to ensure that it is well balanced in the interests of all parties, and provides opportunities and guarantees for ensuring the best environment for success of the intervention.

Contracting with the client within the organization or as a private client is normally done as part of an introductory session led by yourself. When you and the client have agreed, this can be signed as a formal document or it can be verbal. As a precaution, when I enter into a verbal contract, I will follow up with a written summation of the conversation highlighting the salient points of the contractual agreement. The terms of the contract must be clear so that each party knows what they are committing to.

Some of the sections that should be addressed by your coaching contract (both with the sponsor organisation and with the coachee) are:


What is coaching? Clearly explain what coaching is and how it differs from mentoring, counselling and psychotherapy.

Coaching model/approach: include an explanation of your particular approach and way of working with clients. This section can also include an explanation of the variety of coaching models, philosophies and frameworks that you may choose to use, as well as details of your training and experience as a coach.

Clarifying responsibilities and expectations of different parties (coach, coachee, sponsor), which could include the responsibility of the coachee to apply the learning and insights from a coaching conversation, who will be responsible for reporting back to the sponsor and what format the report will take, how feedback will be done by coach, coachee and the sponsor and when feedback or reviews will take place.

It is also important to clarify the responsibilities of the sponsor to support the coachee in their journey. If the organisation wants change, it has to open the doors for change to happen and this needs to be written into the contract.

Also, you need to include a performance clause in the contract to protect you, and allow you to terminate the contract though lack of commitment on the part of the client and/or coachee. Remember that you don’t have to stay in a coaching relationship if the other party doesn’t play their part.

Defined outcomes, objectives and goals. It is important to ensure that the sponsor’s outcomes, objectives and goals are realistic and aligned to the coachee’s outcomes, objectives and goals. This is probably the most critical area of the coaching contract, and the area which needs the most detail, examination, reflection and attention, as it is here that the coaching process can be derailed by scope creep or by one of the parties not supporting the other’s outcomes, objectives and goals.

confidentialityConfidentiality and what can be shared, and how: this is particularly important when you are working in a sponsored situation (where someone other than the coachee is paying for the coaching) or when working with different members of a team or group in an organisation. The coaching contract needs to be specific about:

  • What is confidential?
  • What is not confidential?
  • Under what circumstances will you break confidentiality (for example, if you become aware of illegal activities, activities that will compromise the sponsor in any way or if the coachee makes you aware that they – or someone they know – intend causing self-harm or harming others).

If a circumstance arises where you are required to break the confidentiality of the coaching relationship, agree on how you will handle it. For example, if the coachee shares that they were paid a bribe in order to award a contract to a service-provider, will you give the coachee an opportunity to report this internally to the relevant authorities, and will you impose a set timeframe for this to happen?

Ethical code: coaches who are members of a professional coaching body are required to conduct themselves in accordance with a code of professional ethics and conduct. Many coaches will supply a copy of their professional code of ethics to their clients, or at least explain what is contained in the code and how it affects the client.

Complaints: this is linked to the point above, but it is important to outline how, where and when complaints will be handled. It is also important at this stage to ensure that the client knows that the first stage of most formal complaint procedures with coaching professional bodies it to encourage stakeholder engagement before the relationship deteriorates to a point where a complaint is laid.


Duration: number, length and regularity of sessions. This section may also refer to things like transport and accommodation if the coach or client has to commute. Additionally, if coach, client and coachee are not based in the same town or country, this section of the contract might outline alternatives to face-to-face meetings like telephonic, Zoom or Skype, what proportion of the coaching intervention will consist of online coaching, and how these will be handled.

It may be a good idea to also agree on where coaching will take place (inside or outside of the work environment) and who will be responsible for ensuring that a suitable venue is available. There was an innovative and insightful piece of research done into Coaches’ Experience of the Physical and Psychological Setting of the Coaching Conversation (Smit, 2016), which took a pragmatic look at environmental factors affecting the coaching session. It looked at things like limiting distractions and psychological clutter, comfort, privacy, the meaning associated with the space (for example, a boardroom where the client may have attended tense meetings).

If the session is cancelled by either party, you may also want to detail who will take responsibility for re-scheduling and for securing the venue for the new coaching session.

Evaluation, tracking and monitoring (coach, coachee, sponsor): the coach may want to include a variety of pre- and post-coaching assessments and scorecards to measure the effectiveness of the coaching intervention. It is also important to build in regular progress reviews and updates, who will be involved, how they will take place and when. When the objectives, outcomes and goals of the coaching intervention are established, milestones should also be identified if possible so that progress can be tracked.

If the client requires you to submit reports on the coaching process, agree with all parties on what needs to be reported, and what will remain confidential. You might also want to discuss who creates and submits these reports, and who gets to see them: if the coach is responsible for the reports, does the coachee get to see and discuss the contents before they are submitted?

Record-keeping, feedback and review: explain what records you keep as the coach, and what you may share (for example, if you become professionally credentialed, you may need to provide details of the number of hours you have coached with client contact details for verification).

You also need to agree on who will take, make and keep notes of the sessions and whether or not these will be shared, and with whom and what kind of review or reflection will take place outside of the coaching session.

One of the key success factors in a coaching relationship is an effective, two-way feedback process. This means that the coachee feels safe giving the coach feedback on what they may need from the coach, and also that the coach is able to give the coachee constructive feedback without the coachee feeling judged or alienated.

Costs and payment terms: this is pretty self-explanatory but you may want to include a clause to address a situation where payment is not made as agreed. Let’s use an example where you, the coach, book and pay for your own airfare, relying on receiving payment from the client by a certain date in order not to be charged interest on your credit card or bank penalties. If the client doesn’t pay on the agreed date, who will bear these costs?

Some coaches charge a percentage of their contract fee up front to cover hard costs like airfare and accommodation. If you include assessments in your coaching approach, you will also need to cover the costs associated with these, and may choose to invoice them as a separate item.

Breach of contract: legally, there are 4 major types of breach of contract:

Late performance, in other words if the coachee agrees in the coaching contract to implement agreed actions between one coaching session and the next, and doesn’t do so habitually, you can invoke this clause. This, however, relies on coach and coachee having agreed to a specific timeframe.

Incomplete or unsatisfactory performance: this happens when the coachee does what they agree to do, but does so in a sloppy, half-hearted way that compromises the effectiveness of the outcome.

Improperly refusing to comply with the contract: imagine a situation where you are coaching in an organisation and it comes to getting your invoice paid, and the sponsors’ representatives in Finance or HR with-hold payment despite the payment terms outlined in the contract and despite the milestones having been met?

Preventing performance: often, in the workplace, a coachees’ performance will depend on the performance of the people around them. For example, if a coachee designs an action in the coaching session and their immediate superior prevents them from implementing the agreed action, the environment is not supportive of what the coaching agreement has set out.

Cancellations, cancellation periods and cancellation fees: it is important that you detail how a contract may be cancelled (from both parties’ perspectives), and how long a cancellation period needs to be under what circumstances. If a client cancels the contract before completion due to a change in circumstances (let’s say that the company is down-sizing and retrenching), do you build in cancellation fees or penalties to ensure that you are not suddenly left with a huge hole in your income?

Termination process: the contract must cover a specific period and not be open ended, at the end of the contract, should the client wish to continue, you can enter into another contract. Again, this must have a finite life because it allows you to plan the intervention and follow a concise plan from beginning to end.

We never know what life will throw in our path, and so we need to ensure that our contracts will cover what will happen in the case of early termination as well as what will happen when the full contractual period ends. What plans will you and your coachee co-create to make sure that the effects of the coaching are sustained and the coachee doesn’t backtrack? Will you maintain contact on a regular basis and check in with each other? Does the coachee create their own developmental path that will continue after the coaching relationship ends?

Having said all this about the importance of contracts, we must understand that relationships govern how we conduct our business and they develop over time as we establish ourselves and earn the trust of the client. This applies to contracting to an organization or with an individual, and the contract itself only becomes necessary when the Client / Service provider relationship breaks down irreparably. I use the word irreparably with caution, because there is a lot that can be done before it reaches this level. The extent of this window depends entirely on the level and depth of the relationship.

We also need to bear in mind that each coaching session will have a form of a contract in terms of contracting with the coachee about what you will be covering in the individual session and what the coachee wishes to achieve as a result of the session. When contracting for each session, make sure that it is in alignment with the overall coaching contract, and if it’s not, you may need to re-contract.

Contracts are not set in stone. If, during the course of the coaching relationship, you find that the original objectives, outcomes or goals become meaningless (and this may be due to outside forces beyond your control and which were not foreseen at the outset of the coaching relationship), it is perfectly okay to agree to re-contract but make sure that you get agreement from all of the stakeholders.

For example, the sponsor organisation may restructure as a result of changes to the economy, and you may be required to work with your client on exploring alternative means of earning a living. Or a coachee’s personal circumstances may change: they may become an expectant parent, lose a loved one or go through a divorce. These are all major changes that will naturally impact the original coaching agreement and contract. What is important is that you – the coach – are alert to these changes and that you ensure that the coaching contract is amended to accommodate them.

Good contracts make for a good foundation, and good coaches keep fine-tuning and improving their contracts to keep up with the times and with changes in their clients’ circumstances. Here are some great reads on coaching contracts: – very comprehensive and some nice ideas about the main contract and sub-contracts eg session contracts, triangular contracts (third party contracts) – nice way of breaking up contracting into procedural, professional, psychological – has some very good questions – some nice ideas for prep work for the client to do so that the contract is explicit and both parties are clear on outcomes and expectations

This article was co-authored by Megan and Dave Hudson and was first published in the March 2019 issue of SA Coaching News

About the Authors:

Dave Hudson has spent most of his career in manufacturing and supply chain, at the negotiating end of contracting with suppliers and trade unions on contracts with values in the millions of Rands, and that could potentially impact on just about every aspect of the business – from the human element to the bottom line results.  Dave is a Supply Chain specialist coach and mentor, and has extensive professional experience of working in highly regulated manufacturing environments. Dave can be contacted at

Megan has a degree in Politics and Languages, and spent her early career Brand Marketing and Advertising. She trained as a coach in 2002, is also a qualified Ethologist, with a degree through an Onderstepoort-affiliated body, as well as having studied Psychology though UNISA. Megan’s guiding principles are Integrity and Aesthetics. Megan has a specialist marketing consultancy, dealing with coaches on marketing themselves without spending a cent.  She is co-editor and co-publisher of SA Coaching News, the only magazine for the coaching profession in South Africa. She has also had an online business since 2004 and can be contacted on email: or


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Creating a Great Online Profile Pic for the Camera-Shy Coach

Our brains process visual material – like pictures – almost times faster than the accompanying text! In fact, I bet you that your eye was drawn to the big, colourful figures and you almost missed the sentence above (and if you did miss it, read it now and I’m sure you’ll find my first sentence makes a lot more sense). You see, I just did it again!

It’s a no-brainer, then, to ensure that you have a great profile pic anywhere that you have a profile, whether it’s online (LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, online directories) or in traditional hard copy format like business cards or brochures.

LinkedIn stats show that having a profile picture makes your profile 14 times – yes, I just cant resist the temptation now—more likely to be viewed by other people and stats from an OKCupid (an online dating site) experiment showed that the text in your profile only counts for about 10% of people’s impressions of you. But enough of the fun and games with the typography—even if it proves yet another point!

So, what if you’re like me? I really don’t think I’m photogenic at all, and there are hardly any pictures of myself that I like. In fact, the thought of having pictures taken has about as much appeal to me as eating a live frog! So how does someone like me fill this important gap in an online profile? How do I get an end result that I am happy to put out into the public domain, that represents who I am and what I look like now?

First, get hold of a professional photographer. It really is worth making this investment as your profile photo is often the first and lasting impression that people have of you. Professional photographers have the equipment, lighting (and Photoshop for those dark circles under your eyes from a sleepless night fretting about the impending photoshoot) to make sure you are showcased in the best possible way.

An experienced photographer will also hopefully have years of experience in putting you at your ease in front of the camera, and helping you strike poses that show you off at your best without emphasising the things you don’t like about yourself. Many photographers also have a variety of props that you can use to make your photograph stand out, and can also help you brainstorm creative ideas to show you “in action” in an appropriate and flattering way.

There is a rule in photography called the rule of thirds.   It’s one of the most basic rules of photographic composition in order to create a balanced picture.   Apparently, our eyes are not naturally drawn to the absolute centre of a picture, but somewhere slightly left or right, slightly below or above centre. In other words, if you take the space in which your picture will go and divide it into three equal parts horizontally and vertically (making 9 parts), you want to place the focal point or the most interesting elements of the picture to be where the lines intersect. For example, you would probably want your eyes and mouth to fall where the lines naturally intersect. So instead of taking a picture of yourself dead on, you might want to angle your head and body slightly away from the camera to be able to compose the final picture according to the rule of thirds.

The eyes are one of the most important components of a great profile pic. Research done by the Department of Psychology at University of York on over 1,000 different profile pictures looked at 3 components: youthful attractiveness, approachability and dominance. They found that the eyes were the highest scoring areas in a profile pic for giving an impression of youthful attractiveness, and particularly that the larger the subjects’ eyes were, the higher their score in youthful attractiveness.

Speaking of eyes, eye-tracking research has shown that our mirror neurons make us follow the gaze of other people. This can be used to great effect if, for example, you specifically want to direct your viewer’s gaze towards a call-to-action just to the right of your pic – like your social media icons, or a button to sign up for your email list.

The mouth was the feature that most communicated approachability, and specifically that pictures that show the person smiling were perceived as most approachable (for obvious reasons). However, PhotoFeeler – a website where you can upload a profile pic and get thousands of strangers to rate it – found that a pic of you laughing greatly increased your likeability, but it diminished the perceptions of competence and influence. Their advice is to smile naturally, showing teeth as this ticks the likeability, competence and influence boxes.

PhotoFeeler has another piece of advice for increasing other peoples’ impressions of your confidence, approachability, likeability, competence and influence scores: squinch™. The squinch™ was first discovered and coined by Peter Hurley, the top portrait and headshot photographer in New York. He defines it like this: Squinch™: v.  to narrow the distance between your lower eyelid and your pupil.” and goes on to say: “The eyes are only designed to open and close and this pinching as I like to call it of the lower lid is a normal occurrence throughout our day. Unlike squinting, a squinch will have lower eyelid movement upward with little movement from the upper eyelid downward.” I’ve included a picture of a non-squinch (left) versus a squinch™ (right) below from Peter Hurley’s website so you can see what he means.

Experiment with different angles. Angle your body about forward towards the camera.   Angling your body and face slightly away (about 45o) also creates an interesting play of shadows, and one of the other useful findings on PhotoFeeler is that having a shadow under the chin contributes to likeability, competence and influence. Who knew? Another benefit of angling the body slightly means that the shoulders (the widest point of a head-shot) don’t dominate the picture.

Shoot from slightly above, or slightly higher than your line of vision. This has the effect of compressing a prominent jawline and makes you look ever so slightly thinner. It also helps to hide a double chin or loose flesh under the jaw line, both of which are aging. Another way of reducing a double chin is to push your head slightly forward and down (without overdoing it).

Take a variety of outfits for your photoshoot so that you can play around with looks ranging from formal and business-like to casual and playful. Make sure that your clothing is comfortable and fits you well, and most important: make sure that you really like all the items of clothing. Those in the know also advise you to choose colours that are not too similar to your natural skin colour or you could end up looking washed out or just uninteresting. Avoid large patterns and rather think of the clothing as frames for the most important part of the picture – you don’t want to be competing for attention with a loud Hawaiian print or fussy jewellery.

Experiment with different colour backgrounds to break from the boring and conventional white. Try a dusky rose or a light grey. For something unusual and punchy, you might want to try a really bright, high contract background like a punchy red, cyan blue or the 2019 colour of the year, Living Coral, which we’ve used in the SA Coaching News logo. Colour has its own psychology so do some homework before your photoshoot into what message you want to convey, and what colours you can use (in your clothing, accessories or background) to help get your message across.

I could go on forever, but hopefully some or one of these tips will help you feel more confident about getting hold of a proper professional, and getting some really great, flattering profile pics done that do you – the professional – full justice. Happy squinching!

This article was first published in the April 2019 issue of SA Coaching News.  To read this, and more articles on how to build an effective, sustainable coaching practice, visit



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Building a Stand-Out Profile Online

This article was first published in the March 2019 issue of SA Coaching News.

Research by Princeton University’s Department of Psychology into consumer brand loyalty and purchase behaviour released in August 2010 showed that people were the first brands and faces were the first logos.  In their ground-breaking book, The Human Brand, Chris Malone and Susan T. Fiske explored how we relate to brands, with the conclusion that we anthropomorphosise brands: in other words, we relate to them as if they were human beings.  The converse of this is that humans were the first brands and that our faces were the original logos.  Any wonder that KFC still uses its instantly recogniseable “Colonel” after all these years?  Or why Ronald McDonald still makes an appearance every now and then in McDonald’s ad campaigns?

In a recent journal article, Stereotype Content: Warmth and  Competence Endure published in 2018, Professor Fiske recognised two dimensions that determine how we perceive each other – what underlies first impressions.  Warmth includes cognitive concepts like trustworthiness, honesty, likeability, sincerity and friendliness, and competence includes aspects like capability, intelligence, efficiency, skill, confidence and assertiveness. Ultimately, we all want to score high on both the warmth and the competence continuum.

We know that first impressions are created in a split second, so we only have one chance to make a lasting positive (or negative) impression on the people around us and our potential clients.  If they are judging us on the warmth and competence continuum, how do you think you measure up, and what do your online profiles communicate?

Let’s go back to the “faces were the first logos” aspect.  The average goldfish is deemed to have an attention span of about 8 seconds, while social media has impacted humans’ attention spans to the point where we only have 4 seconds in which to engage the attention of our potential clients online (yes, some of us have got shorter attention spans than the average goldfish)!

Have you ever searched for someone in a directory, on Facebook or on LinkedIn, and noticed that there are some profiles that you dismiss off hand?  How often do you see something like the image below on the left, and what kind of an impression does it make?  It certainly doesn’t tell you ANYTHING about the person, does it?  Well, it get’s worse!  What about the person who chooses to post an avatar like the gorgeous, sexy blond example below?  And the person reading the book- well, she looks like a (possible) intellectual, tea-loving bookworm but she doesn’t really communicate any interest in getting in touch with you, does she? And then we have our trying-to-be sexy underage teenagers who clearly don’t pay any attention to detail (or to what is going on in the background in their profile pic!).  Seriously?

What was it about these profiles that would make you skip over them and move on to the next one?  I’ll bet you anything that the profiles you skipped over either didn’t have a profile pic at all, or the one that they did have sent out the wrong message completely.  These profile pics also don’t communicate any level of credibility.  But not all pics are equal.  Here are just a few examples of some actual LinkedIn profile pics that illustrate my point (and I’ll also bet that your eyes kept jumping to the pics as you were reading this paragraph – right?):

I’m spending a lot of time on this aspect of your online profile for a reason: an online dating site OkCupid that does extensive research and analysis of its data, determined that the words in your profile only count for 10% of people’s impressions of you!  So, at this point, you might be saying one of two things: (1) “Well, I’m just going to leave the profile pic out completely because I want people to read my profile”, or (2) “In that case, I won’t bother with writing or wordsmithing my profile”.

Well, both are wrong.  We know that profiles with pics are 11 times more likely to be clicked on, so you’ve got to have a pic.  But, you are also competing with millions of other online profiles and it is the written content in your online profile that helps the Google, LinkedIn, Facebook and other algorithms bring your profile to the top of the list.  So having gotten that out of the way, what do you say about yourself?

Ask the people around you what they’d be interested in hearing about?  Create a word cloud from these informal “interviews” so that you can see which words appear most often. You can use to create free word clouds. I’d be interested to know what comes up and if it differs in any way from what you thought you needed to focus on.

So often, the things YOU want to tell people about yourself and what you do, are not what they find compelling.  Think about it…you’ve been knocking on doors and trying to get business without success.  Well, clearly you must be doing one of two things: knocking on the wrong doors with the right message, or knocking on the right doors with the wrong message.  Which one is it?  Test your message – test your profile.

We know from research (American Management Association, 2008) thatIn practice, according to Banning (1997) and Smith (1993), a company’s human resources department, a supervisor, or a friend are among the most common ways of finding a coach. Banning (1997) lists three important criteria in selecting a coach: trustworthiness, compatible chemistry, and solid reputation” (my emphasis).

This is exactly what needs to project from your profile: trustworthiness, compatible chemistry and a solid reputation (we go back to the more recent research done by Professor Fiske that I mention in the opening paragraphs).  But how on earth do you create an impression of warmth and competence in an inanimate profile?

Remember those all-important 4 seconds that we have within which to get and keep someone’s attention? Well, Wikipedia tells us that most of us can read about 180 words per minute on a screen (Wikipedia, Words Per Minute). This means that we have about 45 words in which to grab someone’s attention. It makes sense, then, to start by telling them what you can do for them.

I spent some time a little while ago combing through online profiles and developed a series of “sentence starters” for my coaching clients that stuck out for me for creating online profiles to help get you going (you don’t have to complete them all – they’re just there to get you started):

  • If you’re struggling with…
  • Have you ever had a tough time…
  • When you find that…
  • My expertise lies in…
  • My methodology and approach include…
  • Other tools that I use to get the best results are…
  • I specialize in…
  • My passion is…
  • I am inspired by…
  • My clients include…
  • I have a background in…
  • My training includes….
  • The models I use include….
  • Some of my best strengths and attributes are…
  • My clients have the following to say…
  • As your coach, I will…
  • In addition to coaching, I…
  • I am a member of…
  • I am accredited with…
  • My academic qualifications include…

And finally, here’s a meme that I received recently that demonstrates very cleverly how our eyes track.  I know mine definitely followed where they were led visually in the meme.  Did yours?  What does it tell you about how you present your information and what gets read?  Happy profiling 😊


American Management Association. (2008). Coaching: A Global Study of Successful Practices (Current Trends and Future Possibliities 2008 – 2018. American Management Association.

Susan T. Fiske, A. J. (2006). Universal dimensions of social cognition: warmth and competence. Trends in Cognitive Science Vol 11 No 2 , 77 – 83.

Susan T. Fiske (2018): Stereotype Content: Warmth and Competence Endure.  Current Directions in Psychological Science 2018, Vol. 27(2) 67 –73 © The Author(s) 2018 Reprints and permissions: DOI: 10.1177/0963721417738825

About the Author:

Megan has a degree in Politics and Languages, and spent most of her early career in the fields of Marketing and Advertising.  She trained as a coach in 2001, and ran a successful practice until about 2007, when her husband’s engineering business started to consume most of her time.  Megan is also a qualified Ethologist, with a degree through an Onderstepoort-affiliated body, as well as having studied Psychology though UNISA.  She continues to reflect on the close similarities between the study of politics, and animal and human behaviour.  Megan’s guiding principles are Integrity and Aesthetics. In addition to consulting to COMENSA on a national basis on Marketing & PR, from 2009 to 2013, and again on Social Media from 2015 – 2018, Megan runs a number of successful businesses including a property business, a specialist marketing consultancy, a marketing training course (developed in 2001) aimed at SME’s but tailored specifically to Coaches & Mentors, as well as co-editing and co-publishing SA Coaching News, the only coaching magazine in South Africa.  She has also had an online business since 2004.  Megan can be contacted on email: 

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Use Online Directories to Market Your Business

This article was first published in SA Coaching News.

The results of the 2017 Sherpa Executive Coaching Survey showed an increasing trend for people to use “trade association” (or professional bodies) and “web search” to find an executive coach, with slightly less reliance on personal reference (word-of-mouth-referrals). We don’t have the 2018 figures, but let’s assume that the trends continue as we can see in the table below. While personal reference still remains in the lead by a long shot, it seems to be on a slight downward trend every year, and I can guarantee that if I was looking for a coach and received a referral from a someone I trusted, I would still want to do my own research and check up on them by searching for them on the internet.

Question 2017 2016 2015
How do you find an executive coach?
Personal preference 73% 76% 80%
Trade association 7% 4% 6%
Web search 12% 7% 7%
LinkedIn 4% 4% 3%
Service broker 3% 7% 4%


I would want to know if they belong to a credible professional body to ensure that I am protected by a code of ethics and a complaints procedure in case I happened to have a bad experience (I know, it’s disaster-thinking at its best or risk aversion, depending on how you look at it). I’d also be interested to see what they say about themselves on industry-related directories, where their profiles could easily be scrutinised by their peers.

Next, I would definitely check out their LinkedIn profile to get a quick snapshot about them and their experience. Finally, I would probably check to see if they had a website because it will give me a more detailed sense of the person behind the name, the calibre of their thinking and what kind of work they do. In other words, before I even meet the person, I want to be able to develop some kind of chemistry…or not.

I’m a HUGE fan of using online directories as part of your online Search Engine Optimisation strategy for your website, and actively encourage my clients to look for appropriate online directories to list in.  There are a number of great reasons for this:

  • You can include all of your contact details, including your blog or website address, and Google will pick this up as a website LINKING BACK to your site.  Always remember – when listing your blog or website details online – to include the full URL, for example: This great tip was given to me years ago by a good friend, and the reason for this (including the http:// bit) is that it makes it so much easier for Google to find and index your website.
  • Listing on a variety of online directories across the web means that you put signposts out directing potential clients or customers to your business from many different directions.  If you don’t give people great directions on how to find you, they’ll never get to your front door!
  • One of the very first directories that you need to list on is the directory belonging to your professional body or the association for your type of business. While this may seem like a given, the professional body or association should be doing a good job of marketing the credibility of your body or association – credibility that you would hopefully want to be associated with! They should also continually be working on their search engine optimisation to ensure that they come up tops in the list of search results on keywords that apply to you.

By the way, if you do take my advice and list on your professional body’s online directory, you will also find yourself in the minority as I can name two professional bodies off hand where only 20% – 50% of their members have actually bothered to create online profiles. What an absolute opportunity for those members who have taken the time and trouble to get their profiles published.

  • You will be able to find as many directories as you are prepared to search for.  Ensure that your message and content remain consistent no matter where you are listed, but also ensure that you tailor your basic profile to fit the target market of the online directory.

Some of the online directories that I use or recommend are:

  • Directories belonging to the professional associations that I am a member of. In the case of the coaching profession, if you are a member of the ICF, COMENSA, ABCCP, WABC, EMCC, IMCSA and so on, you absolutely MUST list in their online member directories as this is one of the main places that people – who are looking for coaches – will be directed to when they use search engines;
  • Directories that are profession-related, for example Remember that the owners of these websites and directories depend on your subscription fees for their income so they are going to make 100% sure that their directories remain at the top of the list of search results when anyone searches for a coach.
  • LinkedIn is, strictly-speaking, a social media platform for professional networking, but we know from the research results that it is becoming one of the places that potential clients visit when they are looking for a coach. LinkedIn also gives us a great idea of just how many other people are in the same pool as us as you can easily search on a term and get detailed results.

Now, here are some frightening stats. We all know that coaching is one of the fastest growing industries but check out the change in the numbers from when I searched on LinkedIn on a few keywords in just 12 months:

Keyword January 2019 January 2018
Coach 5,427,647 1,603,532
Coach South Africa 88,353 27,226
Executive coach 1,057,036 109,051
Business coach 2,614,111 137,029
Life coach 1,123,773 81,579

I realise that I’m just giving you the bald statistics without analysing them in any detail but they do seem to confirm that the field of coaching, and the number of people calling themselves coaches, is growing at a rate of knots. Watch out for follow-on articles in the next two issues of SA Coaching News in which I deal with:

  • How to make your profile stand out from the rest (March 2019);
  • What you need to do to differentiate yourself from everyone else (April 2019).



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2 Minute Tip: Making your WhatsApp Profile Work Harder for You

This article was first published in SA Coaching News.  Download your free copy of this issue of SA Coaching News by following this link.

I was working with a client recently who is doing a “soft” re-launch of her coaching consultancy. I noticed that her WhatsApp profile showed a picture with a quotation, and she didn’t show her full name in her profile so that the first time she sent me a WhatsApp message I couldn’t even be 100% sure who it was from—after all, there was no profile pic and the name could have belonged to a couple of people from my neighbourhood alone.

I remember reading some research done at Princeton University many years ago which said something to the effect that people were the first brands and our faces are our logo’s.

I strongly believe that we need to “sweat our real estate” as entrepreneurs, and this particular piece of her real estate would have lowered the temperature in my freezer it was so far from breaking a sweat! So we had a quick tutorial and tour of WhatsApp’s settings to sort the situation out.

If you want your WhatsApp profile to work for you while you aren’t even aware of it (I’ve secured two clients purely from my WhatsApp profile description), here are the 3 quick and easy steps you need to follow:

Step 1: Click on the 3 vertical dots in the top right hand corner when you open WhatsApp and select Settings from the dropdown menu

Step 2: On the Settings screen click on the section just under the green Settings header

Step 3: Upload a picture of yourself or your company logo by clicking on the camera icon.

Make sure you show your full name so people know who is contacting them.

Finally, include a quick one-liner describing what you do.


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Marketing Genius: Brazilian Lawn Mower Launch

big79937181prm002bTramontina, a Brazilian-based lawn mower manufacturer, recently launched a new model: the Trotter ride-on lawn mower in Sao Paolo.  What makes the launch so extremely clever, in my opinion, is how they went about it.

Interested buyers could test drive a Trotter lawn mower at one of Sao Paolo’s many city parks – yes, you could actually drive it around and beautify Sao Paolo at the same time!

This genius product launch did a number of things, including:

  • Gave interested buyers a real-life experience of what it would be like to use one of these lawn mowers on real terrain, risk free;
  • In preparation for the upcoming Olympic Games, I’m sure that the Sao Paolo city parks department was enormously grateful for any help it could get in beautifying the city;
  • The product launch demonstrated the company’s values of being environmentally accountable and responsible, socially aware, and concern for the welfare and quality of life in the surrounding communities.

This is true brand synergy and just plain clever marketing.  Do you have a product with which you could do something similar?

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Stay on Target

Dart Hitting Bulls EyeOne of the biggest challenges that I have when working with clients is to keep disciplining them (and myself) to keep things simple.  We are always so tempted to impress, tripping over ourselves to ensure that our potential clients perceive us to be authoritative, credible and subject matter experts – to our own detriment, as we end up hiding the simple, explicit message of our true expertise under verbosity and unnecessary cleverness.  We lose sight of our target and our goals.

We’ve recently been treated to the Australian TV series “Rake” about a well-meaning, but hopelessly ill-fated criminal lawyer.  One of the episodes is about a retired English school teacher who laments the abuse and loss of meaning in the English language in modern times.  Defending the teacher on serious charges, Cleaver Greene (our ill-fated criminal lawyer), refers to recent (real-life) incidents where meaning has been sacrificed for novelty:

  • In a report on interrogation activities at Abu Ghraib, the CIA referred to a “diminished verbal response capability”.  When asked for clarification on what this term meant, the answer was: a whimper!
  • The Pentagon described a plane crash as an “unintentional flight into the ground”! Duh!

We may laugh, but these are sad and extreme examples of how we use language to spin what is actually a very simple, clear concept.  Why would we want to blow smoke up our clients’ sit-upons? Actually, on this matter (the blowing of smoke), you may start to think that I watch an ENORMOUS amount of TV, but I happened to catch an episode of QI in passing and they were talking about a medically-accepted Victorian cure for drowning: literally, blowing smoke up the bottom of a person who had drowned!  Apparently, there was sufficient empirical evidence to prove that this cured drowning!

But back to the subject at hand: when crafting our marketing message, when identifying our niche, it is essential that we keep the language and message clear and simple.  As Winston Churchill said:

“Tell them what you want to tell them; then tell them; then tell them what you have told them.”

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Lost Marketing Opportunities

It’s been ages since I last posted – mea culpa.  I do stand by my opinion that one should only contribute something to the wealth of information on the internet when one has something of value to say.  This is a long one, but bear with me – there is a “teachable moment” at the end!

As a South African, we have just been to the polls, voting for our candidates and parties at national and provincial levels.  We had a relatively short wait to cast our vote, only tick the boxeshaving to queue for about an hour and it was during this time that I noted a number of missed marketing opportunities, and some fundamental mistakes that we could all learn from.

My first is a bit of a personal gripe: as a woman, I really like to have access to toilet paper and soap when I go to that place which we will not name!  Our voting station was out of these two little essentials and I thought it would have been such a great opportunity for the political parties to collectively have branded sachets of liquid soap and branded serviettes available in the facilities – no discrimination, all parties given the opportunity to supply branded items in equal amounts so that voters could choose to wipe and wash with the colours of their choice.  Who know, I might have sprinkled my vote around a little more (couldn’t resist that!).

While we were waiting, it would have been fabulous to have been able to sit in chairs that were branded with party logo’s.  When I look at some of the aerial photographs of lines of voters at some of the rural voting stations, stretching for hundreds of metres with no shade, I am sure that these voters would have appreciated the chance to rest their feet – regardless of who provided the means to do so.

During our wait, I thought it would have been an awesome opportunity for a local up-and-coming band to launch themselves to a bored and captive audience.  Better still, what about creating edu-tainment opportunities to make going to the polls a more compelling exercise.  Our country is starved for education, and I – for one – would be delighted to hold my workshop (Market Your Business Without Spending A Cent) for all those entrepreneurs who might have stood in the queues.  What a wasted opportunity for free education – and wouldn’t it make the incumbent government look good?!?

Finally, when we neared the entrance to the station, there were two queues.  We knew that there was a special queue to fast-track the elderly, pregnant women, people with physical infirmities and so on.  However, there were also a number of young and perfectly able-bodied people standing in this queue, which created a lot of muttering among those of us who’d been standing for a long time.  A couple of people walked over to the officials, clearly annoyed by this situation, only to be told rather rudely that the young, able-bodied voters were merely casting a national vote as they were out of their constituency.  Don’t you think a simply set of signs would have solved a lot of unnecessary confusion, muttering and ill-temper?  One sign to say: pensioners, people with special needs and people casting only national votes, and the other sign saying: National and Provincial voters queue here.

However, the lack of signage and the problems that it caused didn’t end there.  Once we got inside, there were various stations.  First, our ID documents had to be checked against the national voter’s roll.  There were two people doing this.  They had split the voter’s roll between them – one with A – M and the other with N – Z.  Now, my surname begins with H.  I was hailed by the chap who had the N – Z’s.  It took him AGES to figure out that H didn’t fit between the letters N and Z and I had to go back to the end of the queue that had formed in front of the girl with the A – M section.  It would have been so simple to put up a sign so that voters could go straight to the correct section.

So that was “Station 1”.  The next station was to have our fingers inked with an indelible ink.  There were no clear directions or signs that could have said: “Station 2: Inking”.  The same applied for the next step, which was to have our ID books stamped and so on.

I know that this is a long post, but the point that I want to drive home is that we miss SO many opportunities to brand and market ourselves and our businesses effectively.  I’m certainly going to work on my signage immediately.  I’ve also just been approved as a lecturer at the University of Pretoria on their Neuroscience of Coaching programme and I am going to make sure that I use every opportunity possible to convey my branding.  Let’s remain aware to what’s going on around us and make sure that we grab any and every opportunity to brand, brand, brand and market, market, market!

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Darwin Awards: Drug-dealers Send Drugs to Wrong Address!

I’ve just been highly amused by a report on Talk Radio 702 of a stash of cocaine being mistakenly sent to a German supermarket!  The drug-dealers will surely be awarded first prize in the annual Darwin Awards (for sheer stupidity!)

However, there is a lesson even in this ridiculous story: make sure that you send your info, product, content to the CORRECT people.  Particularly, if you are trying to market successfully, ensure that the people to whom you send marketing collateral (emails, leaflets and so on) would want to receive it.

There is nothing worse than having your email inbox inundated with unwanted and unsolicited mail.  Just this morning, I unsubscribed to a number of unsolicited emails and I was sorely tempted to report the senders as spammers.  One of the things that REALLY annoys me is receiving an unsolicited marketing SMS!  In order to opt out, it costs ME the cost of an SMS!  Don’t people think of the irritation factor and negative impact of these pesky marketing efforts?!?

And while I am on a rant, what about checking spelling (best I quickly run a spelling and grammar check!). I personally think that there is no excuse for poor spelling, given all of the tools that we have at our disposal.  Failure to double-check your work gives a bad impression and erodes the hard work that you do in building your personal and business brand.

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