Is The Life Coaching Industry In Disrepute?

Just over a year ago I published my free ebook ‘What The Hell Is Life Coaching?

At the time I was concerned with the direction the Life Coaching industry was taking and at what I saw as a massive over-selling of what Life Coaching has to offer, both to potential coaches and also by some Life Coaches to their clients.

It seemed to me as though Life Coach training companies were springing up all over the place promising prospective Life Coaches the life of their dreams.

Just as long as they were prepared to pony up a few thousand dollars for certification of course.

I’m on record as saying high quality, ethical training is crucial in a fledgling industry that’s still trying to find its collective feet.

If that is, it wants to gain credibility and establish itself in the public awareness as a profession and not just a hobby for people that like to give advice and want to work from home in their pajamas.

Before I go any further let me say this.

If you’re a Life Coach yourself, then this post may well get your hackles up, but it shouldn’t.

Unless that is, you see yourself in what I’m about to say and you’re guilty of dubious promises and over-selling yourself and your abilities.

There are a number of Life Coaches who read my blog who I respect and who seem to doing good work.

You know if that’s you because you’re as disturbed with the current situation as I am, even if you’re maybe not as vocal.

2011 – A Year In Life Coaching

I really wish I could say things have improved over the last 12 months.

That the promises being offered by training companies to Life Coaches and by Life Coaches to clients are being scaled back and represented in a more open and honest way, but they aren’t.

If anything, things have deteriorated still further.

Quite frankly I’m disgusted at the behavior of some large established training companies.

They don’t seem to give a shit about what happens to the people who’s money they take after they have completed their training and are left alone to run a Life Coaching business.

They mislead about the potential to make money as a Life Coach and do not divulge to potential coaches how ridiculously competitive the industry is and how difficult it is to attract paying clients.

The last straw for me and the primer for this post was when one of Australia’s leading training companies told one of their students, who happens to be a client of mine, to lie to her employer.

They reason they suggested she lie was to get time off work because they had lied to her about the prospectus and not supplied the promised evening modules that would fit in with her work schedule.

This is supposed to be a caring profession built on integrity and trust not deceit and impropriety.

Can you imagine that kind of behavior being tolerated by a University Psychology Department?

Is Life Coaching Really The Worlds Second Fastest Growing Industry?

According to a number of training and coaching sites “Life Coaching is the second fastest growing industry in the world


That sounds like total and utter bollocks to me as almost every Life Coach I ever talk to or work with is struggling to get clients.

Get this.

If you’re in the USA and type ‘Life Coach’ into Google, I am at the time of writing #6 on the first page. That fluctuates somewhat, but I haven’t been any lower than about 13 or 14 for some while

Other Life Coaches must see that and think “Wow, that guy must be beating clients away with a pointy stick

Yeh right.

If I never had any referral work, I would probably be out of work based solely on website inquiries.

Being on the front page probably brings me 3 or 4 inquires per week at this time of year (and about double that in January and February), of which 50% will be either time wasters, people that really need therapy as opposed to coaching or people that just aren’t a good fit for me.

Surely if Life Coaching were an exploding market place I’d be inundated?

How do you even measure a claim like Life Coaching is the second fastest growing industry anyway?

And more to the point, who would pay to do that kind of research (if indeed it exists) without having an agenda, such as maybe selling more Life Coach training?

Unless that is, they mean it’s the second fastest growing industry because of the hundreds of new Life Coaches setting up each month?

If that’s the criteria, then that makes sense because barely a day goes by when I don’t see another new Life Coach in my Twitter stream and I probably get 5 or 6 e-mails per month from new or wannabe Life Coaches looking for advice.

However, in terms of demand for the services of a Life Coaches I suspect it’s not even close to being true and Google stats would suggest there may actually be a decrease in demand.

Life Coach trendsThe graph above looks at the search term “Life Coach’ and you can see there is a very slight downward trend since 2004.

So whereas tens of thousands of new Life Coaches have set up in business, the demand (at least online) is fairly static.

That’s an amazing statistic made even more amazing when you realize how online users have grown over that period.

Online users worldwide – February 2004 – 745 million
Online users worldwide – June 2011 – 2.1 billion

Source: Internet World Stats

So even though there are about 3 times as many people using the Internet and most Life Coaches operate in the online environment (Social Media, Skype, VoiP, Blogs etc) there are no more searches by volume.

Does that really add up to a fast growing industry?

Or are the training companies trying to obfuscate what is really happening to encourage more people to hop aboard the gravy train before it’s too late?

And how realistic and/or ethical is it for a coach training company to guarantee paid clients after training?

Or to state clearly on their website that Life Coaching is a highly paid profession, when outside of the top 0.5% of coaches it clearly isn’t?

Or even to offer “the Internets fastest way to become a certified Life Coach?

I have seen those claims and more made whilst browsing training sites and advertisements prior to writing this post.

And that isn’t even getting into the clever language on some sites designed to make readers think all you need to become a successful coach and live life high on the hog is have a computer and to take their course.

I once described the Life Coaching industry as being like the Wild West, but in some respects it’s worse than that.

At least Dodge City had a Sheriff.

The coaching industry has no governing body that is looking out for the good of the client because there is no regulation.

It’s Not Just Life Coach Training Companies Either

I’m also disappointed, saddened and irritated by the behavior of some new (and not so new) Life Coaches who appear to think it’s ok to paint an ideal world picture divorced from reality.

I’m not just talking about happy-clappy coaches that think a big cheesy grin and an uplifting quote on Twitter is the answer to everything either.

Certainly I think it’s somewhat lacking in integrity to lead people to believe all’s brilliant in your life when in reality your marriage is in tatters, you’re 150lbs over-weight and your business in the toilet.

However, that doesn’t mean to say you cannot be a brilliant Life Coach,  but you have a duty of care to be honest and open about it and not get all fearful about what clients will think.

If clients were really looking for a Life Coach who lived a perfect life, nobody would ever hire me.

To give you a taste of the kind of thing that I think is bringing the profession into disrepute, here are a few sample quotes from Life Coaches websites.

I could have filled a book of similar ones, but you will get the general idea.

Coach ‘A’ Will Transform Your Life GUARANTEED!

The only way I can guarantee to transform your life is by hacking your foot off with a scythe when you walk into my office. That should just about do it.

As coaches we’re merely facilitators who need to build rapport, ask the right questions and then shut up and listen.

The real work is done by the client in between sessions when hopefully with the right encouragement and explanation of the benefits, they will then implement what they’ve learned.

Neither I, nor any coach, can guarantee you a transformational experience because if you do fuck all between sessions it’s highly unlikely you will get the results you want no matter how good the coach is.

If you were to hire me, here is what I can actually guarantee:

I’ll do my very best.

That’s it.

“(My course shows you) How to eliminate stress completely from your life.”

The only way you can eliminate stress completely from your life is to end it.

We need stress to exist and claims like this make the Coach look like a complete incompetent to anybody that knows what stress is.

Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t understand what stress is and they may be suckered into thinking a stress free life is desirable and achievable, when neither are the case.

“The techniques Coach ‘X’ has developed are unique”

Well in a world of 7 billion people who wouldn’t want something truly unique?

Unfortunately a 30 second investigation reveals those unique skills are basic NLP practitioner level techniques and he’s being endorsed by the person that taught them to him.

The irony of saying your skills are unique and then bragging about who taught you them seemed to have been lost on this guy.

“Coach ‘Z’ in An Expert In the Law Of Attraction”

I can’t resist asking the question, “Then why is your website sat with an Alexa ranking of almost 10,000,000, Couldn’t you attract a few more visitors?

Flippancy aside, the only thing your Life Coach needs to be an expert in, is Life Coaching.

Lots of Life Coaches want to tell you they’re experts in this, that and the other.

I’m not sure why they do it other than to impress potential clients, but it demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of what coaching is. We’re not paid to be experts and unless we’re hired in more of a consultancy role any expertise should be left at the door.

If I get hired by another Life Coach to help them with marketing and building their online presence then, and only then, is my experience in those areas relevant.

But I Really, Really, Want To Be A Life Coach

Cool. Seriously, that’s cool because it’s a great profession in many ways.

You may think I’m being sarcastic, but I’m not.

There’s always room in the Life Coaching industry for people who enter it with their eyes wide open and with a desire to help others and make that happen without cutting corners.

I would never discourage somebody from training to become a Life Coach and I’ve done just the opposite on many occasions.

The fact of the matter is, if this post has dissuaded you from becoming a Life Coach, then you owe me one!

I’ve just saved you a lot of time, money and frustration because if you’re deterred this easily you were always going to fail anyway.

Shortly after moving to the US in early 2006 I heard a talk given my the late Peter Drucker, one of the countries greatest ever business gurus.

In it he said (and I’m paraphrasing) that it takes a person about 7 years to understand their own business and be successful in their industry.

At the time I had only been coaching full time for a year and I was like “Holy shit I hope that isn’t right!” and quite honestly I laughed it off thinking it didn’t apply to me.

Drucker nailed it.

I’m in my 7th year and I  finally think I have a handle on things.

Saying that, there’s still a good chance that I’ll look back in 3 years and think I didn’t quite have it squared away, because I don’t know what I don’t know.

I happen to think things have changed somewhat and the Internet can short-cut the business building process, but not by a massive amount and not without what is officially known as a shit load of hard work.

I love being a Life Coach and taking it up as a profession is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, but it’s been really, really, tough and it still is to a large extent. Even if it is also very enjoyable.

I know there are some great Life Coaches doing great work out there as well as reputable, honest and highly competent training companies.*

Unfortunately though, and it makes me sad to say this,  I genuinely think both are in the minority and even with loud mouths like me ranting about it, I doubt that’s going to change any time soon.

* By the way, if you are looking to train to become a Life Coach. Do plenty of due diligence and my advice would be not to talk to newly qualified coaches about their training because they’ll still be in the throes of confirmation bias and will probably be all gushy and evangelical.

But I Really, Really, Want To Hire A Life Coach

Good for you and I really hope I haven’t deterred you, but instead made you committed to doing your due diligence to get the coach that’s right for you.

There are some really great Life Coaches out there helping their clients get excellent results.

However, you have to be prepared to do the work, otherwise keep your money in your pocket and save yourself from disillusionment when you realize your Coach doesn’t have a magic wand.

Ok, rant over!

I welcome your opinions, whether you think I’m right or wrong. I ‘d especially like to hear from anybody that had superb support from a training company well after they qualified, or felt they got short shrift on the business building side of things.

All that remains is for me to wish you and yours a very, very, Happy Thanksgiving!