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If you have a zest for life, enjoy helping others reach their full potential, and want to start your own business, you may want to consider learning how to become a life coach. The profession is becoming more and more mainstream. 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 a personal, spiritual, or professional advisor to some of your classmates.
According to a study by the International Coach Federation, there are over 53,000 coach practitioners globally and over 17,000 in North America alone. Clearly, life coaching is resonating with clientele, and there is a real market for it. But what does becoming a life coach entail, and how do you know if you’re qualified to help change people’s lives?
In this guide, we'll provide you with seven crucial steps you’ll need to take before becoming a life coach, and the potential costs involved in the process.
Although it may seem that learning how to become 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 ensure your business and services are legitimate.
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 Tim Toterhi, founder and life coach, says that there is certainly some overlap.
“It’s almost impossible to talk to someone about their career without touching on other 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 business accordingly.
Technically you don't need to get a life coach certification to work as a life coach. Becoming a life coach is 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 mentioned above, 89% of coach practitioners receive training that was accredited or approved by a professional coaching organization.
While learning how to become a certified life coach isn't required to launch your business, it can certainly be helpful and something much of your competition will have done. “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 life coaches are technically certified. “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.”
How to become a certified life coach
Whether you find your life coach certification course via Google or word of mouth, and whether it’s online or in-person, before you enroll, make sure that the 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 life coach training, you’ll learn fundamentals like active listening skills and creating a trusting environment for your clients. You'll also learn the business of becoming a life coach and ethical concerns you may need to navigate during your practice. Becoming a certified life coach 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. Therefore, you'll want to make sure you're serious about becoming a life coach before you take on this workload.
Note that most life coach certification programs will earn you a general credential. If you want to earn a certification in a specific aspect of life coaching, like the niche you’ve identified above—such as wellness, career, spirituality, or relationships—gear your search toward a specialty program.
Then, of course, there’s the price to consider. Life coach certification courses are almost never free. In fact, becoming a certified life coach may cost you upwards of $5,000. That said, many of the accredited courses we’ve come across cost within the $1,000 to $3,000 range.
As you become a life coach, you’re not just becoming a professional, personal, or spiritual advisor—you’re also becoming a small business owner. So, you’ll need to do some of the due diligence that all small business owners have to perform to be successful, including:
Register your business
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. A secretary of state business search will be a helpful resource as you navigate this step.
Plan your startup costs
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. Another expense you may consider is business insurance—specifically liability insurance in case you are sued over providing bad advice.
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, toner, folders, and handouts,” says Quint.
Create a marketing plan
You can’t become a life coach without any clients to coach. That’s why it’s crucial to have a comprehensive marketing plan in place right from the start of your efforts to become a life coach—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 services, 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 clients may include networking with other life coaches in your area, upping your visibility by participating in conferences and hosting free webinars, and considering pay-per-click and other online advertising methods.
Beyond that, you’ll need a strong social media presence to attract clients. 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 for your life-coaching communications, too.
If you have an all-digital business, your digital presence becomes paramount. For example, you need a strong business domain name and 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 [your] brand, and how to infuse it in [your] website, how to use different colors and fonts, how to style things for social media, how to write copy... 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.”
As you learn how to become a life coach, you'll also refine your approach to working with clients and decide exactly what types of services you'll offer. Both Toterhi and Quint have different packages, levels of service, and areas of focus that they offer their life-coaching clients.
According to Toterhi, whether he’s working with a client on their story, career, or a specific project, being clear and setting a goal upfront 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.
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 and price your services 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.
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 it 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 separately or if you price by packages.
Just as doctors are required to continue their education to maintain competence and learn about new practices, life coaches should seek out skill-building opportunities to ensure they stay at the peak of their powers and deliver the best service possible to their clients.
Depending on your area of focus, the amount of continuing education will vary, but all life coaches should keep up on their reading and attend seminars, workshops, and retreats that speak to their expertise. The best way to find out about continuing education opportunities is to be active in the life coach community. Ask other coaches what they do to learn new skills and techniques, or find communities on Facebook or LinkedIn.
The better you are at delivering your services, and the more tools in your coaching arsenal, the more you can help your clients. So treat continuing education as a business expense and a way to scale your business. But if you're a life coach, investing in personal growth should already come naturally to you.
As we mentioned above, it does cost money to become a life coach, whether you decide to get a certification, attend training sessions, or not. You're going to have various things to invest in to get your business off the ground. First, a certification can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $8,000, which can be a significant overhead cost to start out. Secondly, if you join a professional network, like the International Coach Federation, you'll have a monthly fee to pay as well.
Other costs to consider are whether you'll be paying for a location to meet with clients or if you'll be an online operation. Having an office space will be a significant cost to consider. Besides the rent, you'll have to furnish the space as well, potentially pay for parking, and more.
Then there are marketing costs to consider. While there are plenty of free marketing ideas to help spread the word about your life coaching business, you may also opt for some paid advertisements, especially when you're first starting out and looking to grow your client list. When it all comes down to it, the initial costs of becoming a life coach don't have to be high, but they can vary greatly depending on how you plan to offer your services.
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.”