Finding Meaningful Work When Coaching Confidence — Shanthi Cumaraswamy Streat
I am a Business English Communication coach who helps senior business professionals become confident communicators with the English they have. I help them reflect on how they communicate now and together we develop coping strategies they can apply to their meetings, presentations. I believe passionately that international speakers should celebrate the English they already have because it’s only from a position of abundance that their confidence will grow.
I really like how you approach your coaching from a position of abundance. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory. How did you first get your start teaching english?
By accident and later in life, in my mid-forties. There was no grand plan. After 20 years in the finance industry, 18 months of gruelling cancer treatment and facing my third redundancy, I decided I’d had enough of finance. But it’s tough to know what to do when your working life up to then has been in one industry.
I decided on a whim to teach English as a foreign language. My colleagues thought it was a great idea because I was forever correcting their grammar and spelling! I thought to myself, I have nothing to lose. So off I went. That was back in 2010.
I thought to myself, I have nothing to lose. So off I went.
For the first 6 years I was a traditional teacher with her lesson plans, grammar sheets, vocabulary gap fill exercises, fluency and reformulation and business coursebooks. I even created a business idioms 1-minute video series which was successful! It was great. I ticked all the right boxes of what a business English teacher should be.
You’ve pivoted a bit from those early days. What are you doing now?
Well, yes. I realised after a while that those business coursebooks didn’t reflect my clients’ reality. For example, they did business with other international speakers of English with varying levels of English. They needed to speak their English not ‘native speaker’ English. The expressions for the language of meetings I gave them were soon forgotten as soon as they stepped into that meeting. The grammar sheets they so diligently completed were confined to their desk drawers. Within a few months, they were back to square one.
Something had to change and that was my coaching approach. I discovered that my clients didn’t need me to feed them more language. In fact, their English was more than good enough.
I discovered that my clients didn’t need me to feed them more language.
What they needed was to focus on how to communicate confidently with the English they already had. And that meant reflecting on how they communicated in those meetings, observing how others communicated with them, identifying the gaps and making small tweaks and re-applying. Rinse and repeat.
So, now a large part of my coaching sessions and programmes consists of reflection. I help my clients find the answers to their challenges themselves by asking them probing questions, by encouraging them to question what’s truly going on during that presentation or that Q&A, to observe things objectively and not through the prism of their ‘bad’ English. Language is simply a tool of communication. It’s not everything. Knowing many words or having perfect grammar doesn’t make you an effective communicator. But they need to discover that for themselves with a little coaxing from me.
Having been a language learner most of my life, and a language teacher for half of my career, I can see the value in your coaching strategies. You also have a very successful blog with a lot of followers. What have you learned from keeping your blog?
That a blog isn’t the ticket to financial success. A blog is only the first step your audience takes to discover who you are and how you can help them. Like a window display.
I created my blog in 2013. It started off with offering grammar tips, vocabulary lists, how-to tips. My blog was a treasure trove of information and materials. It was a huge success. I won awards and my website traffic was phenomenal. In fact, my rankings are impressive.
The trouble is my blog didn’t make me a penny! Why? Because my content was information only and freely available online. Once readers found what they were looking for, they’d leave. Why should they pay my above-average fees when there were far cheaper options?
My content wasn’t telling a story that could resonate with my readers. I didn’t share how much I understood their frustrations and how I could help them. It didn’t show them the change I was seeking to make. I wasn’t sharing my core message which didn’t compel them to take the next step.
If you want people to take that second step, you need them to join your community. In other words, you need to grow an email list. It’s your email community who will become your clients and your roaring fans as they get to know you and you speak to them. But it takes time. I have readers who’ve become clients after 4 years of following me! It takes that long to build trust. It takes years of writing about and repeating your core message ad nauseam before your readers will believe that you’re real and trustworthy.
It’s your email community who will become your clients and your roaring fans as they get to know you and you speak to them.
Thanks for sharing the message that your award winning blog that got a lot of visits didn’t help you earn income until you started leveraging email marketing. I have had similar experiences with my own blog. My first impression of your website was that it was really well laid out. How did you come to have this website?
All thanks to my fabulous copywriter and designer.
My website went through various makeovers and worked fine when I was the traditional teacher and my blog offered learning tips.
However, as I changed my coaching approach, I soon realised that my website wasn’t communicating the right message, which also meant that I was attracting the ‘wrong’ reader to my community, in other words, they weren’t my ‘ideal’ client.
So, I engaged the services of a copywriter who reviewed and (trashed my old website!) and proceeded to re-create it. She asked me some difficult questions which forced me to reflect on what my core message and proposition were. It was an invaluable exercise because I gained much-needed clarity.
She not only wrote crystal clear copy, but she also advised on how to lay the information out. My website designer then took over.
It can be easy to think that because you write and communicate all the time, that you can write your own copy. But I’ve found that copywriters and designers have specific and proven strategies to connect with an audience. Looking at your website, it’s evident that you worked with a copywriter and designer. You offer a service that is not common. How do you find that you can nurture your audience to see the value in what you do?
By being consistent with my core message on my blog, my newsletters, on social media and being generous.
I’ve offered free 30-minute coffee chats that have resulted in some of them becoming clients, checked in with former clients and readers without a hidden agenda and offered free and low-paid events like huddles, masterclasses and mini-workshops. During the pandemic, I ran a series of mental wellbeing huddles that culminated in me launching a paid book club. It’s a small club for the moment but the sense of community is extraordinary.
Also, by sharing my own story. Every time I’ve shared a personal anecdote, my open rates have doubled and I’ve had higher engagement through emails. People want to see the real us, not just the ‘teacher’.
Every time I’ve shared a personal anecdote, my open rates have doubled and I’ve had higher engagement through emails.
Yes! I’ve found that too. When I show that I’m imperfectly human, people really respond to the authenticity of it. If you could go back in time, is there anything that you wished you’d known about earlier when it comes to your language teaching career?
I don’t think so because I believe every experience I’ve lived was necessary to grow as a person, teacher, writer, coach, coachee and business owner.
Is there anything else that you’d like to share about yourself?
Only that changing career in my mid-forties and becoming a language coach and business owner are the best decisions I’ve made.
I’ve been terrified, elated and tested umpteen times. I’ve learned and unlearned. I’ve cried and laughed. I’ve despaired and been hopeful.
I have lived more meaningfully in these past 11 years than all of the previous 20 years. It doesn’t get better than that.
Okay, so if others want to connect with you online, how can they do that?
Email: shanthi [ at ] englishwithatwist [ dot ] com