Can I really make a good living as a coach?

For anyone considering a career in coaching, the answer to this very important question is perhaps frustratingly not a simple yes or no, but very much “It depends”. And what does it depend on? Well, there are several factors that have to be considered and I’d love to explore a few of the key ones here for you.

Firstly, it will understandably depend on how experienced and effective you are as a coach. This latter means you need to have a decent level of professional training which I’ve written a fair bit about in other blogs. This involves the importance factors of accreditation, certification and credentialing, so please ensure you understand what those terms point to, as they underscore what I mean by “good training”. 

One must at least have trained and certified at an industry-agreed standard even if you don’t go on to get a credential. The only way to gain this is with a training provider who are accredited by one of the recognized coaching industry organizations such as the International Coaching Federation (ICF).

Another aspect of this is about experience. Nothing can replace this and while we may come out of a great training program with a good level of skill, what makes a great coach is how we have embodied that skill and developed a certain level of mastery with it. This can only happen by doing it. Again and again and again. Not simply automating and repeating how we coach but learning at the coal face of each individual coaching interaction. Playing with what is working in many different scenarios with different clients.

Over time as mastery develops so does our confidence and we let go of having to consciously effort and grow ever more able to act intuitively in the session and know what works. Implicit intelligence takes over and the coaching becomes alive, in the moment, spontaneously working at the dynamic moving living edge of the conversation and coach and client’s thinking process, giving a unique transformative experience which is tailored to each individual client and their needs and wants. This live edge is where the real magic of coaching happens and when we are at our most creative and effective.

Secondly, while you may potentially end up working in-house as a coach or be employed by one of the many companies springing up which provide coaching services, coaches in private practice are in fact a small business. If it’s the former then your income is generally guaranteed and in many cases you may even been salaried with all the areas such as finding clients etc. taken care of for you—though your earnings potential is possibly going to be more limited. For the latter this will mean that you face all the challenges of the solo-preneur and will need to develop or outsource a number of skills beyond coaching in order to be successful.

I would say one of the first and most important of these skills (beyond good coach training) is financial management. If you have always been employed then running a small business is going to be quite a step and there are many financial pitfalls to be had. If you don’t have good financial management skills then I strongly suggest you get a professional accountant and possibly also a book keeper—in fact all small businesses will benefit from having them on team. They can advise on the best structure for your business (corporation, limited company, sole trader etc.) and set you up with the many other important areas such as tax management, financial reporting and tracking etc.

If you don’t manage your income and outgoings well then no matter how much you earn, you’ll never understand the most important statistic to any business: profit!

An extension of the finance area is fees. How successful you are will also depend on how much you can charge for your services. I find this a hugely vexed area currently as the industry has been flooded with marketing and sales “experts” promising enormous income if you’ll buy their services. Just today I saw on LinkedIn someone promising me up to $1.25 million in a year. Be very, very cautious about all these claims. I’ve heard and read them for years but industry surveys never appear to back them up. Coaching is a profession like all others and not a magic pot of gold.

The formula for how much you can charge will be a combination of how skillful and experienced you are, what niche or specialty area you cover and what that market will actually pay and pay consistently for a service.

In my long industry experience (and according to professionally conducted surveys) coaches offering personal coaching services will generally charge between USD$100-$300 per session. Organizational coaching fees generally range between $250-$500 per session. Naturally there will be fees ranging outside of these but to go higher you want to have something pretty exceptional! Many coaches offer package deals (I do) and to charge the higher end you will need to be able to justify that service.

Regarding choosing a coaching niche, they could range from executive or leadership coaching right through to ADHD, nutrition, life or transition coaching. This list is virtually endless and I’ll be writing more about this area shortly, but do make sure it’s an area you have experience, knowledge, interest and training in. Don’t simply pluck something out of thin air because you think it’ll pay well. It has to be viable of course but also relevant to you and your skills. If you are wanting, as many of us do, to make your services available to communities who can’t afford much then many of us open a number of places at low or sometimes no fee to support them.

Bear in mind that many coaches, myself included, often offer more than just coaching. Many of us run trainings, mentor or consult, design and deliver courses, speak and integrate many other aligned areas of expertise in order to generate their income stream.

The ICF 2020 Global Survey found that, “93% of coach practitioners also offer additional services such as consulting, counseling, etc.”

Diversifying makes the business even more interesting, leverages skills in other areas and often—such as with running workshops and public speaking—helps one-on-one clients to be able to find you.

The next aspect of treating yourself as a business is sales and marketing. This is actually what most of the “experts” promise they’ll teach you in order to manifest those lofty claims of instant fortune. That they have some special formula to magically get you X new “high ticket” clients with no effort, all of whom are just waiting to throw money at you.

Regarding that, the question to ask yourself is:

How much would I or anyone in my personal networks be prepared to pay for coaching?

While this is also a good question to help you calculate your rate it’s important to ground yourself in the reality of fees. What you or your community will pay is an indicator. Trust me, the world is not packed with high net worth individuals just waiting for you to certify as a coach so they can hand barrow loads of cash over. I have and do work with very high net worth clients and while generous, they are not careless, frivolous, desperate or stupid.

Sales and marketing also needs to be honest, ethical and realistic. Sell what you actually do not pipe dreams and overblown promises. This may well be one area that you might want to outsource or at least get coaching or mentoring in (I do!) if you don’t have much skill or interest in it, but be cautious as I’ve already pointed out. Get someone who is realistic, proven and equally charges realistic prices themselves.

So where does this leave us? Can you really make a living as a coach?

Yes you can, and a good one, but it’s going to require you to be highly skilled and to work hard at the business side of it. Also learn when to outsource. Remember you’re really wanting to set yourself up as a coach not a web designer or social media expert. Forget the vapid Instagram instant success promises and ‘look at me in a private jet’ hooks and get realistic. Coaching is a fantastic profession to be in and yes you can work from almost anywhere and be paid well for it. But treat it as a profession not a gold mine.

Rod Francis

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