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How to Become a Life or Business Coach in the United States

written byErickson Coaching Internationalon 28/06/2017

Become a life coach in the USA

Wonder what it takes to become a life coach in the United States? In this article, you can learn more about life coaching industry, its niches, and the path to life coach certification.

Albert Einstein once said: “Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.” These words are important especially for those of us who currently feel stuck, need a new approach, a change in life, more purpose, going through a transition, or simply are not getting the results they want. When you are in a situation like that, developing coaching skills or working with a trained coach can help you get the results you desire in life.

The International Coach Federation (ICF) defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”

For many, coaching is a life-changing experience that dramatically expands their outlook on many areas of life, while improving their self-awareness, inner resourcefulness, and interpersonal skills. Proven coaching techniques help people tap into their full potential, unlocking dormant sources of creativity and productivity. 

The Growth of an Industry

The field of coaching has been around for years. It became more popular during the 1970's and 1980's however, when it took on the form of executive coaching and business coaching. In the 1990's, business coaching started to make the transition to general life coaching and its many applications. Today, life coaching is accessible and very useful for everyone, not just executives and top performers within organizations.

In the last ten years, the coaching industry has exploded. Various statistics have proven that:

  • Coaching is the second-fastest growing profession in the world, rivaled only by information technology.
  • A report by the market research firm IBIS World at the end of 2014 said coaching is a $1 billion industry in the U.S. alone.
  • The life coaching industry grows at a rate of 4.7% annually – one of the fastest and largest growth rates across many industries (Bureau of Labor Studies)
  • Coaches have some of the highest employment and demand rates in the United States and it’s no longer just entrepreneurs who are hiring coaches. The corporate sector is also fueling the industry’s growth. It uses coaches to develop both executives and promising up-and-comers.
  • The life coaching industry is increasing by 575,600 jobs annually (Bureau of Labor Studies).
  • The non-profit International Coach Federation (ICF) estimated in its 2016 Global Coaching Study that there were 53,300 coaches worldwide, and about a third of that number being in the United States. The numbers have no doubt increased, according to Magdalena Mook, the executive director of the ICF. Over a two-year period, her organization’s membership has grown to 25,000 from about 20,500, in 126 countries.

Coaching Categories

Excluding sports, there generally are two broad categories of coaching:
1) personal or life coaching,
2) business and executive coaching.

There is overlap, too. Clients grappling with balancing work and life, for example, may harness benefits both in professional and personal areas. You’re only as successful at work as you are in your well-being and relationships. It all runs together.

Life Coaching

A life coach is a person who understands the principles of effective goal setting and personal development tools. A life coach knows how to apply these principles, and helps others to effectively put these principles to work in their own lives. Life coaches help people define a clearer vision for their life and create actions to achieve this vision. Simply put, a life coach empowers their clients to be the best they can be!

In a typical life coaching session, the coach uses powerful questioning techniques and other reflective and perspective-challenging practices so a client can create mini action plans for his or her next steps. Life coaching propels action, helping clients increase self-awareness, clarify their goals, raise their confidence and commitment and identify paths to their goals.

Business Coaching

Business coaching has a specific focus on business-related coaching. Business coaches usually undergo some form of coach training and work with business owners independently. A trained business coach works with clients on a variety of goals, some of each include reviving the strategy, improving organization, identifying marketing needs, and boosting the overall performance of a business. Business coaches are trained to recognize and help resolve issues and stumbling blocks around many areas of a business. They can also help their clients to problem solve any future issues as they arise.

A business coach, therefore, works in a partnership with their client (a business owner) to grow their company and/or solve a business-related obstacle.

Becoming a coach in the US

Skills required

People who are drawn to becoming coaches often have common traits. They may be patient and empathetic, enjoy helping others, and have strong leadership, organizational, and communication skills. They also have well-developed decision-making and problem-solving abilities.

Training

If you are not professionally equipped to help your clients as a coach, you could end up doing more harm than good in your attempts to change their lives. While your own wisdom and experiences are great assets in the process of coaching people, there are other crucial ingredients you MUST have in place before you’re able to really help them as a coach. Hence, a proper and ICF-certified coach training is a required step for anyone who wants to become a coach.

Coach training programs teach goal setting, proven coaching tools, communication techniques, and how to develop the client-coach relationship. Whether you decide to attend fast-track training workshops or to enroll in a full ICF-accredited (and lengthier) coach training program, you will receive an invaluable training and acquire new coaching skills that you can put to immediate use.


Look at these factors when evaluating a suitable coaching program in the United States

Choose coach training that is approved by a coaching association (such as ICF)

Since coaching is largely an unregulated field, anyone can create their own program and even their own coach certification process. Like associations that approve university degrees, independent coaching associations examine and approve (or reject) coach training programs. The world’s largest professional coaching association is the International Coach Federation. The ICF provides an external and objective validation of training programs and coaches. Look for coach training programs that are ICF-accredited.

Flexible Delivery and Support

Find out if the coach training program offers a flexible delivery of its courses (usually online and on-site), and provides adequate support for students during and after their training. New coaches often need and want support for their coaching business after they receive their certification. Offering a specialized business-building training and resources for new coaches is a good example of this kind of support.

Tuition

See if the program tuition costs are transparent and easy to understand, without hidden costs or confusing fees. The average cost for a life coaching program ranges from $1,500 to $12,000 (see our coach training tuition costs). Entry-level and advanced training programs are available to match your coach training needs. Schools that offer advanced life coaching training or specialized training, will likely allow you to take courses as your finances permit so that you can spread the tuition costs over the course of several months. These are often called payment plans.

Reputation

See which coach training schools have a good reputation in the coaching community, how long their coach training program has been offered, and on what scale. For example, Erickson Coaching International has been offering its coach training program The Art & Science of Coaching for over 36 years, and has trained over 45,000 coaches in the United States, Canada, and globally.

Should you learn on-site or online?

One common question asked by people new to coach training is “which is better… on or off-site training?”. Unfortunately, there is no single right answer but the following may help you in your decision for a given course or program.

Benefits of on-site training:

  • You can benefit from the invaluable interaction and exchange that an on-site environment provides. With practice and study, comes reflection on what type of coach you want to become.
  • For some students, face-to-face interaction is needed to get a full grasp on the subject and to retain the information taught.
  • On-site training promotes a distraction-free time where you can really absorb the material. There are fewer interruptions unlike with online training, which often takes place at your desk or at home, where interruptions are common.

Benefits of online training:

  • Flexibility. A major reason that many people decide to take online coach training is flexibility. You can select classes that suit your personal availability, and begin and finish assignments at any time of the day, and from anywhere in the world!
  • It is usually more cost effective, considering that you do not have to commute to on-site training, and there are no travelling or meal expenses.
  • Gain valuable practice in coaching virtually.

How long does training take?

How quickly you learn the skills needed to become a successful coach depends on your level of personal development, dedication, and time available to learn and practice coaching skills. If you haven't done your personal development work (it takes a lot more than just reading some self-help books), your "stuff" might get in the way and you might learn a bit more slowly.

Finding a niche

Coaches are more business savvy than they used to be. Now, every coach knows that when you land a smart coaching niche, all the doors of opportunity open up and prosperity flows in. A niche consists of a group of people who have a specific challenge, so there is great value in having one. It solves so many problems:

  • Having a niche makes marketing your coaching business much easier
  • It’s easier to enroll clients without being salesy
  • It clues you in about how to connect with future clients
  • You can move beyond your region into international coaching

How to find your niche

Figuring out a niche can be quite perplexing and nerve-wracking for a new coach. To successfully develop your coaching niche, you need to consider the following:

Your background

For instance, if your background includes owning a small business or managing a sales team, or a particular life experience such as redundancy or parenting, this can be a factor in your research in choosing where to specialize. Ask yourself "What do I bring to the coaching experience for the client in addition to my coach training?"

Passion

Do you feel passion for the niche? Are these the kinds of clients you would enjoy working with? Do you find the work you will be doing meaningful and satisfying? A side note: Often you cannot answer this question in the abstract. Sometimes you must first interact with people in the niche-perhaps by offering a workshop or privately interviewing niche members before you begin to feel the passion stirring.

Your qualifications

Choose and focus on a niche that taps into your expertise and understanding, and then give it your all. From there, you will grow and learn to trust yourself more and more. By continually following your own positive energy, you will end up with your calling when you are truly ready.

Validating your niche

Validate your idea by running it through these 3 tests

  • Do I feel I have enough skill and knowledge to help a certain group of people in this niche? Note: those people may only be two steps behind you
  • Is this group willing and able to pay for this type of coaching?
  • Do you think this is something you’d like to do for the next two years minimum?

Practice

Once you are enrolled in certified coach training, you will immediately begin to practice your new skills on "practice" clients. Grab any acquaintance that is willing and start coaching them. After you have coached 100 people you will feel a level of mastery and confidence and have a track record of successful results behind you.

Certification

Once you have completed your coach training program, you are eligible for certification (see our coaching certification page). Certification is the industry’s way of regulating life coaching to ensure excellence and endorse the further advancement of skills. Apart from acquiring the necessary credentials, getting certified as a highly-trained coach allows you to practice in different fields, including business coaching, career coaching, health plus wellness coaching, spiritual coaching, and transformational leadership training.

Most coaches get certification from international associations such as the ICF or the IAC. ICF certification emphasizes coach training, mentoring and experience, as well as an online test and demonstration of coaching skill. IAC certification emphasizes the results of coach training, mentoring and experience, rather than the documentation of it. This makes the IAC certification process a bit simpler, but it's by no means easier because coaches need to demonstrate masterful coaching skills.

Visit both the ICF and IAC websites and read the steps to becoming certified. Choose which coach certification you want and put yourself on the path to getting there. This will include a coaching school that prepares you for the certification of your choice and you’ll probably want a mentor coach who holds that certification, as well.

Often, you can also get certification by a coaching school offering the program. Generally speaking, coach certificates from the coach training providers tend to have less credibility than coach credentials issued by a renowned international coach certification body such as ICF. However, ACTP certificates from accredited coach training schools offer a direct pathway to ICF certification.

As with many careers, getting more training and supervised practice time with clients will prepare you to become a successful coach. More training and experience also leads to higher pay in most cases. Many successful life coaches begin with an Associate Certified Coach (ACC) certification, working for a corporation or other company, and then gradually work up to becoming a Professional Certified Coach (PCC) with their own busy practices.

Conclusion

You’ve decided to become a coach! Congratulations on joining a rewarding and rapidly growing profession. With the right coach training and certification, you can achieve professional credibility and confidence as a new coach.

Perhaps the hardest part is having to compare coach training schools, and choosing one that is right for you, so don't hesitate to read reviews from coaches who have completed a specific coach training program. Ensure you gain a deeper understanding of what you want out of your coach training, and identify a particular coaching niche you might want to specialize in. This way you can have a successful coaching career for many years to come.