Coach in the Spotlight: Mary Wilson

We speak to the fascinating Mary Wilson, career coach and portfolio careerist, who's built a successful coaching business alongside her work as a trainer and performer.

What was your journey into coaching like?

My first jobs were in welfare rights and training people on employment and maternity legislation.

Because of my background in social anthropology and psychology, I got involved with an organisation focused on delivering courses on assertiveness and personal development, which lead me towards coaching.

This was before coaching had a name really, and I was actually already doing strands of this type of work – going into organisations, working with different individuals, identifying what motivated them and what their training needs were.

I’ve always been fascinated with understanding who people are and why they get stuck in their career.

I trained in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to develop my understanding of the complexities of how people feel about their work and apply that knowledge in an employment field.

I’d also done some training with John Lees (the career strategist, author and now part of the training faculty with Firework) and so when I came across Firework, this seemed like a natural continuation for me. 


I’ve always been fascinated with understanding who people are and why they get stuck in their career.


Why did you decide to invest in becoming a Firework career coach?

I was curious about doing the programme because those who'd gone through it and used it had talked so passionately about it.

Firework fitted with my interest in coaching and CBT, but it was also a practical course to support people in career transition.

It encourages people to get in touch with their imagination, come up with alternative possibilities and help them build the confidence to move out into the workplace again, and I liked that.

I already had the experience of running workshops, knowledge of CBT and the things I learned through John Lees, but what I really needed was the right package and a structure to offer clients.

As soon as I finished the training day, I had a ready-made, tried and tested package ready to use with clients in a very creative way.

The materials are very well thought through, and all the tools are easy to send out to clients.

It really helped me to get organised and offer a way of communicating with an individual client in a structured way, with a rich set of materials.

I met some exciting people too – Firework definitely gave me access to a bigger network.


How did you implement what you learnt?

It was recommended that we find two guinea pigs to coach through the Firework programme immediately after the training day.

I found a neighbourhood friend who found it to be a powerful experience in terms of reorienting himself and building the courage to venture into the freelance world.

The experience of us working together has really endured – what we did together has transformed what he did in his career.

I often wonder had he not gone through that programme with me, would he have gone back into a “normal” job?


I often wonder had he not gone through that programme with me, would he have gone back into a “normal” job?


What has been the return on investment for you of becoming a Firework coach?

For me, the course paid for itself very quickly. I made my money back within 9 sessions of working with a client.

My advice is this: if you’re already going in the career coaching direction, then you’ve got nothing to lose by investing in Firework.

It can only enhance your confidence and your offering as someone who can help others with career transition.

I’m so glad I became a Firework coach. It will always be something I know I can draw on and has been the icing on the cake in terms of my interests and expertise. 


What does your work currently involve?

I have a hybrid way of working now and describe myself as a portfolio careerist – I’m a trainer, a coach and a musician. 

I need to have that variety and don’t like to do just one thing.

People might picture coaches working alone, but this has never been the case for me. I’ve consciously put myself in situations where I’ve been able to collaborate with different people.

You can feel lonely as a coach and so even though I tend to work one on one with my private clients, I’m always collaborating with others.

I love sharing ideas and work best as part of a team. This is across all my disciplines – coaching, training and even with my band.


Who do you typically work with, and how?

I'm drawn to working with people who want to have a creative output in the world – artists, writers and musicians mainly.

This isn’t exclusive, but my clientele has evolved through the connections I have, which tends to be those from creative industries.

It’s a challenging, intense and exciting mix.

The most fascinating thing for me is exploring how people can engage with their creative side as well as have a good work structure. 

The more coaching I've done, the more I've discovered the types of people I most enjoy working with. 

But actually, I will happily work with anyone from different career backgrounds to my own. As a coach, you learn so much about the world of work when you’re open to this.

I do a lot of career coaching over the phone with people I often never meet in real life.

Maybe it’s something about being musical, but I find I’m more tuned in to a person’s energy level through their voice.

The phone also helps to cut out distractions. I know others who coach very successfully over Skype or Zoom, but it's not my favourite thing.

My performance background generally means I prefer real rooms and real people, so choosing to work with clients face-to-face feels very familiar to me.

I might work with a client for five sessions, but sometimes it can be more like ten or twelve. I occasionally find myself working with someone for a year or more.


I’m drawn to working with people who want to have a creative output in the world – artists, writers and musicians.


What results have you helped your clients to achieve?

When a client goes from feeling really stuck to being able to identify with their values, gain insight into who they are and express themselves in a more connected way with the work they do, then that’s a good outcome.

I think when a person goes through that coaching experience, it's not something they can erase.

They don't go back to having a more blinded view of themselves.

The challenge is then how they take what they’ve learned into the world and use it to make the necessary adjustments they need to be happier.


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

Initially, I launched my coaching business with my sister (who works in HR and is also a Firework coach), which made it far easier to get going.

It felt reassuring to have her complimentary voice and skills working alongside mine.

Word of mouth has been very effective in terms of building a client base, but this has happened gradually and naturally. 

I’ve always been good at cultivating my network. 

I talk passionately and enthusiastically about what I do, wherever I am. 

People get curious about it and want to know more, so this opens up the conversation and builds a relationship.

I think this makes a huge difference.

Past clients have come through my training work, my connections in music and even other mums at the school gates.

There’s one local family where I've ended up coaching all of the children at some stage to help them with the next step in their education and career!

Because of my other work, there is a limit to how many clients I can work with at any one time, and therefore my coaching business has grown very organically. This has been a conscious choice.

However, if I wanted more coaching work, I feel confident that I could grow it quickly.

The way I see it is that every person you meet is a potential client and so the market is limitless. 

I have a website which I created with my sister back when we started our business. It's been a useful "calling card", but I've not relied on it.

I've never had a social media presence for my coaching work, but I'm beginning to realise that it has a part to play in the current climate. 

I’m about to create a podcast as part of my Master's degree in traditional music, so I’ve become very interested in how to bring this alive, and I'm revising my opinions on whether or not to use social media.


I talk passionately and enthusiastically about what I do, wherever I am.


What other tools or resources help to enhance your skills as a coach?

As a Masters student, I'm fortunate to have access to the university library and Google Scholar, and always interested in the latest research.

I'm an avid reader and often find myself getting lost in articles and psychology papers on topics such as motivation or collaboration, which usually comes into the coaching work I do.

I'm always buying books that are recommended to me. Currently, I'm enjoying Pamela Slim's Body of Work: Finding the Thread That Ties Your Story Together. 


What are the most rewarding aspects of being a coach?

Helping clients create tangible outcomes is great, like seeing them finish writing a book, making a film or complete some other creative project. 

Sometimes the goal of the coaching may not be about a career change but more about career management, for instance, confidently articulating what they can do and the value they can bring to someone else. 

People are having to be braver now about putting themselves out there, and that can make them feel very vulnerable.

I also love the experience of building relationships with the many interesting people I come across during the process. 

Being a career coach is a wonderful insight into the world of work, which continues to fascinate me.

I learn so much from my clients and this makes my job so enjoyable.

I often find myself curious to research new subjects and themes following conversations with clients.

We don't focus on the negative aspects of working life. Instead, I love being able to transport the client into more positive realms and getting to the essence of what makes them tick.

With excellent coaching skills coupled with the Firework materials, I can quickly help people get into a better frame of mind and to a place where they can see possibilities.

They realise they can transform and reinvent themselves. 

The coaching process can be life-changing, and it feels extraordinary to be part of that.


Mary is a licensed Firework career coach, trainer and performer with a background in advice and counselling. She has worked with clients from a wide range of industries including IT, banking, higher education, welfare rights and the charity sector. Mary is one of the co-founders of, offering career coaching to individuals and runs group workshops for Careershifters. Alongside running music groups for children, she is also a performing musician and member of the four-piece folk band, Suntrap, who just released their fifth album.