Coach in the Spotlight: Claire Palmer
Claire Palmer is a highly experienced and accredited executive and career coach, coach supervisor and mentor. Now entering her twentieth year of coaching, this is how Claire has built her practice.
What was your coaching practice like before Firework?
Initially, I did leadership coaching with small business owners and executive clients.
However, I also began to be asked about supporting clients with career changes. People were coming to me, unsure if they were in the right field or what they wanted to do next.
While I felt I could muddle through and pull some sort of programme together, ultimately I didn’t feel confident to work with those clients effectively. I had plenty of career coaching books and I'd already used tools such as Myers-Briggs, but the information was scattered, and something was missing.
I was left wondering what other coaches would do with similar clients and I felt there must be a better way; something that was already out there.
I'd already used tools such as Myers-Briggs, but the information was scattered, and something was missing.
Why did you decide to invest in the Firework programme?
Serendipitously I came across Marianne Craig, co-founder of Firework, around that time, and I started to explore whether what she'd created could help me support my clients with career change.
I did a bit of investigation, but there wasn’t really anything else on the market.
I didn’t want to spend time trying to create something myself, so Firework felt like an excellent option for me.
Tell us about your experience with the Firework programme.
I valued the practical elements.
On the training day, we went through quite a few of the exercises together. It was great to meet a variety of different coaches – from different backgrounds, different training experiences, and different schools – so it was a valuable learning experience.
I was also pleasantly surprised to find that I was able to re-brand the materials as my own, so this was another great benefit of the training.
What did you implement in your coaching practice as a result of what you learnt?
I began using Firework straight away with all of my clients.
Initially, I ran it as an end to end programme.
I’m quite an adaptive coach, I don’t usually have a set agenda, and my process is very client-driven, so now I tend to pick and choose tools from the Firework programme. There are some I use very regularly, particularly the values and skills exercises.
How have you built up your coaching practice? What have been your most effective methods of attracting clients?
In the very beginning, I offered coaching on a pro-bono basis.
I gradually began to increase my fees and gather testimonials. I also got work as an associate coach under a coaching organisation so I didn’t have to actively market myself. This made it easier to get going.
I’m really specific about what I do, so this ultimately led to me being recommended by organisations and people I’ve worked with previously.
Though my online presence is good – I do think you need to be on social media as a coach and be visible – it doesn’t necessarily lead to clients coming directly to me.
Mostly, my clients tend to come via referrals, through people who know me or have worked with me. Building my coaching network has also been really important for me, as a lot of clients are referred to me by other coaches who don’t necessarily have the same expertise or coaching niche.
Otherwise, consistently and actively connecting with people has been the most effective way for me to attract the right kinds of people. This includes checking in with previous clients or putting offers out on LinkedIn so that people are always aware of what I do. Even if those people don’t need what I’m offering, they can recommend me to others, which is where a lot of my work comes from.
My clients tend to come via referrals, through people who know me or have worked with me.
Tell us more about how you typically work with clients.
When someone's interested in being coached, I'll chat with them first to find out more about what they want and what is likely to work best for them.
I tend to coach clients on a one to one basis and offer a package of sessions.
I usually work with my clients for around ten sessions over four or five months. I do this over Skype or Zoom, which means I can work from home, with anyone from anywhere!
Who have you taken through the Firework programme?
The type of people I generally work with tend to be leaders and executives.
Although I offer leadership coaching and career coaching (in addition to coach supervision and mentoring), the dynamic has shifted towards more career coaching in recent years.
For the last five years, I’ve coached MBA students at CASS Business School, and previously Imperial Business School, and I’ve used quite a lot of the Firework tools with them. Some want to use this coaching to further their existing career; they see it as a stepping stone to the next job. For others, they want some support in changing careers or where they work. It helps give them a different perspective, especially on things like their values, minimising the sense of panic that they need to get another job as soon as possible.
I think over the last ten or fifteen years, coaching has changed. It used to be that companies would sponsor the coaching programme with their employees. Nowadays, individuals are more aware of career coaching, so they’re seeking it out for themselves.
It's more important now for people to feel happy with the work they do. The consciousness has shifted, particularly with younger generations. They’re questioning the status quo. Now, people want more flexibility or a portfolio career – so whilst corporate life was previously seen as prestigious, for many, it’s less appealing.
I’ve also used the Firework tools with university students who've felt lost on a particular career pathway. They definitely find it beneficial, even though they have less working experience.
Now, people want more flexibility or a portfolio career – so whilst corporate life was previously seen as prestigious, for many, it’s less appealing.
What has Firework helped you to achieve?
Most significantly, it's given me the confidence to be able to say I’m a career coach.
I would have found that hard without Firework.
Before I did the Firework programme I was uncomfortable with that concept. I questionned myself: Do I really know this stuff? Is there something out there I’m missing? Having done Firework, I know I have some great tools and I’m not missing anything now.
And yes, having the Firework accreditation has helped me to attract clients. When I’ve talked to people, I can say that it’s a recognised programme. I’ve included it in all my marketing materials and it’s a good conversation starter – potential clients are interested to know more about how it can help them.
What results have you helped your clients to achieve?
I’ve worked with a lot of career change clients over the years, so this is a difficult question to answer with any degree of specificity.
Some have made substantial changes, but for others, the best results have been smaller tweaks to what they’re doing or how they’re doing it. However, whatever they choose to do next, all of my clients leave me knowing themselves a lot better. They’re clearer on who they are, what drives them, what their skills are, what their strengths are. They know their USP, and they’re better able to articulate their value and what they’re looking for.
My clients know that they don’t have to fit in with anyone else’s expectations of who they are or what they should be doing with their life.
What do you estimate your return on investment to be from training with Firework?
I’ve used the Firework tools with 200-300 clients so far, so the return on investment is huge!
You only need a couple of clients to make your money back. When you’re starting out as a coach, and you’re watching where your money is going, it seems like a considerable investment. It probably did for me at the time.
The cost of the course really is a drop in the ocean when you think about it. If you look at it from the perspective that you might be coaching for another ten years, then it’s nothing: it probably works out at the equivalent of a cup of coffee a week.
How do you feel about your career coaching now?
The Firework tools underpin everything I do with my clients, along with my first coach training.
I think in the future, my coaching will probably become more focused on career coaching with individuals and groups rather than executives in the workplace.
What resources do you use to support you as a coach?
I have a coach supervisor of my own and I’m part of peer support groups.
When I have a particular question or a challenge, its been really useful to work through those with others. Having a network gives you that support: people who are there for you, who understand what you do, and can help you. It’s almost like building your own “virtual office” – a team of individuals who you like, with different skills, who you can call on when you need them.
Something like this, or having a mentor at the very least, is essential to avoid feeling stuck or isolated. I also try and read a lot to keep me up to date with what’s out there too.
Having a network gives you that support: people who are there for you, who understand what you do, and can help you.
What advice can you give to prospective Firework coaches?
Once you’ve done the course training day, I recommend you get out and practice using the programme with clients straight away!
Don’t wait – just do it.
Also, make sure you use those follow-on mentoring calls with the course trainers because they'll really help you to get going with the materials.
Claire is a Firework licensed career coach and a Master Certified Coach with the International Coach Federation (ICF), one of the 1% of coaches in the world to have obtained this accreditation. She is married, has three grown-up children and lives in West Sussex along with a brand new puppy! Find out more about Claire’s work at www.cpcoaching.co.uk and follow her on twitter @ClairePCoach.