Why “fake it till you make it” is bad advice

One of the frequently asked questions that makes newbie coaches nervous is what to say when a prospective client asks direct questions that may expose your lack of experience and credibility and make you feel vulnerable.

Ex: “How many clients do you have?”

The advice my trainers gave me? Fake it till you make it.

That is, act like you are already successful, have lots of paying clients, give the impression that you are doing well, and you are not desperate for their business.

This advice is so popular that it’s still being touted and shared and re-shared on Facebook, even though in the last few years there has been a backlash against it from other coaches on the grounds of integrity. It rolls off the tongue easily, has a memorable rhyming quality to it, and sounds like good advice.

But it doesn’t resonate with me.

I tried it in good faith when I started out as a coach, and it made me very uncomfortable. It sounds like I’m being asked to paint a rosier picture than is reflected by my current reality. I’m being asked to lie. And I don’t want to do that. It doesn’t feel morally or ethically right, it’s unprofessional, and it’s not sustainable.

I remember the advice my aunt gave me when I was growing up: When you tell one little lie, it grows bigger, and before you know it, you’ve got something on your hands that you can’t handle.

Why risk your professional reputation?

So how do you answer a direct question like “How many clients do you have?” or “How long have you been a coach?” without sounding like a completely naive newbie?

The key is to make it about the other person.

Get curious and interested in their current situation. Ask lots of questions. Imagine yourself in their shoes.

If you were they, how would you be feeling?

What resources are missing?

What information or research could help fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle?

What empowering tools or techniques could alleviate their pain, struggle, or dilemma?

Become their advocate and ally, and you will be surprised how the dynamic of the conversation shifts completely and the trust and rapport start to build between you and your prospective client.

Finally, detach emotionally from the outcome.

It’s not about you and whether you enrol a client. It’s about helping them find a good fit between what you offer and what they need.

If you can help them, great! If you can’t, you can refer them on to someone else, and you would be doing your part with integrity and good faith.