- Gallup Called to Coach Webcast Series
- Season 6, Episode 17
- Learn how to start your own CliftonStrengths coaching business -- and even a strengths-based "side hustle" -- from someone who has succeeded in doing both.
On a recent Called to Coach, we spoke with the Founder of the Service Academy Business Mastermind and of StrengthsMugs, Scott Mackes.
Scott has been a coach for five years, but the first few years were spent trying to figure out coaching, especially who he'd like to work with. He found he enjoyed working with servicepeople and U.S. service academy graduates (West Point, the Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy, and the Coast Guard Academy), especially those who are building a business. He understood their background because he has a similar background and because they are dependable. There are probably about 150,000 of them worldwide and about 10% are entrepreneurs, so a target market of 15,000 people.
He launched his current coaching business about a year ago via a podcast of successful entrepreneurs who were also service academy graduates and built an email list of service academy grads and let them know about the podcasts. After five months, he started his coaching program. He now has four coaches in his group and has six programs online (two of which are new this summer) and has signed up 30 clients during the past four months. So he focused on a "super-tight niche," which helped him build his business and then teaming up with others who have different skill sets that complement his. His coaching website is https://sabmgroup.com. He also sells mugs, t-shirts and other CliftonStrengths-related goods at his website, https://strengthsmugs.com.
How did you find the first person to interview?
The very first person I found on LinkedIn, and he had founded a company called Nine Line Apparel and was a service academy grad, but I didn't know him at all. I guess just because of the service connection, when I sent him a LinkedIn message, he welcomed the opportunity to do the interview. It was unusual because I had only met him for a few minutes before we did the podcast, so it was a little nerve-wracking. And then with the first few others, I had to put on my sales hat to convince people to come on the podcast. But now, the guests keep rolling in. I've published about 30 podcasts now, so it is easier.
At what point did you know that you were on to something?
I knew right away. With good business ideas, you know right away. I tried some things before and it was crickets … but within a couple of days of publishing the podcast, it had about 100 downloads. What I liked about it was that it wasn't about me. I was promoting others and their stories, and that made it easy to send out the podcast links to a few thousand service academy graduates. People listened and the stories resonated with them. And it helped that these guests are regular people, and not hard to get a hold of.
What kind of feedback have you been getting from your audience?
I wanted the podcast to be fun, so I found this rapper on Fiverr (a great resource) to do the intro music, complete with backup singers. I get a lot of (positive) feedback on that. We also do online networking "meetups" -- inviting people to our meetups. I started doing them a few months after I started doing the podcast. They're always full, with 25+ people, and participants get 2 minutes to share their challenges and who they're looking to connect with. I mail out a roster before the meetup so people know who is on the call, their business, etc. People are seeing how much value they can get from coming to a free online networking meetup, which is a good sign that they might want to invest in a coaching program.
You've piqued my interest. You do a call for an hour, and 2 minutes each for 25 people is the entirety of the call? Is there an expectation that people will contact others on the call for a connection? Is that how it works?
These are completely awesome. If you're trying to connect your community in a way it hasn't been connected before, think about doing this. I do the calls at night on Zoom, with audio and video available (some call in, no video), as well as chat, with messaging going on during the call. I cap (participation) at 35. This is free for (participants). But the real magic happens after the call. I've actually met a lot of my podcast guests after the call, and I use the meetup to make a connection with someone new. Because it's free, people can get to know you as a coach from something that adds value for them and can build trust for them.
I may steal that from you. I'd love to start coaching meetups around industry pillars or verticals … I've never heard of something like this working, but that's dynamite. And the content is the connection, right?
I think it is, perhaps it's my Includer strength that is helping me build these connections. If I had to do a meetup at a geographic location, I'd blow half a day and expenses to go into (nearby) Boston to spend less than an hour with 25 or 30 awesome people. So we all call in at, say, 8 p.m. and talk for less than an hour and then we can continue our night. And most people keep within their allotted time.
Scott, that is a gem you just gave me. It's a great way to connect people, and I wouldn't have believed it would work. … Now let's talk about what you're doing in your business. You're finding coaches on your site -- folks that have niches and you are getting them to share their knowledge with you. Talk about that.
When I started this community, I didn't want it to be about me but about the service academy grads and helping them build their businesses. There's only a small sliver of those grads that I feel qualified to help. I met a man via one of these meetups who is a West Point grad and built a business in the medical device industry and sold it for a bunch of money. Since then he's been a coach of entrepreneurs. Who better to lead our first coaching program than a service academy graduate who's built a multimillion-dollar business and is a coach. So he leads a group, I have an e-commerce coach and a real estate coach, and I lead a "side hustle" group because that's me. I call the groups "Accelerators." And each coach has a personality that's different from the other coaches.
How have you worked out the compensation part of the business? That can get really sticky.
I think you have to be "up front" with the coaches about how the program works. The coach of entrepreneurs (my first one) actually sent ME an agreement, out of his coaching experience. If I bring a coach on board, that person has to be the very best. I work with that person to form their packages, out of my own coaching background. And the coaches I bring on board are coaches I would want for myself.
What would you have people watch out for if they want to start something like this?
I've learned that not all coaches are the same. I needed to learn the different personalities of the coaches and help them structure their programs in a way that made sense -- leaving the design of the Accelerator up to them.
If we had an academy grad who wanted to contact you, how would they do that?
email@example.com is my email.
Let's talk about your side hustle. Walk me through your business and the mugs and other things you sell. (You are now licensed to sell these -- our first Gallup licensee.)
Our most popular product is the strengths mug (https://strengthsmugs.com) with your top 5, and now we can do your top 10, or put your name or initials on the other side of the mug. We also have CliftonStrengths t-shirts (with CliftonStrengths on the front, I'm wearing one now) that have your top 5 on the back, and we also have had success with our tumblers (and strengths blankets -- but no one has bought those yet).
I started this business to solve my own problems -- seeing that my clients loved the mugs that I would buy for them off of another site (but it was a more involved process), but thought it would be great to have my own online store that made it easier to buy a mug. Yet I needed to figure out the online store component. I found a (professional) printer after many attempts, and then needed help in creating a store. Then I found out about Shopify from a web designer friend and created my own e-commerce site for less than $500 (vs. $10,000 for a custom-designed site).
I knew my clients liked the mugs, but I didn't know if somebody would pay for a Strengths mug. So on a Friday afternoon, with the site set up, I asked people in the Gallup Coaching Facebook group if they would like to buy a strengths mug, and I had a sale within 3 minutes -- my first success as an entrepreneur. But then I tweeted bestselling author Michael Hyatt, who has hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter, and I knew he had taken CliftonStrengths. So I tweeted him, "Your #1 Achiever Strength would look great on a Strengths mug" and closed my computer. So my entire launch was a Facebook group post and a tweet to Michael Hyatt. He retweeted my tweet and ended up saying he would buy a mug for everyone on his team. And he is still a customer today. That weekend, the orders started pouring in.
It's a great story, an unexpected success. Sometimes those ideas work, but more often they don't. And you got a "break." What are a couple of things you learned from getting this thing started?
- Challenge yourself to create a minimum viable product. And then get it out there. See if people like it and get some feedback.
- I couldn't do it alone. I needed to form a community (linking the Strengths mugs with the Service Academy business) in order to launch the product (as a support group), and so the coaching groups grew out of that.
Have you ever had any projects that didn't work?
Yeah, most of them didn't work. It wasn't that I was a bad coach, but I was too general initially in what I was trying to offer. I found some good clients and then figured out who I wanted to form a coaching business around, but a lot of my efforts were "crickets." But now I'm finding that each idea is getting better over time. So keep launching.
Scott Mackes' Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Competition, Includer, Futuristic, Achiever and Self-Assurance.