The CoachAccountable Blog

What's new with the CA platform, tutorials on using it, and customer spotlights.

Hanging with the Comcast Spotlight Crew

The other day I got to do one of the most satisfying things of my job: go hang out and collaborate with a bunch of CoachAccountable users, specifically ones who are keen to use the platform to support a sizeable undertaking.

I first made the acquaintance of Patrick Howe in the fall of 2016, when he reached out to explore if CoachAccountable would be a good fit for his Spotlight Coaching Academy, a program to support and train the sales teams of one of Comcast’s internal divisions.  Five months later, after a bevy of calls and due diligence measures, they were all signed up and off to the races (them’s corporate sales, amiright? :).

Patrick and his team for this year are putting together a new program for training Account Executives in the Comcast way of doing things.  They’ve designed a year long program to onboard and get up to speed their incoming Associate Account Executives, and a 3 month program for more seasoned professionals coming into the company.

It launches in June.

Patrick and his team came this week to Denver for a team summit.  When Anna realized that that’s where I am she invited me to join the gang for a little powwow session on how to best leverage CA for their programs.

I was all too happy to oblige.  I can do this sort of thing virtually in webinar style, but man, it’s so much more fun in person!

So on Thursday we hung out.  In the conference room, lots’a whiteboards, CoachAccountable projected on to the big screen from Anna’s laptop.

They acquainted me with a 20-point rubric of competencies that were important for program participants to work on and be measured for, and a Session Template within CA that Anna had created to support this.  It was a good starting point an made clear the gist of what they were going for.

“Here’s what I see to do: I think it’ll work best to boil down these 20 to something more like 5 key things, because otherwise your coaching calls are going to be just one big survey with no time for address the more human aspects.  Then when you’re clear about the essentials I can cook up a streamlined Session Template that will be the quick yet informative (and visually easy to read) thing you fill out as part of each call, and I’ll design a course that will have these key measurements pipe right into Metric graphs that will allow you all to easily see the trends over time, making it easy to spot cases that need more attention.”

General discussion around the table went more or less to “That sounds great, let’s put this as an action item for us to do and get these things back to John so he can do this.”  A very reasonable and sensible tack to get things going.

At this point I had delightful spark of dissent: “Actually, we got like 21 minutes before we break for lunch… how about–Anna, can I borrow your laptop and drive for a little?  I’ll get cracking on this right now, designing that Session Template, and you guys talk amongst yourselves to suss out whatever you think would be the best 5 things to focus on measuring.  Just shout ’em out to me as you figure ’em out.”

I hedged with “And don’t worry about getting this wrong: we’re not going to get this right anyway.  Chances are you guys will coach for one or two weeks with whatever structure we lay down now, and then AND ONLY THEN will it become crystal clear whatever little tweaks we need to make, based on your actual experience with it.  So rest assured, we’ll finesse as we need to if we need to.”

At this point we were cooking with gas.  I tossed off this Session Template:

A simple, standard, 5 point scale with a clear description of what each number means.

The key criteria are a bit terse but packed with meaning within the context of their program and methodology.  It’s deliberately visually tidy, specifically laid out so that one could eyeball this filled out and know instantly whether things were going well or there were issues.  This should help when reviewing past sessions as well as to allow quick filling out with minimal distraction from the actual coaching.

Then I put together a suitable Starter Kit Course, one that would set in motion Metrics for these 5 key measurements AND have them automatically filled in by virtue of filling in the Session Template:

Five metrics in total, but you get the gist. Note that a “3” is the dividing line between good and not so good, consistent with the standard set in the Session Template.

This was about 18 minutes well spent: with it they had a nice structure by which to assess and record key things swiftly during their calls and in a way that will be uniform across the coaching team, giving data that will be readily reported and exported for their use in assessments.

To wrap up I mocked for them the work flow a coach would do over the course of a typical call:

  • Pop into the system and review where the person you’re about to talk to is at: check on the Actions they said they would do, review the notes from the last session or two, eyeball the Metrics.  Your whole prep done in 2-5 minutes.
  • Call them when it’s time and load up that session template for note taking during the call.
  • Check in on outstanding Actions from last time, mark done what’s done, cancel or reschedule incomplete items as fitting.
  • Add in any new Action items they’re committing to between now and the next time you talk.
  • After the call add in any other observations to the Session Notes and mark ’em complete.
  • Done, on to the next person!

And with this the gang had a clear set of structures that would be easy to manage, keep everyone up to date, and track actionable insights over the course of the program.  I knew I had done my job when Josh leaned back and said “This is great, we got more out of this than I thought we would.”

From there we went to lunch.  We enjoyed talk of travel and business, good food, and the good show that our hibachi chef put on at the Japanese steakhouse.

My thanks to the Comcast Spotlight team for inviting me out for both the powwow and to lunch, that was super fun!

Holy moly Josh and I are tall! Thanks Patrick for taking the picture, but I think we could’ve used you for more normalizing height balance. :)

Automatic Subscription Billing

I’ve surveyed the audience and one thing is clear: when it comes to running a coaching business, it’s REALLY nice (some would say downright essential), to have a clear separation between getting paid for coaching work and doing said coaching work.

One invariable muddles the other: blessed is the coach who outright won’t tolerate clients who would make them chase checks, and it’s really nice if client doesn’t get distracted with logistics of paying for coaching when they’re heads down getting the most out of a coaching experience.

CoachAccountable makes this possible.  All you really need to do is setup your account to process client invoice payments on your behalf, by connecting it to your Stripe or Authorize.net merchant account.

If you don’t have one yet, CA makes it super easy to grab a Stripe account in about 5 minutes.

Once ready, you or your client can enter a credit card up front, have it stored for future charges, and CA will automatically process invoices on whatever schedule you like.

Let’s see how this works!

Creating a Sequence of Invoices

CoachAccountable invoices are super simple to create.  Just give it a date (or default to today), enter one or more line items (with associated prices), add taxes if needed, and you’re done.  Check a box if you want the system to email it off to your client, either immediately or as scheduled (when entering in a future invoice).

Be MOAR awesome? Oh yeah, sign me up!

The magic of a subscription is in the ability to create a sequence, by clicking the little “I would like to make a series of invoices just like this one” link towards the bottom:

12 invoices, one every 1 month… sounds about right for a year long engagement!

As you’d expect, this creates a series of invoices, one scheduled to go out each month:

A whole bunch of ostensibly pending revenue… nice!

These invoices will be sent off via email to your client, right on schedule throughout the coming year.

What happens when an invoice’s date comes up?  That depends!

If your client doesn’t have any credit card on file, the invoice email the get will contain a magic link.  Clicking that will take them right to where they can enter their credit card in order to pay the invoice.

If your client DOES have a credit card on file, the system will automatically process the payment for the invoice, no fuss.  If the charge goes through okay, the email they’ll get will be an invoice marked paid, essentially a receipt.  And you, as coach, will get an email notification telling you of that’s on its way to your bank account. :)

Entering Credit Card Details for your Clients

In our scenario so far, your client is apt to get sent that first invoice as unpaid, and they’ll need to enter their payment info the first time and then (hopefully) opt to save their payment info on file for seamless processing of future invoices.

But perhaps instead you’d like to set them up from the get go.  You as coach can do that for them, provided you have their credit card information (perhaps from some form they filled out, or perhaps when they handed it to you during an initial in person meeting and you’ve got your swanky tablet there and ready to set things up).

Once you’ve created an invoice for your client, simply click the dollar icon next to it to bring up payment options.  You can make record a payment made outside of CA (say for example if they’re handing you a check), and you can process a payment right then and there:

Holy moly this invoice is overdue.  Let’s click that first option and get this all handled!

Clicking the first option brings up a place to process a payment by entering credit card details:

Remember this card for future use? Yes please!

Simple as that.  By remembering the card for future use it will be handy for automatically processing future invoices.

By either you or your client entering that credit card once when you’re first getting started, everything else takes care of itself with the subscription billing you setup to cover the term of your engagement or program.  Nice!

Is this secure for my clients’ sensitive payment info?

Yes!  Like everything else on CA, this all happens over an encrypted connection.  Moreover CA uses the token-based approach to keeping cards on file–the actual credit card number is never stored or even seen by the CA server.  If anyone were to get a hold of what CoachAccountable stores, they’d only be able to process payments into your account–hardly useful for nefarious purposes. :)

Sounds pretty good, any fees for this?

Nope!  You’ll almost certainly need to pay the usual fees endemic to ANY credit card processing, but CA doesn’t take any cut whatsoever.


Having to play the role of accounts payable is seldom pleasant, and most certainly distracts from doing the real difference-making work of coaching.  Use this setup to get client payments handled without hassle from the get go, and automate away the drudgery of chasing down (and even processing!) payments later.  Enjoy!

Direct Sync with your Google Calendar

CoachAccountable has long supported syncing with your Google (and iCal, and Outlook) Calendar by way of 2-way subscribing to calendar data feeds.  This works according to a simple, two-part mechanism:

  1. CoachAccountable publishes a data feed of your appointments which your calendar can subscribe to, allowing those appointments to appear alongside your regular calendar events.
  2. CoachAccountable can subscribe to a data feed of your calendar events for the sake of knowing when you’re busy to prevent double bookings.

It’s a good system, but suffers from two drawbacks:

  1. Calendar systems can be lax about pulling appointment data from CoachAccountable.  Though the data as offered by CA is always up to date, there can be a lag in how long it takes your calendar to pull over whatever’s new.  Google Calendar in particular is a bit notorious for updating from such data feeds only once every 24 hours.
  2. Having your CoachAccountable appointments present as a separate calendar collection of events is often not nearly as nice as having those events posted directly into your primary calendar collection of events.  Other scheduling systems might know when you’re busy based on your primary calendar, but that might not include a separate calendar collection without subscribing to THAT one, too (if even possible).

To overcome these drawbacks I’m happy to report that CoachAccountable now supports a direct integration for syncing with your Google Calendar.

Let’s see how it works!

You’ll find the place to set this up under Settings >> Appointment Config >> Calendar Sync.

Note that this is only available for accounts that are on Version 3.  If you don’t see the Calendar Sync item that means your account is still on Version 2.  If you own the account, you can switch it over to 3 from the top right user menu >> My Account >> Version.

This green button is very chipper, but when you see how painless the process is you’ll understand why.

Clicking the button to go sync with Google brings you to a simple process to authorize CA to manage your calendar, assuming you’re already logged in to your Google account:

The question is: do you trust CoachAccountable? Promise there’s nothing shady about CA having access–strictly professional, yo.

Assuming you click “Allow”, you’ll be whisked back to your CoachAccountable account and given the options by which to configure this synchronization:

Just a few choices here and you’re done, where to publish to (if at all), and where to read from.

If you want (and you probably do!), CA will publish your appointments to the calendar of your choice.  Pick one and they’ll magically appear there within seconds.

Choosing which calendars CA should read from tells CA where to look in order to accurately determine when you’re available and when you’re busy.  You might want to skip certain calendars.  For example my wife and I share a calendar of events, but I don’t need to have my availability blocked when she puts on there, say, a day visit with the kids to Grandma’s house (on the contrary, I generally have more free time then! :).

And that’s it!  Once set, CA will post new appointments (and updates made to them, including cancellations performed by your clients) to your calendar as they arise, with lag time measured in seconds rather than hours.  Similarly, when CA has direct read access to your calendars the process of keeping up to date in order to provide accurate availability options is nearly instantaneous, rather than taking up to 5-10 seconds to pull all the data over with the data feed approach.

Speaking of which, once you’ve setup CA to sync directly with your Google Calendar, you should delete any calendar feeds that you’ve set CA to pull from that are now redundant (as found under your Availability Exceptions):

Yep, we’re sure. We’ve got a better way now to keep abreast of calendar availability.

How about for my clients?

Your clients can similarly setup a direct sync with THEIR Google Calendar.  They won’t have to pick which calendars CA should read of theirs (because that’s not relevant on their side of the equation), BUT they too can have their appointments with you set via CoachAccountable appear right in their calendar.  Nice!

Let them know they can set this up.  They’ll find the place to do this under their My Account page:

Every bit as easy for them as it was for you. More so, even.

What if I don’t use Google Calendar?

The old system of subscribing to calendar data feeds remains intact, and is, as it has been for years, a fine 80% solution.  If you use Apple iCal or Microsoft Outlook, I may in the future build more direct API-based integrations with those, too.

For what it’s worth though, sync’ing between those systems and Google Calendar is a well worn path.  So you might setup a Google Calendar account, sync your other calendar with that, and THEN sync CoachAccountable with that Google Calendar to more or less have Google serve as an intermediary to sync with your calendar system of choice.  Yay, technology!


And that’s it!  If you’ve had troubles with appointment scheduling in CA because the data feed approach didn’t play nicely with other scheduling systems, the direct calendar sync approach should be the perfect fix for you.  Enjoy!

Beautiful Branding: How to Make a White Logo

One of the beautiful things about Version 3 of CoachAccountable is that you now get White Labeling for free.

What’s white labeling? It’s your way to make your CoachAccountable account look more like your own, for you and your clients: your color scheme, your logo, your name.

If you haven’t yet set up your account to be white labeled as your own, you’ll find the place to do so in Settings >> System >> Branding.

One of the places to customize is with your company’s logo. Most logos as designed are best suited to be mounted on a white background, which makes sense: it’s the sort of thing of having it on the top of branded stationary or in the signature of an email.

CoachAccountable V3 goes for a more minimalist and flat look: the top bar is a vibrant, solid color, with white icons and other features placed on it for a nice contrast and clean aesthetic:

Kinda sharp, right? Ooh, but to make it more your own! Let’s see how it’s done…

It’s likely that you’ve got a logo, but unlikely that it done in this style: a white shape that nicely mattes onto a solid background color.  Recently I noticed that CA customer Rebecca Licalsi (of Licalsi Coaching) had such a logo set to show in the header like that.  Here’s what it looks like:

Made to be matted on white!

Looks sharp, right?  It helps that we have it matted on white.  When we set this logo to be the White Logo (and pick a nice purple to go with it) within CA we get this:

The white rectangle dropped into this boldly colored area looks a little… abrupt.

As you can see this isn’t ideal: plopping a big white rectangle into the middle of this space kinda breaks with the surrounding aesthetic.  A better, more congruent logo would be one that follows the lead of the other elements in this space: a crisp, white shape that mattes nicely on our vibrant background color.

So let’s make one of those!  No need to hire your designer to make you a whole new logo, from the one you already have you can transform it into a white version with just a few steps.

Using Rebecca’s logo as an example, let’s show you how this is done in Photoshop (and if you don’t have that handy, we’ve got instructions to do it via the free, web-based alternative to Photoshop called Pixlr):

Making a White Logo in Photoshop

Our first step is to clear out the white background (which causes that abrupt white rectangle) and make it instead transparent (so that it will sit nicely on top of any matting color you choose).  To do this, first choose white as your main active chosen color, and then go to Select >> Color Range…

Select all the white in the image with the Color Range selection tool.

Because you’ve got white as your chosen color, the default Select option “Sampled colors” will select all the white in you image.  Fuzziness 85 seems to reliably get the right amount around the edges, but you can adjust that up or down to more or less aggressively pick the white and near white pixels:

The white parts in the selection preview image are what we’re selecting (and ultimately removing).

Once you’ve selected all the white pixels, clear them away by using the eraser, leaving you with a nice transparent background:

A big fat eraser makes this easier.

Now that the background is cleared out, let’s make our logo shape be as tightly cropped as possible (because there’s no need to keep those pixels on all the edges which were providing padding).  Do this by selecting all (Ctrl-A), copying (Ctrl-C), making a new image (Ctrl-N), and pasting what you selected into that new image (Ctrl-V).  This will have the effect of shedding off all rows and columns that were completely empty, giving you the tightest possible crop without losing anything of the image.

Now the real magic: to turn our colored shape into a flat, white only shape.  Do this by right clicking on the one layer of the image and selecting “Blending options…”:

Blending options are so cool.

Here we just pick “Color overlay” and be certain that white (#FFFFFF) is the color we are over laying:

Click okay and we’re done!

And there we have it:

Not much to look at now, but…

A crisp white shape, layered on a fully transparent background.  It’s hard to read against that white and grey checkerboard, but our vibrant background color choice will give much more favorable contrast.  Save it as a PNG file and it’ll be ready to set as your White Logo.

 

Making a White Logo in Pixlr

  1. Open your logo file in Pixlr.
  2. Select the background color range (in Rebecca’s case, it’s white). Select the Wand tool, then click on the background area. Make sure the “Anti-Alias” box is checked at the top, but “Contiguous” is NOT checked.
  3. Erase that selection. Just press Delete.
  4. Deselect that area with Ctrl+D or Command+D.
  5. Go to Adjustment >> Color lookup. Click the color box (it will default to black) and select white. Make sure it’s completely white (as in the bottom scroll bar is at 100%).

Pixlr Color Selector
Your logo is now white! However, it can be a bit hard to check your work, since it’s white on top of a transparent background. To see it (optional), add a new layer. Use the paint bucket to paint the new layer black. Drag that layer below your logo’s layer, and you’ll now see the white on top of black. You can use the eraser tool here to get rid of any white spots that may be hanging out.

And voila! Your white logo is ready.


And that’s all there is to it.  We started here:

and we end here:

The end result is a branded system that looks sharper and much more consistent with the more modern, flat design of CA.  Not bad for 2 minutes of work.

If this process looks at all intimidating, no worries!  Because here’s the deal: I’m all for you to feel completely at home within your CA account, and I want CA to make your coaching look as clean and professional as possible, to both you and your clients.

As such we’ll be happy to do it for you.  Just send your logo in whatever format you’ve got it (preferably high quality, high res, but we’ll roll with what ever!) to support@coachaccountable.com and we’ll cook up (and put into place) a white logo for you.

A big thanks to Rebecca for letting us share this process using her logo!

A Brief History of CA Versions

Now that CA 3.0 is out, I thought it would be fun to recap the path from 2.0’s launch over 5 years ago that led us to where we are now.

The funny thing is I haven’t really used version numbers since 2.0 came on the scene, just instead making incremental changes and improvements, large and small, at a regular clip that amounted to a monthly, weekly, or indeed sometimes daily basis!

This is no doubt one of the great luxuries of web-based software.

But what if I DID use version numbers to mark the big jumps?  What would I consider to be the major .point (and even kinda major .point.point) releases?  This is realm of creative editorial discretion, and so I invite you to come along for a journey into largely contrived (yet totally plausible) trajectory of CA’s journey from 2.0 to 3.0!

2012

2.0, August 30 – Initial launch.  After 3 years on the shelf, CoachAccountable’s return to being a publicly available coaching platform.  This time is was actually good!

2.0.1, September 7th – Inbound Email Processing.  Just a week after launch I put in a whole new way to mark Actions complete and report on Metrics.

2.0.2, September 30th – Client Data Export.  Get all of your client data and files out with a single click.

2.1, November 29th – CoachAccountable Courses.  Courses, for all their complexity, took me only a month to build.  Amazing to think back at how quickly I could work before I had a substantial volume of customers. :)

2013

2.1.1, February 7th – Course Enhancements.  Following items, cloning items, spin off versions, and a few other goodies added.

2.1.2 March 23 – Gallery Images.  Uploaded images were made embeddable in compositions like Worksheets, Journal Entries, and so on.

2.1.3, April 29th – In-system Emailing.   Coach and client could email one another via the system, with benefit of it all being documented as part of the coaching record.

2.2, October 9th – CoachAccountable Groups.  Full on support for group coaching.

2014

2.2.1, February 25th – Client Invoicing Overhaul.  A better invoicing system now supporting line items, taxes, and automatic delivery of scheduled invoices.

2.2.2, March 19th – Happenings Reports.  Automatically sent routine summaries of client progress.

2.3, July 2nd – Team Edition.  Full on support for collaboration and coordination of coaching teams.

2.3.1, August 8th – Action Projects.  Grouping of related Action items together and overall progress visualization.

2.3.2, October 10 – Client Export Files.  Easily generated HTML files of documented coaching work with a given client, ripe for sharing or archiving.

2.3.3, November 7th – Two way sync with calendars.  Let the system know your precise availability for accurate appointment scheduling.

2.3.4, November 29th – Stripe and Authorize.net.  More options for accepting client payments online.

2015

2.3.5, January 15th – Whiteboards.  Collaborative and evolving documents.

2.3.6, March 10th – System Email Addresses.  Communications done over regular email that are automatically documented to the coaching record.

2.3.7, April 6th – API.  First release of the CoachAccountable API.

2.3.8, May 15th – Form-Based Worksheets.  Worksheets no longer limited to WYSIWYG editor mode: now with check boxes, radio buttons, text areas and the like.

2.3.9, June 25th – Piping Worksheet answers into Metrics.  The act of filling out a Worksheet populates in turn Metric data points, enabling the creation of sophisticated course workflows.

2.4, September 30th – CA Mobile.  CoachAccountable gets fully mobile friendly.

2016

2.4.1, June 28th – Unit Based Courses.  Support for self-paced Courses wherein the completion of one item triggers the dispatch of the next.

2017

3.0, November 27th – CoachAccountable 3.0.  The completely remixed UI packed with plenty of other goodies and free White Label branding.


Gosh, it looks like I was really phoning it in in 2016 and 2017!  But of course that’s when I was doing all the heads down work for 3.0.  And there are a ton of little releases and features all along the way that didn’t make the cut as I tried to keep this a not too tedious and granular list.

Nevertheless I’m struck by how far CA has come over the years, and find myself both amazed and grateful for the folks who paid the exact same price for a much less capable system 3, 4, and 5 years ago (CA is in fact LESS expensive today with Courses, Groups and White Labeling now all being included at no extra charge, that combo used to cost $80 + $40 + $50).

Now that the dust has settled from 3.0, and I’ve had a nice bit of time off to relax and regroup, I’m excited to get crackin’ on what’s next!

Why Version 3 Was Kept Secret

I released CoachAccountable Version 3 now nearly three weeks ago, pretty much out of the blue as far as anyone was concerned.  If you’ve been a user of CA for months or years, you had no idea it was coming if you weren’t among the very select few that I told in advance.

Yet V3 was in the making since early 2016, well over a year and a half.  The more conventional thing to do for a software company is to talk up such a project, to drive hype, interest and attention so that everyone can be all like “OMG it’s so good!” when it finally drops.

Why did I keep such a large project, one that would ostensibly demonstrate a positive sign that the platform was continuing to move forward, so thoroughly under wraps?

I offer insight into that question as sort of glimpse into the inner workings of the enterprise that is CoachAccountable, or, you might say, a glimpse into how I roll.

Let me take you back to my first and only straight job that I had out of college.  I worked for a small eCommerce company that would eventually be gobbled up by Network Solutions.  It was shopping cart software, a software-as-a-service business before “SaaS” was an in-vogue acronym, that allowed our customers to run their own online store.

I started that summer in tech support.  Our company’s software was then on version 3, and for months the sales people, owners, tech support; pretty much everyone customer facing had been pointing to the forthcoming version 4 as the solution to all woes.  “You need to organize your store into sub- sub- categories?  Version 4 will do that!”  “That bug that’s making your life miserable?  Totally fixed in version 4!”

Don’t worry, version 4 is coming.

As you might imagine, trading heavily on the promise of a not-yet-completed piece of software created a certain external pressure to get version 4 done and launched already, FFS.

So it was launched.  After months of unmet anticipated launch dates broken promises it finally launched in the fall.  All customers were migrated over in scheduled waves over about a 3 week period, no option to opt out.

That’s when the pain started.  Problem was version 4 was a piece of shit.

I mean, rushing will do that, right?  But they felt compelled to launch among a rising tide of unmet expectations and upset, and understandably so.

For about 2 months it was all hands on deck, everyone working a few extra hours each night to put out fires and calm pissed off customers.  Support ticket queues, which had seldom got more than 10 open at a time, rocketed up into the hundreds, peaking I believe at something like 1200.

It seemed like everyone had something that was borked with their online store as a result of the migration, or some key feature they relied on in version 3 that was buggy in version 4 (or just plain not there, like the ability print an order invoice–yeesh, how’d that get missed?).

But at least folks had sub- sub- categories.

Anyway that was my experience of a new version launch as performed by a legit, buttoned up software company.  I’m a little older and wiser these 14 years hence, and now I run my own software company.

I look back at the experience then and think the whole affair was kinda bush league.  I mean, it wasn’t really, because the bumpiness seen in that particular launch is so darn common.  There’s this general tendency for us all to wince at the prospect of a new version [of software that we already rely on], because the launches thereof being kind of a shit show is practically to be expected.

Still, informed by what I consider the mistakes of the past, I resolved NOT ON MY WATCH.  When Rob gave me designs that pulled for essentially a complete overhaul of the UI, thus befitting of a new major version release, I figured the only acceptable way to do it would be to give CoachAccountable Version 3 the time it needed to be a great product from the first day of its release.

Specifically, this actually entailed quite a lot:

  • I would not hurry its development to meet external expectations.
  • I would not create any external expectations, i.e. I would not offer up the new as the not-yet-existing solution to current woes.
  • I would test the shit out of it1 to ensure I was proud to have it out there.
  • I would make it good enough to be compelling for current customers to want to switch.
  • No one would be forced to switch2.
  • Everyone could test drive and play around with the new freely without being stuck there.
  • It would be ready to use FULLY on Day 1.
  • Every feature that existed in the old would be present in the new.
  • I would NOT be buried under issues and bugs post launch.

So?  I took my sweet time to build Version 3.

At times it was hard to labor in isolation for such a long stretch, with little external feedback to motivate the huge undertaking.  A few noticed that the clip of new releases had stalled out relative to the norm, prompting them to innocently ask “Hey, uh, you working on something you’ve not shared with us?”  It was a fun question to answer.

It’s been a long road but I’m incredibly pleased with the end result.

Three weeks hence I’m proud to report that I’ve NOT been buried under issues and bugs to deal with amid now thousands of users poking around in V3 (as compared to just Paolo and I being in there for so long).

Have the masses found bugs that he and I did not?  Yep, but nothing I haven’t been able to keep on top of.  Our open ticket queue remains well below 10 as the bug reports trickle in, the majority of which I’ve been able to fix within minutes, and the trickiest of which took about two hours (here’s looking at you, automatically responsively resizing embeddable login widget iframe!).

So THAT’S why the secret.  I wasn’t willing to, with current or prospective customers, trade on software that didn’t yet exist, because I didn’t want the stress of external expectations weighing on (and compromising) the process of creating it.

As a result it is my absolute pleasure to give to the coaching community a shiny, vastly improved coaching platform, offered at the same price (cheaper, actually, given that White Labeling is free in V3), and without the downsides of either compromise (missing or buggy features) or force (having to give up what you already know and love).

Merry Christmas, Coaching industry.

Love,
John :)

Notes:

  1. Sorry, I’m cussing a lot in this post, aren’t I?  I’m just really passionate about doing software development in the manner I consider to be right.
  2. At some point I’ll probably scuttle the old and so yes, everyone will have to move to the new, but there’s no hurry.

Version 3

This has been in the works for a long time.

It was January of last year (2016) that I invited Lee and Rob, my business partners from back in the Version 1 days (circa 2008-2009), for a meeting to discuss giving CoachAccountable an aesthetic facelift.

You see Rob was the one behind the pretty pixels of the original CA, and it was those pretty pixels that I have extended, remixed, and repurposed throughout all of Version 2’s tenure.  Though the passage of 8 years rendered that look ostensibly stale and dated, there was no one else I’d rather work with to give CA a cleaner, more modern look, and no one I trusted more to design away the sins of my years of cobbling (and over indulgence in CSS gradients :).

“I’d like to basically give it a fresh coat of paint.  A new set of icons, some updated styling rules to pretty up those areas wherein my own programmer design instincts could be improved upon, and whatever tidying up to better unify the visually inconsistent bits.” I said during our two hour pow wow.  “Could be fun to call this ‘Version 3’, I’ve been evolving Version 2 for over three years now so you could say we’re due.”

Team LeeRob did me way more than I bargained for.

Rather design than a paint job, they went deep into researching modern app designs to re-imagine what CoachAccountable could look like if newly designed today.  The mock-ups they presented me took me quite by surprise.

I confess it was not love at first sight.  I mean it sort of was, because yes, they were gorgeous.  But my overarching sentiment was a mix between “But it looks so different from the current version that I and my customers have come to know and love!” and “Oh fuck, this is going to be a lot of work.”1.

It was all a sort of mental inertia from a successful 3+ years run of the old aesthetic.  Happily, my attitude towards the overhaul softened considerably once I’d built a bunch of it and experienced CoachAccountable in this new, slick style.  After a little while, once V3 became my new baseline for how CoachAccountable “should” look, the old seemed crusty, and even kinda ugly.

At times it was hard to have that crusty version out there as THE forward facing presentation of CoachAccountable, with no one knowing I was working on this new work of art that I kept hidden away.

Which brings us to today, when after a LOT of work I am so happy to finally reveal CoachAccountable Version 3.

So what’s new?

Well, practically everything.  It’s a bit cliche to say with a software release like this, but truly, the entire system has been given an aesthetic overhaul.  I didn’t mess with the core system functionality one bit, I mean that’s really working, and so I would do so at my own peril, but everything got re-imagined and remixed towards the dual purposes of “make it beautiful” and “make it a joy to use”.

Consider the coach dashboard, that vital jumping off point.  From Version 2:

And here’s what it looks like in Version 3:

Pretty different, right?  And yet super consistent with V2 in terms of functionality.  Longtime users of CoachAccountable should find themselves quickly feeling right at home within Version 3.  Version 3 is fully on feature parity with Version 2, yet there are a couple of key differences worth pointing out in this broad overview.

White Labeling is now Free

One of the most constant gripes about Version 2 is that the right to white label it costs $50/month.  I had my reasons for this, but the main one, to serve as sort of price segmenting that helped me to bootstrap this whole endeavor, no longer holds as necessary.

Business is good, so I’m happy to, as a gift to my customers, give up that sizable chunk of revenue and open up the nicety that is having the system branded as your very own to everyone else.  (Fun fact: this allowed me to skip a bunch of work of bringing forth the branded/not branded dichotomy into the Version 3 code–benevolent laziness for the win!)

Besides being free, White Labeling is improved in several ways.  For example your system-generated email templates are more customizable than before:

Desktop and Mobile are now One

CA Mobile was the alternate, minified version of Version 2 that was cooked up to responsively accommodate smaller devices.  It got the job done, but it was a pared down experience focused on the day to day work of coaching interactions.

By contrast Version 3 is completely responsive.  It just works on any size screen, meaning every device is able to elegantly access the complete system.  The only exception is drag and drop operations on a touch only device.  Since dragging on a touch screen is essentially relegated to scrolling purposes, the drag-and-drop course builder, for example, isn’t fully functional on a smartphone.

Please, no one try to build a course from their smartphone. ;)

Otherwise it’s just all there.  You can get a live taste for how this works by firing CA up on your desktop, and just drag the corner of your browser around to resize the window any which way and watch the system rearrange itself on the fly.  It just works.

Behind the scenes, I’m excited because when I build a new feature, there will be no need to do it twice to cover both mobile and desktop–there’s just one code base to rule them all, meaning I can advance the platform more quickly.

Folder Organization

Popular demand for some time has been calling for a way to organize files into folders.  Done and done, and this holds for templates and courses as well.

Create folder hierarchies as deep as you like, drag and drop both items and folders to move ’em around.  It should feel pretty natural to everyone used to working with file systems on modern computers2.

In-app help, for coaches AND clients

The UI of Version 3 is no longer cluttered with inline instructions like were common in V2.  Instead I’ve put that sort of thing into an in-app help system that is woven throughout the system.  On nearly every page and pop up window you’ll find a light bulb icon, which, when clicked, will jump you right to the relevant article.

For example, take the screenshot just above of the Worksheet Templates page.  When we click the light bulb icon in the top right there, this help article slides right into view, like so:

What’s cool is that from whatever article is loaded we can surf around to other related articles, or do a search of the whole knowledge base.  We can resize this help sidebar to take up as much or as little space as is ideal, making it possible to have the guide present while we’re doing our thing within the app.

Also cool?  This very help system is present for your clients, too.  Their side of the house contains its own separate collection of help articles, paired down and tailored to just those things that they would need to know and get answers to.  This should make it easier for them to on-board themselves and feel comfortable in this new system you’ve invited them to.


Again, this overhaul that I’m calling Version 3 was much more encompassing than I’d bargained for when I first discussed a design update with Lee & Rob.  Big hat tip to those two for pushing me to make CoachAccountable the best possible version of itself (they’re amazing designers and creative consultants, they’re busy but hire them if you can).  It runs faster, works better, and is prettier throughout.

It is the perfect foundation for moving forward with what’s next for CoachAccountable, and after all the heads down work done is secret to get this out the door I am excited to finally once again extend the platform with new functionality.

Should be fun!

Notes:

  1. Sorry for the cussing, just want to give an accurate portrayal for the record!
  2. A.K.A everyone.  Or at least everyone who’s likely to end up ever using CoachAccountable.

Five Years

This year’s cake is actually vegan and gluten free.  You can hardly taste the difference!

Holy moly, that’s like half a decade!

As I look back over the (now quite long) path of this endeavor I’m struck by how thoroughly CoachAccountable has moved past the “startup” phase, how far beyond that humble “Yeah, I’m going to make a web app to help coaches and see if it takes!” hopeful state.

CoachAccountable has taken.

This past year was our biggest yet by a lot in terms of the number of coaches we helped to deliver better and more results-based coaching, and the number of their clients who had a more supported experience with the help of our platform.

Paolo, my first hire and who came on board during this fifth year, turned out to be a lucky hire indeed.  As many of you have experienced Paolo is wicked smart and a patient teacher for coaches all along the technophobe spectrum.  He is talented well beyond answering support issues and giving demos, and I couldn’t have asked for a better person to be the first to join the CoachAccountable team.

Five years.  I’d like to give a nod to the late, great David Bowie whose song of the same name has been playing in my head for the better part of today and all of composing this missive.

Our work is far from done, so I say here’s to five more.  I’ve had so many life-giving and inspiring interactions with coaches while on this path, so it is decidedly my pleasure to keep on it in service of the practice I revere.

 

Helping Your Clients Understand How You’re Going to Use CoachAccountable

I got a note the other week with an interesting ask from Adil of Adil Iman Coaching:

Evening John,

Hope all is well. I love the software and I will be sure to sign up after the trial.  I am shooting a video next week about what happens in a coaching session and there after.

Are you okay for me to mention this software and if so what could I say in a nutshell to sell the idea.

Any suggestions or scripts would be fantastic.

Thank you for creating a great software.

Regards,
Adil

I found this interesting because it made me consider a problem I’ve never myself had: how to sell the idea of using CoachAccountable to a client.  As you might imagine I’m steeped deep within the world of using CA and I practically shudder to think of the dark days of trying to coach without it (they’re not dark days, of course, I just remember it being much harder and a lot less rigorous).

So I naturally think there’s nothing to it: if they’re sold on you as a coach you can just shuffle them right along into your process (a sort of “Welcome to the program, here’s what we’re going to do: we’ll be tracking our plans and our results in here, etc. etc.”).

But of course there’s power in being able to show of how you’ll be doing your work BEFORE your client signs on the dotted line.  I was reminded of this truth by a note I got this morning, a coach named Christina who opened to say “I would love to use CA as a way to differentiate myself. E.g. on my website – let my clients know that when they coach with me they get access to CA.”

So this is a useful area for us help coaches in.  It’s a tricky proposition: every coach has a different style so it’s tricky to prepare materials for a diverse collection of coaches who are going to be working with an even more diverse collection of clients, but there are a few resources we can offer that cover the more universal, broad strokes.

The “Show your value” video illustrates a number of ideas on how to showcase your coaching for prospective clients with the aid of CoachAccountable.

The Client Manual is another resource you as coach have handy to share with your clients, to better let them know what they’ll be getting with you.

But here Adil gave me another interesting angle: if you were to shoot a video to explain to a client what they’re getting themselves into, what would you say to introduce the use of CoachAccountable?

Here’s the example riff I gave Adil for such a script, which I think is surprisingly applicable and adaptable across the board:

…So by the end of our coaching session you and I are going to have come up with a few things: things for you to keep in mind during the coming week, a few action items for you to tackle before the next time we talk, maybe we’ll have you tracking something.

To make this all real (and not just some cool ideas of what do to) we’re going to set these things up in CoachAccountable, to support you AFTER our session in getting these things done.  The reminders will help to ensure you follow through on what there is, and when we reconvene the next time you and I are both going to have a very clear picture of what you got accomplished during the interim, and where you could use some extra support.

We’re gonna gonna focus on real results, we’re gonna make sure you’re making real progress.  You’re gonna love it.

Just as I was happy to share this with Adil I’m happy to share this with you to plagiarize freely.  Tailor it to the specifics of your coaching practice as you see fit to best convey how CA will play a vital and enhancing component of the experience of being coached by you.

We’re going to go deeper into how to get your clients excited to work with you specifically because of what you’ll be able to bring to them via CoachAccountable, but for now these ideas should give you a nice foundation on which to build.  Enjoy!

Getting Clients to Love Using CoachAccountable

CoachAccountable is designed to be a complete experience for coach and client, with the intended goal being to make the coaching relationship better for both parties. This comes with the assumption that coaches AND clients use the system. Due to a number of reasons: lack of familiarity, aversion to technology in general, the hesitance that comes with trying anything new, clients might not use the system as much as you’d like, or how you’d like.

Fortunately, we’ve noticed a number of things one can do that increases the likelihood that clients not only use the system, but embrace it and love it.

Clients should know that you’re a fan, a big fan

To start, we’ve noticed that clients who take to the system do so because the coaches themselves are fans of the system. More importantly, these coaches communicate to the clients that using the system is an important part of their coaching experience. Some coaches even pitch CoachAccountable as an “added bonus” clients receive as part of their coaching program, and talk about the ease and convenience that online software will afford them.

There’s something to be said about showing enthusiasm when letting your clients know about the benefits of using software and how it’ll make their lives easier.

Communicate HOW you want your clients to use the system

Related to this, coaches should have an idea of how they’d like their clients to use the system, and be able to communicate this to their clients. Clarity is key here. If you expect clients to be more active users, ones that setup their own Actions, Worksheets, Metrics, and are active in Journaling, make that clear. If you expect clients to be more passive, only interacting with CA via the various notifications and email reminders that get sent out, that’s fine as long as it’s clearly communicated.

A bit can be said about selling the process here. For example, the more passive type of usage can be billed as a simple, time-friendly way to interact with the software. Many clients are busy, and this is the perfect way to improve results but also keep actual software usage time to a minimum.

Communicating that the system is important, as well as how to use it, can be done in many ways. Aside from your personal interactions via actual client calls, there are many opportunities within CA. Some coaches assign an initial Worksheet that welcomes the client to the system and walks them through certain features and how to use them — a personalized software manual if you will. You can also use a Whiteboard as a persistent reference. Feel free to use both.

Some coaches record screencast videos of themselves as as clients, clicking around the system and talking about the experience. None of this needs to be long — the best ones are relatively short and to the point (videos less than 1 minute). Starter Kit Courses are great for onboarding new clients so that they hit the ground running.

Metrics, Metrics, Metrics

Another important thing is to setup at least one or two Metrics for your clients. If you’re not sure what to track, you can ask them. Metrics are important because they make progress real for your clients. Metrics basically take your coaching, and the impact that you make, and turn it into numbers that your clients see. This is exciting stuff and should be communicated to the clients as such. Clients should know that Metrics are a way of showing that the coaching that they’re paying money for is having a tangible impact in their lives.

Metrics

Happenings Reports

The Stream allows a client to view a record of their work within the system. It does its job well, but still requires the client to login and actually click into the Stream tab.

Especially for clients that seem to interact with CA only via email, Happenings Reports can be a nice way of showing them their progress. Having an automated email summary of what they’ve been up to show up right in their inbox can certainly be a delight. More on Happenings Reports here.

Happenings Report

Everything discussed above assumes a certain amount of proficiency in CoachAccountable — in other words, knowing the tools that exist and how to use them. Understanding the system well and being able to communicate its benefits increases the likelihood that clients embrace CA.  To that end, I encourage you to reach out to us at support@coachaccountable.com if you’d like to brainstorm about anything regarding to your coaching, or simply just to do a session to understand the system better.  Happy Coaching!