Coach Interview Series: Maggie Karshner

by Brandon

Maggie Karshner

Self-Employment Coach

Our main objective here at the National Coach Academy is to enable aspiring coaches to reach their full professional potential. One of the most effective ways to educate students about the world of coaching is by offering them a window into the world of real, practicing coaches and showing them all the different ways coaches make a difference in the lives of their clients.

We hope today’s interview adds another insightful glimpse into the dynamic world of coaching.

Today we are interviewing Maggie Karshner. Maggie is a Self-Employment and Entrepreneurial Coach based in Seattle, Washington.

NCA: Can you describe your coaching practice and the kinds of clients you typically work with?

Maggie: My coaching practice is focused on one-on-one individualized coaching. Sometimes, I liken it to what a therapist does, but for business. Usually, I meet in-person or remotely with my clients, typically for an hour once a week. We talk about whatever’s going on in their business or how the formation of their business is going and we process anything that’s going on. I check in on how the homework went and then we usually have a conversation and figure out some new homework to do for the coming week.

Specifically, what I do is self-employment coaching. I tend to work with folks who oftentimes don’t have a business yet or they have a business where they’re self-employed, but it’s not going the way that they want it to. I work with them to create the business that actually best suits their life. I mostly do that through one-on-one coaching.

The clients I work with tend to be the creative types. They have a ton of ideas. They have a lot of directions they could go in and they’re trying to stay focused or suss out what the right course of action is. I help them really focus and actually make achievable progress. One of the things I like to say is that working with me is like wearing a jetpack. You could still get from point A to point B, but I’ll get you there a little bit faster and hopefully a little more fun.

NCA: I love that! Looking back, what initially got you interested in this career? What were some of the motivating factors?

Maggie: Somewhat ironically, I was a bit of a reluctant self-employed person. My path to this was a little circuitous. I was on a journey of figuring out how to have it all work in a way that resonated with my life purpose. I was hunting around for what that would be and how I could best contribute to society. I had been going down a path of nonprofit work and then I took a pivot to marketing and then I took a pivot to consulting. I know I’ve got a unique perspective. I had been working in so many environments where people were telling me, “Oh yeah, that’s a really good idea.” I was making valuable contributions, but that wasn’t actually part of my job title.

That led me to consulting. I was like, “Oh, this is what consultants do. They give their two cents, help make it happen. This is what I want to do.” So I got a job in management consulting. I was working with a mid-sized company and discovered that the reality of consulting at that scale is like trying to steer an ocean liner. You say, “Hey, we should correct two degrees to the left.” And it’s like, “Great, cool. We’ll do that in six months.” And I’m left thinking, “Okay, but it’s going to work better if we do it now.” The pace was so slow. I want to work with people and organizations that are smaller and more agile where the decision maker is one, not a committee.

That’s what led me toward self-employment coaching. As I said, I want to work with people who are the only person in the business. During the time that I was doing consulting, I was doing coaching on the side. I had a couple friends who ran their own businesses. They’d buy me coffee once in a while and I’d sit down and we’d do coaching. I’d give them my advice and give them perspective and things like that. It took exhausting everything in the employed world before I was like, “Oh, that’s what I want to do. I want to do that and I want to get paid for it more than coffee.” [laughing]

It led to a culminating “Oh shit” moment where I was complaining to my therapist, like you do. I feel like that’s 90% of what the therapist does. It dawned on me that the only way I could do that thing I wanted to do was to be self-employed myself, which I was not actually excited about. That had not been a dream that I had held. It was more like “Crap, I actually have to go do it.” [laughing] Which I think is true for so many people who are self-employed. It’s like, “I really want to do this thing. Oh, the way I can make that happen is I have to do this part that isn’t quite so fun.” I’m like so many self-employed folks in that way sometimes.

I’ve also actually had a massive, positive force in my life when it comes to business because my mother has an MBA. She in fact worked for an MBA program, so I was raised with a whole lot of business principles. Before I launched my own business, I had already been running a business in partnership with my best friend. I had actually ticked a lot of boxes already. I had a lot of skills I was bringing to the table and there was no reason for me not to do it. I’m perfectly capable. I’m coaching other people on it at that point. That’s the journey. That was seven, eight years ago now that I had that epiphany and I’ve never regretted it, ever. Not one day.

What I learned so much with coaching is it’s about the relationship, not the coach. […] No person is an island. We’re a pack animal. We need other people. We process things across a relationship. It’s got to be collaborative. The client has to bring their whole self, all of their resources, all of their knowledge of themselves. They know themselves definitely better than I ever will.

NCA: It’s interesting because in a lot of the coaching conversations that I’ve had, the business side of coaching seems to pose a greater challenge for coaches than the actual craft and skill of being a coach. It doesn’t always come naturally to coaches, I’ve found.

Maggie: I actually really liked the business side. I feel kind of guilty because when my clients come to me with random problems like, “Do I need to be licensed in the state of Virginia to sell this product?” And I go, “Let me Google it.” I have a blast researching that stuff. I’m like, “Oh, yeah. Okay. This is how it works in Virginia. Cool. Now I know that.” That part isn’t unpleasant to me. I’m actually in my element with that. But I think there is, universally, a bit of fear that comes with going your own way. There’s that statistic that 50% of businesses fail in their first five years or something like that. That’s terrifying. If that was the prognosis for a medical procedure, I won’t have it done. [laughing]

One of the things that I told myself when I was getting started is this is as closely aligned to my purpose as I have ever found. If this doesn’t work, either I’m meant to do something else and this was a great learning experience or this is going to be a bigger challenge. A challenge isn’t a bad thing. A challenge can be fun. People run marathons for fun which I don’t completely understand. But if this is the equivalent, I can do this. I will train. I will put in the time to make this work, and I think it’s paid off.

Sometimes people get into business for themselves and they assume it’s going to be easy. I wonder, of those businesses that fail, how many of them are not actually in alignment with who they are? I built this business on the same level that I breathe. This is the thing that I do. I can’t not do it. If the whole world is coming to an end, I’m going to still be trying to do this work with people. It’s going to be a very different landscape and I might not be getting paid for it. I might also be trying to figure out how to eat, but I’m going to still be doing it because this is who I am.

NCA: In your experience, what would you say has been the most challenging aspect of the work that you’ve been doing as a coach?

Maggie: When you work with clients, they’re sharing everything. They’re sharing stuff that they haven’t even told their spouse because they don’t want to mess up their relationship. If they’re coming and bearing everything, you get really wrapped up into the drama. I feel like it’s even more compelling than big TV shows that leave those cliffhangers and everyone’s talking about them. I want to tune back into what my client is going to say next week. I want to hear what’s happening in that saga and it can really get you caught up in it.

And then clients leave. They’re ready to move on. They decided this isn’t the path for them. They want to stop coaching for whatever reason. It’s like being left on that cliffhanger for the TV show and then there not being another season. It can be so upsetting or so disheartening because you invest in this person.

Probably the thing that I find the most challenging is making this investment in people and then letting them go. They’re allowed to go on with their lives and do other things and make decisions that I may or may not agree with because it’s still their life. For me, that’s hard. That’s uncomfortable. I don’t even know if it went well or not. I just don’t get any more updates.

Now I’m in a place where I’ve had some clients either that I’ve been working with for years that we just keep getting little check ins or I’ve had some clients come back to me for another infusion of direction for their business. That’s been lovely because sometimes, I’ll go and visit people’s websites and be like, “The website’s still up. They must still be doing this thing.” But then I actually get feedback into how it’s going and like, “Oh, this is what’s happening now and now I’m at this place in my development as a business and this is where I want to go next.” That part’s really lovely. That’s not every client and that’s fine. It works that way.

NCA: One of the most common challenges new coaches face is self-doubt. Some coaches call it Imposter Syndrome, where early on they feel somehow inadequate to take on the role of coach. What is one piece of advice that you would give to somebody who is in the beginning stage of their coaching career and dealing with these doubts in their mind?

Maggie: This is a practice and I love to frame things as practices because it’s not like imposter syndrome is going to go away. It’s that we’re going to get better dealing with it. I definitely have had my moments of imposter syndrome. I still do. They’re more subtle now. My close friends call me out on it. They’re like, “Don’t sell yourself short.”, and I was like, “I wasn’t selling—Okay, I was selling myself a little short. I can do better, sure.” Having a community of people around you and support that sees your value and will reinforce that for you is huge. Outsource the effort. Get people outside of you to help.

But there’s also a lot of internal work with that. I have an internal cheerleader. I’ve cultivated her and brought her into being because you can’t do anything difficult if the voices inside of your head are like, “Well, you can’t do that. That’s never going to work. You’re clearly going to fail at this.” You got to have someone inside. Choose that overly zealous cheerleader Pollyanna for the voice who’s like, “You can do it. You can definitely do this even if it’s hard, even if you don’t like it right now. This is doable. We can do this.”

One of the practices that I recommend particularly early in business is to do a “Five Good Things” list. At the end of a session, or at the end of a day, list five things that went well. We have this confirmation bias within our head. It’s a feedback loop of what we see, we see more of, so we have to consciously turn the inner critic off and see what’s going well.

With my early sessions, I’d list off five things. It would be something like this:

1. I was a reasonable human.
2. I said my full price without stuttering; that was awesome!
3. That one thing I said was definitely a good one. They made the “ah-ha” face. I definitely did something helpful right there!
4. Even if they don’t come back and work with me, I have made a positive impact in their life and that’s what I’m here to do.
5. This will become, with more practice, an actual client.

What I learned so much with coaching is it’s about the relationship, not the coach. That was a principle I learned before I actually launched this business. I learned it from Co-Active Coaching. They talked about this collaborative process and I was like, “Ah, yes. This rings true with so many other things that I know in life.” No person is an island. We’re a pack animal. We need other people. We process things across a relationship.

It’s got to be collaborative. The client has to bring their whole self, all of their resources, all of their knowledge of themselves. They know themselves definitely better than I ever will and I can bring outside perspective which is hugely valuable. I can bring all of my coaching experience. I can bring all of my business experience and I can say, “Okay, what about this?” But if I end up in a situation where my client knows themselves to be a true introvert in every sense of the word and I say, “Hey, what if you go to a networking event?” I need them to say, “There’s no way in hell I’m going to go to networking events.” And I go, “Okay, cool. Let’s find a different solution.” Because that’s my role as a coach. It’s not to be a dictator. It’s to collaborate with them to get what they want. It doesn’t have to do with me and my skills, necessarily. And it definitely has very little to do with whatever those imposter syndrome voices say!

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