You have skills. You have experience. You have wisdom and knowledge and talent, and you want to pass it on.

But how, exactly, do you launch and grow a coaching and training business?

That's a good question, and the best way to answer it is to find out what other successful entrepreneurs have done.

One great example is the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys (AAEPA), an organization that provides member attorneys with educational materials, research, and practice management techniques. It was founded by two successful estate-planning attorneys who decided they could start a company to help other lawyers better market their practices.

To get their story I talked to Jennifer Price, the AAEPA's chief operating officer.

The startup.

Robert Armstrong and Sanford Fisch started their law firm in San Diego, primarily focused on estate planning.

In the late '80s, two attorneys in Denver approached Robert, and together they founded the National Network of Estate Planning Attorneys. (The organization still exists but isn't a competitor; today it's more of a study group). The goal was to create a legal education group for estate planners.

Robert's strong suit has always been marketing, though, so because they saw the needs of their members differently, in time they parted amicably. Robert spent the entire three-year non-compete period documenting everything they did at Armstrong and Fisch and preparing to launch a new venture:

  • Developing a variety of effective ways to market a law firm
  • Establishing how to process work through an office as efficiently as possible
  • Creating customized software to produce legal documents as well as a CRM tool to be shared with other firms (this was before CRMs were commonplace)
  • Creating an optimized process for working with clients: signing documents, scheduling appointments, creating triggers for review, life events, etc.

In 1993, with those resources in place, they launched the Academy.

A year later the attorneys who attended the Academy's first Boot Camps asked for continued coaching, continued legal education -- and geographic exclusivity.

Establishing "territories" made sense, so memberships were granted that included geographic exclusivity and ensure any given market would not be saturated with attorneys using the same tools and techniques.

A focus on entrepreneurs, not just technicians.

In 1992, Robert and Sandy read Michael Gerber's The E-Myth and used it as a blueprint to lay out the structure for the company and the coaching it would provide. (Later they teamed with Michael to write The E-Myth Attorney.)

Lawyers provide legal services, but they're also in the business of law. If you start a law firm by definition you're not just a lawyer; you're also an entrepreneur.

That's why we feel lawyers can't just be technicians. They need to be technicians who possess a ton of entrepreneurial drive -- and the knowledge to take advantage of that drive.

The goal is to help attorneys step outside of their practices and look at it as an owner -- not to just work in their business but on their business. We didn't want to just hand over software and hope they could figure it out. We didn't want to point our members to third parties, or hand out a few marketing tools, or provide a generic website.

Over time we developed every tool an estate-planning law firm needs -- and we show our members exactly how to use those tools. And since we're in the coaching business we can tell if those tools are working for a particular member and can spot exactly where their systems might be breaking down.

We have approximately 140 law firms in 45 states; we know each of them by name, and in most cases all of their staff as well. We try really hard to serve as an extension of our members' offices.

And we're picky. The fit has to be good or we don't accept a prospective member's application. They have to be in a stable financial position, in good standing with their state bar, and have good references. Throughout the "interviewing" process the applicant gets to know us a little better and we get a chance to assess how coachable that attorney will be.

If we don't feel they will be coachable, we say no and part friends.

That's an extremely important factor in building a coaching practice; while the need to generate revenue can make it tempting to take on every client, ultimately your success is based on their success -- so that relationship truly needs to be a great fit.

The proof of that premise is in the pudding: 75 percent of our membership has been with us for over 5 years, 57 percent have been with us more than 10 years, and 43 percent for over 15 years.

Having provided support and watched growth in all of these firms for the past 22 years, we're now watching and supporting some of our members as they undertake massive business succession plans for their own firms. That's incredibly rewarding, especially since some of our new partners were in diapers when we got started.

The secret: Coaching and exclusivity.

We look at the financials from law firms around the country; that lets us coach by goals and numbers. and coach on the numbers.

And because of the exclusivity, members willing share their financial results with each other. They get our primary coaching level, and we also have private coaching with Robert and Sandy as an option--but members also have each other: what worked, have you tried this, that happened to me to, here's what I did. Support and guidance from other members makes a huge difference.

So we start with goals -- and we stay focused on those goals. SOS (shiny object syndrome) is common with entrepreneurial attorneys -- and with entrepreneurs in general -- so focusing on goals and results help our members stay on track. Plus it's easy to just go along until something is so wrong that you have to deal with it -- it's a lot better to know the moment you start to drift off course.

So we look closely at financials. Are you on track to hit your goals?

If not, what's in the way?

  • Does the gross revenue support the goal? If not, we look at marketing and then consultation effectiveness.
  • Is marketing an issue? We look at what percentage of gross revenue was spent on marketing, and how many different marketing approaches were deployed. If a member is doing only public seminars, for example, and none of the other recommended programs, we've found the problem.
  • Is consultation effectiveness a problem? Does the attorney retain 85 percent or more of the potential clients they see? If not, we look at their presentation skills. We look at the agenda of their consultations and determine where the attorney fails to determine the client's needs.
  • Is the owner's compensation 40 percent or more of gross? If not, we determine where the owner spends his or her compensation, and whether that's actually how he or she really wants to spend it.
  • Are staff costs too high? If so, we look at turnover and salaries to determine whether the attorney is losing staff due to poor training or bad hiring, or if there are leadership issues that need to be addressed.
  • Is the revenue per person on payroll less than $160,000? If not, we look closely at the firm's operating efficiencies. Maybe they're overstaffed. Maybe they're underpriced. Maybe they added staff for a service that hasn't paid off yet; if so, we look at how that service is marketed. Maybe training is an issue, causing inefficient workflow and too many errors that need to be corrected.
  • Is the revenue per attorney at least $500,000? If not, we drill down to find out why not. That typically starts with identifying all the non-attorney work he or she is doing and moving those tasks to a staff member.

These conversations establish and solidify a genuine and trusting relationship. We show we're on their side. We prove we really want the attorney to be the preeminent estate planner in their area. We prove we want our members to be successful, to have time off, and to create practices they can sell one day.

The difference coaches need to make.

Most important, we want our members to be able to make a difference in their own lives and in the lives of their clients.

In Simon Sinek terms, that truly is our "why."

We have 22 years' worth of resources: 40 client seminars, complete with materials, a database you wouldn't believe, document software that is now tied to the database in the cloud--members can't possibly use every tool we offer. Our coaches guide them to use the tools that will lead them down the path they choose.

If you hope to make a difference, what do you want your clients to say about you?

  • I'm so glad I don't have to do this alone
  • I had nobody to talk to about how business
  • I don't have to create everything from scratch; instead I get to focus on being a counselor
  • You changed my life, my family's life, and the lives of the people in my firm
  • I hated what I did for a living before I started working with you

Ultimately, that's your goal as a coach: Make your client's professional and personal lives better.

When you do, you'll profit as well.

Base your business on what your clients truly need, stay focused on delivering tools and resources and coaching that meets those needs, and helps your clients achieve their goals, and you can build a thriving business of your own.

Published on: Dec 23, 2015