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If you have a zest for life and enjoy helping others reach their full potential, then perhaps you’ve considered becoming a life coach.
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.
With over 53,000 coach practitioners globally and 17,000 in North America alone (according to a study by the International Coach Federation), the field of 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?
Photo by Corinne Kutz on Unsplash
Before we dive into how to become a life coach, let’s define what they actually do. Life coaches work on helping their clients grow and develop, whether they’re focusing on the career or more personal aspects of their life. They’re usually more forward-focused than having clients analyze their past experiences.
But beyond that, the field of life coaching is a fairly large general bucket. It can involve accreditation or certification, or not. It can mean an in-person or all-digital business. Unlike a lot of fields, becoming a life coach can mean whatever you want it to mean. As long as you find people who respond to your coaching, you can call yourself a life coach.
With that in mind, here are some tips on how to get started down the path of coaching.
Before becoming a life coach, you might find it helpful to pick a niche and build out your reputation from there.
Most life coaches focus on people’s professional or personal life, while 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 example, Tim Toterhi is the founder of Plotline Leadership, which provides services to both individuals and organizations to help shape their success stories. Though Plotline Leadership offers three distinct service lines—coaching about careers, specific projects, or personal stories—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,” he says. “Maybe it’s a family-work life issue or it’s a leadership quality that’s holding them back. The biggest one is the story. That is by far my favorite, the most meaningful one, because it encapsulates everything. You want to make these major transitions, and that’s wrapped up in your story.”
Once you find your life coaching groove—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.
Let’s also identify what a life coach is not. Becoming a life coach does not mean you’re a mentor, a consultant, or therapist—even though it might feel like it sometimes.
“There’s a huge distinction between whether you’re providing mentorship or consulting versus coaching,” Toterhi says. “The big thing with a life or business coach is that you’re trying to be content neutral. You’re trying to guide them through a process or to a goal. In the coaching world, the client owns the agenda and the outcome, whereas in mentoring you’re really pushing what you know on to another person and hoping they take up some of that to move forward.”
So, do you need to be accredited or certified to become a life coach? Technically, no. It’s not like becoming a doctor, which requires years of intense training. But according to the ICF study, 89% of coach practitioners receive training that was accredited or approved by a pro coaching organization.
So while getting certified isn’t necessary for becoming a life coach, it may 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 struggle here because 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, because then you can show up to people differently and put yourself out there,” she says. “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.”
If you’re looking for a place to start with certification, visit the ICF’s website to find a variety of individual credentialing options and programs that could be right for your vision of life coaching, including an Associate, Professional, or Master Certified Coach.
Remember, when you’re becoming a life coach, you’re also starting a business.
As a life coach, you’re not just a professional, personal, or spiritual advisor—you’re a small business owner.
As a result, before becoming a life coach, you’ll need to go through the nuts and bolts of owning a small business, wherever you’re based.
That includes deciding on the structure of your business—a sole proprietorship, LLC, partnership, or corporation are popular options—and assembling a business plan that addresses 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.
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.
In this day in age, becoming a life coach will necessitate having some sort of online presence.
That means paying for website hosting, a domain name, and a professional business-branded email account as well.
If you have an all-digital business, this becomes paramount. For example, you need a decent computer and camera to take photos of yourself, record videos, and conduct sessions.
“You do need photos of yourself,” says Quint. “They don’t need to be professionally photographed, but a huge part of what the product is, is you, and so having photos to put on your website and social media that look professional and are on-brand for you is really important when you first start out, so that people can get to know you as a professional in this role.”
Quint says other things that are 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 different 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.”
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.
“I 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 looking for something else,” says Toterhi. “As far as ROI on it, I look at it like any other service, and every client is going to value that service differently. As an example: You want a history of education—you can get that at a local community college or at Harvard—it really just depends on the value you’re seeing. And that’s part of our job—to convey that value.”
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 deal or an ongoing situation? Once you figure that out, you can price out what your hour is worth and go from there.
And what if a potential client thinks they can just get all the information you might provide from Google, or get advice from their friend, for much less than what you’re charging?
“Real talk: Any potential client could google or find the books or take a course or go on a retreat, and you could pretty much find all of the information that transfers from any kind of coaching package or session,” says Quint. “I’m very transparent with that with my clients. The value of coaching does not come as much from the information but more from your ability to give the accountability and perspective that you can’t get the same way anywhere else.”
At the end of the day, life coaching is a profession that you can tailor to your own goals and the needs of your clients. And becoming a life coach can be a very rewarding experience for you and your clients.
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 a 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.”
Quint offers a variety of packages, including The Breakthrough (one 30-minute session), The Makeover (12 50-minute sessions) and The Quickstart (one 90-minute session). How you break down your services (and price them) is entirely up to you.
But again: 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.
Becoming a life coach can be an incredibly rewarding, yet difficult and trying, 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.”