Coach in the Spotlight: Ross Nichols

Following a long career in the British Army, Ross Nichols found himself at breaking point. Inspired by his experiences of dealing with and embracing his ‘dark side’, he became a coach and mentor. Here, he tells us how a cup of coffee was the turning point in the success of his coaching business.

How did you discover coaching?

I’d describe myself as an old soldier and a rookie spiritual warrior.

I spent 26 years in the British Army, eventually leaving due to a slowly unfolding personal crisis.

I thought I’d take six months off work to recover, then go out and find another job. But it didn’t turn out like that.

I spent the next three years in a ‘black hole’, much of it sitting in a chair and staring out of the window.

Eventually, I reached breaking point and realised I couldn’t go on like that.

I asked myself, “are you going to sink or swim?”.

I’m relieved to say that I chose to swim, because I might not be here if I’d decided to sink.

I knew I would do whatever it took to figure this stuff out. I went ‘dark and deep’ and it took me a couple of years of therapy, but I got there. It wasn’t easy.

At some point during those three years, someone suggested that I volunteer as a business mentor.

I started working with one organisation and was soon mentoring on nine different schemes.

The penny dropped and I realised this was something I could do for a living.

I started my Business Mentoring services company back in 2011.

At one stage, someone asked me for career coaching.

Despite flying by the seat of my pants initially as I had no coach training, I enjoyed the experience.

I then decided to train as a coach and offer coaching as a separate part of my business.

Career transition was the main area I offered but after working with a few clients, I realised I needed some specific career coach training.

That’s when I got in touch with Firework.


I reached breaking point and realised I couldn’t go on like that.


What were your experiences of the Firework programme? How did you implement it afterwards?

The Firework programme has been good for me because my coaching philosophy is about more than just the presenting person.

It’s about their values, their energy, their vitality and their spirit – the intangibles.

Firework has given me some excellent intuitive coaching tools which work well with my coaching style.

I almost always use the Life Purpose exercise and the Values exercises with my clients.

I love the Powerful Self exercise in particular, as well as the Spectrum of Possibilities. I like the Bridge exercise too, which helps clients work out the steps to get from where they currently are to where they want to be.

It’s a great process for getting people from a state of learning into action.

There are so many tools to choose from in the Firework programme. I selected the ones that work best for me and created my own programmes on the back of that.

They all have the same thread running through, focussing on who you are, where you’re going and how you get there.

As you can tell, I’m able to use Firework with all sorts of different clients.

Whether it's business mentoring, leadership coaching, cancer coaching or career transition coaching, I've always got the same intention.

This is to develop the client’s self-awareness so that they can achieve self-acceptance, self-approval and eventually, self-love. I believe that is the most powerful state to be in.

My approach has evolved through continual reflection. I always finish a coaching session thinking about what I did well and what could I have done better.


It’s a great process for getting people from a state of learning into action.


How did you make a return on your investment from Firework?

I started using Firework straight away, so I made my money back pretty quickly.

But, the return has been so much more than simply financial.

I’ve now got a rich pick 'n' mix toolkit of intuitive exercises, which work well for my clients. I’ve built my coaching programmes around these tools.


Who do you typically work with? How would you describe your coaching approach?

When I started working with clients on career transition, it was interesting to see a pattern emerging.

My archetypal career coaching client initially was a 52 year old white male – a reflection of myself!

Since then of course I’ve worked with a whole variety of people.

Clients come to me for business and leadership coaching or for career coaching but often we end up working on something related to their health and wellbeing.

It might be something which is holding them back, some personal baggage. I help them to bring that to the surface.

These issues can be quite deeply buried, and it can take a few sessions before they come up.

It might be the first time they’ve ever acknowledged what’s happened to them.

I help them to find a way to overcome that issue, or somehow acknowledge it, so they can move forward.

Opening up about trauma often helps to release it. They can then go on to achieve whatever it is that they want to achieve in their career or in their life.

This is why many people have been going round in circles up to that point. They’ve tried meditation, they’ve tried yoga, and a hundred other things. But until they’re prepared to go to that ‘shadow side’, acknowledge the issues and embrace them, they will continue to feel stuck.

Some people might call this life coaching, but I refer to it as the ‘shadow side’ or the ‘dark stuff’ because it’s deeper and more challenging than the issues most life coaches would work with.

I don’t get nervous about entering that space. I might be unusual in that respect but I think that also comes from my own journey, because I had to explore and deal with my own ‘shadow side’, which is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

I’m drawn to these challenges because that’s where the learning and the healing can be found.

This is a very interesting space – a grey area – where coaching and counselling overlap.

It’s a place I enjoy working in, but I don't cross that line into counselling or therapy.

My approach is therapeutic and restorative, without being therapy per se.

The coaching competencies are broad enough to allow me to work in this way without crossing any professional or ethical boundaries.

I often use poetry to help express myself.

There’s a poem by Victoria Erickson which reflects my own experience:

Sometimes someone isn’t ready to see the bright side.

Sometimes they need to sit with the shadow first.

So be a friend and sit with them.

Make the darkness beautiful.


I sometimes share this and other poems with my clients when it feels appropriate.

This approach works well when supporting those affected by cancer, through my work as a MacMillan wellbeing coach or with private clients.

There’s a rich ecosystem of support available to deal with the initial shock of a cancer diagnosis and treatments such as radiotherapy and chemotherapy, which can take a huge toll on the body.

However, there comes a point in a cancer patient’s journey where they may finish treatment and they’re recovering, but they still need support.

The medical people in white coats aren’t checking in on them anymore and family and friends might expect them to be back to ‘normal’ when they feel anything but.

They may be unable to work and have little to no income.

Their relationships are affected, they may have lost their sense of identity and have worries about the cancer returning.

Many people feel as though they’ve been dropped into a void and are still in need of support.

This is where cancer coaching can really make a difference – and it does.


My approach is therapeutic and restorative, without being therapy.


What results have you helped your clients achieve?

About a third of my coaching work is pro bono. I do voluntary business mentoring and coach individuals through a local university and through charities.

I always have two or three private clients who can't afford me but they need me. They've got nowhere else to go, they're having a tough time and it's usually rooted in childhood.

I listen and throw in a few coaching questions. Slowly but surely, they move forward and those are the clients I'm probably proudest of.

In terms of career coaching, I really enjoy working with leaders.

I coached some middle-level managers in the IT industry. They’d been promoted to leadership positions but lacked the training and confidence to support themselves in their new roles.

Having been in the Army and researched different styles of leadership, I have knowledge and experience I can share with other people.

Leadership is such an intangible thing because it's about the relationship between human beings.

They either feel they’re being well led, or they don’t. They’re willing to follow or they’re not.

I’m able to ask the uncomfortable questions, and this is where the breakthroughs happen.


I’m able to ask the uncomfortable questions, and this is where the breakthroughs happen.


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

It took me a little while to get going and find clients when I started my business in 2011.

I followed everything I was taught in the webinars and seminars but it didn’t work for me.

By 2015, my wife was beginning to notice there wasn’t any money coming in.

Her patience was stretched very thin.

I was covering my costs but not much more.

I decided to go on a business accelerator programme and that’s when something shifted.

I took myself off one morning for a coffee to help clear my mind.

A few hours later I looked up and realised that in my mindfully aware state, I’d drafted a brochure for a coaching programme I wanted to run.

I got my brochure printed up and 2 weeks later I was presenting my new programme in front of an audience.

This resulted in four new clients.

I thought “wow if I can do that, I wonder if I can run my business like this?”

I realised I’d been operating with a lot of “shoulds” and “musts” up to that point.

I’d been chasing the money.

I was doing what I thought I should be doing, not what I actually wanted to do.

I realised then that my reason for being in business was not principally to make money, but to be myself and to do things my way.

So I went back to that same spot for another coffee and I cleared my head again.

This time I wrote the Intuitive Business Plan, which became my signature programme.

That was the turning point.

I let go of a false assumption that I needed to chase the money and, since then, my business has taken off.

I continued to diversify into health and wellness coaching, cancer coaching and leadership coaching.

It’s all happened organically, but I’m now clear on my purpose.

I don’t really do any paid marketing or advertising.

Apart from being listed on a life coach directory, I don’t pay for any marketing.

I do interviews when I’m invited to (like this one!) and have conversations with people.

I focus on doing the kind of marketing that I enjoy and I earn enough to maintain my lifestyle.

It’s a slightly surreal experience to notice success in the rearview mirror: it simply became my ‘new normal’ and I only noticed it later.

Everything I originally wanted in my business I now have. Understanding my purpose in business liberated me from all the other assumptions I’d made.

I can just turn up as myself, do the stuff I want to do and be paid for it.

That’s why I’ll never give up pro bono coaching. It’s part of who I am and how I want to run my business.

I now have fewer discovery calls from prospective clients, but they almost always convert, because I’m working more authentically.


I let go of a false assumption that I needed to chase the money and, since then, my business has taken off.


How would you like your work to evolve in the future?

In recent years I’ve been approached by a few coaching platforms, some of which are quite ‘upmarket’.

They bring me a great pipeline of new clients so there’s no marketing for me to do and I’m well paid.

I’m being exposed to a higher stratum of clients.

These might be directors and CEOs who then refer me to their associates.

As a result, I’m able to charge more to work with these groups of people.

My practice keeps growing and I don't know what's coming next, which I quite like.

I don't want to be able to predict the future because the surprise is all part of the journey.


I don't want to be able to predict the future because the surprise is all part of the journey.


What are the most rewarding aspects of coaching for you?

Knowing the difference I can make to others lives by being a facilitator, a guide and a resource for them.

People bare their soul to me, and I enjoy that level of connection.

The coaching relationship is intimate.

I haven’t felt any lack of connection during the COVID lockdown because I’m having intimate and deep conversations with people every day.

It’s also amazing to be able to help someone to acknowledge their shadow and deal with it so they can move on with their lives. For me, this is the greatest privilege of being a coach.


Ross is a licensed Firework career coach, Business Mentor, Executive and Leadership Coach, Career Transition Coach, Wellness and Cancer Coach, Speaker and Poet. He's passionate about helping others to succeed, whatever that means for them. Ross lives in Salisbury, Wiltshire, with his family and two tortoises. Find out more and connect with Ross at