Professional coaching is a calling. It is all about helping others. So, if you enjoy people, and would like the flexibility that comes with running your own business, coaching may be a good career fit for you.
As a coach, you work one-on-one helping clients; discover what is truly important to them, bring out their best, make changes they cannot make on their own, and achieve the outcomes they most desire. It is wonderfully rewarding work which is can be done over the phone or in person. And with the proper training (in coaching and business skills) and a consistent effort it is possible to create a profitable business and a comfortable professional income within a few years. With the right approach you can begin to work with clients, and generate income within the first couple of months. And while a few coaches fill their practices within the first year, for the vast majority, it would be wise to assume it will take you longer. More on timing later.
Coaching is growing quickly. Due to its popularity, high client satisfaction levels and growing demand, the coaching industry continues to grow quickly. The fact that 98.5% of all clients are satisfied with their coach (ICF research) speaks to the value of the process and is a good indicator for the future of the industry. And as more evidence-based research comes available, showing the efficacy of coaching, the profession will continue to grow.
However, just because coaching is a very effective service does not mean it is an easy business to get started in. There are real challenges in creating a commercially viable coaching practice, and if you are coming into coaching you will need to have your eyes fully open.
The 3 Key Success Indicators
What separates successful coaches from the many that struggle? I came into coaching in its infancy. And watching and working with hundreds of coaches over the years, I have come to a few conclusions about what it takes to succeed in this business. What separates the really happy and successful coaches, from the far too many coaches who struggle, essentially boils down to three main areas:
1) Good Coaches enjoy coaching
Make sure you actually enjoy coaching. After all, as a coach you will be doing this every working day. Do you enjoy talking with people? Do you get excited when you see them succeed? Do people naturally come to you for advice? Would you enjoy the freedom of self-employment?
If these statements are true for you, you may want to consider actually hiring a coach for a few months – to get a first-hand feel for this profession that you are considering joining. Is this for real? What is the experience of being coached like? What are the benefits you see in your life, career or business? (Just make sure your coach is ICF certified, will chat with you for free – to answer questions and see if there is rapport – and will not require any long-term contract.)
If money is really tight and you cannot afford to work with a coach, you can at least explore some of the free orientation calls or courses that many of the ICF accredited coach training schools provide.
2) Good Coaches get great training
If you are going to do something, it pays to do it well. As to learning how to coach, you will acquire your training two ways.
You will learn a little about coaching by working with a mentor coach. Your coach will help you experience the benefits of coaching – so you really know how it all works – help you understand the profession, choose the best school and assist you in the building of your practice. (More on the value of this later.)
However, the main way you will learn your coaching skills is by finding the best ICF accredited training program for you. And you would be well advised to do your homework on the various coach training schools. There are now many hundreds of “coaching schools” and more popping up each week. However, only a few dozen programs are actually fully accredited by the ICF (International Coach Federation.)
Like any fast-growing profession, coaching has a number of groups offering inferior coaching programs to the unsuspecting. Some of these programs are well packaged and well marketed. DO YOUR HOMEWORK.
3) Successful Coaches pay sufficient attention to the business side of their practice, and work to understand and master marketing
This is where far too many new coaches drop the ball. If you want to be very successful as a coach, you will need to learn about the actual business of coaching. Here I am referring to the actual setting up, operating and especially MARKETING your coaching practice.
There are simply far more good coaches, than there are good coaches with full practices. The missing ingredients for many struggling coaches are; marketing/business know-how, a good support team, and budgeting sufficient amounts of time and money to build a profitable practice.
In my opinion, many coaching schools do no where near enough to educate and support coaches to succeed in the business of coaching. Many underplay the real challenges of building a profitable coaching business. Expect to put in a lot of time to find the best, most natural, cost effective and easiest way of sharing your coaching gifts with the world, profitably. (This is an area you will want to talk through with any mentor coach you may work with.) Even if you are strong in marketing, as coaching is a relatively new profession, some of the traditional ways of promoting your services may not work well.
Also note that not everyone is cut out to be in business by themselves. In my experience less than 50% of the population has the attributes to succeed in business all on their own.
How long does it take to become a Coach?
Regarding timing, it is different for everyone. And like any new endeavor, the first few months will be very slow. Typically, you will be spending 90% of your time learning to coach and doing your marketing.
However many diligent coaches – i.e. who follow the above guidelines – are able to begin coaching and generate some income within 3 to 6 months, and make a transition into full time coaching within a year to 18 months. However, if you do not pay attention to learning the necessary business and marketing skills, you can struggle for years.
Some people have launched successful coaching practices with less than $7000 dollars. However, for most coaches; who want to do it right (i.e. get the best coach mentoring & training, set up a good home-office, marketing materials, web site, etc and thus stand the best chance of future success) you would be prudent to budget at least $15 – 20K for direct expenses over the first year. (Note- if you are not transitioning into coaching from some other income earning activity – that will continue to carry your lifestyle while you are becoming a coach – you will need to budget for all your ongoing personal and living expenses for at least a year.)
If you have never started a business before, this may seem like a lot. But when you compare it with the cost of buying an existing business, coaching is very inexpensive to get into. And keep in mind that you can be generating an income within a few months, and this coaching income can go to offset your costs. When you really hit your stride as a coach, you can recover your investment quickly.
Coaching is so young a vocation that reliable income numbers have been challenging to come by. I have seen claims from a variety of sources saying that coaching is an easy way to make a good living, quickly. Don’t believe it. In my experience 40% of the profession does the lion’s share of the business. These are generally coaches that love what they do, are well trained, and have put in the time to learn the basic entrepreneurial and marketing skills needed to attract their ideal clients. And conversely there are too many hobbyist coaches, and far too many well-trained coaches who simply did not pay enough attention to the business side of their practice, that are struggling to make a good living as a coach.
A successful full-time coach, coaching 20 individual clients a month at $350 per client, would gross $7000 per month. If you work with 25 executive or entrepreneur clients at say $700 per month, you would gross $17,500 per month. Overhead and expenses for a coaching practice are usually quite small, rarely over 15% of sales. However, don’t let the numbers dazzle you. Currently only about 15% of coaches earn over $100K per year.
A study commissioned a number of years ago by the ICF and conducted by Price Waterhouse Coopers involving some 5415 coaches around the world found that the average annual salary of a full time coach was just over $82,000. This study found the average income of a part time coach was just over $26,000.
In the end, what you achieve is up to you. And keep in mind that even if you have a full practice of say 20 clients, you will still have ample time to do other income generating activities that complement your coaching practice. Many coaches find workshops, writing and speaking as natural activities that both generate additional income and help build their coaching practices.
In summary, if you like working with people, have some entrepreneurial ability, and you get great coach training, and take a professional and consistent approach to the business and marketing of coaching, you stand a good chance of joining the top 40% of this profession. And you can become one of the fortunate souls that make a great living doing what they love. Just do not underestimate how long and how challenging it can take to get a new coaching business off the ground.
In the end, I think coaching is something you are called to do. And if you hear that calling, I am sure you will find the whole process one of the most satisfying journeys of your life. It won’t always be easy. You will have your share of challenges. But the lessons you will learn, the growth you will experience, and the huge satisfaction of having a positive impact on so many people’s lives will make it all worth while. Personally, I enjoyed the whole process of becoming a coach, immensely.
Steve Mitten discovered professional coaching in 1997 and knew he had found his calling. Prior to coaching, Steve spent many years in engineering, business and marketing. He has started five companies, gone through 2 IPOs and been President and Managing Director of companies that allowed him to travel and work all over the world. Check on his website at www.acoach4u.com