One-on-One Coaching: What It Is and How to Do It Right

Kat Boogaard October 7, 2022
One-on-One Coaching: What It Is and How to Do It Right

Mr. Miyagi. Mary Poppins. Yoda.

They're some of pop culture's most notorious and dedicated coaches.

They partnered closely with their pupils to offer their sage wisdom, guidance, and encouragement.

And while you might not be teaching karate or the value of a spoonful of sugar, they’re all fitting (and memorable) examples of the power and impact of one-on-one coaching.

Whether you’re a consultant making a career transition or a creator who has students begging for more personalized help – this guide for getting started with one-on-one coaching is the perfect propeller toward your next chapter.

Here's what you’ll discover in this guide:

  1. What is one-on-one coaching?
    A quick explainer of what exactly counts as one-on-one coaching.

  2. High-value, personalized help is popular for a reason
    Discover what the coaching community has to say about this approach!

  3. Three powerful pros of one-on-one coaching
    We explore the benefits of personal and customized coaching.

  4. Three cons of one-on-one coaching (that you can conquer)
    Drawbacks to be aware of but also some tips for combatting them.

  5. How to set up a one-on-one coaching program
    Six steps to get your own one-on-one coaching program up and running.

  6. Four tips for delivering transformational coaching sessions
    Our favorite techniques to make the most of your client sessions.

What is one-on-one coaching?

Like any other form of coaching, one-on-one coaching, or individual coaching, is a service focused on helping clients overcome challenges and achieve their goals.

But, as the name suggests, one-on-one coaching is delivered in a private, individualized format.

Coaches work with their clients directly rather than in a group setting. This provides a more focused, intimate, and confidential arrangement.

Remember that one-on-one coaching describes the type of relationship, not the environment.

So yes, it occurs between a coach and one client – but it can be delivered in-person or remotely, in real-time or asynchronously.

One-on-one coaching is popular because nothing beats the potent mix of both skin-in-the-game and tailored professional support.

In one Twitter poll we conducted, nearly 44% of respondents said one-on-one is their favorite approach as a coaching client — above group coaching or a combination of group coaching and one-on-one sessions.

Fortunately, coaches see the value in this one-on-one arrangement too.

While most coaches in our Twitter poll said they prefer to combine one-on-one coaching sessions with group coaching, one-on-one coaching alone was still chosen as a preferred option above group coaching sessions.

But just because a coaching format is popular doesn't mean it's perfect.

One-on-one coaching sessions offer many advantages (which we’ll cover next), but there are some pitfalls you should be aware of too.

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of individual coaching.

Three powerful pros of running one-on-one coaching sessions

1. Targeted and customized programs

Working with clients individually means you can customize and personalize your coaching programs to their unique goals and challenges.

That's an obvious benefit for your clients. But it's a perk for you as the coach as well.

This custom approach means you can make a more significant, more direct impact on your clients. And the results that came from this will help you attract future clients to your coaching business.

Of course, that's precisely what you want to achieve as a coach — plus, it makes for great testimonials and marketing materials, too.

2. Higher profit margins

Because every one-on-one coaching session is highly personalized to the client, it typically has a heftier price tag than courses, cohorts, or other more generalized options offered in group coaching.

That means you'll enjoy higher profit margins per coaching session (albeit at the cost of more time investment — which we'll cover in a bit).

3. Easier management

Any coaching program comes with some administrative work. And with every one-on-one coaching session, you'll need to keep track of individual client notes and progress.

But you don't have the added challenge of needing to coordinate group dynamics the way you do with group coaching.

You can dedicate your time, energy, and attention to your client, rather than getting sidetracked with monitoring conversations, addressing conflicts, and managing other interpersonal issues.

Three cons of running one-on-one coaching sessions (that you can conquer)

1. Challenging to scale

The biggest drawback of running your own coaching business is the demand for your time and energy. One-on-one coaching makes this even more difficult because your time is split between individual clients.

People are coming to you specifically, so there is no room to delegate.

When this type of business model requires so much of you — and you specifically — it's increasingly difficult to expand your business beyond what you alone can handle and manage.

But the more you automate and systemize the other parts of your business (onboarding, marketing, communication), the more time you have to focus on the more fulfilling work – like running effective coaching sessions.

Sure, you can’t scale the individual coaching sessions, but you can scale the infrastructure that supports your best work.

2. Lack of community

One of the aspects that people love about group coaching is the chance to connect and learn from other participants who are facing similar challenges and working toward the same goals.

That's obviously missing from a one-on-one coaching approach.

While many clients consider it worth the tradeoff for the level of personal attention they receive, the lack of camaraderie and community is something that can make a one-on-one program feel like it's missing a little something.

In most cases, you can remedy this by either creating a broader community with all your clients, members, or students. Or even holding a virtual happy hour with your core clients every month so they can connect and hang out to supplement what they miss from not having group coaching.

3. High expectations

Because of the personal and super customizable nature of a one-on-one coaching relationship (not to mention the often larger investment), clients have lofty expectations about how you'll help them and what they can achieve with your guidance.

That can make client satisfaction a little more difficult to achieve — but fortunately, the one-on-one focus enables you to make an even bigger impact on your clients.

Manage expectations by creating small or quick wins every coaching session while working towards a bigger goal or on a more intensive project. This will keep your clients feeling accomplished and on track.

How to set up a one-on-one coaching program

Do those ambitious client demands make you feel a little nervous?

If you decide that a one-on-one program is the right move for you and your coaching business — here are six steps to set up a program that exceeds your client's expectations:

Step 1: Pinpoint your expertise and target client

We've said it before, and we'll say it again: The more specific you can be about what you offer and who you serve, the better.

This isn't about limiting yourself — it's about clarifying your positioning so that potential clients have that “a-ha” moment when they find you. They'll immediately recognize that you're exactly the type of coach they've been looking for.

Here are a few examples of how much clarity this type of specificity provides:

Instead of: "I'm a life coach."
Use: "I'm a wellness coach helping busy professionals live healthier, happier, and more balanced lives."

Instead of: "I'm a finance coach."
Use: "I'm a finance coach focused on helping people who are deeply in debt overcome that burden."

Instead of: "I'm a business coach."
Use: "I'm a business coach focused on helping established professionals navigate career changes."

If you're already thinking through the logistics of how to structure a one-on-one program, we're willing to bet that you've already ironed out the nuts and bolts of what you provide and who it's for — but we couldn't resist dropping in with a quick refresher anyway.

Step 2: Create a time-saving, clarity-giving intake questionnaire

Don't overlook the fact that coaching involves a relationship — and that goes two ways.

As much as clients evaluate if you're the right match for them, you also need to do your due diligence to ensure you're the best fit to help them.

One of the best ways to do that is with a quick and simple intake questionnaire. This is your chance to learn a little about them upfront before taking their deposit.

You have room to customize a questionnaire that best suits you and the type of coaching you offer. But here are a few general questions you can ask:

  • What is your goal with coaching? Why does that goal matter to you?

  • What inspired you to pursue this goal specifically?

  • Do you have a deadline for achieving your goal? What is it?

  • What challenges are you facing in achieving this goal?

  • What have you already tried — to work toward your goal?

  • Have you done any coaching before? What did you like about it? What didn't you like?

Want to make this intake process even easier for you and your potential clients?

Use Clarityflow to create a video intake form. You can embed that on your website or share a link with prospective clients so that they can respond to your questions with a video.

Their video response will give you the necessary information while also helping you suss out if you'll have some coaching chemistry.

You can also provide the option of a simple text or audio-only response; the choice is yours!

Step 3: Customize your program and materials to cater to client needs

When you've decided to take on a client, your intake process gives you a bunch of foundational details, like their:

  • goals,

  • challenges,

  • timeline, and

  • any additional context

All that info is your starting point for creating a coaching program that delivers true transformation.

Thankfully, you don’t need to start from scratch when designing your program.

If you have existing in-person or online courses, programs, or frameworks, those can likely be adapted or supplemented with more customized resources.

For example, maybe you have an existing coaching program about building confidence, but your client wants to focus on becoming a better public speaker. Some of your confidence lessons will be good groundwork, but you can tailor the program with more advice, assignments, exercises, and handouts directly addressing public speaking.

Remember that while you want your one-on-one coaching to have some structure and organization, you need to remain flexible — to respond and adapt to your client's real-time challenges and success.

  • Did they nail something faster than you thought? There's no use sticking with that subject.

  • Are they really struggling with a concept? It's worth dedicating more time to that one.

Step 4: Set realistic expectations and enforce boundaries

Once you're ready to jump into a new coaching arrangement, you need to give your client the lowdown on what they can expect moving forward.

Hopefully, you ironed out the duration of your engagement when they officially signed up. (Are they paying indefinitely to meet with you X times per month? Or did they sign up for a three-month program?)

But, beyond the span of your coaching services, you'll also need to get on the same page about nuts and bolts like:

  • How often will you meet?

  • Will those meetings be live or asynchronous?

  • What's the best way for clients to communicate with you?

  • How quickly do you typically respond to messages?

  • How can clients send feedback your way?

Remember, one-on-one coaching usually brings along some high expectations. So, ironing out these basic elements will prevent frustration and miscommunications down the line.

Step 5: Do what you do best! Run your first coaching session

Now you're in the thick of it — actually rolling up your sleeves and working directly with your client to help them pursue their goal.

Exactly how you run these sessions will depend on the structure of your coaching program.

You might meet in person or do regular Zoom calls for remote coaching sessions.

Or, you can use Clarityflow to run coaching sessions asynchronously and keep all of your back-and-forth messages organized in a threaded conversation.

Many coaches choose a combination of those approaches. They'll schedule regular, live sessions with clients but use Clarityflow to address questions and feedback in between those real-time conversations.

Wondering how to make your sessions really stick?

We'll dig into more tips on running an effective and impactful one-on-one coaching session shortly.

Step 6: Collect feedback (so you can iterate and improve)

Coaching involves offering feedback to your clients to help them learn, grow, and improve. It's what they're paying you for.

But you need to gather feedback from them too. And not just at the end of your program.

You want to ensure your clients get as much value as possible out of your coaching relationship, so ask for feedback regularly and use it to improve your coaching skills.

Depending on what you think your clients will be most comfortable with, you can use quick surveys or even casual conversations to collect their insights.

Ask them:

  • What is going well with this coaching arrangement so far?

  • What challenges or frustrations do you have with this coaching arrangement?

  • Has anything surprised you about this coaching program?

Whether they say they want more face-to-face time or are craving more tangible exercises to put what they're learning to work, you can use valuable feedback to improve their experience as they move forward.

Four tips for delivering transformational coaching sessions

The bulk of the magic of your one-on-one coaching program lies in your curriculum and sessions themselves.

So, if you're hungry for a few more tips to make your one-on-one sessions as meaningful as possible, here are our best suggestions:

1. Establish a clear goal for each session (with a deliverable outcome)

You have an overarching goal for your entire coaching program. But you and your client also need to be able to see (and monitor) progress after each session.

You need to embrace the magic of small wins.

For example, if you're a public speaking coach, the larger objective is to help your client become a better speaker. But, on a smaller scale, you might dedicate one session to minimizing filler words and another to managing body language.

This helps you and your client see the progress they're making. Plus, it makes the entire coaching process feel more manageable and less intimidating.

2. Provide plenty of examples and exercises

Studies show that active learning — an approach for involving people in the chosen subject — is super effective.

So, look for ways that your clients can play an active role in your coaching sessions.

Some of that is inherent, as your one-on-one sessions will likely involve a lot of back-and-forth conversation. But supplement that with other exercises that require them to actually put what they're learning to work.

This helps boost comprehension, retention, and results!

3. Take diligent notes (recording the session helps!)

Your clients will learn a lot in each of your coaching sessions, but you will too — you'll learn about them.

Their breakthroughs. Their roadblocks. Their frustrations.

Since the point of one-on-one coaching is a highly-personalized engagement, those are things you need to keep note of so that you can tailor your future sessions and resources accordingly. And deliver an even more transformational experience.

That's another perk of using Clarityflow as part of your coaching business.

You'll have all sorts of information and context — videos, audio, and text — right there in a threaded conversation. It's like a living log of your client's progress that both of you can access and refer to.

4. Assign action items (and be available for follow-up)

While progress happens during your actual sessions — whether they're real-time or you're doing asynchronous coaching — you'll probably expect your clients to put in some work outside of those sessions as well.

  • Are you a nutrition coach who wants them to try to make a meal plan and a shopping list for the week?

  • Are you a financial coach who wants them to find last month's credit card bill and categorize the spending?

  • Are you a wellness coach who wants them to try meditating for at least 10 minutes each day?

Those assignments help facilitate the active learning we discussed earlier, so you don't want them to get lost in the shuffle.

Clearly state them at the end of your session — or even send a follow-up Clarityflow explaining the "homework" — so you can make sure your clients move forward with those exercises.

One-on-One Coaching: Personal, productive, and powerful

One-on-one coaching can be a highly-personalized and impactful arrangement for your clients while simultaneously being incredibly rewarding for you as the coach.

But, like any other type of coaching, it requires some strategy and planning to help your clients achieve the ambitious results they’re after.

Use this as your guide to acing one-on-one coaching, and you're well on your way to joining the ranks of Mr. Miyagi, Mary Poppins, and Yoda.

Want to add more value to your one-on-one coaching packages (without more live calls)? Create a new client channel with Clarityflow. Grab your free account here.

Kat Boogaard

About Kat Boogaard

Customer Success Lead at Clarityflow. Eager to hear all of your questions, suggestions, and feedback about Clarityflow.

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