Most of us have heard of a “life coach” but have little idea who they are or what they do.
Zander has been a life coach for the past 16 years and makes $400,000 annually, from her role at The Handel Group, teaching gigs at elite schools, and television appearances. Today, she coaches between 10 and 15 clients at a rate of $500 an hour and spends most of her time developing her business.
In a typical coaching session, Zander spends at least an hour with a client on the phone, over a Skype video chat, or, if it can be specially arranged, in person discussing the fears that are holding them back from becoming the person they wish they were. She gives the client a list of concrete goals at the end of each discussion that serves as homework, which she considers a key difference between her and a therapist.
“I am going to tell you what to do and will expect you to do it,” she says.
There are also small group sessions over the phone that go for $200 for four weekly sessions, and large group sessions without a chance for participation that go for $20 an hour.
While she can’t reveal the names of most of her clients, Zander did tell us that she’s coached Academy Award-winning actor Forest Whitaker for years and has worked with executives and employees at Sony Music Entertainment, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, and the New York Times.
When she works for companies, it’s her job to address dysfunctional relationships in teams. She first speaks one-on-one with an executive and then has a group session with the exec’s employees. For example, at the Times, she needed to find a way to get a valued, high-ranking employee to start working more cooperatively with coworkers.
Zander says she first got the idea to spend her life motivating people to overcome their fears when she pursued her first passion, environmentalism, and realized it wasn’t for her.
After graduating from George Washington University in 1993 with a degree in environmental studies, Zander began a fellowship with the United Nations’ Global Environment Facility.
“The more I wanted to save the trees, the more I hated people,” Zander tells us, explaining that this was what started her on the path to a career in personal improvement. “That’s when I realized that the trees are fine; it’s the people that are the problem.”
At the age of 23, Zander started working for Landmark Education, a self-improvement group, managing volunteers and program schedules. In 1998, after six or seven years with the company, she realized that she was unhappy with its impersonal coaching tactics and decided that she would quit her job and start her own practice.
“It finally clicked,” she says. She’d always been the type of person who could talk to someone about their problems and aspirations until 4 in the morning, and she realized that becoming a life coach was her ideal job.
Some of Zander’s first clients were the volunteers she worked with at Landmark, and she networked heavily to maintain a constant flow of clients. She mentions that some of her first clients included an entrepreneur in the cell phone industry who wanted to grow his business, a jewelry designer who wanted to make more money, and a Wall Street guy who had plenty of money but was terribly unhappy.
Her method was not based on any particular philosophy or rubric, but instead was based on long conversations with each client, getting them to reveal the things they normally suppress, like difficulties with their parents.
Zander initially charged $125 an hour and worked just 10 hours a week. It was a huge improvement from working 80-hour weeks, six days a week, for a $60,000 salary at Landmark, she says.
She spent the rest of her time networking, making it a priority to tell three people about her business every day. Within six months, she had 40 clients, which she says was especially impressive because life coaching hadn’t fully caught on yet in the late ’90s.
Motivated by Robbins’ success, Zander started her own life coaching network, The Handel Group (“Handel” is her maiden name), in 2004.
“Starting it forced me to codify my teaching method,” she says.
Zander, who was the star of A&E Biography’s television special “Celebrity Life Coach” in 2010 and has appeared on “Dr. Phil” and “The Dr. Oz Show,” is currently developing a television show and is participating in a documentary. The Handel Group is also developing a pilot program for teenagers and younger kids at underprivileged public schools.