LIFE DESIGN IDEAS :
Claire Portis, business coach
How did you get started as coach?
After corporate world, I retrained in business and personal coaching. With my 20 years’ commercial experience and being a mum of three, I knew what it felt like to be in a business and then get out and do something different. My niche was women in transition but who didn’t know what they wanted to do next, like I had been.
It was a mixture of mums returning to work after a career break, people who wanted to change their job or who had been out of work for up to ten years. The common factor was they were all in transition and didn’t know what they wanted to do next or how to think it through.
I started networking and joined a couple of local groups, including Hampstead women’s club. Many of the women I coached in that group knew they didn’t want to rejoin the corporate rat race and they wanted to do something for themselves, on their own terms and their own timetable.
What does your work entail with your clients?
I do a combination of life coaching and business coaching, because to be honest, you can't separate the two. It's rarely exclusive. I take a holistic approach. It's about building a client's confidence and looking at next steps; creating a vision for either their life or for their business.
When you started, did you work with a coach yourself?
Yes, informally as I had three very good friends who are all coaches. When I left my corporate role, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I knew it was around people, performance, training, motivation, getting the best out of people. I’ve always thrived off seeing other people thrive, seeing them make a success of what they do.
The coaching process helped me get where I wanted to be. I couldn’t have done that without spending time with coaches.
What was the biggest thing in your corporate life that you wanted to change?
There was a point in June 2008 when I had some girls from work over for a barbecue. At the time we were having a particularly busy time at work forecasting; yet another cycle of being asked to set targets we couldn't possibly achieve. I also wanted to spend more time with my kids.
At the barbecue I had something like an out of body experience, even amongst eight friends, and I just realised I don’t want to do this work anymore. The next morning, I burst into tears for three hours and took 2 weeks off work to step away and have time to think.
I bought a new notebook (when in doubt, buy a new item of stationery) and I put myself through a self-coaching process. On page 1 I wrote 'how do I feel?'; miserable, sad, stressed, overwhelmed, fed up... all the negative words I could come up with. On the opposite page, I wrote 'how do I want to feel?'; happy, engaged, light, giving. I had to get everything in my head onto paper. I also wrote down all the things that were making me feel like I did on page 1 and I realised that so much was out of my control as it was linked to the business I worked for. I didn’t feel in control of my life. That was my turning point.
After I’d written it all out, I told myself that it was all going to change. I immediately felt better. Committing to that change felt good although at the time I didn’t know how or what it looked like. But I just knew it 'was'.
How did you overcome the fear of not having that regular monthly income that employment gives us?
I have a husband who earns and I also had some savings. I have coached people who are not in that situation who manage to do all the planning alongside their existing job in advance of going solo. They found 'where there's a will, there's a way', and when you find your passion – and sometimes riding the fear of it, you can do it. It took me 3-4 months to discover that it was coaching that I wanted to pursue.
How does coaching fulfill you in a way that permanent employment didn't?
I love the moments with clients when they just get it’ the ‘aha’ moments. It's what I get out of bed in the morning for; helping people create movement and a shift in their thinking.
I’m quite practical; most people leave a session with me with a list of things to do that will actually move them forward. There's a lot of thinking and soul-searching my sessions, but people do need practical steps to make their dreams happen.
How did you choose which coaching training to attend?
Research and taster days. Events just started appearing in my world, like the taster days. I went along to a few and after even after the first one, I knew that coaching was my path but that wasn't the company I wanted to train with.
I used my own coach to help me pinpoint the right one.
How long was your training?
I did parent coaching first which was 4 days over weekends and then the life coaching lasted from January through to June over 3-4 weekends with practice sessions in between. It seemed to come naturally to me as I’d always run teams in a business, coaching and training people on the job. It didn’t feel alien but I had to learn some of the key coaching principles and how to get the best out of people.
How did you build up your client base?
I started with family and friends first, even using the kids as guinea pigs. Then I used networking meetings - which I still do now - offering a business or life clarity session for 45mins to an hour to help people find the push they need.
Networking - in any business - is absolutely key. Getting out there talking to people in the same but also different fields, with different skills, that can contribute to what you're building.
Don’t be afraid to ask people about what they do when you meet them; be interested and interesting.
Introductions also make such a difference and I get lots of new clients through word of mouth.
Interviewed by Faith Hill, Life Coach