Generalist Vs Specialist: Which Coaching Route to Take?

August 20, 2021
life coach

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There are many kinds of coaches out there: life coach, executive coach, leadership coach, football coach, basketball coach…the list goes on. And when you mention the term football or basketball coach to a layman, they would instantly be able to understand what it entails.

It is easy to wrap one’s head around such a role because it is a believable notion that a sports player can need guidance to play a better game by hiring a coach for themselves. And the natural assumption in sports coaching is that the coach has been a player at some point.

And although not quite as obvious, when it comes to leadership coaching or executive coaching or any other form of non-sport coaching, it is also definitely ideal for one to have had successful experience in a leadership or executive role (or a role they’re claiming to be an expert at) at some point in their lives.

The Caddie & The Coach

I’d like to use the analogy of a caddie in the game of golfing here for a second, to help drive home the point better. For those unfamiliar, a caddie is a person who does the job of carrying a player’s bags & clubs. And while the caddie is not an official player and doesn’t actively partake in the game, they still need to have sufficient knowledge of the game and be equipped with the know-how of which club to suggest, become familiar with the golfer’s style, and have complete knowledge of the golfing range, amongst other things.

This is where the role of a coach and a caddie converge beautifully. As either, it is significant when it comes to being able to understand and provide insights about the golfer’s style or the tendencies of a client. And by understanding the game of the person, a coach can make observations, provide insights, ask questions. And this can be done by anyone who wants to.

But that’s just one part of the coach’s job. And just like a caddie, you as a coach can be with your client, walk alongside them on their journey – providing facts, insights, observations, stories as tools to help the client better their game. But the actual game has to be played only by the client. And the coach can assist by doing some of the heavy lifting.

And for this reason, just like it would be crucial for a caddie to know the game of golf pretty well as opposed to being a sports enthusiast in general – it would also be imperative for a coach to have expertise and experience in the particular field that a client wants to get coached on.

Why Should You Specialise?

So, when we say experience, is that all it can take if a person wishes to be a general coach?  Is that an automatic qualification? And what about being a personal life coach? Or behavioral coaching – since the aspects of that are the same universally (listening, acknowledging, etc.) – should one not be qualified to coach others on these as long as they have the training and certification?

To that, the answer is yes, but there’s a caveat. Someone looking to hire a coach is still going to ask you what your experience has been. If someone is looking for a behavioral coach at a leadership level, the natural question one will ask is “Have you ever been in a senior leadership role where you’ve actively solved conflicts? Or has it been only at a college or entry-level position?”

So, generalist vs specialist coach – which one should you pick? While no one is stopping you from being a general coach, what is the area that you feel more drawn to? Ask yourself, apart from the relevant experience in different areas, what is a cause that you care deeply about? And for that, you can again check your own journey and story and contemplate on what makes you most excited.

Case In point: Vanessa Lau

Here I want to provide the example of a coach called Vanessa Lau, who quit her corporate career and wanted to be a Business Coach. But she soon realized she didn’t have the necessary level of expertise.

So, she decided to niche down and help burnt-out corporate employees find the right way to quit their job and figure out their passion. A little later, she shifted focus to helping online businesses gain traction on Instagram and turn followers into paying clients. Even though she was successful and was getting a lot of client requests, she decided to niche down even further when she realized she lacked the relevant social media experience.

When she sat down to ask herself what was missing, she figured that what really excited her was helping entry-level online coaches gain their first 1:1 coaching client by creating content that builds demand. This has proven well for her proprietary program The Bossgram Academy, which she has tweaked and updated several times to fit into the needs of her ideal client: a new online coach.

It’s All About What the Client Wants

While you can still continue the debate of generalist vs specialist consultants/coaches, it really comes down to the client. Do your own research and figure out what people are looking for when they’re looking to hire a coach. And how will you make the prospective client feel confident about your competencies as a coach?

To use another analogy, you for sure can be a general medical practitioner – because you want to help everyone and everyone. While a brain surgeon on the other hand could help everyone, they choose to specialize in one area and become an expert in that. So, while not everyone will land up at their doorstep, the ones who need his services are in all probability very much in need of his expertise and find a lot of value in investing in him.

You can surely be a general coach or you can opt to be a specialist coach and pick a specific segment that you know people want assistance in and that you also feel passionately about.

So, the question is, which route do you think is worth taking?


1. How do I pick the right area of specialization?

There are many aspects to this. First, figure out what you’re good at and where your experience and expertise lie. Then do research to see if this area is something people are actively looking for help in – is it a viable space to be in?

Check with yourself if working in this area draws and interests you to be able to do it long-term. If you still have multiple options after asking these questions then just start with one area that most excites you and experiment and see!

2. When would it be a good idea to be a general coach?

If you’re a new coach starting out, it is always better to specialize in one area and pick a niche.

Only after you’ve gotten a lot of experience and customer success in multiple areas and have a good online presence can you tread a little wider into giving yourself a more generic term such as a Business Coach or a Life Coach.

About Simply.Coach

Simply.Coach is an enterprise-grade coaching software designed to be used by individual coaches and coaching businesses. Trusted by ICF-accredited and EMCC-credentialed coaches worldwide, Simply.Coach is on a mission to elevate the experience and process of coaching with technology-led tools and solutions.  

About the author
Executive Coach & Co-founder of Simply.Coach

Recognised as one of the Most Talented Coaching Leaders in India by CHRO Asia, Ram is an ICF certified coach with more than a decade of coaching experience Before co-founding Simply.Coach in 2020, Ram worked across the gamut of organisations, from start-ups through to global MNCs. Having served as VP and Country Manager for Publicis Sapient, Ram’s corporate expertise helps him focus on positive change to empower leaders to reach their goals

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