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I left my job to travel the world in 2014. 2015 was my first year transitioning to a new city, new home and new career as an Executive Coach and writer/blogger. As of today, almost three years have passed.
Doing my accounting last month, I realized that earlier this year I crossed a significant threshold for my coaching business in 2017. I’m reliably earning enough, after expenses and taxes, to make a living doing what I love. It helps that I live a simple life.
Some bloggers publish their revenue numbers publicly, but I’m not cool doing that. Money doesn’t equal happiness. All that I know is that I am earning enough to live a life that makes me content. I get to help people through meaningful work. That’s what matters!
As a coach, my expenses are also not incredibly high. All of my work is based on 1-on-1 coaching. At this time I’m not doing group-based coaching, though I will be launching a group program in 2018. The way my business is currently setup, a few software and hardware tools are all I need, aside from my skill as a coach of course! The later being the most expensive and time consuming thing to get.
My big-ticket expenses end up being professional training, coaching (yes, I often hire a coach help me improve, even though I am one!) and travel out of town for conferences and client visits. These costs are not essential, but I see such a high ROI (return on investment) from them that I gladly allocate a big chunk of my revenue in that direction.
This blog post isn’t going to focus on the income from my business, how I generate leads or how I coach. Instead, I want to give you a peek behind scenes of my business. Let’s geek out on the tools – hardware, software, and services – that I use to keep my business running efficiently.
What’s great about being a online business owner nowadays is that fantastic software and hardware tools can make life easier, automate tasks and improve the client experience. While I list all the essential tools I use in my business below, don’t let the list overwhelm you! If you are just getting started as a coach, pick a few tools to adopt at first. Add more as you grow and scale your business. That’s what I did!
Let’s dive into the list…starting with my home office setup and then getting to the various software I use.
My Home Office Setup
2018 updates: (1) I’ve upgraded my webcam (read below to see what I’m using now) and it’s awesome! (2) I ditched the “pop filter” and bought a foam “windscreen” for my microphone instead. (3) I use an iPad Pro – large size – as my notetaking device while on coaching calls. I also share the iPad using Zoom Meeting as a virtual whiteboard. This comes in handy when working with clients and drawing/sketching ideas. Read on for details.
1. IKEA Skarsta Standing Desk
Standing desks are game-changers. They massively improve your productivity and health, with little extra effort. Yes, you can spend over a grand on a fancy standing desk. Yikes! I don’t see the point in doing that. One of my former co-workers at Microsoft even had a standing desk with a built-in treadmill in his office!
I opt for a low-tech crank operated desk from IKEA. It is cheap (<$250 on sale) and takes just 20 seconds of cranking to raise and lower. There are two versions of the Skarsta. I use the large version. It’s complimented by an IKEA stool that is great for resting one knee while standing.
There is a benefit to not having a motor-powered standing desk, aside from the cost savings (motors cost more). You will be more likely to stay standing when it takes effort to lower the desk. I had a motorized standing desk for years at my old job and found myself dropping it all the time. Now, with a 20-second hand-crank as my option for lowering, I see that I stand up much more. Motors are also prone to failure. Go for the hand crank!
I love this IKEA desk so much that I bought two more for my wife’s offices (in the small version). She loves them as well.
Pro Tip: Make sure to adjust your desk and monitor height to be ergonomically correct. Ergotron’s Workspace Planner can help you dial this in.
2. Dell 27” Monitor
I spend most of my time coaching from my home office. Having a large monitor is a huge benefit, reducing eye strain and neck pain. It might also save you up to 2.5 hours per day according to University of Utah researchers. One very big monitor is better than multiple smaller monitors!
This Dell monitor is so fantastic I bought two more, one for my wife’s home office in the 27” variety and another for her other office in the 24” version. I recommend going for the 27” version for a private office.
3. Mac Mini and MacBook Air
There is a certain irony to my using Apple devices in my personal and professional life, being that I worked at Microsoft and all. However, I decided that I want to keep all our household devices in a single ecosystem, to ensure compatibility and make troubleshooting easier for my wife and I. We both switched to iPhones a few years ago after our Nokia Phones proved useless and now we are 100% committed to Apple devices!
That said, Microsoft’s new “Surface” family of computers are really great and worth considering. Alas, I’m not changing back right now!
I use a Mac Mini as my primary desktop computer. I like having a dedicated device that I can use specifically for my work with all peripherals connected, without worrying about disconnecting and reconnecting my laptop everytime I want to work from another part of my home or head to a coffee shop.
I have a Macbook Air that I use as a portable device when traveling or working outside my home office.
4. Logitech BRIO Ultra HD Webcam
Since my work is 99% virtual, a great webcam is a necessity. While standard webcams are reasonable (and claim to be “HD” in most cases) my Logitech webcam is AMAZING! It renders video well in all sorts of lighting and streams and records in 4K! That said, most video conferencing apps don’t use the full 4K stream (they downsample to 1080p at most), I still like the fact that I can record super high-quality videos without needing another camera to do so.
It also is wide-angle, which is nice if you need to use it to capture multiple people sitting next to each other at a table. It knocks the socks off built-in webcams in even high-end machines like the new Surface Pro, MacBook Pro or iMac.
The microphone on the Logitech BRIO is also excellent. It has dual omnidirectional microphones with built-in echo reduction. However, I use a different mic; the Blue Yeti.
Let me tell you why…
BTW…if you are on a budget, the Logitech C930e webcam is what I used for many years and it’s awesome. The Logitech BRIO is a step-up in quality (performs much better in variable lighting conditions) but the C930e is a very good webcam.
5. Blue Yeti Microphone with Mount, Stand, and Filter
Audio quality is pivotal for coaching. Using built-in microphones on my computer isn’t an option. The Logitech webcam also isn’t good enough quality for me, in spite of the dual-array-mics. Most coaches use a cheap USB headset. Not bad, but there are far better options if you are willing to spend a little cash.
I’ve been using the Blue Yeti setup for the past few months. I like the fact that it provides the listener with studio-quality audio and I don’t need to wear giant headphones all day. I use a pair of iPhone earbuds plugged into the Blue Yeti microphone to carry the other person’s audio directly to my ears.
The Blue Yeti is a beautiful microphone that works with any computer using the USB port. It works for me since my office is tranquil. If you have ambient noise (traffic or work in an open office workspace) this microphone will not work for you. It is very sensitive to background noise!
The Auphonix brand Stand, Pop Filter, and Shock Mount were all purchased via Amazon. The shock mount is high quality machined aluminum and keeps my keyboard taps and mouse clicks from vibrating through the Blue Yeti (it picks up any vibration!). The Pop Filter eliminates loud noises from “p’s” and “t’s” being enunciated with too much air. If you are a Coach, Podcaster or spend your day speaking into a microphone, Pop Filters are a must!
Note: As of October 2018, I’m using a foam “windscreen” cover for the Blue Yeti instead of the Pop Filter shown in the picture. Why? It’s small and doesn’t block my face, which is sorta important when doing video coaching calls!
The stand is sorta cheap, but it gets the job done. I wouldn’t mind upgrading to a higher quality stand at a later date.
6. Jabra Evolve 80 – Noise-Canceling Headset
Before I upgraded to the Blue Yeti setup, I used a Jabra Evolve 80 professional call-center-grade headset for over a year. It was expensive ($350 when I bought it!) and not very comfortable. However, it has two forms of noise-canceling that are vital when coaching in noisy environments:
(1) Quiet for your clients: It has a boom microphone that is both uni-directional and noise-canceling. What does this mean? It means that if you are in a noisy location, your clients won’t be disturbed!
(2) Quiet for you: Like Bose-style noise-canceling headphones, the Jabra headset covers your entire ear and cancels out ambient sound very well. I needed this headset when I was living in a house on a noisy road. My clients never knew how much traffic was just outside my window.
The downside? Two things. First, it is super expensive. Second, the headset doesn’t feel great. After a full day of Zoom Meetings, I get a headache from the headphones squeezing my head like a vice. I tried stretching the headset out over a shoebox every night, it helped but didn’t solve the problem. Compared to Bose QuietComfort headphones these feel terrible. However, they are far better regarding noise-canceling (and have a boom microphone), which is why I got them.
7. iPad Pro and Apple Pencil
A few months ago I splurged on the large 12.9” iPad Pro and Apple Pencil. It’s the size of a full sized legal note pad!
During coaching calls, I take notes during and (mostly) after each session. My previous (pre-iPad) workflow was to take notes on full-sized legal paper pads and scan them into my computer using the Evernote app on my iPhone. On a busy day, I will scan 12–20 pages. That’s a lot of paper!
The iPad has massively streamlined my workflow. I use the Evernote Penultimate app to directly capture my writing into Evernote (which is the repository for all my notes – both business and personal related). What’s even cooler: since I coach using Zoom Meeting, with a few clicks, I can share my iPad screen with clients during a Meeting. This way, I can sketch things out, and clients can follow along well.
The iPad also makes it easy to add to my handwritten notes later on. I’ve been doing this more and more, especially as I review old notes as I prep for upcoming client meetings.
8. Comcast Business Internet
I used to have standard Internet service but quickly realized that there is a massive difference between bandwidth and quality/latency. For example, you might have 100MB of download speed and 20 MB of upload speed with your internet connection, but your Skype or Zoom Meeting calls may still have jitter or occasionally cut out.
Why does this happen?
It’s not bandwidth that is the issue. Skype doesn’t need much bandwidth to work great. It’s the quality and latency and quality of the connection that is the issue! Even a few milliseconds delay, which you would never notice when surfing the web or streaming movies, is catastrophic for a live video chat.
I found that in the afternoons (when neighborhood kids returned home from school) my Internet connection would have higher latency and often cut-out during client meetings. I upgraded to a business-class internet connection from Comcast, and that fixed the problem (mostly). I pay twice as much for my Internet service, but the quality of the link is much better. When I upgraded, they installed a dedicated cable line to my home, and my internet traffic “supposedly” gets prioritized ahead of all the neighborhood kids playing Call of Duty after school! I don’t know if this is true (Internet forums say it isn’t, Comcast says it is), but I do notice a significant quality difference in my connection reliability.
If you don’t have Comcast Internet service, contact your local internet provider and ask about their business-class plans.
Software – Services and Apps
9. Bluehost – Web Hosting
I’ve used Bluehost for years. It’s what I use to run my WordPress websites. Why Bluehost? They have amazing customer support and are low-cost. I like that they are used by some of the largest blogs and WordPress users around. With a few clicks, you can have your WordPress website and blog ready to go on Bluehost.
10. Go Daddy – Domains
I’ve always used GoDaddy to purchase domain names. I find that they have one of the best domain search engines around, and it’s easy to buy the domain and then update a few settings to have your site work well with any other hosting provider (I use Bluehost as previously mentioned).
While GoDaddy recently offered WordPress hosting services, I prefer to use Bluehost for hosting since they have more experience running WordPress sites at scale.
11. Make Plus – WordPress Theme
My website uses WordPress, which comes with a few free themes. I’ve found that it can be well worth the money to pay for a premium theme. I use “Make Plus” by the folks at Theme Foundry. It’s simple, fast and does everything I need.
Also, if you aren’t going to use software like LeadPages to create a beautiful homepage like I did (see below), Make has a “Builder” template to create a professional-looking website without any technical skill. Check out some examples of fantastic sites using Make here.
BTW, they have amazing customer support if you ever run into issues!
12. Acuity Scheduling – Appointments and Purchases
I am in love with Acuity Scheduling and am a power user of their solution. I’ve had over a thousand appointments, and a lot of revenue/purchases flow through Acuity in the past few years!
In my opinion, the Acuity user experience is far superior to ScheduleOnce or Calend.ly. All my clients book their own appointments using a unique scheduling link the Acuity Scheduling system creates. They can see all upcoming meetings, reschedule and the interface for me (the administrator) is compelling. All appointments automatically synchronize with iCal on my Apple Devices (and with a Microsoft Exchange hosted calendar as well).
I also use Acuity as my shopping cart and checkout page. Yes, that’s right, Acuity integrates with Stripe. Clients can view my coaching services and easily purchase one-time coaching or monthly subscriptions. I don’t need to mess around with invoices each month. Customers sign up for a coaching subscription, and it automatically charges them each month.
Acuity really is the backbone of my coaching business. It collects money and helps my clients show up on time (by sending appointment reminders automatically). It can also easily handle intake forms and scale to support a team of coaches and virtual assistants if need be.
13. Zoom – Video Conferencing
I used to use Skype for all my coaching meetings. However, I didn’t like a couple of things about that. (1) I would start getting Skype chats from current and past clients at all hours, which made me feel like I was “on call” 24/7. This is the problem with having Skype messaging and video calling integrated together. (2) There is no built-in recording feature – I had to use a Skype add-on for recording, and it was error-prone. (3) The quality wasn’t all that great. (4) There was no way to share my iPad during a call. (5) There is no whiteboard. (6) Skype doesn’t seem like a “professional” tool.
On the quality issues with Skype, before switching to Zoom exclusively, I would often start video calls on Skype and change to Zoom if the quality wasn’t up to par. Zoom fixes all of these issues, and it’s very affordable. 1:1 meetings are free as long as they are less than an hour in length and it’s only $15/month for larger meetings. I have used Zoom exclusively for all client meetings (and potential clients’ meetings) for about 6 months and couldn’t be happier with the experience.
14. Stripe – Payments
Stripe or PayPal? They both work, but I’ve had an issue with PayPal that led me to switch to Stripe this year. I’ve had a few occasions where PayPal “held” a few payments due to suspicion. In one case, they ended up returning the payment to the client thinking I was a scammer, despite my providing proof that I wasn’t. Awkward!
Speaking with other online business owners, I’ve heard enough horror stories (accounts frozen, money refunded to purchasers randomly) that I moved to Stripe and am very happy with the choice.
Stripe is a payment gateway but not a shopping cart solution, which means that if you use it, you will need another software solution as a shopping cart or use the invoicing features built-into your accounting software.
15. DocuSign – Coaching Agreements
I use a simple coaching agreement to spell out the confidential nature of my coaching program and the things I commit to as a coach along with the things the client agrees to. I have a DocuSign template with all this information and email it to each client after filling out a few fields to customize as needed.
16. DropBox – File Sharing
Each coaching client gets a private DropBox to share documents and recordings of our calls.
17. Wave Apps – Accounting
There are a lot of options for online accounting systems. I started using Wave Apps in 2015 (as did my wife) and we love the experience. Best of all, it’s free! They make money through non-intrusive ads and professional services they offer. Wave handles invoices (including support for monthly-recurring subscriptions!) and importing and classifying all expenses from your bank and credit card.
It’s also easy to provide your Tax Accountant or Bookkeeper with restricted access to your system so they can review your transactions. I’m now in my third year of using Wave Apps (together with my accountant), and I can’t see why someone would want to pay hundreds (or more) each year for Quickbooks or Freshbooks when Wave Apps is so feature-rich and free.
In the past two years of using Wave Apps, they’ve continued to roll out features and improve their speed and quality on a regular basis. I’m happy to support them.
18. Evernote – Digital Notebook
I have notebooks for each client. I also use Evernote to draft blog posts (including this one) and capture notes from my coaching training as well as my personal journal. Using the iPhone app for Evernote, I can snap photos of any handwritten notes and save them to my digital notebook. I also scan all business receipts into a particular notebook to make tax-time much easier.
The Penultimate app by Evernote is what I use on my iPad Pro. This way, I can take handwritten notes that get saved together with my typed and scanned notes. I can also easily share a new note on my iPad during my Zoom Meetings to sketch things out during coaching calls.
Evernote is free, but they have a Premium version with greater storage options that I pay for.
19. Go Daddy – Office Productivity Suite + Hosted Email
Yes, I still use Microsoft Office. I don’t think Google Apps (or Apple Keynote, Sheets and Pages) come close to the power of Microsoft Office. I purchase Office through GoDaddy’s Office 365 service, which includes an “Exchange” hosted email account. This allows my email to flow through my custom domain (ramancoaching.com) instead of a standard “gmail.com or outlook.com” service.
20. Apple – Default Email, Calendar, Reminders
I don’t use the Microsoft Outlook application for my email. Instead, I use the default Apple Mail software on my Mac and iPhone. I like the clean interface and that it works very well (power efficient and stable) with the Apple ecosystem of devices. Similarly, I use the default Apple Calendar for my calendaring solution and Apple Reminders to handle tasks.
21. Drip – Email Marketing
Drip is the best email marketing solution around. I define “best” as being the optimal combination of ease of use + features + price. If you rely on online channels to build your business, you need to start building an email list, and Drip is the best.
It’s also free to get started with Drip email.
What I love about Drip is that it is powerful enough to stay relevant for your business as you grow. I know entrepreneurs running 7–8 figure businesses with 100,000+ emails lists using Drip as the backbone of their client communications and sales processes. The workflow, segmenting and tagging features of Drip are worth the investment.
22. Sumo – Lead Capture
I am a paying subscriber of Noah Kagan’s Sumo software to capture emails and optimize my website. If you see the “whole screen popup” on this site (sorry if it bothers you!) that’s powered by the Sumo plugin for WordPress. It’s a powerful tool that does much more than capture emails, it also has heat maps, integrated Google analytics and more.
It’s free to get started with Sumo for your WordPress website.
23. Leadpages – Landing Pages and LeadBoxes
Wondering what I use to create my homepage and other landing pages to offer free downloads for my readers?
Leadpages (the same company that owns Drip). Using LeadPages, I was able to create a homepage that currently converts 10% of all new visitors into email subscribers. Using split testing and refinement over the course of 6 months, I was able to raise the conversion rate from <.5% to 5% to 7% to now over 10%.
24. Airtable – Customer Relationship Management
I’ve had several coaches ask me if I use a customer relationship management (CRM) system. I’ve tested a few, including Pipedrive and Contactually. These systems aren’t bad, but they are overkill for my needs as an independent coach.
I think that most people who look into getting a CRM system would be better off using a spreadsheet until they scale to a high level of revenue or need to hire dedicated salespeople. That’s why I’ve used Airtable for the past two years as my CRM. It’s a spreadsheet on steroids and has a slick mobile app experience.
— Airtable (@airtable) November 7, 2016
Airtable also supports Kanban-style card-based layouts (similar to Trello). I create an Airtable that has prospects on one side of the page and various stages of lead qualification and discussion leading to clients on the other side of the page. As I engage with people I can easily drag and drop their card to wherever they are in the process.
Best of all, Airtable is free until you have a few thousand people in your database.
25. Typeform – Surveys and Feedback
The Internet standard for surveys is Google Forms. Instead, I opt to use Typeform. Typeform has the most beautiful and mobile-friendly online forms around.
I use Typeform to collect applications for coaching sessions, build waitlists when I’m booked solid, gather testimonials, and as a tool for getting to know and profile the members of my email list. Typeform also has a generous free plan, though I am happy to be a paying “Pro” subscriber given the value I get from their service.
This blog post outlines how I have chosen to build and run my prosperous coaching business. I am a self-proclaimed (and proud!) tech geek and appreciate using systems that both make my life easier and improve the client experience. I believe that all the tech I’ve mentioned in this blog post does exactly that.
Do you have other ideas for software or hardware that coaches should consider using? Have a question about how I use the tools mentioned above? Let me know in the comments below!