Not too many years ago, the term “coach” referred to the person encouraging you to run faster or throw further on a sports field.
Today if someone says, “I’m working with a coach,” they’ve likely hired someone to help them facilitate change and reach their goals.
As a certified coach myself and someone who has been coached, I can attest to the powerful benefits of coaching. Whatever you want to achieve, coaching will help you real your goals faster, with more clarity and confidence.
If you have toyed with the idea of becoming a coach, you’re considering a profession that truly changes lives for the better. Whether you work with individuals or in a business setting, you’ll help people become more capable and resourceful and enjoy more satisfaction in all areas of their lives.
The profession of coaching has grown dramatically in the last ten years and has gained more popular acceptance as the industry has exploded. The International Coach Federation, the main accrediting and credentialing body for both training programs and coaches, estimated in its 2012 Global Coaching Study that there were 47,500 coaches worldwide, with a third of those in the U.S.
So what does it take to become a coach? Let’s start with some essential qualities that make for a good coach. These include:
- A desire to help people
- A sense of caring and a deep curiosity about people
- A high level of self-awareness
- Strong personal standards, trustworthiness, and integrity
- Strong emotional intelligence
- A high level of empathy and intuition
- An interest in on-going personal growth
- Excellent verbal and written communication skills
- Active listening skills
- Entrepreneurial and organizational skills
If you see these qualities in yourself, coaching might be a great career for you, so read on . . .
How to Become a Life Coach
There seems to be a lot of confusion about what it takes to be a coach. Because coaching isn’t a licensed or regulated industry, just about anyone can hang a shingle on their door proclaiming themselves to be a life coach.
For that reason, I believe those who are serious about joining the profession should follow the most legitimate, credible path into the career. That means being trained and certified by a well-respected coach training program, preferably one that is accredited by the International Coach Federation (ICF).
Coaching involves far more than listening to people’s problems and giving advice. According to the ICF, there are 11 core competencies that every aspiring coach (no matter what niche or specialty they choose) should master before receiving a coaching credential.
A. Setting the Foundation
1. Meeting Ethical Guidelines and Professional Standards
2. Establishing the Coaching Agreement
B. Co-creating the Relationship
3. Establishing Trust and Intimacy with the Client
4. Coaching Presence
C. Communicating Effectively
5. Active Listening
6. Powerful Questioning
7. Direct Communication
D. Facilitating Learning and Results
8. Creating Awareness
9. Designing Actions
10. Planning and Goal Setting
11. Managing Progress and Accountability
These are skills that all accredited (and many non-accredited) coaching institutions teach and that you must master in an exam before becoming a coach.
Now if you’re still intrigued with the idea of becoming a coach, let’s review some of the actions you’ll need to take in order to get started.
Step 1: Research coach training programs.
One of the best places to begin your research is on the ICF website in order to find accredited training schools. Here you can narrow the field of options by the type of coaching niche that interests you, whether you want in-person or distance learning, the language you want the program delivered in, and whether a program offers financial aid.
Be aware that many accredited programs teach entirely by distance learning — through teleclasses or online learning. Some offer a combination of in-person and distance learning, and some only offer in-person. All of these methods work perfectly well, especially since many coaches only work with clients by phone or Skype.
You can find training programs in your area simply by Googling “coach training + your city.” Just be aware that some training programs aren’t as good as others. If the program is accredited, you’ll know they had to meet a certain criteria of standards of excellence through the ICF.
When hiring, some companies look for business coaches who have attended a school accredited by the ICF or another accrediting organization.
Currently, there are 150+ ICF Accredited Coach Training Programs in the world. The ICF Accreditation guidelines are global, and each Accredited Coach Training Program (ACTP) must offer:
- Coach Skills Training (at least 125 hours)
- Competency and Code of Ethics Training
- Observation by an experienced coach while you coach clients (6 sessions)
- At least 6 observed-coaching sessions with an experienced coach
- A comprehensive final exam
- Credentialed Trainers by the ICF
If you choose a non-accredited program, be sure to do your research. A good training program gives you plenty of opportunities to practice and apply the skills you’ve learned and encourages (or requires) you to work with a coach yourself.
Also, a strong program will cover the core competencies within their curriculum, will test you on what you are learning, and will offer a certification once you pass all of your exams and finish the program. In addition, you can receive an additional certification through the ICF.
Most strong coaching programs offer you training in setting up your business, finding clients, and marketing your skills.
There are also many colleges and universities that now offer coaching certification programs. Columbia University, Georgetown University, University of Miami, and many other collegiate institutions offer programs for various coaching certifications or degrees. These are definitely worth checking out.
Step 2: Determine your niche or specialty.
Before you sign on the dotted line with a coach training school, consider the niche or specialty you’d like to focus on as a coach. Rather than simply calling yourself a life coach or business coach, consider refining your area of coaching to attract a specific group of clients.
Every single field has competition, and that includes coaching. One of the best ways to distinguish yourself as a coach and demonstrate your value is to specialize in a focused niche.
Working within a niche lets you provide more value to your clients because you’ve honed your expertise in an area especially relevant to them. Also you limit the competition you face when you are a specialist rather than a generalist.
Many coaching schools have entire programs or a series of classes specifically focused on a niche. That’s why it’s helpful to have an idea of your chosen niche before you select your training program.
However, if you don’t know your niche right now, that’s perfectly fine. Select a training program that gives you a strong, general coaching curriculum. If you decide to get specific niche training later on, you can always do that.
Here are some possible coaching niches to consider:
- small business
- public speaking
- personal image
- public relations
- real estate
- career transition
- life passion
- interview/job search
- aging parents/eldercare
- admissions for college
- teen or college student direction (or other age groups)
- inner peace
- religion (Christian, Jewish, etc.)
- mid-life crisis
- life-work balance
- personal development
- extreme self-care
- time management
- financial management
- stress management/relief
- life skills
- goal setting and achievement
- raw, vegan, or vegetarian
- weight loss
- eating disorders
Step 3: Prepare financially.
The cost of coach training programs varies widely depending on the school you select. It can range from around $3500 to close to $20,000 (for Columbia University’s program) with most programs falling in the $6000 – $12,000 range.
More expensive schools are not necessarily better, but be wary of extremely inexpensive programs that promise a certification in a weekend. Generally a certification program should take from several months to a year to complete.
In addition to the costs of training, you’ll have small business start-up costs. As a business owner in the U.S., you’ll need to decide if you want to create a:
- Sole Proprietorship
- Limited Liability Company (LLC)
- S Corporation
Each of these offers legal protections and has a range of different tax obligations, as well as fees involved.
You’ll also need an offices space if you don’t work from home, a computer, and a phone. I encourage new coaches to build an online platform, like a blog, in order to start connecting with people all over the world. This helps you build credibility, authority, and trust, and it is a place to build an email list of followers who might become clients.
Eventually you may expand your coaching services into other income streams (like offering online courses, webinars, speaking gigs, writing books, and hosting seminars), and your blog will be the platform for offering these various products and services.
You also may have other marketing and advertising costs, association fees (if you join any), and other miscellaneous expenses.
Fortunately, compared to most small business start-up costs, starting a coaching business (even including building a blog) is pretty inexpensive. You might budget $2000 – $6000 for the first year or 18 months in order to launch your new business.
Unless you are flush with cash right now, you’ll need to save for these expenses and be prepared to wait several months to a year before you have a fully established practice. You might need to supplement your income until you have enough clients (and a big enough online presence) to reach your income goals.
Step 4: Plan ahead.
Once you become a certified coach, there are many actions you’ll need to take to get your business off the ground and build your client base. Here are a few of them:
- Define your target market within your niche.
- Create a business plan with your mission statement, vision, goals, and revenue streams.
- Determine a name for your business (and your blog if you have one) and buy a related URL domain.
- Become active on social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) and create a Facebook fan page for your business.
- Create your coaching packages and coaching agreement.
- Open a business bank account and an online merchant account.
- Determine your coaching schedule and hours.
- Set up your accounting system.
- Build your blog or website and create regular content.
- Set up an email autoresponder on your blog to capture email address.
- Create a free giveaway (guide, ebook, etc.) to offer in exchange for email addresses.
- Create a marketing plan that might include Facebook advertising, sponsored blog posts, and guest posting on other blogs.
These are just a few of the activities you’ll focus on as you begin your new coaching business. But don’t let this intimidate you. If you are right for coaching, you’ll find all of this exciting and fulfilling. You’ll be in charge of your own hours, creating your own business that you can expand into other income streams.
Coaching might not make you rich right away (or ever), but it is an extremely rewarding career that has the potential to grow into a multi-faceted business. I’ve loved every minute of my work as a coach, and I’ve been able to expand my work into various other areas (like blogging, writing books, and creating courses) allowing me to build my income beyond just my client base.
If this excites you, then it’s time to get started!