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Over the past few years, you might have seen a Facebook page for a life coach promoting their services, or noticed that your yoga instructor has taken on the role of personal, spiritual, or professional advisor to some of your classmates. And if you have a zest for life and enjoy helping others reach their full potential, then perhaps you’ve considered becoming a life coach yourself.
With over 53,000 coach practitioners globally and 17,000 in North America alone (according to a study by the International Coach Federation), life coaching is clearly resonating with its clientele. What does becoming a life coach entail, and how do you know if you’re qualified to help change people’s lives? Here are seven crucial steps you’ll need to take before becoming a life coach, and the potential costs involved in the process.
While it may seem that becoming a life coach requires little more than stellar listening skills and outsized compassion, in reality, becoming a life coach is a business decision. Once you’ve decided that this is your calling, take at least the following seven steps to legitimate yourself and your services.
Before we dive into how to become a life coach, let’s define what they actually do.
Life coaches work on helping their clients identify aspects of their lives that need some growth and development, and create game plans to reach those goals. Usually life coaches are more forward-focused than traditional therapists, who help clients analyze their past experiences. And becoming a life coach doesn’t mean you’re a mentor, consultant, or therapist—even though it might feel like it sometimes.
Tim Toterhi is a life coach and founder of Plotline Leadership, which provides services to both individuals and organizations to help shape their success stories. Here’s how he defines his practice:
“There’s a huge distinction between whether you’re providing mentorship or consulting versus coaching. The big thing with a life or business coach is that you’re trying to be content neutral. You’re trying to guide [your client] through a process or to a goal. In mentoring you’re really pushing what you know on to another person and hoping they take up some of that to move forward. But in the coaching world, the client owns the agenda and the outcome.”
Beyond that, the field of life coaching is fairly encompassing. It can involve accreditation or certification, or not. It can mean an in-person or all-digital business. Essentially, as long as you find people who respond to your coaching, you can call yourself a life coach.
Before becoming a life coach, you might find it helpful to find your niche and build up your reputation from there.
Most life coaches focus on people’s professional, personal, or romantic lives. Others drill down further and help them make changes regarding health, such as nutrition and exercise plans, or to uncover their spiritual side.
Undoubtedly, as a life coach, you’ll touch on more than one of these areas regardless of your central focus. For instance, Plotline Leadership offers three distinct service lines—careers, specific projects, or personal stories—but Toterhi says that there is certainly some overlap.
“It’s almost impossible to talk to someone about their career without touching on aspects of their life,” Toterhi says. “Maybe it’s a family-work life issue or it’s a leadership quality that’s holding them back.”
Once you find your specialty—which will probably be obvious to you, based on your background and what you feel comfortable talking to clients about—you’ll be in a better position to market yourself and your life coaching business accordingly.
So, do you need to be formally trained to become a life coach? Technically, no. It’s not like becoming a psychologist or a medical doctor, which by law requires years of intense training before you can practice. But according to the ICF study, 89% of coach practitioners receive training that was accredited or approved by a professional coaching organization.
While being certified isn’t necessary for becoming a life coach, it can certainly be helpful. “When you’re a certified coach, you’re bound by an ethical guideline,” says Toterhi. “There’s a little more rigor to it. You know you have to get training every year, so there’s much more discipline with someone who brings that to the table as well.”
But that isn’t to say that all successful coaches are technically accredited. “I know and have worked with coaches who have zero official certifications and regularly make six figures in a month,” says Chelsea Quint, a spiritual health and happiness coach. “It is a case-by-case basis.”
For her part, Quint took a health coach specialized training program with the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, which provides nutrition and diet education as well as business basics. She says that training and accreditation is just as important for the life coach as it is for the client.
“I do think that it can be helpful internally to make you feel legit,” she says. “And it helps having some kind of base-level certification where you can hone your skills and start to figure out what areas you want to focus on.”
Whether you find your life coach certification course via Google or word of mouth, whether it’s online or in person, before you enroll make sure that course is credentialed by an association like the International Coach Federation, which sets industry standards for ethical coaching. You can use ICF’s Training Program Search Service to find a (legitimate) course that aligns with your life-coaching goals.
During your training, you’ll learn fundamentals like active listening skills and creating a trusting environment for your clients, as well as the business of becoming a life coach and ethical concerns you may need to navigate during your practice. It can be an intense process, and you’ll likely need to fulfill a certain amount of hours of training before you can earn your certification. Don’t take this decision lightly.
Also note that most programs will earn you a general credential. If you want to earn a certification in a specific aspect of coaching, like the niche you’ve identified above—like wellness, career, spirituality, or relationships—gear your search toward a specialist program.
Then, of course, there’s the price to consider. Life coach certification courses may charge upward of $5,000, but many of the accredited courses we’ve come across cost within the $1,000-$3,000 range.
As a life coach, you’re not just a professional, personal, or spiritual advisor—you’re also a small business owner. So, you’ll need to do some of the due diligence that small business owners in non-coaching fields do, too.
When setting up your life coaching business, you’ll first need to determine your business entity type—a sole proprietorship, LLC, or corporation are popular options. Then, unless you decide to become a sole proprietorship (which doesn’t require registration), you’ll need to officially register your business with your state.
Next, assemble a business plan that addresses your startup costs, from the cost of your certification program to any overhead costs associated with renting a space and outfitting it, assuming you’ll meet people in person.
Luckily, becoming a life coach doesn’t necessarily require high upfront costs. Quint has an all-digital business, and she credits that decision with helping her get her business off the ground: The upfront costs when you don’t have a physical space are negligible.
“A lot of coaches want or end up having digital businesses, which means you don’t need business cards, a printer, paper and toner and folders and handouts,” says Quint.
Of course, you can’t have a life coaching business if you don’t have any clients to coach. That’s why it’s crucial to have a comprehensive life-coaching marketing plan in place right from the start of your venture—and if you’re squeamish about self-promotion, then becoming a life coach might not be right for you.
As is often the case for service-based businesses, the best referrals come through word of mouth. Start by offering free, mini, or discounted sessions to people already in your network, like your friends, family, and friends-of-family. If they’re happy with your service, ask them to spread the word to people in their network, and even provide a customer testimonial that you can post on your website.
Some other strategies for attracting coaching clients may include connecting with other coaches in your area, upping your visibility by participating in conferences and hosting free webinars, and considering pay-per-click advertising.
Beyond that, you’ll need a strong social media presence. At a minimum, you should have an Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn page, blog, and business website, all of which you’ll update regularly. Sign up for a professional business-branded email account, too.
If you have an all-digital business, your digital presence becomes paramount. For example, you need a decent computer and camera to take photos of yourself, record videos, and conduct sessions.
Quint says that what may be helpful, though not required, are branding courses that come “with a little bit of coaching around creating my brand, and how to infuse it in my website, how to use different colors and fonts, how to style things for social media, how to write copy, all of those pieces, which is helpful when you have an online business. There’s literature out there about how someone needs to interact with you seven times before they even start to enter their purchase-consideration mindset.”
Both Toterhi and Quint have different packages, levels of service, and areas of focus that they offer their clients.
According to Toterhi, whether he’s working with a client on their story, career, or specific project, being clear and setting a goal up front is a priority. “I like to work in three-month increments, long enough to get a meaningful change—either an entire project or enough to create a habit if it’s a small thing,” he says. “I believe in being financially responsible for both parties.”
Even before charging his clients, he makes sure to “spend a lot of time talking with people before they sign up—almost everybody I work with I talk to for free first to make sure they’re actually looking for a coach and not something else.”
Quint offers a variety of packages, including The Breakthrough (one 30-minute session), The Makeover (a dozen 50-minute sessions), and The Quickstart (one 90-minute session). How you break down your services, and price them, is entirely up to you.
Have a clear goal in mind when you start out with your client. If you reach your goal, you can set up another one. But give both sides a chance to move on if the fit isn’t right. That’s life, and that’s life coaching, too.
If you’re considering becoming a life coach, it’s natural to wonder, “How much do life coaches make?”
It’s difficult to put a value on helping people change their lives. But this is a business all the same, and you have to figure out what your time is worth in order to charge people accordingly.
In terms of what to actually charge, Toterhi says that depends on how you approach working with clients. Will you do it by project? Is travel involved? Do you feel more comfortable charging an hourly or day rate, like a lawyer or psychologist? Is this a one-time session or an ongoing relationship? Once you figure that out, you can price out what your hour is worth and go from there.
For some guidance, know that some life coaches may charge between $75 and $1,000 per hour, depending on their services and qualifications. But your pricing will also depend on whether you charge for sessions discretely, or if you price by packages.
Becoming a life coach can be an incredibly rewarding, yet difficult, career path. You need the personality for it (Quint says she’s been described as a “human can opener” for the way she gets people to open up), the background in coaching and business, and the mindset that helping people is a way to earn income, just like any other job.
“Plenty of people out there really just want to make money to get rich … I realized that if I’m going to be doing something to earn income, I would so much rather do something that helps people,” says Quint. “That feels so much better.”