If you’ve found this article from a Google search, I assume that you are already familiar with what a life coach is. Even if you are, reading my article "What is a Life Coach" will provide you with valuable information on what exactly a life coach does, how coaching contracts work, what typical coaching formats look like and how you might want to focus your business as you consider becoming a coach.
This article is geared towards the logistics on what you can do to become a life coach and start your own business.
What Credentials do I Need?
At the risk of turning people off to life coaching in this article, I am going to give you the facts about people that are calling themselves coaches. Truth be told - there are NO job requirements to become a coach. Sounds scary huh? Put a sign up, print some business cards, call yourself a life coach and you are good to go. Pretty easy business to build eh?
Lets take a bit of a closer look here. What I am really saying is that by law, no professional certification is required for someone to call him or herself a life coach - or coach (often the word ‘life’ is either omitted or replaced with a different word such as ‘executive’, ‘wellness’, ‘lifestyle management’ or ‘business’). So unlike a psychologist, a physical therapist, registered dietician, a contractor, or a lawyer, the state and country (USA) does not recognize a life coach as a credentialed profession. Therefore, no license is required to call yourself a coach (at least as of the date this article is posted).
Lets look at some other examples of similar professions that might fall into the same category. How about that big one of ‘consultant’. There are lots of consultants out there consulting on everything you can think of - typically a consultant needs no license to be a consultant, just experience doing so. Similar to a coach, a consultant with no experience at all can draft up a business card and start doing business. Of course the big question is whether or not you’d be able to sell anyone on your services given that background. A computer consultant would probably have trouble selling themselves if they knew nothing about computers!
Before Calling Yourself a Coach…
If you are intending to call yourself a coach, please understand what it means to give yourself that title. Without government regulations, I admit you can stake your claim at coachhood with relative ease, however its a discredit to the professionals with years of experience and training if you simply use the word as an allure for clients and in any way you are misrepresenting what the coaching profession is all about. I’d suggest reading a coaches code of ethics (the ICF offers a good one here) to see if what you are offering could truly be considered coaching.
One problem that I see is that many people who are misrepresenting the profession do not even recognize what it means to be a coach. I’ve seen MLM (multi-level marketing) companies give their marketers buttons to put on their shirt stating ‘Wellness Coach’ - when all they know is a couple of herbal supplements that the company sells. I’ve seen Real Estate Agents call themselves ‘Real Estate Coaches’ because they wanted to differentiate themselves from the crowd of agents. Clearly these people are marketing themselves as coaches with little understanding of what a coach really does. If you’ve read this far it shows you’ve got a true interest in becoming an ethical coach and I’ve no doubt that you are doing your homework!
What Background do I need?
This is an interesting question. Coaches come from all backgrounds. As previously mentioned there are coaches in the health and wellness world, in the executive development world, relationship coaches, coaches for families with children that have special needs, stress management coaches - the list goes on and on. Of course there are many coaches that cross pollinate and have several areas they focus on.
If you choose to focus your coaching on a specific area - lets say ‘parenting troubled teens’, then its a good idea that you’ve got a background of working with troubled teens so that you can best understand your client. Now a pure life coach is committed to recognizing that a client has their own answers and that the coaches job is to empower the client such that they see this clearly for themselves. Therefore, a coach is a generalist - their training and skill is really in communicating with people such that they can identify and build appropriate goals and actions that fulfill their dreams. If you naturally have this skill, you’ve got the greatest asset that a life coach needs. Some people have an innate tendency to ‘be coach’. If you don’t naturally have this skill, rest assured that wish practice you can develop it.
What Education if any Should I Get?
If you are considering becoming a coach, I definitely recommend that you get training. A coach training program often has coaching and mentorship not only on how to be a better coach, but also on how to build your business. Whether or not you choose to go through a full coach training certification program is a big decision as it will typically involve a commitment of 1-3 years, up to $15,000, and will require that you obtain between one and two hundred client hours to become certified. Prices, times to certification, and program depth and intensity vary greatly dependent on the program you choose.
Typically after an introductory class, you are encouraged to begin enrolling coaching clients. Therefore, you can charge what you are comfortable charging while you are going through the certification process (remember, you don’t need a license to be a coach). I wish I knew the percentage of professional’s out there calling themselves ‘coaches’ that have gone through a certification program. I am sure that someone’s put an estimate out there but I’ve yet to find it. My suspicion is that it is less than 1/3 of all coaches. So being a ‘certified’ coach differentiates you for sure, however at the moment a typical coaching client probably would not know the difference.
If you elected not to become certified, my recommendation would be that you take some introductory courses, become familiar and comfortable with what coaching is, then try your hand on clients willing to work with you. If these classes are too expensive, read through this whole blog, read as many books as you can find on coaching and develop a toolset which you can stake claim to and comfortably use to team with clients to promote their advancement and self discovery. Make yourself an expert coach based on the knowledge of what a coach is and what they do.
I remember having a conversation with one woman that a friend referred to me. She wanted to change careers, she was very interested in life coaching and she felt she had been coaching friends and co-workers for years. She did have a good understanding of what life coaching was. Furthermore she said she new a number of people that would be willing to pay her for coaching! As I coached her, all she needed to hear was herself confirming that it was OK to get started - even if she had doubts and worries as to what a formal coaching session would look like. She had a fantastic motivation to learn regardless of whether or not that would be in the framework of a credential program (and I don’t know if she elected to enroll in one).
What is the ICF
The ICF (International Coach Federation) is the leading coach credentialing agency on the market. Many coaches have opted to become a member of the ICF (by paying an annual fee to be a member), but this is certainly not a requirement to be a coach. The ICF is strongly supportive of coaching becoming a licensed field - similar as to what you see with psychologists etc. Clearly they have incentive as they would be the leading credentialing agency and this would greatly increase their membership. Many coaches believe that this will come to fruition in the next 5-10 years. At that point in time its likely we’d see a large decrease in the number of people calling themselves coaches as well as an increase in the credibility and the stature of the industry.
I present this because if you did elect to go through a coach training program, the ICF provides a list of programs that are accredited. By training through one of these accredited programs, it is expected that your certification would be grandfathered into the status of a certified coach should a license become required. This might be one thing to consider as you contemplate what level of training and education you would like to participate in as well as who provides that training.
To summarize, if you’ve been considering becoming a professional coach (life coach), its important to educate yourself on what a coach is and is not. There is a lot of information on the internet available (much on this site) that can provide you with a foundation for understanding coaching models and how to ‘be coach’.
Legally, at this point in time, there are no requirements to obtain a certification or license for someone to begin calling themselves a coach (in that regards, it’s similar to consulting). If you would like to begin coaching on a specific topic, its great to have a background on that topic but make sure that you know why you are differentiating what you are doing as coaching rather than consulting.
Educationally there are many coach training programs available. I suggest that you attend at least some coaching courses (or hire your own coach) such that you begin to understand how coaching works. If you do elect to go with a coach training program, a good thing to consider would be whether or not is is recognized by the International Coach Federation such that you will not to become re-certified in the future should this become an industry requirement.
I hope this answers your first set of questions on how to become a life coach - I am sure it will lead to more questions. I’ll provide more coaching tips, tools and suggestions throughout the course of the year on this website- so visit often. Till then…
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Written by Doug Nau, www.i-grow.net
Doug Nau received a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1996. In 2003, he attained his Masters in Busines Administration from the University of Arizona. Doug has been trained as a life coach at the Academy for Coaching Excellence in Sacramento, CA and in addition to running 'The Wellness Coach', he also works part time as a Lifestyle Management Coach with the Sutter Health system in Northern California. Doug is a member of the International Coaching Federation and has been successfully in business since early 2006.