How to Handle Client Co-Dependency in Your Business

Today we’re breaking down the innocent-sounding, often confusing pitfall of feeling OVERLY responsible for our clients’ success and how it’s ruining not only your business, but also your clients’ success.

YES.

This is a non-clinical co-dependency conversation.

Are you encouraging your clients to think they cannot succeed without you?

What do you do when you feel a client or clients are struggling?

Do you offer more sessions & more touch points?

Are you afraid to not offer weekly calls for your group?
Does that make them think you don’t care?
Don’t they NEED multiple touch points from you throughout the week to succeed?

Or are you willing to let your clients struggle?

Struggling is not the same as failing.
Struggling is a conduit to growth, learning, and change.

Your job is not to prevent your clients from struggling.
It is to help guide the struggle, support their struggle, and help them gather feedback from their struggle.

We want our clients to struggle with the RIGHT things.

Have you heard the story about the man and the caterpillar?

A man watched a caterpillar make its chrysalis and he observed it for days as it sat. When a caterpillar makes its chrysalis, it turns into an unrecognizable goop long before it ever turns into a butterfly. Days later, he noticed it started to eat its way out. But, it was struggling. With half of its body out of the chrysalis, and half of its body in, he decided to help it make its way out. The man opened up the part of the remaining silk to help the butterfly escape. Once the butterfly was free, the man noticed that the butterfly was deformed. One of its wings was too small and too weak to help the butterfly fly away.

Brace yourselves: the butterfly died.

Why? Because as a butterfly makes its way out of its chrysalis, it strengthens its wings as it struggles to get out. This struggle is exactly what prepares the butterfly to fly away on its own.

How many times have you tried to save a butterfly in the form of you preventing your clients from struggling?

How many times have you stunted your clients’ own growth?

Probably often.

If you’re taking this personally right now, you’re thinking:

“Ha! I care more about my clients than Christina does!
NO ONE can care about my clients the way that I do!
CARING DEEPLY about my clients is what makes me SO special! It’s why my clients pay me! It’s why my clients have worked with me for YEARS!”

or

“Aren’t I SUPPOSED to care a bunch? Are you telling me you want me to become a heartless bitch? I got into this business BECAUSE I care!”

And you’re likely clutching even more tightly onto the biggest misconception of your career.

I have nothing to try and prove, but you can ask any of my clients across both industries that I cover (fitness & business)– none of them will tell you that I am flippant, dismissive, or do not care.

In fact, quite the opposite.

The problem is that you’re thinking about this all wrong.

You’ve learned that you must rescue your clients in order for you to coach them.

Rescuing and coaching are not the same thing.
Read that again.

Co-dependency in this space means you’ve removed your clients’ ability to think for themselves– they cannot succeed without you. AND. You feel indebted to them because they hired you- making you feel overly responsible for them.

So, they need you and you need them.
This is co-dependency.

Instead of:
Both of us are choosing to partner together to co-create something great that feels good for both of us.

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Some of the ways this can show up (not an exhaustive list by any means)

-instantly replying to emails, texts, posts in client-groups from your clients

-a wave of panic, anxiety, and urgency when you get a notification from a client

-adding more and more and more touch-points for your clients (weekly calls! More trainings! More sessions! more zoom calls! more everything!)

-never putting the onus back on your clients– always answering their questions and positioning yourself as their own personal Google search bar

-stepping outside of your scope of practice. You’re now your fitness clients’ therapist, best friend, medical doctor, physical therapist, etc. You are afraid to refer out because WHAT IF THEY FOUND OUT THEY DON’T NEED YOU!?

-anxiously babysitting your clients. Instant panic spirals if someone isn’t participating in the EXACT way you want them to, you think they hate you & are having a horrible time. You wonder if you should offer them a discount! An extra call! More check-ins! (YES, we absolutely can define and outline what IS expected from a client in order for them to succeed- but clients have to meet you halfway. We cannot play the game FOR them.)

Let’s break down that last sentence:

YOU CANNOT PLAY THE GAME FOR YOUR CLIENTS.

Think about what a coach does: they quite literally sit on the sidelines, provide insight, encouragement, and lay out the game plan. The athlete is responsible for going out there and executing while simultaneously troubleshooting in real time.

After the play, the players come back to the coach, debrief, listen, regroup, then go back out and execute again.

A good coach will not say:
“You know what? You’re not doing this well. Give me your jersey and let me play for you!”

While we aren’t coaching little league, we can absolutely draw the parallels. And even better, your clients AREN’T directionless 4 year olds falling asleep in right field.

Have you ever coached kids before? I have! I started coaching when I was 15. I continued to coach kids & teens into my 20s.

While coaching organized sports is a bit different than coaching adults in a fitness or business sense, much of it is the same.

We teach.
We coach.
We step back.
We regroup.
We recap.
We repeat.
When we’re ready, we add on.

There is no rescuing.
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When your clients hire you, their hard work begins.

If you are presenting your services as a magic bullet, where you somehow are carrying the brunt of hard work for your clients, you are setting them up for failure.

Your clients’ work BEGINS when they sign up with you.

How you market your services and your on-boarding process will set the tone for your relationship with your clients.

Let’s use UnFYB as an example:

It starts off with an expectation management and “house-keeping” module.

→ This is how this is going to go, this goes here, this is where we will meet and when, this is what I expect of you, this is what you can expect from me.

The course includes group calls, small group calls, interim access to me and the group via Slack, and a weekly email goes out to let everyone know what’s coming up that month and that week.

The on-boarding process tells them where, when, and how they can reach me.

Remember, your clients are adults.
They signed up to work with you.

When you notice a client not doing what they signed up to do, what do you do?

In a group setting, do you offer additional 1:1 touch points that weren’t in your initial agreement because you feel like a particular client is struggling and you, the coach, interpret that as your own moral failure?

In a 1:1 setting, do you find yourself wearing a cheerleader hat vs a coach hat because you’re nervous to have a harder coaching conversation that will provide your client with some observations that will propel them forward?

None of this replaces empathy and compassion, by the way.

YES, we troubleshoot alongside with our clients,
but we do not prevent struggle.

We do not rescue our clients.

We hold space for them.

We provide feedback.

We provide them with tools that allow them to succeed on their own.

“Doesn’t that ruin my business then!?”

No.

It empowers your business.

We want clients that WANT to be there with us.
Not clients that feel like they NEED to be there with us.

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You ever notice the cringe that comes with the way coaches present their client testimonials?

I do.

A coach will post a screen shot of some win a client shares and the coach is like “see what happens when you work with ME?!”

As if the coach did ALL the work.
The coach was the magic.

It totally discounts the work that the client put in.

When a client shares a win with me, I make sure that they know that THEY were responsible for that win. THEY put in the work.
THEY applied the knowledge. My clients’ wins say more about the client than it says about me.

YES- we need to be setting our clients up for success.
That is our job.

But participating in co-dependent client dynamics isn’t helpful.
It doesn’t lead to long term client success.

And it costs you A LOT of time!

Here’s another example:

A TBC client has been feeling like she needs more resources from me in order to execute proper form. She’s been my client for over 4 years.

She knows what to do- she does. She just doesn’t trust herself.

The resources exist. There are video and audio explanations,
there are text explanations, there are PDFs.

This client requested more resources for form checks.

You might have responded to a similar ask with:

“omg of course, let me get to work on that!”

and interpret the ask as “she’s struggling! Me to the rescue!”

The client, in this example, needs more practice executing what she knows and needs to build self-trust.

So, the responsibility is back on the client.

My response was:

“are you watching your form check videos back before you post them for me to review?”

She said no.

I said:

“Before you upload another form check video for me, I want you to watch it back, then watch the original instructional video with the correct form, and I want your form check submissions to include your thoughts on what you observe.”

See the difference?!

We want to TEACH our clients.

We want to empower them to learn.

This is leadership. This is teaching. This is coaching.

Another resource in this case REMOVES the learning from the client. It positions me as the sole answer. It lets the client think that without me, she doesn’t know anything. And that is NOT true.

Many times, we provide more crutches for our clients that act as band-aid learning & implementation gaps.

YES- we create resources for our clients. We are available to teach and coach them and guide them.

Yet, we forget to put responsibility back on the client(s).

It’s 100/100.

Not 50/50.

Not 100/50.

Not 150/50 (most of you are here!)

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Creating empowering spaces for your clients will not only help you get some of your time AND energy back, but it will also actually HELP your clients succeed long term.

the barbell collective

Desgined for women with a history of doing the MOST