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What I’ve Learned as a Digital Skills Coach

On my first day as a digital skills coach, I was thrown in at the deep end. Working at the Business 2012 show at the O2 Arena, our team spent 3 intense days speed-coaching hundreds of businesses as part of Google’s “Juice Bar” digital skills programme.

I was a 22-year-old who had just started working in digital marketing, so after 7 years of experience working with small businesses, advising on strategy, and coaching, I’ve certainly learned a few things since then about delivering effective, impactful digital skills coaching.

Here are some of them – I hope they will be helpful whether you are working as a coach or informally sharing knowledge with others.

Getting on the same page is crucial

In my experience, coaching tends to fall into one of three ‘types’:

  • Troubleshooting – solving a specific problem or answering a few technical questions
  • Goal-focused – looking at strategy and making longer-term plans
  • Information/learning based – demonstrating a digital platform, or teaching the basics of a topic

Deciding which type your session is ensures you stay focused. I like to start by setting expectations and goals together to make sure we’re on the same page and have a realistic idea of what we can achieve in the given time – whether that’s 10 minutes or six months.

If you’ll be working together long-term, this is even more crucial. Although it’s important to leave some flexibility, having a rough week-to-week or month-to-month guide of your coaching path can ensure you’re both prepared for each session and know what to expect.

Listening is key

Coaching is a conversation, not a presentation. There’s value in both, but digital skills coaching should be tailored, responsive and not out-of-the-box. Listening and asking good questions are arguably two of the most important skills for impactful coaching.

Step one of any coaching – whether it’s a one-off session or part of an ongoing consultancy – is understanding the needs, wants and constraints of the person (or business) you’re working with. If they wanted a generic lesson in digital, they’d be reading a how-to guide or watching a YouTube video. Coaching should be more of a process of listening, responding, adapting that leads both of you, together, to the right solution.

There is no one way

Sure, your favourite website platform is WordPress, and you dislike a particular email provider, and you would defend your side of the Apple vs Android debate to the death. We all have preferences, but it’s important to understand when you’re giving advice based on subjective opinions instead of fact. Maybe Shopify is a better choice for that particular business, or they have to use a specific system for work, or x phone feature is essential. As a coach, I’m there to guide, not to sell – so I try to outline pros and cons of different options, and give a personal opinion only when it’s helpful.

Everyone is different

A common question I get as a digital skills coach for businesses is “how do I reach more customers?”. I must have had 100+ sessions on this by now! But the conversation is different every time.

Some people want to throw money at the problem, others have plenty of time but no budget, some are part of a 20-person department, others a one-person band. There is no one-size-fits-all approach (or it would be a much easier job!). The solution? Listening (see above) and expertise. Understand the challenges people face in your sector, get to know the options, be able to clearly explain the benefits, requirements and potential pitfalls of each so your coach-ee can make an informed decision with your support.

It’s fine to say “I don’t know”

In fact, it’s a great thing to say. Much better than pretending that you do know. Trust is a key element of coaching, so blagging it is a big no. If someone asks me about something that’s not in my area of expertise, there are a couple of different paths we can take: look it up together, if it’s a topic I am comfortable with, or refer them to a trusted source (another coach, colleague or maybe a website). Nobody knows it all!

I hope these were useful tips for anyone coaching as part of their job or interested in sharing knowledge through informal coaching. I’d love to compare notes with fellow coaches – drop me a message on Twitter or LinkedIn 🙂

Bonus photo: 22-year-old me (on the right) in my first of many Google t-shirts.

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