So you want to become a life coach?
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 life coach myself and someone who has had a coach, I can attest to the powerful benefits of coaching.
Whatever you want to achieve, coaching helps you real your goals faster, with more clarity and confidence.
If you have toyed with the idea of becoming a life 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 life coaching has grown dramatically in the last fifteen years and has gained more popular acceptance as the industry has exploded.
The International Coach Federation (the leading accrediting and credentialing body for both training programs and coaches) estimated in its Global Coaching Study that there are over 50,000 coaches worldwide, with a third of those in the U.S.
What do you need to become a life coach? Let’s start with some essential life coach qualifications:
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 life 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).
Being a life coach involves far more than listening to people’s problems and giving advice. A coach is not a therapist or consultant. A coach is more of a partner and facilitator.
According to the ICF, there are 11 core competencies that every aspiring coach (no matter what coaching niche or specialty they choose) should master before becoming a certified life coach.
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 by the idea of becoming a personal life coach, let’s review some of the steps you’ll need to take in order to get started.
Step 1: Research life 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 life 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 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:
If you choose a non-accredited program, be sure to do your research. A good life coaching program gives you plenty of opportunities to practice and apply the skills you’ve learned, and a requirement is to work with a coach yourself.
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. Also, you can receive an additional certification through the ICF.
Most reputable life coach training programs offer you training in setting up your business, finding clients, and marketing your skills.
Many colleges and universities also 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 worth checking out.
Step 2: Determine your life coaching 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 personal 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 life coaching. One of the best ways to distinguish yourself as a life coach and demonstrate your value is to specialize in a focused niche.
Working within a niche lets you provide more value to your coaching 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 life 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 robust general coaching curriculum. If you decide to get specific niche training, later on, you can always do that.
List of Life Coaching Careers and Niches to Consider
Step 3: Prepare financially.
The cost of life 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.
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 on the best legal business entity to create:
Each of these offers legal protections and has a range of different tax obligations, as well as fees involved.
You’ll also need office space (if you don’t work from home), a computer, and a phone. I encourage new life coaches to build an online platform, like a blog, 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 life 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 life 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:
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.
Life 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 life 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!
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How long does it take to become a certified life coach?
Generally, a life coaching certification program should take from several months to a year or more to complete. For a point of reference, most professional certification programs of any kind take one to three years.
But the more important question to ask yourself is, “What kind of training do I want, and how much time do I have to devote to it?”
You want to select a school that is thorough and robust in its curriculum, covers the niche that interests you, and gives you plenty of learning options. These various options allow you to fit training into your current lifestyle and commitments.
If you’re only able to take a few classes a month, it will take you longer to get certified than if you are free to take as many courses as you can manage.
Should I become a life coach?
Is a life coaching career for you? After reading here about what’s involved in life coach training and how to start your career as a coach, do you think this is a good career for you?
If so, use these life coach qualifications to help you move forward with the next steps in your career as a coach. Here’s a great list of 20 coaching skills created by executive life coach Michele Caron:
Listening. This skill requires more than just hearing the words spoken. It involves active listening where you seek to hear what’s behind the words.
Feedback. A good coach offers constructive, insightful feedback without being judgmental or preachy.
Observing. You carefully observe clients to recognize discomforts, roadblocks, and insecurities.
Analyzing. You are able to aggregate and analyze information from clients to draw conclusions.
Communication. A strong coach communicates clearly and directly both in writing and verbally.
Timing. You intuit the best time to ask specific questions and are aware of the best timing to push clients or help them move on.
Assimilation. You are able to integrate information to gain a perspective on the best steps to take.
Organizing. Your organizational skills allow you to manage your client load and the administrative aspects of your practice.
Empathy. You are naturally kind and compassionate with your client’s and their needs and problems.
Ethics. You maintain the highest integrity and respect the dignity and privacy of your clients’ information.
Complimenting. You inspire and motivate your clients by praising and acknowledging their efforts and progress.
Motivating. You encourage your clients on their coaching journey and reinforce the value of their time and efforts.
Empowering. You regularly remind your clients of their agency and power to make positive change in their lives.
Intuition. You are in touch with your gut feelings and pay attention to your intuitive ideas related to your clients and their goals.
Energetic. You remain positive and upbeat with your clients to help them maintain their energy through the coaching process.
Positivism. To maintain your effectiveness as an inspiring coach, you nurture a positive attitude in your approach, tone of voice, and writing.
Creative. You can think outside of the box and seek unique ways to approach a problem or find a solution. You don’t rely on a cookie-cutter approach.
Interested. You are genuinely interested in your clients and their success.
Self-Assured. You are confident in yourself and know that the client knows best what is right for him or her. You don’t need to provide the answers or direct the show.
Thirst for knowledge. You are curious and professional in your approach to coaching and seek continuing education and knowledge to remain relevant as a coach.
Are you ready to get started with life coach training?
If you’ve read this far, you must be intrigued by the idea of becoming a coach. Bravo for you!
The world needs more helping professionals, and life coaching is an industry that continues to grow. Your work as a coach can change people’s lives for the better and become a fulfilling and meaningful career for you.
Using your natural coaching skills and those that you learn through a coach training program, you’ll be on the way to a successful career as a life coach.