Coach in the Spotlight: Michelle Bayley

Firework’s Lead Trainer Michelle Bayley is a wonderful example of someone who's created a fulfilling portfolio career. In our Q&A, she shares how she’s overcome the challenges she's faced in her two decades as a career coach, along with her top tips for building a confident mindset and a thriving coaching practice.

How did you get into coaching?

After my degree, I did a PGCE, but honestly, I felt like I was on a treadmill doing it straight after university.

I wasn’t much older than the kids I was teaching and I quickly realised I felt too young to be a teacher at that time.

I briefly considered becoming a careers advisor, but was told to steer clear by someone who was doing the job, so I ended up going down a different path.

I’d been working in government communications for 12 years when I found myself in a newly created department working alongside people who weren’t too happy to have been put together.

Unable to see how I was making a difference, I decided to hire a coach.

I was instantly attracted to coaching.

My values became clear through the coaching process and I’d always known that I wanted to help others in some way.

After dipping my toe in the water with the Coaching Training Institute’s (CTI’s) initial Fundamentals weekend I decided to complete my coach training with them.

I then moved to a new Government communications role, working with a fantastic jobshare partner. This allowed me to continue being part of a team for half of the week whilst coaching my clients in the other half.

 

I was instantly attracted to coaching.

 

Who do you typically work with?

I’ve worked with a whole range of people, but the common theme has been individuals from professional backgrounds who don’t feel fulfilled in their work in some way.

I’ve found that some people are still unsure about life coaching but feel career coaching is more acceptable somehow – perhaps because it’s about a specific issue.

Because of my comms background I’ve had quite a few clients who work in comms and marketing over the years.

But that said, I’ve also coached lawyers, medics, project managers, teachers, people in financial services – it’s been a real mix.

At any one time, my practice is roughly two thirds career coaching clients and the rest is life coaching or executive leadership coaching.

Often, whatever job they do, the challenges people bring to coaching are frequently around the same things such as having a challenging boss, unmanageable workloads, or a general sense of there not being enough purpose in their work.

 

Why did you decide to become a Firework career coach?

Back in 2004, I was trying to put together my own coaching programme, grouping together exercises that I’d found, mainly from John Lees’ books. But I wasn't confident that I had a strong structure.

I then saw a post on Eurocoach from Kate Edmonds (co-creator of Firework) who was running a brand new workshop with Marianne Craig in Brighton for coaches who wanted to specialise in working with career changers.

That day was a game changer.

I had such a positive experience using the tools right from the start and on the whole I’ve stayed true to the programme over the last 17 years.

I always address the client’s inner saboteur at an early stage, to help ensure they don’t limit their choices and allow their wise inner mentor or powerful self to be alongside them as they make a choice about their career direction.

 

I always address the client’s inner saboteur at an early stage.

 

How did you build your coaching practice?

To get my CTI coach qualification, I found practice clients through the people I knew. I coached the wife of a friend and my then manager even sent a couple of clients my way.

Once I was qualified, I tried a few different tactics to promote my new coaching practice.

Back in the mid-noughties, social media wasn’t really a thing, so I put a poster up in my local post office. Having a presence in that window got me a few clients!

I also asked local businesses if I could leave out my business cards and I put an ad in the Yellow Pages (this makes me feel very old!). I didn’t actually have a website in my first 18 months.

A couple of years later, it dawned on me that as someone who worked in PR and communications, I should probably write about coaching.

I approached Jobsite and the Times Educational Supplement (TES) who agreed to publish my content. The titles of my articles would be things like, “Ten things to think about when you hire a coach” or “Five top tips for changing careers”.

It all helped me to attract career coaching clients – particularly being on the TES website. There were quite a few teachers who wanted to leave teaching.

After a while, these sites began to charge coaching companies to have advertorial space on their sites, but by that stage I was established as a coach and the hard work had paid off.

Aside from writing, I’ve built my reputation through word of mouth and conversation. I’ll chat to anyone! I once struck up a conversation with a woman on a train and we ended up talking about coaching. She said, “my husband hates his job, can I get your phone number?”

More recently, I’ve gained clients through my website and client referrals.

 

It dawned on me that as someone who worked in PR and communications, I should probably write about coaching.

 

What sort of results have you helped your clients achieve?

Some of my clients have gone in a brand new career direction. I worked with an analyst based in the City who became a social researcher; a marketing director who went into academia; and a programme manager who set up his own green energy company.

Many people make far less dramatic changes but feel more fulfilled as a result of the coaching process. For example, I coached a woman who already worked in a corporate environment but took a side step into branding and marketing.

I also work with people who aren’t looking for a career shift but want a pay rise, a promotion, or to improve their job situation in some way.

Ultimately, I think one of the main benefits of coaching is that it can help people to have a better relationship with themselves, by trusting themselves to pay more attention to their inner wisdom and to manage their saboteur.

When people are given the tools to improve their confidence and the space to understand the impact of giving themselves a hard time, all aspects of their life can change, not just whatever it was they came to coaching for initially.

 

One of the main benefits of coaching is that it can help people to have a better relationship with themselves.

 

What trends are you seeing at the moment with your clients?

It's probably not surprising to hear that at the moment I’m seeing clients who are experiencing excessive workloads and extra pressure because of the impact of COVID-19.

The boundaries between work and personal life have become blurred for many people.

Events over the past year have increased the desire to work flexibly and take personal responsibility over working hours.

I’m also seeing more people wanting a portfolio career.

They want the freedom of self employment, of doing more than one thing and having more than one income stream. This trend is probably also connected to the desire to work more flexibly.

 

The boundaries between work and personal life have become blurred for many people.

 

What do you wish you’d known when you started out?

Initially, I had a big fear around setting fees. It felt deeply uncomfortable to know what to charge.

I think a lot of new coaches feel the same way and also dislike the process of generating client leads.

I wish I hadn’t paid so much attention to the gremlin in my head that was saying “you’ve got to sell yourself” and reframed that message to: “I have something to offer, it could be what this person needs, so I’ll chat with them about it and see what happens”.

It took time to shift into that mindset, but my attitude altered significantly after I became a Firework coach.

It comes back to the reassurance of having qualifications and a concrete process. The framework has helped many, many people change careers since it was created and this credibility gave me more confidence and more faith in my abilities.

 

I wish I hadn’t paid so much attention to the gremlin in my head that was saying “you’ve got to sell yourself”

 

What’s your favourite Firework tool?

I love the Powerful Self visualisation.

It can evoke some powerful emotions and many people experience a big shift after getting in touch with this version of themselves.

The Ideas Bank is also a cool tool which helps clients move from expecting one “holy grail” career solution to the realisation that there are several possibilities which could be a great match for them.

I enjoy getting under the skin of each career idea and talking about what’s appealing to the client.

It helps them understand what’s truly meaningful for them and avoids limiting themselves too early on in the process.

 

I enjoy getting under the skin of each career idea and talking about what’s appealing to the client.

 

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

I love the Co-Active coaching model as it’s so versatile. It encourages the client to challenge their emotions and view their situation from a different perspective.

The coach can be in the moment with the client and follow their lead.

I find that when they’re at the point where they’re considering coaching, a client has often experienced something that’s drained their confidence to some extent.

There are some great tools that can help specifically with that. I often refer to Taming your Gremlin by Rick Carson and Positive Intelligence by Shirzad Chamine.

I use some of the ORSC model (Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching) for any relationship issues, both in and out of the workplace.

Last Autumn, I did a mindfulness course and I use those techniques to help my clients start the coaching session in a more grounded, resourceful state.

I’m also a NLP practitioner and use some aspects of NLP in my work.

 

What do you find most challenging about being a coach?

I still sometimes have to remind myself that coaching is a partnership between myself and the client – I’m not responsible for their results.

It’s my role to help them to find a way forward, but it’s not up to me to do the work for them, and as any coach will say, it’s certainly not my job to tell them what to do.

It can be challenging sometimes to maintain a balanced and unbiased view, particularly when clients are having a tough time at work, or are being bullied, for example.

I’ve had to learn to manage my own emotions, stay present and help the client to decide their way forward. But that’s Coaching 101, isn’t it?

There’s a paradox between being empathetic and not getting emotionally involved. It can sometimes be difficult to avoid getting drawn in.

I remember a very wise trainer once saying “of course we care about our clients, but we have to keep our emotions out of their coaching sessions to ensure they get the results they need”.

 

There’s a paradox between being empathetic and not getting emotionally involved. It can sometimes be difficult to avoid getting drawn in.

 

What do you find most rewarding about career coaching?

It might sound corny, but I love seeing people progress and get more in touch with their real selves.

It’s wonderful seeing my clients identify and go after what they want from their lives, not what they think they should want, or what society might have told them is right or wrong.

I find it super rewarding when I see people actively making a choice based on what’s right for them – on their values – and when they give themselves permission to live a life that’s in tune with what matters most to them, away from the oughts and shoulds, and material desires.

 

How do you see your work evolving?

When you’ve worked in stressful and pressurised organisations, it heightens the desire to make work life better for the folks inside them.

People are attending meeting after meeting after meeting and I think there are a lot of individuals out there who are close to burn out at the moment.

It’s made worse by the lack of face to face connection and many people feeling more isolated.

Social contact is possible over Zoom, but those little interactions people have in the workplace, such as a casual chat in the office kitchen, help to build strong relationships and make a big difference to team working.

This, plus an interest in organisational culture means I’m attracted to team coaching and corporate work.

 

When you’ve worked in stressful and pressurised organisations, it heightens the desire to make work life better for the folks inside them.

 

What are your top tips for new coaches just starting out?

It can be tempting to be really specific about who you’re going to work with – and much of the advice out there is to be specific and to find your niche as quickly as possible.

From a pure marketing point of view, knowing your niche helps you to target your message and attract clients.

But for me, there was a dissonance between the need to niche and my desire to work with all sorts of people.

I didn’t narrow down specifically to an age group, I just decided to specialise in career coaching, I was clear about what I offer and my coaching approach.

My advice is to take the pressure off yourself to have a very specific niche at a really early stage, and instead, spend some time finding out who you enjoy working with most.

People will either relate to you and want to work with you or they won’t. You can’t be the right coach for everyone.

It’s also important to remember that your career experiences will be relevant whatever your background. I’m familiar with Agile after working in a digital team previously and it really helps when clients are struggling with the detail of mounting workloads.

I’ll use agile tools to help them to work out their priorities and to realistically decide what’s possible to achieve in a given timeframe.

Another piece of advice would be to trust your instinct. If you get a sense that a prospective client isn't a match for you or that they might not be ready for coaching, then you need to be honest and invite that person to connect with other coaches or to talk to a therapist about how they could work with them.

And finally, I’d say it’s really important to have regular supervision – either one to one or in a group. It provides you with a safe space to talk and gain fresh insights into how you’re working with your clients and how you can evolve.

Supervision shows that you’re taking your development seriously and, personally, it makes me feel more grounded in my identity as a coaching professional.

 

Michelle is a PCC and became a licensed Firework Career Coach in 2004. Now our Lead Trainer, she’s shown hundreds of other coaches how to use the Firework Career Coaching programme. Michelle has over 25 years experience of working in Government at board and ministerial level across media, marketing and internal communications roles. Find out more about Michelle at www.findyourwaycoaching.co.uk