I’ve always thought of writing as a process that helps clarify and solidify things. One of the best ways to clarify goals, expectations, and actions within your coaching program is to create a coaching contract! Put it all into writing and get your client (and yourself) to sign it as a commitment.
A few months ago, I was going through the existential crisis that every coach has gone through at some point in their career: I felt like the state of my coaching niche (fitness) was rife with salesy crap that enticed people into spending money, while clients were not getting the results they had expected. That is, if the fitness “guru” wasn’t a snake oil salesman in the first place.
Certain coaches would promise constant contact, then vanish without a trace. On the other side of the spectrum, they would take personal responsibility for the failures of their clients, and carry that guilt with them. Results were rare and often temporary. It all started to feel really icky and depressing.
One day my father casually asked me how my coaching service was going, and the floodgates opened. After my venting subsided, he observed that I sounded cynical – not just about other coaches, but also about my potential clients. I was extremely drained and feeling personally responsible for their lack of progress.
I was losing heart.
He offered me one amazing solution that I couldn’t believe I’d never thought of myself – creating a coaching contract that my clients and I would be excited to sign! A contract that lays out all our expectations, needs, and terms. I ran to my desk to start drafting the contract that I’d start using with all future clients.
The Coaching Contract: A Simple & Elegant Solution
I started writing:
This is a coaching contract between you, __________, and I, Neha Sinha: that we will work together as a team to make progress towards your fitness goals over the next 3 months.
This already felt cathartic. It felt official and clear.
The next step was to define those goals. During our initial assessment phone call, I always ask prospective clients to talk about their goals. They may respond with tangible goals such as “losing 5 kgs” or “running a marathon”. But I always want them to dig a little deeper. I’d ask them “why” until we hit the emotional reasons driving their goals. What did they want to feel?
- Perhaps they want “toned thighs and arms” but ultimately they want to feel confident about themselves in whatever they wear.
- Perhaps they want “to run a 5k” but ultimately they want to feel energetic throughout the day to be able to play with their growing, high-energy kids.
- Perhaps they want to “Lose 5 kgs”, but ultimately they want to feel the sweet vengeance of having a revenge bod when they see their ex at that mutual friend’s wedding.
So the next part of the contract was for the client to fill out: Your Personal Goals
I allow potential clients to take a few days to put this in writing, and we then paste it into our coaching contract. Basis these goals, I also write out Our Goals As A Team – this is for us to know whether we have achieved what we wanted to from the coaching program.
Once we have established this, we move on to the next step:
Managing Expectations & Setting Boundaries
People who become coaches often do so with a desire to help people. We want to always be there for our clients, perhaps in ways that no one was there for us. We want to go above and beyond.
The coaching contract is a great way for us coaches to manage our own expectations and set boundaries as much as it is for our clients!
To this end, I wrote the next section of my coaching contract called: What I Will Need From You / What You Can Expect From Me
The beauty of this section is that it gives me a chance to address all my pain points – I was able to write out exactly the areas where I felt my clients would sometimes drop the ball. In turn, I was able to give them the reassurance that they can expect a complementing act from my end. That way, I would hold them accountable without making them feel like I was putting all the onus on them.
For instance, people often carry a lot of shame around their food intake, body composition, and lack of exercise. Most people are open when they begin their journey, but it’s quite common for people to start lying about their weekly habit of binge drinking or their nightly chocolate bar. if I ask them, in writing, to be open and honest about their challenges, I can also reassure them, in writing, that I will help them through those challenges.
This has gone a long way in helping my clients feel supported and for us to build a dynamic of teamwork between us.
The Cheat Sheet to Your Clients’ Needs
The next section is called What You Will Need From Me
I was excited to see the responses from this section because it would essentially give me the roadmap to coach each client and meet them where they are. It felt like a cheat sheet!
I was surprised to see simple things such as “check in on me every day via text” or “let’s work out on video twice a week” meant so much to them and it was a small act from my end to put a daily alarm and text a hello, or do a 20-minute video workout while I watch them sweat and make progress every week. I love my clients and if these things can make them happy and keep them on track, why wouldn’t I do it?
I think we are sometimes scared of opening the door for clients and letting them ask for whatever they want. Because we must set boundaries, and not get too enmeshed, and protect our space at all costs! But I think that mindset hasn’t served me very well because it was coming from a place of self-preservation, and ultimately, fear. When things need to be put into writing, people think things through and will often be very reasonable.
Clients have expectations even before they’ve ever heard of us. The responses within the “What you will need from me” section help me understand and clarify whether I could give the time, energy, and expertise that’s needed,
So, what do you do on the off chance a client asks you for something that is beyond what you can give them? I can, without guilt or shame, refer them to a counselor, gym trainer, or therapist. We are coaches, we are human. There’s nothing wrong in saying “this is beyond the scope of my expertise, but let me refer you to ___.”
If anything, this will help the client trust you even more.
The Magic of Co-Creating: Taking Ownership
Surprisingly, many first-time clients are not clear on the fact that simply signing up for a coaching service is not enough – they need to take ownership of their progress and success rather than blindly follow what the coach says.
As you have already seen, there are parts of the contract that the client gets to fill out themselves. We take a day or two to go back and forth and make sure both parties are happy with it.
This provides an inherent understanding that clients will be proactively taking part in the coaching process.
The final section is called Our Agreement and it is a summary of the terms of our contract. This section is probably very personal to your coaching modality and methodologies, so I won’t be including it in this article, but if you like, you can read my entire coaching contract here.
When we both agree that everything on the contract flows logically – from the goals to the actions we will take – we both sign the contract and begin our program.
Here the template of my coaching contract. Please feel free to make a copy and modify it to your needs!
Do you have a coaching contract? What does it look like? Do you have suggestions for mine? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!