Coach in the Spotlight: Marie Smith

Creating a long-lasting impact is at the heart of coach Marie Smith's work. Here she shares her sustainable approach to coaching, how she's built her business, and why she wants companies to put their people before profits.

Tell us about your journey into coaching.

I began a career in HR back in the late 80s.

Later, I moved into a purely Learning and Development role.

That was when I found a resonant niche and discovered my love of coaching.

By 2012, I was in a senior management role for the RNLI, and my job was about to change.

I was in my early fifties, and it seemed like my options were to stay until I retired, or do something different.

I invested in 6 coaching sessions over three months working with a coach to help me decide what I really wanted to do next.

Later that year, I founded and launched my leadership coaching and development business, SUCCESSMITH.

It was important to me that I had the professional coaching credibility I needed for my business to work, so I became qualified with Coaches Training Institute (CTI) in 2014 and became a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach.

In 2020 I certified with the International Coach Federation (ICF) as a Professional Certified Coach (PCC).


I was in my early fifties, and it seemed like my options were to stay until I retired, or do something different.


Why did you decide to train with Firework?

I’d been coaching leaders and executives for a while.

Often the issues that emerged centred around their jobs or wanting a new career challenge.

I was working with some of my existing coaching tools but felt I might be missing something.

I knew a couple of coaches who’d trained with Firework and spoke highly of it, so I decided to explore it further.

I realised it would help compliment the range of tools I was using already.

Since then, it’s helped me develop my coaching programmes within talent management and career coaching.

I’ve also been able to add to the toolkit I can provide when facilitating the development of internal coaches in the organisations with whom I work.


How did you implement what you learnt through Firework?

I initially thought I'd need to search for clients who were specifically looking for career coaching.

In reality, I didn’t need to suddenly start marketing myself as a career coach because the Firework approach naturally slotted into the work I was already doing!

I modified career coaching materials I had and included some from Firework, to design a training programme for one organisation.

They were doing a lot of restructuring, and some people were facing redundancy or a new role.

I used some of the tools to help senior managers and internal coaches to support individuals through a very unsettling period, where they had to adjust to a new reality with different roles or teams.


The Firework approach naturally slotted into the work I was already doing!


What drives you in your work with clients?

I primarily work with senior individuals, such as CEOs or business owners.

These tend to be the people in a business who have that sphere of influence – those who can create a significant impact on the company culture and behaviours.

When I work with leaders, we're able to benefit more people as a result through the leaders' impact with their teams.

This means that the organisation gets a greater return on their investment. A double whammy!

Sustainability is one of my fundamental values and is a theme that runs through everything I do.

Being able to create a wider, long-lasting impact has directed my focus, my mission and my life purpose.

One of the reasons I’ll say ‘yes’ to a contract is when I can see the broader pay-off of the work I’ll be doing.

Reflecting on the lasting effect of the work I co-create with clients and gaining great satisfaction when we witness the organisation changing for the better, is one of the best rewards in my work.

It’s so true that reward is not always money focussed!

I’m passionate about coaching, and so another way of spreading my coaching approach is by developing internal coaches within organisations.

It’s better for the organisation, more sustainable and more cost-effective than continually seeking outside support.

This way of working might sound like I’m doing myself out of a job, but it comes back to my value of making a difference and building sustainability in clients.

My belief is that if everyone used a coaching approach (listening and questioning skills instead of assuming or telling) in the way that they deal with challenges, the world would certainly be a better place!

If people can ask the right questions and be curious; if they can learn what’s going on under the surface and remain non-judgemental; then much of the conflict that arises in between individuals, teams and in organisations could be nipped in the bud, before it escalates.

I enjoy designing and facilitating workshops in organisations where the focus is on developing individuals to be the best they can be. 

As a result, they get the best from others around them by influencing their behaviour.

This is about raising self-awareness and understanding your personal purpose and personal values.

Once individuals have this, they can make better decisions and actively work in roles that play to their preferences and strengths.

It’s my aim that they’re able to give their best and they can produce great results, whilst working in alignment and congruence with who they are.


Being able to create a wider, long-lasting impact has directed my focus, my mission and my life purpose.


How would you describe your coaching style?

My coaching approach is very fluid and non-prescriptive.

I don’t use the same formula with each client, instead choosing to ‘dance in the moment’.

It’s important to ‘be’ with my client and walk alongside them as an equal partner.

I work with the belief that everyone is naturally creative and has the answers – they don’t need fixing.

I like to explore physiological responses to what’s happening in the coaching session. Quite often, the body is more aligned to how we feel, whereas the brain will continually be making judgements. The body gives us so much more real information than the brain ever will.

Often, what presents itself as the problem may not be the main issue at all. I get permission to challenge my clients and deal with whatever crops up in the conversation to get to the true root of what is holding them back.

Every client has layers that you, as a coach, help them to peel back. Right at the core, there is the nub of the problem, which might be something completely new or different from the original challenge that is presented.

As a coach, I have to relinquish any control and trust myself to deal with whatever reveals itself.

With the client's permission, we play with whatever comes up in the conversation, and it has the potential to go in any direction, opening up new possibilities.


As a coach, I have to relinquish any control and trust myself to deal with whatever reveals itself.


What sort of results have you helped your clients to achieve?

Typically it’s around raising an individual’s self-belief.

Clients evolve during the coaching, and there’s a shift in mindset.

They start to find ways around obstacles, learn to manage their inner critics and learn to lead themselves using their own inner wisdom.

I think that one of the most significant outcomes that I’ve been fortunate enough to work on is the growth of internal coaches in organisations.

I believe that through internal coaches there is a huge positive impact to be gained through the people they support by using their coaching skills and tools.

I had a conversation recently with someone I coached many years ago. He told me that he still draws on a lot of the work we did together, on a regular basis when he needs a boost to get himself back on track.

That's what I call a sustainable investment!

The fact that the coaching experience can have this sort of longevity makes me feel very satisfied and happy.


How have you built your coaching business? What have you found to be the most effective ways of attracting clients?

When I first set out, I thought I’d need to build a website and start blogging to get clients, which all seemed rather daunting!

In reality, though, all my clients have come through my network. I’ve never paid for any advertising or marketing.

I do a little bit of associate work too, but everything else has been through networking, building connections and recommendations.

I’ve worked hard to build and nurture relationships with real people.

I’ve also spent time reflecting on what I enjoy and don’t enjoy about networking. I prefer to build quality relationships with people I meet, rather than meeting lots and lots of individuals and getting to know them at a purely surface level.

I see networking as a two-way approach.

It’s about building quality relationships and asking questions. It’s about listening, being curious about other people’s challenges and pain points. It’s about being generous with my time and asking coaching questions and offering help.

It doesn’t need to involve meeting vast quantities of people, handing out business cards and chasing new business. That version of networking is unappealing to me.

I think it’s essential to be able to understand what others do and be prepared to recommend them to my connections.

The trust is that they will do the same for me sometimes too.

I aim to sprinkle a little bit of coaching fairy dust on every person I meet and trust that, in time, the result will turn into something more tangible at some stage.


I’ve worked hard to build and nurture relationships with real people.


What other tools or resources have helped you build your business or enhance your coaching?

I’m always topping up my continuous professional development (CPD) and my knowledge.

I guess I’m a bit of a learning junkie!

I’m also a member of a local ICF (International Coach Federation) coaching circle where we share tools and explore new ideas.

In November 2020, I’m due to do a 6-week course on Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead for Coaches, which I’m so excited about!


How will your work evolve in the future?

I recently passed another milestone birthday, and as I love what I do, I’m not considering retirement quite yet.

Instead, I’m making a conscious decision to be more discerning in the work I do.

Having spent a career in HR and witnessing some of the negative sides of the way people are treated at work, I want to focus on bringing human kindness back into all our interactions and decisions.

I want to encourage leaders to bring humanity back into the workplace and put people before profits, not the other way around!

I’ll help them to support and develop their people better, and deal with human emotions, rather than resort to processes and procedures.

If I can work with the senior people on this more human approach, they can role model these ways of working and the impact can filter down and benefit the rest of the organisation.

I believe this can help us to embrace the richness of diversity, promote inclusivity and alleviate mental health pressures in the workplace.

I’ll be focusing on collaborating with communities such as Humans First and Be Human Kind. These are networks of individuals coming from a wide range of professions and backgrounds who all have a desire to bring the human being into focus in all aspects of work and home lives.

I also want to make coaching even more accessible, and I’m collaborating with a group of other coaches to make this happen.

This week we ran our first Pivot Pod, one of many to come, which is affordable and easily accessible group coaching.

In terms of how I work, it’s crucial to have a balance between work and play.

In 2018, I kept my business going by working remotely while travelling around Spain with my husband.

I proved to myself that location is not a barrier to doing what I want to do, and I can work well virtually, from anywhere.

I certainly would like to do something similar again and I hope I can work and travel more again in the future, as soon as Covid allows!


I want to encourage leaders to bring humanity back into the workplace and put people before profits.


What advice do you have for new coaches?

Be clear about why you do what you do and what you want to offer.

Be open-minded about coaching approaches, tools and styles – think creatively about how you might use them – there’s no one size fits all!

Don’t sweat the small stuff. Instead, concentrate on the ‘big rocks’, and the rest will fall into place.

Go with your gut. In my experience, it's rarely wrong!


What are the most rewarding aspects of coaching for you?

Helping people discover their potential and supporting them to prove to themselves that they can do more.

Witnessing them get to grips with challenges they have been struggling with and finding their own solutions.

Being able to watch them flourish and see them do things they didn’t believe were possible.

For me, I love to see people develop or re-gain the belief that they’re capable of making changes.

It’s so rewarding when people feel empowered to take responsibility for their lives and own the impact that they have on others, whether they want to or not.

I’m very passionate about coaching, and it’s part of who I am, I can’t stop myself. I guess many people may get a free coaching session simply by speaking with me!


Marie is a licensed Firework career coach and leadership and executive coach. Passionate about people living fulfilling lives, Marie supports leaders and coaches to develop their skills, increase their self-awareness, and align all that they do with their values and purpose. Find out more and connect with Marie on LinkedIn.