How they did it: Dagmar Hopf

Updated: Apr 7

Dagmar has been working as a coach for more than a decade. First, mostly within her role as organizational change consultant within corporates, when she used it as one of her ‘tools’. Now, since 2014, as a profession on its own. Becoming a coach had been a natural process for her – matching perfectly with her interested in helping people thrive which already manifested during her studies in psychology.

So, becoming a coach was a natural process. But when did you decide to take a professional coach course?

In 2006, shortly before I left my last employment, I started a further education in Systemic Counselling and Coaching which took four years until the final certification. The reason for doing so had been two-fold: at the one hand I wanted to dive deeper into concepts and techniques to support people in organizations; and on the other hand I also hoped for some support for myself during the challenges of setting up my own business. I chose for this training in ‘Systemic coaching’ which is based on the concepts of systems theory (see more here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Systems_theory), because they provided me with a new perspective on complex phenomena and the interdependence between individuals and the systems they act in.

At the end of the training – including self-experience, supervision and peer intervision – I received the certification by the German Association for Systemic Therapy, Counseling and Family Therapy. But I did not get certified with a coaching association. Having my diploma in psychology and all the learnings from the training made me feel comfortable enough to call myself a professional coach.

Do you remember the first time when you charged money for your work and what was that process like?

Honestly, I never had an issue with this. As an employed management consultant in the past, I was used to write proposals and quotes with pretty high daily rates. When I started to work on my own, some of my corporate clients actually told me not to come in with too low rates because otherwise the company’s purchasing department wouldn‘t take me serious and not believe in the worth of my work.

Besides working with corporate clients, I’ve also tried to coach individuals paying themselves. But back than in Germany, personal coaching was not yet very common and often perceived as too expensive. Therefore, I concentrated on business clients. Today here in the Netherlands, about 70% of my clients get their coaching paid by their employer, and the other 30% pay for it themselves.

How do most people find you?

Most people find me by word of mouth. I have some (former) clients but also some other business contacts who are real ambassadors and recommend me a lot. Furthermore, I aim to be visible in real life, e.g. by attending events where I can meet my target clients, by giving free workshops or simply by networking. This way, I can already build a connection with potential clients and they can experience me live. And of course, I have a company website and use LinkedIn but these are for me not the main channels that bring clients.

Giving free workshops or having an interesting conversation usually does not pay off directly. But by connecting with the participants on LinkedIn afterwards they remember me and come back to me when it’s the right time, or recommend me to someone else.

What events do you go to?

It’s a mixture of conferences, coaching- or business-related workshops/ masterclasses, and networking events. I usually look for topics I’m interested in – to have a basis for conversations – and I look at the way an event is set up. Are there enough opportunities to connect with other participants? Do they provide long enough breaks to chat with someone and having a break? Is it a balanced mix of presentations/ talks and interactive elements? Currently, I don’t work full-time and, being an introvert, networking costs me energy – therefore, I choose very consciously where to go.

Who is your audience?

This has developed and changed over time. In the beginning, I coached professionals on work-related topics often in relation to a running organizational change project. Since 2014, my ideal clients became pretty clear: international professional women living in the Netherlands aged roughly between 35-45 who are in any kind of transition, e.g. developing within a job, searching for a new job, aiming for a career change, being in a personal transformation. It’s about getting from A to B. And sometimes they have no idea about their B yet, and sometimes they know their B but don’t know how to get there. In both cases, they need a sparring partner and kind of “travel guide”.

Are you your own niche?

You could probably say so. As consultant, I experienced that I can help a lot without having been in someone’s position or through someone’s experience myself. But with coaching, clients feel drawn to me because they see I went through transitions and achieved transformations myself – e.g. having experienced a system change in East Germany combined with a full change of life, having moved several times and building up a new home every time, leaving employment and building my own business, changing businesses, becoming a mother, changing on a personal level. It helps that people know that. I do not make that especially explicit, but others can see and feel it in the way I describe things. I can relate to their troubles; I can feel with them.

I see more and more coaches working online, even when their clients live in the same city. How is that with you?

Honestly, I prefer working with my clients face to face. Because of the tools and techniques I use: I want to bring them into action – to address not only the mind but also the heart and the body – and I also make use of the space. Sometimes, I work online as well – when a client moves during the coaching process or due to time restrictions for instance. I might have to be than more creative in order to modify my techniques and tools.

What do you think makes a great coach?

From my point of view, there are some basic elements: like self-awareness and self-knowledge – i.e. knowing yourself, your needs, your values, your strengths and flaws, knowing what triggers you, what irritates you, your biases, your view of the world.

Another thing is being a good observer. Being able to express what you hear, see, sense – without judgement. This kind of observation you can and have to train.

It’s also important from my view to truly care for the coachee: it is not about you the coach, not about your concepts and tools, your perception of the world. It’s only about the coachee and how to help them to transform and thrive.

In the end, coaching is just a form I can use to help someone. And sometimes, the client needs therapy, counselling or training instead. All just forms to support others.

What is your coaching dream?

I would love to be coaching easily accessible for everyone. As a low-threshold service available to more or less everyone when needed. In the past, coaching used to be for executives or high-level managers only – an exclusive support for an elite. This has been changed in the last years and I’m glad about this. Coaching should be for everyone.

What do you want to do about that?

First, continue with what I do - helping others to dare to be themselves, to embrace their potential. And doing this with my business Sevenbirds and together with my fabulous colleagues from Azkua.

There is also another business idea in my mind for some time already, which aims to bring coaching closer to everyday life. Not sure yet, when I will work this out. Guess it’s a question of feeling a passionate “yes” at the right time 😊

Do you have any advice or something you wish you had known before you started?

Never stop working on yourself. Continuously keep learning about yourself and professionally. You cannot do one coaching education and be done. Being a coach means being in a continuous learning process yourself.