Every now and then we cross paths with a coach that seeps excellence – every word they say makes complete sense and even we (the Association of Coaches – and the rest!) walk away feeling enlightened. This is how we felt when we caught up with David Key – a Midas of the coaching world – who looks dead-set to be one of the next great names. When you read the exclusive interview below, you may well understand why!
He impressed us initially, so much so we simply had to award him the Outstanding Achievement Award at this years ceremony. His dedication to his practice of NLP, hypnotherapy and coaching – and the art, psychology and philosophy surrounding it – is nothing short of mindblowing. It isn’t just us who has recognised it; he has been turning some of the biggest and brightest stars of the global coaching community since even before his coaching career began – earning sponsorships and mentoring that the vast majority of us could only dream of. But it hasn’t always been the case, David Key came from a place of darkness – and has a pretty powerful story to tell. Read on for our exclusive interview, and see how such a success is born.
You might just learn something. We sure did.
David Key is one of those people who manages to be impressive on both paper and in person (it’s really no wonder he’s a successful coach!) He is the first ANLP Accredited Trainer in the world (accredited with the new 2010 accreditation methodology.) He boasts a client database of 30,000, with a plethora of students (from 40 countries!) undergoing his various online NLP, Hypnosis and Coaching Programmes from 40 countries… and lets just say he’s reaping the monetary rewards too!
He is one of the most (if not the most) sought after behavioural strategists in the UK, and his company Auspicium (for which he is the Head of Research and Development) is slowly revolutionising the UK’s NLP movement. He is very good at what he does – and strives for constant improvement in both his clients – and himself. His story isn’t short – but neither is it boring. And once you’ve read it all, you may well have a clearer understanding of exactly what makes a good coach, as well as a successful one.
How did you feel when you won the Outstanding Achievement Award?
Well, I won’t say what the first words that came out of my mouth were, because that probably wouldn’t be appropriate to print. I was really surprised Something inside said, ‘I want to go along anyway. I’ve been nominated. It would be respectful for the people that nominated me. It would also be good to see what’s happening in the world.’ So when you read out my name, I was just surprised. Really, really surprised. It was a lovely experience. The ego was stroked for a little bit, and it was an opportunity to stand on stage and take a round of applause for the achievements, but I didn’t see them as outstanding, myself, so when other people said that they were, to me, I listened a bit and thought, ‘Well, maybe I have done some good stuff over the last 10 years.’
Has the win had an effect on your business?
Well, all my products have just come back from the printers. It’s all been re-branded. We’ve promoted the fact that I’ve won the award to people coming to my event, as part of the spiel, the story. I’ve had accreditations and awards before, in different areas, but I’ve looked at our performance, and our revenues are up 50 percent since April. What I mean by that is: We are having more people sign up to my seven-day programme, or my 13-day programme, than prior to that. There are a number of different things that have actually changed since March.
I absolutely believe that achieving the award has made a difference. What I’ve been doing has obviously made a difference, because of the award, and the 30,000 clients that I’ve got around the world, doing my programmes, but I feel that I’ve come and stumbled across something that’s significantly more powerful as a modality for helping people change and heal from their blockages.
Where did all of it begin? Can you give me a brief overview of your journey?
I left school, no academic qualifications, passed from pillar to post, moved into IT, and I was working in that industry for a number of years, until 1991. I picked up a book. I didn’t read much, and it was the first book I actually picked up on the shelf, in WHSmith, called Grow Rich While You Sleep. It was written by Ben Sweetland in the 1960s, and I was fascinated with it. It was actually nothing to do with making money. It was all about the power of your unconscious mind. It really drew me in, and then I put that down, and then I went on the Zig Ziglar training, one of the forefathers of personal development.
I went on a programme called ‘Sell Your Way to the Top’, my business performance at work improved. Then I went on a course with Brian Tracey, and trained with him. My brother-in-law, actually, gave me a book in 1996, called Unlimited Power. Tony Robbins. I read it, and I remember one thing: the first paragraph of that book. I was on a train, going into London, reading the first chapter, and he said something along the lines of, ‘Do you realise that most people who buy a book never complete it?’ It’s like ninety-eight percent of books bought never get completed, or read to the end. ‘Are you going to be in the 98 percent, or the 2 percent?’ And he really had me hooked immediately. I went, ‘I’m going to be in the 2 percent.’ So I read the whole book, and then I read it again.
Stuff didn’t change, per se, but I was intrigued enough to go on one of his seminars, so I got in the car and drove to Belgium with some friends, and did his firewalk training in 1996, and then I got curious about NLP. But it wasn’t until I had a meltdown, was suicidal, addicted to drugs… well, I wasn’t, but I thought I was. I was in a self-sabotaged spiral downwards, to the point where I wanted to end it all. But I also had another problem, like a lot of people: I was a procrastinator. So, fortunately for me, I didn’t act on the thought that popped into my head, and I sought help. So I went to see someone, he was a therapist, and he said, it was going to take at least five years to cure you of your ailments. I couldn’t wait that long. I feel crap today. I want to feel good tomorrow! In fact, I want to feel good now. I want to feel great. I want to be happy.’ Because that’s ultimately what everybody wants. I did the math on it anyway. It was like £60 a session. I was nearly bankrupt anyway. I’d gambled all money away. So, I got my calculator out, I was like, ‘£60 a week, one hour a week, for,’ and I went, ‘five years. That’s going to cost me £18,000.’ To feel good. That was then.
So I was speaking to a friend, and he was saying, ‘You’re really depressed and down?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah.’ And he said, ‘You want to go and see this old guy in St. Albans. He’s been training since 1993, he’s an NLP master trainer, master coach, and he might be able to help you out.’ So I contacted his company. He could see I was in emotional discomfort, and he said, ‘Why don’t you come and do one of my trainings?’ And I was like, ‘Have you not heard me? I’m nearly bankrupt.’ And he went, ‘Who said that I was going to charge you?’ I said, ‘What do you want from me? There’s no such thing as a free lunch.’
So I was really angry, and I thought, ‘Who’s this guy, anyway?’ But there was something inside of me that went, ‘Well, you know, just go along.’ I went along, and it was an NLP training. And in that first day that I was there, I saw something that I’d never seen before, about myself. And that was the start of my real journey.
Then he said to me, he said, ‘David, you’d make a great trainer. I’m prepared to sponsor you, and support you.’ And for five years he mentored me. For nothing. He didn’t ask for a penny from me. I helped build his business up, as a consequence of that. I contributed, and made a difference to him, and he had more people in his venues, because my background was doing business and selling. But business to business, as opposed to business to consumer. Got my qualifications, but I felt there was certain things missing from the way I was working with clients. But with the NLP and the coaching combined, and then hypnosis. I loved hypnotherapy. The conversations with clients incorporated all of that. NLP, coaching, and hypnosis, simultaneously.
I was seeing my clients transform, very, very quickly, and to the point where I was invited by Dr. Tad James, who’s the president of the American Board of NLP, and the American Board of Hypnosis and Timeline Therapy, who said, ‘We’ve been watching you.’ This was 6 years ago. He’d only trained six people up from 1983 ‘til 2011 to become master trainers. Around the world. And he said, ‘I’d like you to come and join me, and you’ve got an opportunity to become a master trainer of hypnosis.’ And I was like, ‘Wow.’ He said, ‘But before you do, you’ve got a task.’ Like all good coaches – we set our clients tasks, right?
I went, ‘I accept the task. What is it?’ And he went, ‘Read these books, and summarise them.’ 17 of the most profound books on hypnosis going back 300 years. The books, piled up, were nearly 5 feet in height. And I had 6 months to get through them all, and run my business, and coach. It took me six months just to get through the books.
So that was my pre-prep. I went over to Vegas and trained to the culmination of doing a stage show, to hundreds of hypnosis trainers, which was an absolute honour. So that was part of the journey, and then I came back to the UK.
Business started going from strength to strength, and then I had a client who said, ‘David, I can’t afford to do your trainings, but I really want to do them.’ Now, I used to get people like that every week, and in the early days, I had a lot of insecurities around money, so I used to go, ‘Oh, if I don’t say yes, I’ll never have them as a client, so I’d take people on, and they weren’t paying. I was wondering why I didn’t have any money, I wasn’t really choosing well.
I realised that it’s of no value giving stuff away to people. It doesn’t work. However, it’s useful to sponsor certain individuals that you know are committed, want to do the change. You task them, and then if they deliver on the task, then you might sponsor them. Because that’s good for business, and good for them. I’d been sponsored and mentored by Paul for nothing, for five years, I made it part of my remit that ten percent of my clients I would sponsor. So each training, I would have maybe one of two people, and no-one would know who they were, because that’s part of the criteria. They don’t tell anybody.
This guy came up to me, and he said, ‘Can you sponsor me?’ and he was so enthusiastic, so positive, that he said to me, he said, ‘I’ll do anything.’ So I tasked him. I said, ‘Look, I want you to set up a training for me in Portugal. I’ve always wanted to train on the beach somewhere. So, go off, set up a training event. Get all the details. You say you can do anything – prove it to me.’ He came back a week later, and he said, ‘Right, I’ve got the hotel, I’ve got the venue, I’ve got the pricing.’ I said, ‘You’ve done the easy bit. I need bums on seats. How are you going to do that?’ He said, ‘It’s not a problem – I’ve worked that out. I’ve price-pointed it and I’m going to promote you through a company called Groupon.’
I’d never heard of them. Seriously. So Groupon phoned, and the first words that came out of their mouth were, ‘We don’t do training. We don’t do stuff like that, at that price point, in Portugal. It’s not something we’re interested in. But I’ve looked at your website, David, and I see you sell CDs. NLP practitioner, home study course. Well, you’re selling it for four hundred quid. ‘Well, we’d like to sell it for you. How many have you sold, this year?’
I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t know. 50? Max?’ Generally they were given to students as pre-course material, as part of them doing a 7 day programme with me. So, the guy said, ‘Well, we want to sell at £89.’ And I was drinking a cup of tea at that moment, listening to the call, and tea went all over the screen of my computer as I spurted it out.
‘How much? You’re having a laugh. £89?’ He said, ‘Oh yeah, and we get fifty percent, of that.’ I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ And then he said, ‘I reckon I could sell you 200 in one day.’ There was a part of me going, ‘You’ve got to try it out. You’d be a fool.’ Now, this wasn’t in any business plan. This was not a strategy, this was a sequence of events that unfolded. So I said yes. And as a consequence of that, here I am. This was 3 years ago. I had trained, in the previous 7 years, around 780 people were in my database, and in the space of 24 months, that grew to… well, it’s just under 30,000 now. It’s about 5 people short.
I’m selling all over the world. I’m a best seller, twice, on Amazon. In the last 2 months. We launched my online NLP programme, in March, at the time of the event. That sold thousands, became a bestseller. Then we re-launched it through another company, so I’m on there twice, and head-to-head against every other product nationally on Amazon, we were number one for ten days, selling over three thousand online courses in a week – which is pretty phenomenal.
I’ve realised that people had been saying in the world of coaching – since I started, over a decade ago – ‘Oh, there’s too many coaches, there’s not enough space in the market for another one. There’s not enough potentiality, there’s a lack.’ And I’m like, ‘Well, I’ve just attracted 30,000 new potential clients in 24months. Where did they come from? There’s 7 billion people on the planet, so there’s plenty of business for everyone, right?
Who has been the biggest influence on you?
I couldn’t choose one. I think, in our industry, it was Tony Robbins, to start with. I was inspired by his charisma, his passion, and also how I felt during his seminars. And I wanted to work out how that was happening, so I studied everything, in terms… to the point where I became a strategic intervention coach, one of Tony Robbins’s coaches, and working with Cloé Madanes, who’s one of the – at the time – the greatest psychotherapists on the planet.
When I was on the verge of bankruptcy, and jumping out of a window, I ended up doing an online course with a guy called Dr. George Pransky – I don’t know if you’ve heard of him. Paul McKenna talked about him in January in the newspapers, saying he’s an amazing guy, so I looked him up. Pransky was a gestalt therapist for years, running one of the most successful operations in the seventies in America. He had over 5,000 clients. I thought my life was okay up until this obstacle, and I did his programme, and this problem disappeared overnight. It was like a miracle. He didn’t use any techniques. No strategy, no grow models or anything like that. He just taught these principles of psychology that have always been there, but most people, 7 billion of them on the planet, aren’t aware of them.
So I got on a plane, and I flew to Seattle, and I spent 4 days with him. And there were 55 of the widest variety of individuals and backgrounds, but mainly therapists, there were rabbis, coaches, hypnotherapists, an eclectic mix. Fifty-five individuals. He said, ‘I’m going to do a demonstration – a coaching conversation with one person, and I’ll let you know who it is tomorrow.’ And he picked me. I was really anxious and nervous about it, because I was thinking, ‘I do this for a living, but here’s this 75 year-old man who’s been described as the greatest psychological mind of our time. I had this one-to-one with him, and it was almost like I transformed. When I sat next to him, I had nothing on my mind for the first time in a long, long time. And I burst into tears.
I felt a release of everything. And it allows me to be a more effective coach, and then George said, ‘You know, David,’ he said, ‘I’ve worked with eighteen people since 1976, as mentors.’ He said, ‘And I’d liked to mentor you.’ So I’m now living with him, intermittently, over the next six months, for nine days at a time.
There’s a spiritual intelligence behind the system that’s going to guide you anyway. But if you’ve got too much thinking, trying to control it, you’re not going to hear that stuff. So all you really need to know as a coach, or as a client of a coach, is the next step. So for me, the next step is taking 6 weeks off. And seeing what occurs to me while I’m enjoying my life.
What makes you and your service different?
Well, that’s a really difficult one, because I don’t sit down looking at what other people do. A feeling. It won’t be entirely intellectual. They’ll back up that feeling with some logic, like, ‘Oh, he’s won the APCTC, and he’s a qualified…’ so there’ll be people that look at my qualifications and might go, ‘Well, he is pretty much trained with the best of the best, he’s at the top of his game, he’s got credibility, kudos, awards, and a client base of 30,000, so he must be doing something right.’ I don’t think I would have got there if I was a poor coach. I don’t mean “poor” in terms of financially, but if I was a coach that my clients didn’t get results if I wasn’t effective… so, I think there’s those people that will search me out that way, and that will be part of their criteria. Yesterday I had a group of people that came to see me. They came to a complementary programme, and I just sat, and we talked for a day. Half the room signed up to one of my programmes. I actually asked a couple of people, ‘Why did you sign up?’ ‘Because it just feels right.’
What have your biggest challenges been?
I wanted to give up, many times.
What made you continue?
When I left the corporate world in 2002 and trained as a coach I didn’t have any clients for a long time. I was suffering financially, I was at a real low peak, and I really wanted to do it, but needs must, and it got to a point where I had to go and get a job. I’d run out of savings. In fact, I was in debt. I went and got a job, and there were lots of people applying, back into the IT industry, after being out of it for 3 years. I ended up getting the opportunity, and within a day of being there, I realised that I didn’t want to be there. They gave me a 6 weeks probation period. Bearing in mind I’d been a top performer, working for billion dollar American companies around the world, okay? Successful sales guy, travelling, looking after clients like Nokia, and Oracle, and Microsoft, travelling all over the world, expenses, and here I was.
Within 6 weeks, they called me in, the operations director, and the CEO, and they said, ‘David, look, we’re really sorry to have to say this, but you just don’t fit into the team. You haven’t got past your probation.’
This had never happened to me in my life, but it was the best thing that ever happened, because, you see, I knew I didn’t want to be there, and so did they. I was more interested in helping everybody in the company who was suffering emotionally, and challenging, then focussing on selling some call centre software, right? So they realised that. I was asked to leave, and I had a week’s money, because of the length of contract. And it was just around 7/7, the tube situation.
I was in Tuscany, thinking, ‘Oh my God, what I am going to do? I’ve got no coaching clients, I’ve got no business,’… and it occurred to me that I’d been doing everything wrong. I had an insight, whilst sitting by the pool: I’d been selling coaching. I’d been going up, saying, ‘You need coaching,’ and trying to sell coaching, coaching, coaching; NLP, NLP, NLP; hypnosis, hypnosis, and actually that’s not what people want. That was my insight. And my insight came in the form of a guy doing some work in the garden next door whilst I was in Tuscany, and he had this workbench. And he was sawing some wood, and I thought, ‘Well, that’s a Black & Decker Workmate’, okay? You’ve heard of the table that does everything?
That’s the problem. I’ve been going out there, saying I’ve got this amazing Black & Decker Workmate – coaching, NLP and hypnosis, all these tools, drill – I’ve got all these component parts. Isn’t it amazing? It can change your life, and people were looking at it, going, “I don’t need a Black & Decker Workmate”.’ I then realised this. I’m not selling a drill. I’m selling a tool to someone who needs to make a hole in the wall, so I got to find the people who need a hole. And that switched my mindset. I went to my first networking event and I asked the people in the room, ‘Who needs a hole on their wall?’ People going, ‘Yeah, I’ve got pictures to hang up, how do you do it?’ Then I went, ‘I’ve got the tools to do it. You’re not really interested in the tools, but I can come and help you get your pictures straight.’ As a metaphor for me, that worked. And the rest was easy, after that.
It was selling the transformation. The picture will look beautiful on your wall, yeah? How I make the hole in the wall, you probably really don’t care. I was barking up the wrong tree. I was so passionate about the tools, because they actually had changed my life. It was getting your head round that what you’re selling, and what people are buying, you could be so misaligned that you’ll end up struggling for years until you have that realisation. So that was a big one for me. So I kept going.
What new and exciting plans do you have for this year?
My next course is about to be launched. This is being filmed by Paul Murphy, director of the BBC, who works for the BBC, and also Derren Brown’s producer, for one of his shows. Not only are we going to have a DVD set, but I’m launching it on Groupon, because they want to sell my stuff, and Amazon as well. And I’ll be launching that to my existing client base as a significant opportunity to save a huge amount of money for them, so we can get it out there. So that’s the next project. That should be in the next week or so. It’ll be on Amazon as well.
The David Key website will be ready at the end of July, the beginning of August. My first fifteen blogs are ready. It’s davidkey.com. I’m being rebranded, the blogs are written, so we’ll be blogging weekly, I’m going to be running a webinar, and I’m working on a book. I’ve planned on having it out by Christmas. At least in first draft. It’s called Freedom: Three Little Principles for Living Successfully.
I’ve also decided I need to get out and speak at conferences. The output is to share what I can in 90 minutes, that will hopeful tickle the curiosity of the people in the room, then give them an opportunity to join me on a reduced version of my mentorship programme. Maybe we’ll have 30 places available, and then we’ll have a back-up plan if it sells more than that.
Can you give us one tip for standing out from the crowd as a coach?
There are a lot of NLP trainers out there. I just focus on what I want to do. I did this when I was working… I was a top salesperson. I achieved top salesperson, by definition, on how much business I sold, 5 years consistently, in a row. And all the other salespeople would say ‘What are you doing that’s so successful?’ I said, ‘I only work with the clients that want to buy stuff.’
There is no “technique”. A lot of people get stuck, and sucked into this ‘Well, you need an opening. You need a story. You have to do it in this sequence, and then you have to go to this part of the stage, and you have to anchor that. And you have to close this. Then you need to create peer pressure. Then you need to do this…’ I think it overwhelms our coaches. They end up doing nothing, as opposed to trusting their innate wisdom.
APCTC members like to aspire to those that are considered experts in their field. Can you share how well you’re doing in terms of Monetary & Business Growth?
I did a vision board in 2010, and I looked at it last night. Every single thing on that has been achieved, apart from one thing, and that was that I was visiting Father Christmas to see the northern lights. I put that on my vision board, with my children. I’m going at Christmas, so that’s the only other thing. So everything’s on there, including revenues. I need to update it, because I’m getting the numbers that I put on there and not much more.
The first year, I think we turned over 50K, then year two was about 90K, then it was about a 150K. In terms of sales as well, working it out, I think we’ve done about £2 million’s worth of sales of online courses in the last twenty-four months. We’re running at about a million pounds of turnover a year. So 52 percent of our revenue is coming from online courses, and I see that increasing as a I launch a membership programme (that’s coming as well, I forgot to mention that). This year we’ll probably do about a million, turnover. High profit.
Do you have a final message for anyone who aspires to you?
Yeah, I do, actually. If you feel that you want to be a coach, then go with the feeling. Stay with it, even when times seem dark, and I’ll quote something that I learned from my mother. For 45 years, I thought my mother was all about winning. She plays bridge for a living. She’s in her 70s, and she plays for the Commonwealth games and for England. She’s a grandma, so she’s at the top of her game. So I said, ‘Mum, the reason you’re so good, is because everything you did was about winning, winning, winning, being the best, being the best.’ And she looked at me as if I’d walked off the planet Zog. And she said, ‘Why on Earth did you believe that?’ And I said, ‘Because you’ve always beaten me at everything you’ve ever done.’ She said, ‘I never beat you because I wanted to win. I just didn’t let you win, because I wanted you to concentrate.’ I said, ‘Well, Mum, how the hell have you become so good at what you do?’ And she said, ‘It’s really simple…’ And what she said changed everything for me: ‘Son, I never, ever set out to be the best. I just set out, every time I play, to be a little bit better than I was the last time.’
If you do that for 30 years, if you’re a little bit better than you were the last time, and a little bit better the time after that, that’s all the pressure you’ve got on yourself. Just a little bit better. Nothing more. Don’t compare yourself with any other coaches, including me, all right? And just work on that. And in five years’ time, you’ll look back, and go, ‘Wow, look how much better I was than I was five years ago.’ And you’ll have none of the pressure that you’ll put on yourself if you’re trying to be the best, because there’s always someone that’s better than you.
Just a little bit better than you were the last time. That’s it.
David Key is a classic example of a classic coach. He wasn’t born one, he fell into it thanks to a myriad of depression, debt and general bad luck. And yet, he’s one of the most outstanding coaches active today. Everyone has to start somewhere – and the very best have to start from the bottom. That is David Key’s journey so far, and the best thing is he’s only just getting started!
Could someone else benefit from what you have learned on your journey? Than pick yourself up a copy of The Coaches Code! It has everything you need to build a lucrative coaching business from the ground up. Just click the image below to grab your free copy.