Coach in the Spotlight: Sarah Dawrant

Career Coach and Firework Lead Trainer, Sarah Dawrant, is well-known in the coaching industry for delivering focused and fun sessions which are packed full of insights. In our Q&A, Sarah shares some of the highs and lows of her coaching career along with her top tips for building confidence as a new coach.

How did you get into coaching?

After completing my sociology degree, I started off my career working in a charity.

I thought that it was going to be a fulfilling job and I’d be doing valuable work.

But, I ended up spending my time writing reports alone in a dark room and the content was really depressing. It turned out to be a terrible fit for me.

I remember thinking that charity work is doing “good work” and if I hated it then I must be a terrible person.

After I left that role, I decided to shift to something completely different. I spent the next few years in PR and marketing but I hated that too.

I couldn't figure out what to do career wise so I started working with a coach. I loved it and it led me to training as a coach myself.

I love supporting and developing people and I've always loved public speaking, so I decided to combine coaching with training.

I've spent the last 15 years doing this and I definitely found the right career for myself.

 

Why did you decide to focus on career coaching specifically?

It was challenging at the beginning to narrow down my niche and find clients. I'm sure that a lot of coaches can relate to that.

I did my initial coach training as a Co-Active Coach (with CTI).

I then moved to the UK in 2009 and basically had to start my practice over from scratch. I found it very difficult to get coaching clients in the UK.

I continued to get referrals from my Canadian network, so I worked with clients who were based in Canada for quite a long time after moving to the UK.

After being a coach for a while, I noticed that many of my coaching clients weren’t happy in their careers, so I began to consider how I could focus on career changers.

I began working with coaching clients on career challenges, but I knew that I needed further training in this area.

Up to that point, I’d been able to help clients understand themselves better and identify their strengths and values, but I didn't feel I had the skills to fully help people come up with new possibilities for potential careers.

I did a lot of research and decided to take the Firework training.

 

I began to consider how I could focus on career changers

 

What are your experiences of using the Firework programme?

I played around with it a lot and tried variations of how to used all the tools and exercises.

I experimented with how many sessions seemed the ideal amount in order to get clients results they wanted.

Ultimately, I ended up using Firework as a huge toolkit from which I select different exercises from. I also combine it with other tools and methodologies I've come across over the years.

The Ideas Bank is my favourite Firework exercise because it allows people to be really creative – it's not just about writing a list.

I invite my clients to get imaginative and share a variety of things that interest and inspire them.

Many of their ideas might have nothing to do with a career but the whole point, and the brilliance of the Ideas Bank is that we’re not looking for something literal but rather it’s the values underneath each idea. Like, they may include something about horses in their Ideas Bank, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to end up choosing to work with horses. It might just indicate a love of freedom, or appreciation for speed or nature, or a love of authentic interaction.

The Ideas Bank is just a really great way to have people access things that are true to them in a very non-linear way.

 

I invite my clients to get imaginative and share a variety of things that interest and inspire them.

 

Who do you work with now?

In the early days, I wanted to get as much experience as possible, so I worked with everyone and anyone. I didn't have a specific type of client.

After a couple of years, I became more clear on which clients I most enjoyed working with. For a while I predominantly focused on coaching females in their 30s to 40s. There was part of me that felt safer working with females or people who were like me.

As my confidence as a coach grew, I found myself becoming comfortable coaching clients of any age, any gender, and industry.

There isn't a strong commonality between my clients nowadays. Most of them have been in their career for at least seven years and have reached a point where they realise what they’re doing is not working for them and they need help.

Occasionally, someone will contact me and say “my mother told me to talk to a career coach” or ­“my wife wanted me to speak to you because I'm always complaining about my job”.

It becomes apparent very quickly that these people are not ready for coaching.

A key trait my ideal clients have is a desire to change. Many of them have gone through quite a hard time and have reached a difficult place. They’re ready for change and open to receiving support to make that transition happen.

 

A key trait my ideal clients have is a real desire to change.

 

How did you grow your coaching practice?

When I first came to the UK I did a lot of networking and volunteering in my field, and just said yes to everything in order to meet as many people as possible.

After volunteering at one particular event, I was invited to help out at another event. This one was a career change event for solicitors.

I was told I could have 90 seconds to introduce myself to the 150 participants.

Later that day, Richard Alderson (founder of Careershifters) said he saw me speak to the group at the start of the day and he liked my energy.

Within two weeks I was working for Careershifters.

You never know which action is going to lead to something big, but I would never have met Richard if I had not said yes to volunteering at that event.

 

I said yes to everything in order to meet as many people as possible.

 

What advice would you give new coaches to gain more exposure?

My biggest tip would be: do not wait to feel more confident!

Confidence comes as the result of taking action.

The older I get, the more I realise that everybody is insecure and secretly believes they don’t know what they’re doing – myself included!

If you wait to feel more confident, things will not happen. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other, and know that it will be scary and there will be lots of rejection, but you’ll eventually see results.

 

Confidence comes as the result of taking action.

 

What results have you helped your clients achieve?

It’s really varied.

I had one client who was working in finance and he ended up deciding to retrain to become a minister.

I've had several clients who’ve shifted out of academia. This can be quite a hard transition but also very satisfying. They showed a lot of bravery to leave institutions they'd been in for decades to work for themselves.

Ultimately though, for most clients, the result is that by the time we finish working together, they have no doubt about where their gifts and passions lie.

Through coaching, they’ve explored many different ideas and they leave me very clear on the direction they’re moving in.

They know they have some trial and error to go forward with, but they have a plan.

I invite my clients to take action to improve their skills, to network and practice asking for things and being brave. It becomes such a habit for them by the time we finish working together.

I never beat myself up if a client finishes and they don’t have the name of an exact job title they want. I trust the process and the process shows them so much.

 

By the time we finish working together, they have no doubt about where their gifts and passions lie.

 

What challenges have you faced as a coach?

I remember when I did my initial coaching training, one of the trainers warned us that at some point we would all go through what’s called “the dip”.

This is the initial high of feeling like “yes I am a good coach”, followed by the stark reality of experiencing how hard it can be to get clients.

That shock can lead you into the dip – doubting yourself and feeling hopeless about your potential to make it as a coach.

I didn't just have one of those dips, I had many.

I’d go from being excited and confident to completely doubting myself and not believing in my skills.

I even remember calling CTI at one point, years after I became certified as a coach and asking how much it would cost me to retake all of my coaching training because I felt like I’d forgotten how to coach!

 

I didn't just have one of those dips, I had many.

 

How do you source your coaching clients now?

I don't enjoy self promotion or focusing on increasing traffic to my website.

The combination of getting my Firework qualification and partnering with Careershifters really helped my business take off. It was definitely a struggle prior to that.

It took a long time – many years – but it was through the relationships I made with other coaching and training organisations which allowed me to fill my practice and get enough clients.

I get a lot of my career coaching clients through word of mouth now and referrals from former clients as well as being featured Careershifters coach.

I also work with two other companies as a corporate trainer and one of those companies also refers corporate coaching clients to me.

 

I don't enjoy self promotion.

 

What do you wish you'd known when you started out? What would you have done differently?

I found being self-employed and managing a small business incredibly challenging initially.

When I left the world of PR and marketing I assumed that I’d get to just focus on doing what I'm really passionate about. But, nobody told me that I’d have to be ‘head of marketing’, ‘head of finance’ and ‘head of operations’!

I thought I’d just focus on doing what I'm really passionate about!

But, nobody told me that as a business owner, I’d have to be head of marketing, head of finance and head of operations!

I think I felt a lot of shame thinking I should be better at those things.

I now realise that I needed to have found support and systems to help me, instead of thinking I need to be an expert in all aspects of my business.

 

I realise now that I needed to have found support and systems to help me.

 

What lessons can you share on building a successful coaching practice?

Prioritise getting experience over charging high fees.

I often hear new coaches trying to decide what they should charge, but I think it's much better to focus on getting as much coaching experience as you can early on.

Worrying about charging a high fee early on gets in the way of gaining as much coaching experience as possible.

When I started out coaching, I charged very low rates. I used to tell potential clients that one of my unique selling propositions was that I was very inexpensive because I was focussing on gaining experience as a new coach!

Instead, I recommend focusing on your network. Work with friends of friends and keep asking for referrals.

Don’t immediately spend a lot of money and emotional energy finding the perfect logo, website or niche. You can worry about that further down the road.

 

Prioritise getting experience over charging high fees.

 

What trends are you seeing in the career coaching landscape?

There's a lot more of a need for the ability to be dynamic on video and to be able to build rapport online.

The world of networking is changing and I think it's harder than it used to be.

Before the pandemic, I would encourage my clients to go to events or talks in the field they are interested in and to talk to people who are also attending the events to learn more about different industries.

But, with a lot more interaction happening online, that dynamic of being able to casually interact with people and have side conversations at events is different.

Perhaps people who are more introverted will have the opportunity to attend events and access worlds that they may not have felt comfortable doing in person.

 

The world of networking is changing.

 

How has your coaching practice altered during the course of the pandemic?

When I trained as a coach 15 years ago, I was trained to coach by phone.

I was taught to coach by only using my sense of listening.

I was taught to feel the subtle shifts in a client’s energy or tone of voice.

For all these years I’ve coached the majority of clients by phone, but when the pandemic hit, the whole world shifted to video calls.

I had to adapt to going from just listening to my clients voices and feeling things in my body to looking at them and having them look at me.

In terms of my training work, when the pandemic began and all training went online and I found the change very difficult.

I feared that the things I was best at – creating safe places to connect and inviting people to move and learn in physical and playful ways – weren't relevant for running online courses.

But over the past 18 months, I’ve learned how to create connections and build rapport with teams online and how to make remote training interactive and playful.

 

I’ve learned how to create connections and build a rapport with teams online.

 

What advice do you have for new career coaches?

One of the most important skills as a coach and as a career coach is the skill of contracting/designing an alliance with your client at the start of your coaching relationship.

Setting up that relationship and making agreements on how you will work together is invaluable.

If you don't feel that your coaching training has equipped you with solid contracting skills or the ability to design a clear alliance, then I recommend you learn more about that.

From my experience, it’s useful to ask potential clients to consider their overall wellbeing before they begin career coaching. For example, if they are suffering from depression or extreme anxiety then career coaching may not be useful at that time.

Career coaching requires the ability to dream and consider many possibilities and when a person is in a highly anxious state, it’s just not possible to dream or consider mild-blowing future possibilities.

 

When a person is in a highly anxious state, it’s just not possible to dream or consider mild-blowing future possibilities.

 

What do you find most rewarding about career coaching?

I have the privilege of getting to see the potential and gifts in my clients that they can’t yet see in themselves.

I love it when they own just how creative, talented and experienced they truly are and can see what’s possible for them.

 

Sarah Dawrant is a Firework-licensed Career Coach and Lead Trainer on the Firework Programme. She offers one on one career and executive coaching and corporate workshops on topics such as presentation skills, line management, coaching skills, and leadership. Sarah has trained teams within universities, federal and municipal governments and global tech companies. Described on Linkedin by one of her peers as the “embodiment of powerful feminine leadership”, she is committed to creating spaces where people create meaningful connections and have a lot of fun while learning great skills at the same time.