Starting a Writing and Life Coaching Business for Academics with Melissa Anders | GBP048

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Melissa is a senior research program and development manager for a large research and health institute. In addition to that, she has a business in writing and life coaching for academics, and blogs at

Getting Started as a Life Coach

Melissa’s business is derived from her passion and drive for supporting academics. “It was a natural progression for me,” she says. She started out by working with a scientist in Toronto on a large research program. Melissa would take what he called a ‘glimmer of something’ and turn it into a real vision for a program, grant or paper. When she told some teacher friends about the collaboration, they said, “Oh, it sounds like you’re coaching him.”

Melissa soon realized that she had been doing this for a long time. She had always been, as she put it, “the kid that people would come to with whatever was happening for them. I was the adult who would have strangers giving me their life stories. It has become very obvious to me that this is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing.”

By creating the business, she has taken what she learned through the last 15 years of supporting academics in writing and developing large grants and combined it with her natural strength in supporting others.

Melissa’s work focuses on transforming her client’s anxiety and overwhelming confusion into ease, clarity, and confidence in their writing process. 

“I think that for most academics, and most of my clients, what happens is that they’re often overachievers, so they’re unfamiliar with not being able to do something easily or well,” she explained. “Most of my clients are excellent writers, so it’s not that they need support in the actual writing part but what sometimes happens is that their writing can be a means of getting them to the next level, such as a new job, and they’re afraid.”

She uses what she calls “inner and outer work” to help them develop a writing process that works for them so that they can make their contributions and share their message or communicate what they’ve found.”

Melissa admitted that she thought of her side business as a hobby at first.

“This mindset helped me with the fear that comes up when we do anything different,” she said. “You immediately think, ‘How am I going to find time to do this? I’ve got two small children, my partner’s extremely important to me. I’m holding a full-time job. When am I going to find time to do this?’”

To get through this mental roadblock, she initially thought of it as something that she did for fun. Then, as the business grew, she looked at it as a part-time job. “It’s a process, and focusing on the small steps to get yourself through is the best approach.”

Melissa said that she found it beneficial to be employed full-time while she transitioned into running a business. With a guaranteed income in the beginning, she did not feel as much anxiety or worry about money, and could focus on bringing the business forward.

The struggles of running a side business

When she started out, Melissa encountered two challenges. One was the fear of putting herself out there and being visible and vulnerable. The other was comparing herself with others. She would ask herself things like, “Is someone else already doing this? Who am I competing with?”

When she started blogging, she would come up with an idea and then immediately Google it to see if someone else had covered it already. She knew she had reached a turning point when she had an idea and didn’t bother Googling it.

“Part of what I teach is capturing all of your ideas and coming back to them at the right time or when you have time to explore them further,” she said. “What allowed me to transform that for myself in terms of what I have to offer versus what everyone else has to offer is that the more you connect with what makes you unique, the better you are able to express that.”

Marketing without social media

Melissa mentioned that she doesn’t have a Twitter or Instagram. She experimented with social media but soon found it too distracting and time-consuming. She also wanted to give clients a single means of communicating with her, which was to email her for a discovery call.

“What I like about my business right now is that it’s small and that I can do that,” she said. “I can create those connections with people as soon as they have the courage to connect with me. That’s not to say that it can’t happen over social media, but for me, it’s a single space for connecting with me. As part of my 2020 plan, I’m broadening my reach by moving out to LinkedIn, but in very small ways, like posting my weekly blog there.

Overcome nervousness about connecting with clients

For those who want to start a coaching business, Melissa recommended that they do testimonial work. This includes coaching people who already love, like and trust you, such as friends and family.

“That’s definitely how I got started. It helps you to feel better about making those connections and being able to move someone through that process. I have also received support from my own coach, and so I got to know what that process looks like.”

Work she has done with her coach, Jennifer Sherwood, has been beneficial to her coaching work. She has also received business training from, which helps highly sensitive entrepreneurs.

No more anxiety with a call script

Melissa said that she has a script that she uses for calls. When she first started, it was extremely helpful, and now that she has practiced more, she is less dependent on it.

“But I would say that it’s an ongoing process. Focusing on the process versus the outcome is the way to grow and get better at it.”

“What’s been the most helpful to me is to stay connected with what I want for my business,” Melissa said. “In academia, we have that mindset of doing something and receiving something for it. After completing an assignment, you get a mark or a grade. If it’s an experiment, you receive the results of the experiment. When you start your own business, at some point you realize, ‘This is for me. I get to do what I want here.’”

She said that it was a real shift to go from taking direction to being the person in charge. “The more clarity you have about your goals, the clearer you’re going to be on how you can create your business to support you and what you want.”

To learn more about how to start a writing and life coaching business, you can reach Melissa at, visit her website at, or connect with Melissa on her LinkedIn profile.

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