Coach in the Spotlight: Ros Toynbee

Former lawyer and journalist Ros shares how she's built a successful career coaching practice, known for supporting an unusual mix of clients.

Tell us about your journey into coaching.

Coaching was actually my third career and, to be honest, I fell into it by accident.

I originally trained as a commercial property lawyer because I was bright and it seemed interesting at the time, but I found it just wasn’t creative enough for me.

Journalism turned out to be a better fit and the skills I learnt as a broadcaster continue to be very useful today in my coaching practice.

I got a lucky break when I came down to London to work for the BBC. It was at a time when they were heavily investing in learning and development so I trained as a leadership coach as part of my job. In my spare time, I also studied with CoachU.

I’d always been good at landing jobs in the past and people kept asking me for guidance so I started offering career coaching independently. Later, becoming a qualified career coach was about developing those practical skills and consolidating something I was already doing informally. 


What was your practice like in the early days?

I’d been working as a career coach for about two years part-time outside of my day job where some of my clients included programme-makers in the BBC World Service and Big Cat Diaries.

I coached editors and first-time supervisors who were new to line management and coordinating people. We'd work on topics like team development and emotional intelligence.

In terms of my private practice, I decided early on to brand myself as a career coach and I found myself working with individuals on issues around job search, career direction and preparing for promotion.  

I was confident with job search coaching and helping people to explore their purpose and values, but in the early days I was lacking a ready-made programme to offer coaching for career change.


Who do you work with and on what areas?

Fortunately, because I've been coaching for a long time and my business grew organically, I've never found myself needing to focus on a specific niche in order to grow my coaching business.

My clients come from all sectors but I've attracted many from the legal profession, financial services and insurance and in PR, communications and marketing roles.

I coach leaders and professionals who want to have careers that are rewarding intellectually, emotionally and financially.


I've never found myself needing to focus on a specific niche – my business has grown organically.


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

I was looking for something structured and off-the-shelf that I could easily market to prospective clients – a programme or a product.

I had considered doing a career counselling course but I'd had poor experiences working with career counsellors when I was at school and university so that put me off.

With coaching, it’s about working things out with another person, being curious, reflecting back and challenging what's being said. That approach worked for me and Firework's coaching programme (asking rather than telling) really appealed.

The concept of a fixed price coaching programme for clients was also new and interesting back in 2004. I liked the idea that I could set the budget with the client from the outset and it was a straightforward approach that was easy to explain to prospective clients.

Firework gave me a licensed suite of exercises that I could brand as my own and use with my career change clients.

It all worked together as a programme, it had been thoroughly tested, I could see that it delivered results and I could build it on top of my existing coaching toolkit.

I was easily able to articulate to my clients the impact that going through my programme would have on them: greater clarity of career direction, a vision and an action plan. People could relate to that need and therefore I knew I could sell it to them.


How do you typically work with your clients?

After Firework, I started to market my new career coaching programme immediately. In the time since then, it has evolved somewhat!

I now have an end to end programme which I've adapted into a 7 session package for my clients.

There’s something about covering the programme in a 2-3 month period with time for the client to reflect and to research their career options which is really impactful.

In my experience, I don’t believe it’s something that can be worked through effectively in a weekend workshop.

My clients really appreciate that reflection time and structure, particularly millennials, who tend to be planners and are often more likely to struggle with making long term decisions.


What has becoming a licensed career coach helped you to achieve?

It's given me expertise in career change. 

Firework helps with raising the client’s self-awareness and recognising their strengths. As a strengths-coach this made sense to me. I have a clear understanding of the common practical, emotional and psychological blocks that clients bring to the career coaching process. This enables me to support them to move through their concerns and find a new direction that meets their work and life desires.

Ultimately though, it’s allowed me to create an independent business which I can manage around motherhood and remain in a field that has infinite variety. 

Helping individuals with career transition has now become what I’m known for and, financially, it’s my ‘bread and butter’.


Helping individuals with career transition is now my ‘bread and butter’.


Who have you taken through the your career coaching programme?

I’ve taken more than 400 leaders and professionals through the programme one on one.

It tends to work best with clients who are in their late twenties to early fifties. I feel the programme has less value for new graduates who have little work experience and little self-awareness and equally doesn’t tend to be so relevant for those contemplating retirement.

It’s this unusual mix of clients that makes my career coaching business ever increasingly interesting though. It never gets stale and keeps me fresh as a coach.


What results have you helped your clients to achieve?

I’ve helped my clients find a new direction they are confident will be a good fit for them, taking into account their skills and strengths and values.

Supporting them to develop a new career and life vision and an action plan to begin making it happen has also been really fulfilling for me too.

My clients often feel they have renewed confidence in themselves as well as confidence in their direction.


What were your concerns before taking part in Firework?

That it would be a waste of time or money. I have done other licensed programmes that were a monumental waste of time or money because it didn’t translate to the local market, for example, so that was a definite concern. 


What's been the return on investment for you?

I've used the programme with 400+ clients who have paid between £1,149 and £1,499 ($1,500-$2,000 or €1,350-€1,760) for the whole programme. So, it's been priceless!


What advice do you have for anyone considering becoming a licensed career coach?

You can evolve what you learn with a programme like Firework to suit your own style and coach training. For example, I include a research period in which clients do informational interviews.

I also integrate my NLP beliefs work to help increase confidence and help clients step out of their comfort zone so that they can fulfil their vision.

When deciding who to coach, I've learnt not to turn my back on the corporate world I've left behind.

I initially avoided working with lawyers because I was traumatised from my early career experiences.

Gradually though, I noticed that I have an opinion about burn out and bullying and I have personal experience with these things.

I can relate to clients with those issues, so I now happily coach lawyers but it took me about 10 years before I could bring myself to do that.

I love working with creative people, having been at the BBC and Scottish TV. Unfortunately, newspapers are not what they were and the world of journalism is shrinking but because I have a creative background in broadcasting, I have attracted people who work in marketing and PR.

The message here is that you don't have to stick to what you've left behind but notice who you are attracting and the problems you most enjoy solving.

Coaching in education, for example, is very much in need but because of funding issues, this might be more difficult to get into unless you happen to be an educator. I think it just helps to have that credibility of previous experience.

As coaches, we know that previous experience doesn’t matter. However, clients often come to us with a fixed mindset and want you to prove that you have the credentials to help them. This is why credentialing has become more and more important – and why I found Firework beneficial.

I work with clients all over the world. More and more, location is becoming a really important part of the conversation. As personal circumstances change, people need to carefully consider where they need to be based and how they might work in a way that is best for them.

Having knowledge of alternative ways of working that you can present to the client and allowing them to consider them as part of their life and work values can be really valuable.


I integrate my NLP beliefs work to help clients increase confidence and step out of their comfort zone.


How do you see your coaching practice evolving in the future?

My practice is evolving into career, leadership and team development. Career change will always be a part of it but it may not be the main part.

What I learnt through the Firework programme is still as useful now as it was back then, as the exercises are beneficial for people in a variety of situations.

Career visioning and the reality check exercises are universally effective. I’ve also used the Powerful Self exercise outside of the career transition work with clients who are not in touch with their intuition or not used to connecting with their inner wisdom. I work in a very systemic way now.

One of the key things that Firework has taught me is that when people are disengaged from their job, their first instinct is to look for ways to leave and get a new job, or even start their own business.

So now I’m working more and more with leaders to help prevent them from losing their most talented individuals – people who potentially could have a happy and fulfilling career given the right support and opportunity.

I show leaders how they can help people learn how to love their jobs.

The issue is sometimes the company or the role itself, so we need to work together to identify what's at the core of the problem and fix that.

We practise the conversation they could potentially have with their manager to see what options there might be to create that ideal job within the organisation.

This has created a positive outcome in many instances. It's also an effective solution for someone who isn’t in a position to cope with the potential upheaval of a major career change, showing that you don’t always need massive changes to get what you need.

The result of my approach isn’t always a career change for my clients. If people come out of this process happier and more engaged in their job, then I see that as a great outcome.


Ros Toynbee is a licensed Firework Career Coach as well as Founder and Lead Coach at The Career Coach and Ros Toynbee Coaching. She is accredited at Master Certified Coach level with the ICF, and is regularly invited to speak to networking associations and for the media. Ros is based in London and has a daughter.