I spoke to personal development pros. Here's twelve things I learnt:

A few weeks ago I interviewed fifteen people who work in personal development. I asked friends, and friends of friends. I met people in cafés, and had Skype calls. I spoke with conventional business coaches. I spoke with creativity coaches and art therapists. I spoke with an energy healer and a shaman. Some of the people I spoke with have been working in the field for years, others for only a few months.

I used an approach from the tech world called customer interviews. I love this technique because it can be used to get an empathic sense of what your customers really need. It's great for testing the kind of ideas which you have if you're doing human-centred work.

Some of the things I learned were practical and some much more personal. Some were expected and some surprising.

Personal developing is a wide field

I spoke to people who take a huge range of approaches. Different methods, different views of the world, aimed at different people.

Sometimes this help was very practical and was about business or money. Sometimes it was about the physical body. Sometimes it was spiritual. However, they were all focused on the same thing. They were all to help people live the best life possible.

It's all about transformation

The other thing that everyone's work had in common was the intention to change people. That might be for people to act different, think differently, or feel differently. It might be to fundamentally alter someone's relationship with the universe. Without lasting change none of the other benefits of the work can happen.

Personal development is rarely someone's first job

None of the people I spoke to had chosen their field as their career. Everyone had done something else beforehand. It wasn't anything predictable, either. Previous jobs ranged from artist to accountant, from CEO to programmer.

It can be a struggle to do the work you really want

Many people had struggled to find the right people to work with at the beginning. Some were still deciding on the right people to work with now. Getting clear on whom to work with and how to reach them is vital.

Word-of-mouth is a precarious strategy

Everyone I spoke to found clients through word of mouth. It's excellent because it's effortless, and because it can convey some of the magic of the work that they do. The problem is that it's not very reliable. It only takes a brief interruption to work or a change of location for the system to stop working. Most established practitioners mixed word of mouth marketing with other methods.

It's not about the money unless the money runs out

No-one I spoke to was doing what they do to get rich. There are far more satisfying rewards than money from doing personal development work. The problem for some, though, was that lack of money means having to do other things. Having a steady flow of income makes focusing on the work easier. It lets you help as many people as possible.

Productisation is hard but necessary

Taking what you do and turning into an easily explained, easily marketable product is tough. However, it's a journey that was familiar to all of the successful practitioners I spoke with. They were totally clear about who they worked with, how they helped them, and what that involved.

Technology can be helpful if used properly

Everyone used technology in one form or another, though many were frustrated. Almost everyone felt they could be getting more out of it than they currently were. Some were keen to use technology to scale and reach far more people. Others felt that technology could get in the way. They were very clear that they could only do their work in person. For them, technology was all about finding the right people and making their life around their work easier.

Peer support is vital

No-one I spoke to was choosing to go it alone. Everyone had networks of peers supporting them professionally, practically and emotionally. Many said that without this support they would not have been able to do what they do. Community is a powerful thing. If you want to develop your practice it may be the most important thing.

Finding a mentor will move you forward quickly

Around half of the people I spoke to mentioned a mentor they had worked with, or were currently working with. Mentorship had helped them develop their practice, avoid pitfalls and grow faster. Others wanted a mentor but had yet to find one. A few of the people I spoke to were now at a point where they were beginning to mentor others, and had found the process hugely rewarding.

Helping others is a journey to help yourself too

Everyone I spoke to had struggles along the way. Often these were deeply personal. What surprised me how well people turned these struggles into a positive. The healing people are doing is directly linked with suffering they have experienced. We help others whilst helping ourselves.

Wellbeing and success are inextricably linked

Everyone I spoke to was doing important, even vital work. However, only some had found a way to make it sustainable. Those who had managed their own wellbeing first, making sure they what they needed to help others. You might be changing the world, but that change starts with you. It starts with making sure you have what you need to do your work the best you can.

The conversations I had helped me understand that everyone faces challenges in their work. No-one has everything working perfectly. Some people have solved different challenges to others.

It showed me that the best way to overcome these challenges is to get help. Be an active part of a community. Spend time learning and developing your practice. We help ourselves by helping other people, but we also help others by seeking help from them.

If you're interested in learning more about customer interviews I'm running a workshop in Brighton at the end of May called Building your business with Empathy. It'll help get you super-clear on how to help the people you most want.

If you're interested in joining a supportive community of other people who work in personal development, then take a look at People Developing People. We'll help you and your business thrive.