How to build an online community


With the coaching industry growing at such a rapid rate, building a profitable business can feel pretty daunting. But according to leading coach Debbie Spellman, it’s all about creating raving fans.

Once a little known career-choice, life coaching is now one one of the fastest growing industries in the world. According to a 2016 study by the International Coaching Federation, there are 53,300 life coaches worldwide – which means, there’s now a lot out there trying to get the next client.

So how do you stand out from the crowd? And how do you build such a strong following that the clients are lining up to coach with you?

Debbie Spellman knows. She has been in the coaching game since 2010, and in the four years she coached one-on-one full time (only pausing when her son was born), she always had a waiting list of clients ready to go. Now balancing motherhood with her business, her online programs sell out every time she announces a new one. Over the past seven years, she has honed her marketing and social media skills to ensure her brand and her messaging are always on track – and the best news for those wanting to do the same?

She did it all herself.

Debbie Spellman

Debbie Spellman

From the branding colours to the layouts to the online course creation. And from there, she has managed to build a community of ‘raving fans’ that have followed her every step of the way.

Spellman agreed to let Canva take a peek behind-the-scenes of her booming business (and a look into her design folders!) to share with us how you too can build a successful coaching business online.

Getting clear on your brand

Building an online brand can be daunting.

A simple scroll through your news feed and it’s easy to get lost in a sea of comparison – how do you connect with your audience when there is so much noise out there?

The reality is – if you want to build a waiting list of clients, you need to be crystal clear on your message. It’s important to know your niche – and for your audience to know it too. It won’t come as a surprise to hear that Spellman says that it was getting clear on what she stood for, and how her brand would reflect that, that really turned her business around.  But what might surprise you is that she has done it all on her own. Other than one brief encounter with a hired designer, Spellman creates all of her own content – from landing pages to course workbooks.

“I hired a designer once, because I needed help building my membership site,” Spellman admits. “But, apart from that, for the whole eight years I have been online, I have never used a designer. I just wasn’t happy with what I got, and so I decided to go into Pinterest and start thinking about the style I wanted, and then I’d go and sleep on it, and when I woke up, I’d take another look and I’d just create it.”

Debbie Spellman Header Detox Your Mind

A header from one of Debbie’s online programs

Create your own header for your online program or landing page using this Horizons Canva template.

Horizons Facebook Cover

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Spellman says getting clear on your brand values is a great place to start. What is it you stand for? And how will you communicate that in your messaging?

Excellence is one of my key values in life,” says Spellman, “and so, when it comes to my branding, I always want it to have a level of excellence. You have to remember that your branding is an extension of yourself: so, some people are really feminine, some people love lots of colour, some are very real and raw. And that’s what their brand must reflect. For me, I just love that kind of chic, modern, upmarket feel. It’s just part of my brand. And so I’ve always stuck to that in everything I create.”

This goes beyond just choosing your favourite colours. As you begin to explore your coaching brand, it’s important to not only think of the design elements, but also what they reflect. In the end, you have to resonate with what you are putting out there.

Although waiting to get it ‘just right’ can sometimes hold you back from putting your work out into the world (we all know what perfectionism can do for procrastination!), Spellman does say feeling proud of your look and brand does affect how your audience feels about it too. Energetically, you have to believe in what you are saying.

“If you don’t love your website, if you don’t love your branding, and you don’t love your social media, I’ve found that it can repel clients. We all have an element of perfectionism and wanting it to be better, but it’s important that you are in alignment with what you’re putting out there. It’s got to speak to you. It’s got to be you.”

Debbie Spellman - Instagram Post

One of Spellman’s graphics she created in Canva

Edit your own social media event announcement with this Instagram Twitter Party template.

Twitter Party City Skyline Instagram Post

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Creating your look

So when it comes to the step-by-step practical tips, Spellman says there’s one great place to start – and that is, to match the brand colours with your photos. Although there are plenty of stock photos available online if you are just starting out, Spellman does say investing in a professional photoshoot is the best first investment in your work. But no matter whether you’re using stock photos or your own, keep in mind the look and feel that you want your client to experience when they come to the page – and then design around that.

Before Canva (which she swears by for all her content creation now), Spellman worked in PowerPoint, curating her own look with a mixture of brand colours, fonts and professional photos. When Canva came along, she says “the heavens opened, and I was able to design it all myself.” And now, even though she could easily outsource this part of her thriving business, she still prefers to do it on her own.

If you can’t get personal photos of yourself for your branding just yet, try using photos of objects that are in line with your message instead, like this one for Spellman’s program.

Vision Creation Workshop image

Example of a Debbie Spellman header

Create a similar look with this Nine Lives Canva template.

Nine Lives Tumblr template

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Spellman suggests to start with a mood board, gathering the colours, looks and feels you love. She advises her business clients to use Pinterest for this, as it’s so easy to create boards that you can use for future inspiration.

“So I always choose the branding colours based on the photos I have. When I’m designing a new program, I look through the photos I have and see which matches the program the most, and then I import that photo into Canva. Then from there, I choose the colours for the branding based on the background of the photos, or something I’m wearing.”

A great tip Spellman shares is to make sure you always get photos with lots of space, so you can easily add the text. You can vary your position, but try to avoid too many centred in the middle, so you have a large variety to choose from for your social media and copy. And when it comes to colours, simple is best.

“I was once told by a stylist to follow the three-colour rule: never wear more than three colours at a time. So, when I’m creating my branding, I actually have one or two main colours, and then I’ll have black. It works really well to keep that rule in your mind.”

“I’ll always have the same background photo across all the social media elements, and obviously the same copy and text. I’ll even create headers for the landing page and keep it consistent across all platforms. I actually create my landing page headings in Canva with a beautiful, cursive font. And then I’ve got Canva Pro, so then I save it with a transparent background, and then I can import those headings and use it in everything I share.”

Debbie Spellman Monetise You

The latest branding for Spellman’s new online program

Create raving fans

At the end of the day, the main goal of a strong and authentic brand is to create what Spellman calls ‘raving fans’. When you can build an audience that knows exactly what you are about, and knows what to expect from you, that’s when your business really begins to boom. Raving fans will buy everything you create, and will be lining up to sign up to the next thing you put out.

“I feel it comes down to trust. Authenticity and trust. One of the things that I’ve always remained true to is service. So, even as I’ve grown, I’ve never outsourced my email, I’ve never outsourced my messenger, I’ve never outsourced my social media. Now, I know a lot of coaches that do. And I know we can’t do everything. But there’s one thing that I’ll never outsource, and that’s my voice. For me, I truly believe that when you are completely yourself, and your brand reflects that, and your writing reflects that, and your videos, and whatever you put on social media, reflects that, that’s where you’ll create raving fans.”

Debbie Spellman Instragram quote

Spellman’s brand colours and focus on ‘excellence’ is reflected in every post she shares

So how does she convert those social media followers to clients and customers? Not too long ago, it was all about the opt-in: the free e-book, the five-steps-to PDF, the three-day challenge. Now, however, Spellman says your audience is looking for more than that.

“Since I started, the landscape’s changed dramatically. I think we’ve gone from the information age to the connection age. Everyone’s offering free opt-ins, everyone’s offering e-books. There is a principle in the coaching industry that you give your best content for free, because people don’t pay for information, they pay for structure and accountability. So, one thing I’ve recognised is that there is so much information out there these days that if we just give people more information, they’re just overwhelmed. And I’m seeing that a lot with the coaching industry since it really started to boom: people are starting to get really overwhelmed by everything. And so, what I feel we need now is authenticity and connection.

“The people that I know that are building those raving fans, and have an audience that is ready to buy absolutely everything that person puts out, are showing up every day. They are doing daily Facebook Lives. They’re showing up on Instagram daily. And it’s not fabricated or scripted, it’s not even really pre-planned – it’s just them being them.”

Being relatable and reliable is key. You have to show that you know who you are talking to, because you are your audience. The more open and real about your own struggles, the more your audience will have the ‘oh me too!’ reaction, and be ready to sign up with you. That’s what creates the real connection.

Hone your message, and the words will flow. Create a social media meme using a template like the Orange Fall Leaves one below, and following this format to share your own insights.

Orange Fall Leaves Inspirational Instagram Post

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“When you’re starting out, it can be quite scary to be you. It can be scary to be vulnerable, because you’ve never done it before. So, what I’ve seen is that people start to think, ‘Oh, her messaging is great. I’ll use that.’ Or, ‘Her tagline is great, I’ll change it for me,’ and they start taking on all these elements of what they love in other people – but it never actually feels authentically them. Over time, they start to feel a little bit confused about what they’re putting out there. And their audience can see that too. But what I suggest is that over time, you will get a lot more comfortable being you – you just need to find your story first.”

Find your story

There’s a common term in the coaching and service industry that can get even the most confident coach-to-be worrying about their next step: the ideal client. It’s often one of the first steps in building a coaching business, and some would say that without it, you can’t connect with your potential audience.

But, Spellman doesn’t agree. To her, what’s more important is understanding your own story, and from there, your ‘ideal client’ will reveal itself. After running her business under the ‘Detox your Mind’ brand for two years, Spellman realised that she needed to refocus on her own story and what it was that she most wanted to share, and it was through looking at her own story that she uncovered her real passion.

“After doing a lot of my own inner work, I realised that the root cause of a lot of the problems in my life was actually my self-worth. I could see that it was a massive thing in my life. So once I figured that out, and then started to overcome that, that’s when I rebranded to, and focused on self-worth.”

And that’s when her business exploded.

“I was never short of clients after that. I had a wait list for the four years I did one-on-one clients. I sold out retreats, I sold out workshops. And that’s because people resonated with my story. Everyone would say to me, ‘When I read your about page on your website, that’s when I booked in with you.’ People don’t need more information, they need transformation. We can transform people’s lives when we share our story. Once you get that in your branding, and in your conversations online, that’s when you’ve got raving fans.”

Debbie Spellman Mini-guide graphics

A preview of Spellman’s free mini-guide

Once you’ve got your story clear, your ideal client reveals itself too – because she (or he) is you, two steps behind. Rather than thinking of your client as someone else, someone foreign who you have created, Spellman says you write to the person you used to be – and tell them all you wish you’d known. When you have that clear in your mind, content flows. And it connects.

“If you are just unapologetically yourself, and share your own story, you start attracting a tribe which are just like you. That means that no matter what you put out from your gorgeous heart and soul, and it can be anything that’s about you, they’re going to resonate. Because you’ve actually attracted a whole heap of ‘yous’, and that’s how they turn into raving fans. People don’t buy your services, they’re buying you.”

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