Are you interested in becoming a life coach? If so, this article is for you. I’ll be sharing what I tell people when they ask “how do I become a life coach?”
Keep in mind that this is not a comprehensive guide to becoming a life coach. Rather, it’s practical advice based on my experience over the past eight years as a professional coach, mentor coach and coach certifier. The advice offered here is my educated opinion, not necessarily “the truth”.
How do I become a life coach?
That’s a question I hear often. It’s usually asked by people who love helping other people, who are interested in personal and professional development, and who are looking for a rewarding career. This type of person often has a wide range of interests and life experiences. All these things provide a good foundation for becoming a life coach, but as you might imagine, there’s more to it than that.
Do I need special training to become a life coach?
Yes and no. Yes, you do need training. No, it does not have to be a particular course or degree.
You could compare the training requirements to be a life coach to that required to be a consultant. A consultant needs to have a high level of skills in her area of consulting, but there is not a “consulting degree”. Similarly, a coach does not need a degree or certification to begin coaching.
So what kind of training do I need to become a life coach?
Many people who enter the coaching field come from careers that already involve people skills – such as teaching, counseling, personal training, human resource management, business consulting, sales, health care, journalism, ministry, parenting, and social work, to name just a few.
These people can build on their existing skill base with additional coach-specific training. Depending on how well their background has prepared them for coaching, they may need anything from a weekend workshop to a 2 year program to bring them up to a professional coach skill level.
In addition to learning new coaching skills, some people will need to “unlearn” certain habitual ways of responding. For example, consultants often have great questioning and problem-solving skills but tend to jump into “fix-it” mode right away. They will need to learn how to back off and let the client develop their own solutions. Similarly, parents may have lots of experience dealing with their own family dynamics, but need to learn how to keep an open mind when dealing with other people’s family situations.
How do I know how much more training I need?
The best way to determine how much and what kind of additional training you need to be a professional coach is to get an assessment of your present level of coaching skill. You can get that assessment in some coach training programs (surprisingly, not all training programs provide personal assessment. Always ask for details before registering).
Where can I get an assessment of my coaching skills?
Julia Stewart’s School of Coaching Mastery is one highly reputable school that provides assessments.
Doris Helge and Nina East are two excellent coach mentors who are well-versed in the IAC exam requirements. They will do a consultation with you for a reasonable fee (probably $150 – $200) to assess your current level of coaching skill, and provide you with feedback on what you need to work on.
All three of the afore-mentioned resources are directed towards IAC (International Association of Coaching) certification. If you are interested in ICF (International Coach Federation) certification, Carly Anderson, MCC Mentor Coach and active ICF Assessor evaluates coaching sessions from coaches around the world who are applying for their ICF credential. You could also contact the ICF for mentor coach recommendations.
Do I need to be certified to be a life coach?
At present, there is no legal requirement that coaches be certified. Personally, I think working towards IAC or ICF certification is important because it shows commitment to the profession. But not all coaches agree with this, and there are many good coaches with successful practices who are not certified.
Here is a link to a 10 minute audio recording called “Straight Talk on Coach Certification” where I explain more about coach certification.
Click link to listen…
What’s the difference between ICF and IAC certification?
IAC stands for the International Association of Coaching. I used to be a Certifying Examiner for the IAC, and my 9 CD Coaching by Example coach training program prepares coaches for IAC certification. ICF stands for International Coach Federation. Both are well-respected independent coach certification bodies.
The main difference between them are:
1) ICF certification is based on education completed and number of paid coaching hours
2) IAC certification is based solely on passing a series of exams. The IAC certification does not require completion of any particular training program or number of hours of coaching.
Which certification, ICF or IAC, would be best for me?
It depends on your needs and your client group. Right now ICF certification is more recognized than IAC certification, because the ICF has been around longer. For coaches wanting to work with corporate clients, ICF may be better because corporate clients are more familiar with that designation. For coaches wanting to work with private individuals or groups, certification does not seem to be as much of an issue.
The appeal of the IAC certification is that if you already have the skills, you don’t need to complete more schooling to get your coach certification. The IAC certification is based solely on demonstrated skill, and is well-suited to people who want to be recognized for prior training and ability.
What’s involved with passing the IAC exams?
The IAC certification based on demonstrating knowledge and ability in The Coaching Masteries™. A workbook describing the 9 Coaching Masteries™ is available at www.certifiedcoach.org. The test involves an on-line exam and evaluation of two taped client calls.
Although it may seem that the IAC certification is a faster or easier way to become certified compared to the ICF, the reality is that achieving the level of mastery required to pass the IAC exam requires a great deal of coaching skill and experience. My 9-CD coach training program covers what you need to know to pass the IAC exam.
I’ve been “coaching” all my life but I just haven’t called it that. Would being certified benefit me?
You don’t necessarily need to be certified, but you do need to be trained. When people say they “have been coaching all their life” they usually mean they’ve been a good and caring listener all their life. Or they’ve been the one people turn to for advice. There’s much more to coaching than this (and in fact, giving advice is a very small part of coaching).
Can I really make a living as a life coach?
I’m going to be frank: it’s not easy to make a living as a life coach.
Why is this? Well, there are a number of factors. In my opinion, the most significant factor is that in its traditional form (i.e. client meets the coach each week in-person or on the telephone for 30 – 60 minutes, for a typical fee of $300 a month), it’s just too expensive for most potential clients.
Many coaches will argue that the fee is not at all expensive when you consider the progress that the client will make in terms of career satisfaction, meeting life-long goals and possibly even making a higher salary. I don’t disagree with that. Nonetheless, it’s hard for most coaches to get clients.
I want to be really clear about this, because when you start searching for information on the Internet about becoming a coach, you’re going to come across all sorts of sites that promise you the moon (maybe you’ve already encountered that). That’s because they want to raise your expectations about how easy it is to become a professional coach and how much money you’re going to make.
Keep in mind that most Internet websites exist to sell you something. The coaching field is no different. The exceptions are sites from independent certification bodies such as the ICF and the IAC, and discussion forums such as the New Coach Connection.
Do any coaches make a good living from coaching?
Yes, certainly! There are many successful coaches with a full practice. And there are many coaches who prefer to make a part-time or supplemental income from coaching. But there are also a lot of coaches who struggle financially.
From what I have observed, there are three factors that make for a financially successful coach. To be successful as a self-employed coach you need:
1) A niche or specialty that is in demand. When I say “in demand”, I mean something that clients are willing to pay their hard-earned money for. Examples include career transition coaching, divorce recovery coaching, stress management coaching, and small business marketing coaching. Each of these examples provides a very tangible benefit or solves a pressing problem for the client.
2) Masterful coaching skills. This is where training and assessment comes in. It’s not enough to be a good listener, or be able to provide advice (in fact, most untrained coaches provide too much advice). Masterful coaching sounds easy but it’s not. It requires highly developed and nuanced communication skills.
3) Business and marketing skills. If you choose to be a self-employed, private practice coach, you will spend at least 60% (in the beginning, probably more) of your work time running your business. This means administration, computer stuff, networking, billing, professional development, and most importantly, marketing.
How much money could I make as a coach?
If you fall into the small percentage of coaches that meet all three of the criteria above, you could anticipate making as much as $80,000 a year working full-time as a coach.
I’ve arrived at this figure like this:
40 hours a week x 50 weeks = 2000 hours a year
40% of those hours are paid (60% is administration and marketing)
800 hours x $100 an hour* = $80,000
That means that in a typical work day you might coach 4 – 6 clients for 30 – 60 minutes each. The remaining time would be spent in administration and marketing.
I do want to stress that only a small percentage of coaches make this kind of income. The ones who do are the ones who:
1) meet all three of the criteria above, and
2) want to work full-time (many people prefer coaching as a part-time or supplemental income).
*I’m using the rate of $100 an hour as an example only. Coaching fees typically range from $40 – $100 an hour for new coaches, and $100 – $200 or more for experienced or in-demand coaches.
What are the different ways to be a coach?
Public awareness of coaching as a profession has really increased in recent years. When I started coaching in 2001, the typical response to “I’m a coach” was “what sport?” Now, people are likely to respond “Cool! I’ve heard of that”, or “I know someone who does that.”
As public awareness of coaching has changed there has been a parallel evolution in the profession’s concept of service delivery.
The traditional way to be a life coach was modeled on the counseling model. You signed up a client with a “client agreement” and agreed on a day and time to meet for “sessions” each week. These sessions might be in-person or over the telephone (the majority of life coaches meet with clients on the telephone). This is still a popular and viable way to deliver coaching services, but there are many other ways. For example:
• Group coaching
• Coaching franchise
• Workshops and retreats
• Print, audio or video courses
• Email coaching
• Instant messaging coaching
• Coaching membership site
• Writing and speaking
In addition, there are lots of ways to coach without actually having the title “Coach”. Many people get coaching skills training in order to be more effective in their main job – whether that is as a parent, mentor, manager, or even something as seemingly unrelated as a doctor or a salesperson.
I think the future of coaching lies in less expensive service delivery models. As an analogy, think of the fitness industry. There are so many people who want to get fit, but how many of them invest $40 – $100 an hour in a personal trainer? A pretty small percentage. Much more popular are group fitness classes that cost perhaps $10 – $15 dollars a session.
The same applies for coaching – there are a small percentage of clients who invest in individual coaching, and a much larger group that invests in less expensive options such as group coaching, workshops, products and courses. It’s important for coaches to keep this in mind when planning their marketing and service offerings.