It has been great to work with Austin and observe the amazing growth of his coaching practice since he received his executive coaching certification from the Center for Executive Coaching. He focuses on creative-minded companies, an exciting niche in coaching.
Austin Bauer, PCC, is a leadership coach and founder of Simple Progress, a consultancy that helps creative-minded organizations do better work by developing cultures of organizational listening, collaborative learning, and internal innovation. Austin has coached and trained over 1,500 leaders at 50+ companies including YouTube, CBS, The American Heart Association, Edelman, Omnicom, Taco Bell, Project Worldwide, Garage Team Mazda, 72andSunny, The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, The 4A’s, and Bastion Collective. He is a regular guest facilitator for the USC Iovine and Young Academy for Arts, Technology, and the Business of Innovation; leads west coast engagements for Caveday, a company improving our relationship to work; and is the strategic advisor for social impact design consultancy, very nice.
Andrew: I’m here with Austin Bauer, Center of Executive Coaching graduate. Austin, thanks for being on.
Austin: Thanks for having me.
Andrew: So, tell us about the state of your practice right now.
Austin: Sure. Well, my practice is called Simple Progress. We’ve been in business since 2015, which is about the time that I was in the Center of Executive Coaching program. Essentially the businesses is me. I have some part time assistant help. I also assemble projects for teams for certain projects. We work with about 70 percent advertising, marketing, and creative services. That is what my background is. And then the other 30 percent are non-profits, healthcare, and some government work as well.
Creative companies is definitely a segment where I focus. Everything I do is through the lens of coaching. But coaching is only one of the ways that I work. In these five years, it’s been everything from a mix of strategic planning and research to training for new and struggling managers, and also how those managers can be more like a coach. Coaching is a line that runs through everything.
Working with and having received my training through the Center for Executive Coaching really shaped my thinking to know how the coaching approach can be used: viewing everything with a future orientation, big thinking, looking for opportunity, and removing blocks either individually or organizationally to help them get to that future.
Andrew: How did you get traction? What got you started coaching in the niche you came from?
Austin: The biggest step was actually a push from a coach that I had at the time to look exactly where I was working. I was at an advertising agency of about 650 people. I was producing commercials for Volkswagen and Target and companies like that, and I was designing this transition into the coaching practice while I was still doing that.
What my coach had me realize was that the best clients were the people closest to me. So, I did pro bono coaching with some of my colleagues, people from other agencies. Then the biggest shift was when I pitched and sold a role for me to be the agency’s first ever internal coach. We did that as a three-month pilot, and I ended up doing that for a little over a year. Then I left to be fully independent. That internal coaching experience gave me hundreds and hundreds of hours of coaching, working with about 120 people within the organization. That was just great practice. It gave me legitimacy, especially within that niche. I could speak to that experience to then secure engagements in the future. That was the big shift.
After that, I found some nice bread-and-butter clients that were bringing me in really consistently. I know you talk about in the program about making sure a coaching engagement isn’t one off, and isn’t too small in scale, to the point that you can’t really make an impact. I learned through experience that you really need to work with people with a little more consistency in order to really create and then measure that shift.
Andrew: This is an ingenious approach. You went internal for about a year and that gave you the credibility. It gave you the case studies. Was that intentional? Or were you just flexible and you knew where you wanted to go, and this was a way to get there?
Austin: Well, I was trying to work out the math. I just figure out what it would take to get the type of clients or the number of clients that I needed in order to make a transition out of that previous career. It was absolutely meant to be the launch pad that it ended up being, and a way to build credibility, too.
Meanwhile, my coach at the time was spending 40 percent of his work coaching some leaders at 3M. He told me how much that kind of corporate security helped him to have more open conversations with prospective clients outside 3M. He could take or leave prospective clients a little bit more because of his corporate work. That helped him find new clients who were a great fit.
Andrew: I’m excited to hear a case study, especially about somebody in the creative field that you helped get better through coaching.
Austin: There is an executive vice president that I really enjoyed working with, who moved across the country from New York to L.A. for a new role at a new company. He was moving his entire family across the country. He had all the skills and experience that he needed, but he was getting slowed down by this crippling imposter syndrome and a lot of anxiety.
On his first day on the role, he came to me looking for support. We worked together over the next six-months, meeting usually about twice a week in short sessions, 15 to 30 minutes. We were able to work through what was on top of his mind and then follow some processes and some of the toolkits from the Center for Executive Coaching so that he could achieve some tangible results in those first six-months.
It was interesting because had the skills. He just lacked the confidence. He sort of appeared confident, but once you got under the surface, it was clear that he wasn’t. Then, in those first six months, he made several big statements with some projects and initiatives that he developed. And then after, within 18-months, he actually launched a new department and opened up an entire new market for this agency. Now, three years later, that department is still going strong.
Andrew: That’s a great case. What advice would you offer to anyone listening now who’s going to jump into executive coaching or leadership coaching and wants to be sure to succeed?
Austin: I will say with all sincerity that when I get stuck, I can think back to your program, Andrew. And there is undoubtedly a solution in there. From the business development side, I want to emphasize the importance of referrals. I wish I had listened to that a little more closely when I went through the program, because I’ve found that my best work, the most impactful and most enjoyable work, comes from the closest half dozen referral partners that I have. That’s just really satisfying personally and professionally and financially.
So, remember the importance of referrals. LinkedIn, newsletters, and things like that help you stay top of mind, but what’s best is that warm introduction from somebody who can really, really back you up.
Also, I would say in terms of marketing, start with the people that you already know. I worked with another coach, and her first major client had been her employer. I think that is really an interesting thing to experiment with. Think about the people you’ve worked with over the past, over your career. Make a list of the 10 or 20 people who, when you think of them, a smile comes to your face, and you just enjoyed working with that person. Chances are they feel the same way. Reach out and see what types of introductions they can make based on your path and coaching.
Andrew: That’s great advice. We teach that here to, right? It’s where you are and where you’ve been that shows your best path to success. I work with a real estate investor. He says, “If you can’t make money in your own backyard” — meaning in your own location — “then you’re probably not going to make money outside your own backyard either.” I love that advice. That’s really important.
Austin: Absolutely. I’ve been stuck with the shiny object thing a couple of times. It’s always good to go back to, “All right, where did we start? Who are the most trusted people? And who is my tribe here?”
Andrew: That’s great. Yeah, I like that. “The people who put a smile on your face”… That’s a really good way of thinking about it. Austin, thanks so much. Thank you.
Austin: Appreciate it, Andrew.