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The Life Coach Gold Rush Is On

doomed life coachI’ve no idea what is going on at the moment in the Life Coaching world.

It seems to me that saying there is an explosion of new Life Coaches is like saying there seems to be a tad more obesity and type 2 diabetes than there was 50 years ago

Either people are clamoring to become Life Coaches at a rate not seen since 100,000 hopefuls set off for the Klondike River in 1896, or half the new coaches are contacting me looking for help.

Much though it’d be nice to think otherwise, I doubt very much it’s the latter.

As such, it seems from my groaning inbox that a saturated market place has just had a bunch of fire trucks turn up to give it a damn good soaking,  just in case there were some areas not yet under water.

The Life Coach Gold Rush is On

The gold rush figures make interesting reading when you break them down and compare them to Life Coaching.

100,000 people left home for the Klondike River in Yukon, Canada to earn their fortune

30,000 – 40,000 never even made it that far due to:

  • Running out of food and/or money
  • Difficulty in managing the terrain and having no real plan
  • Getting sick and/or dying
  • Being eaten by very large bears
  • Getting as far as Portland and thinking “wow this is going to be really cool in 120 years, I’d better lay a claim now”

Of those that did make it to the Klondike less than 10% struck gold

So from a start of 100,000 people, many of whom quit their jobs to chase their dream, only about 4% found gold and by no means did all of those became wealthy.

Not great odds in retrospect, and I feel sure many people would have stayed at home if they’d have known the hardship that was in store for them.

If you asked me to guess the likely success of any one person (who I have no knowledge of, therefore do not know their strengths and weaknesses) building a successful and thriving Life Coaching practice, I would offer similar odds.

And even then I’d have a strong hunch that buying a map and some panning equipment may be a more sensible investment for most people.

I get contacted by a new or wannabe coach most days and on one day last week 4 people e-mailed me on the same day asking for help.

And the question they ask me the vast majority of the time is some variation of the following.

I’m A Life Coach, How Do I Get Clients?

I speak to probably half those people either as a potential client or as a favor if they are looking for some free advice and prepared to talk to me whilst I’m out dog walking.

There is one question I’d love to ask to certified coaches and never do, and two I almost always ask. The one I want to ask is:

“What in Gods name made you think setting up a business when you had no clue as how to attract customers was a good idea? What’s your next plan, to set up a vegan restaurant in the middle of Wyoming 250 miles from the nearest town?”

But I really don’t want to embarrass anybody so instead I ask:

“Do you realize how incredibly competitive Life Coaching is and that most practices fail to generate sufficient clients. And are you prepared to do whatever is necessary to avoid becoming one of those statistics?”

The answer is always yes and yes. Nobody has ever said,

Really Tim? I never knew that. Shit, I thought it was going to be easy with low set up costs, no regulating body and a host of clients waiting to beat a path to my door”

Yet my guess is some were thinking that and wondering why in heavens name were they talking to a dream-crushing bastard like me.

Then I ask,

“How imperative is it that you generate a stable income quickly and what does that income need to be?”

The response to that question can vary from the very reasonable and sensible, to the downright ridiculous. One person once told me she needed to earn $100k in her first year – good luck with that!

Does Success Leave A Trail?

There is an NLP presupposition that suggests success leaves a trail. In other words if you follow and imitate what other successful people in your field are doing then you’re likely to get similar results.

This is a process called modeling and it is at the very heart of NLP (neurolinguistic programming)

In the early days of NLP, co-developers Richard Bandler & John Grinder decided to model family therapist, Virginia Satir, psychologist and hypnotherapist Milton H Erickson and the man who discovered Gestalt Therapy, Fritz Perls.

They wanted to see if they could achieve similar results by using the same methods and modalities that the industries leaders were using. They studied them for literally hundreds of hours each to the point of even moving in with Erickson to watch him work.

Any by and large it worked, they did get fantastic results when they started to apply their methods into therapeutic settings.

But, how do you spot which trail is the successful one, especially in a fledgling industry like Life Coaching?

Erickson, Perlz and Satir were already established world-leaders in their field and none of them saw the need to buy 20,000 Facebook fans from Fiverr to gain social proof.

Ok, so those sites weren’t technically up and running then, but you get my gist, these were highly respected and highly successful pioneers in their field, not just people who appeared successful because they had a cute website.

Pick A Life Coach, Any Life Coach

I have had a great many Life Coaches come to me with an idea of what they think will make them successful, and that idea has often been formed after a couple of days reading and studying other Life Coaching sites ((often training sites).

The theory behind that is not unreasonable until you realize many Life Coaches are on their arse, haven’t got two paying clients to rub together and the training companies are trying to sell you the idea of becoming a coach.

In other words, they start to implement a strategy that has already been proven not to work based on the advice of somebody who stands to make money on them doing so.

The net result of that can be a lot of time, money and energy wasted.

Irrespective of what the unscrupulous training companies tell you, there is no clear path to be a successful Life Coach, it’s far too individualistic and relies on too many imponderables.

To be successful you need a reasonable knowledge of running a business, social media, marketing, branding, sales, SEO, networking, an ability to communicate your ideas, a willingness to look like a total idiot on occasions, being comfortable in the public domain and all that comes with that, such as praise and criticism (if either make you uneasy, you’re entering the wrong job) and a lot more.

Do those sound like skills you can master in 6 months, or even 6 years for that matter?

And don’t scoff at 6 years because the greatest business guru of his generation, Peter Drucker said it takes most businesses 7 years to properly establish themselves.

The Internet can definitely accelerate that, but unless you’re incredibly lucky or have a huge sack of cash to spend on expert help, it’s still going to be a long hard slog without any guarantees other than you probably wondering what the Yukon is like at this time of year.

However, even though there isn’t an easily navigable route to success there are many routes to failure with some coaches opting for more than just one.

Modelling Failure

And (other than being unprepared and somewhat naive*) it’s really not their fault because they look at Life Coaching websites that to all the world look like they should be successful and presume that’s they way to do it.

They believe that if they replicate what that coach has done it will lead to the pot of gold when it’s probably more likely they will find themselves on a cliff top with a lot furry rodents all preparing to go for a swim.

I have talked about this topic a few times before and I know I am always risking looking like I’m a miserable old git who doesn’t want the competition, but that’s not the case.

The more brilliant Life Coaches there are out there the more delighted clients there are. And the more delighted clients there are the more the word spreads about the value of coaching.

Having thousands upon thousands of wannabe coaches milling around looking sad and wondering where all the clients are helps nobody.

It’s Not  All Doom And Gloom – Honest!

I really haven’t offered any solutions in this post because it was more of a gut reaction to my escalating requests for help and hopefully warning some people who are less than 100% committed.

However, if you want me to follow up and expand on this by looking at the mistakes I see most coaches make and how to avoid them, please let me know in the comments and if there’s enough interest I shall be happy to oblige.

In fact I am toying with writing an in-depth ebook that I can refer people to and I am definitely going to be working with more coaches this year and am in the process of setting a specific coaching package up.

*BTW, I was very unprepared and very naive when I set off coaching. I lucked out though because the competition was almost non-existent 8 years ago. New coaches don’t have that luxury.

Update February 11th 2013

I have started researching material for the ebook I intend writing for new Life Coaches and came across this frightening graph on Google Trends.

These are the searches for the term ‘Life Coach’ on Google since 2005.

There were actually more in 2006 than there were in 2012, yet my guess is there are probably 50 times as many Life Coaches.

I told you it was frightening.

Life coach searches

32 comments to The Life Coach Gold Rush Is On

  • So, yeah, good topic. As one of those naive people, I too have noted that just about every third person I meet these days is an aspiring life coach of some sort. Saturated, indeed. That being said, my trainers gave me some training on how to set up my business, but I can really see how having some of those skills learned ahead of time would be beneficial.

    “To be successful you need a reasonable knowledge of running a business, social media, marketing, branding, sales, SEO, networking, an ability to communicate your ideas, a willingness to look like a total idiot on occasions, being comfortable in the public domain and all that comes with that, such as praise and criticism (if either make you uneasy, you’re entering the wrong job) and a lot more.”

    I also think maybe there’s an element of luck, or being in the right place at the right time where something you say or offer gets noticed by someone whose endorsement will be a huge boost to your business. But maybe that’s just part of my naivete, and skepticism that I can really build something from absolute scratch.

    “However, if you want me to follow up and expand on this by looking at the mistakes I see most coaches make and how to avoid them, please let me know in the comments and if there’s enough interest I shall be happy to oblige.”

    Count me in as a yes on this. I am always looking to learn more about the coaching process.

    I received excellent coaching for about 18 months, after which I went and completed parts 1 and 2 of coaching training (out of 3), recommended by my coach. He suggested that the training itself would be valuable whether or not I ever ended up being a life coach, and he was right. I have coached quite a few people and done probably a hundred sessions, get this, all for free. Yep. Thought it would be a grand idea to offer it for free to get some experience and actually get to coach. Well, I got some experience and definitely enjoyed the coaching, but my actual business isn’t even .00001 inch further along in its establishment.

    I don’t have a pressing need for the income and I do have a lot of other things going on that I am responsible for and care about, and the thought of learning seo, branding, and that stuff, isn’t juicy for me. I figure that when and if I get in touch with the result that I am wanting and why I am wanting it, I will make a plan to get there. Until that time, I’m in the group of starry-eyed and rosey-cheeked.

    My clients do say that they get value from their sessions, but becoming a life coach just isn’t as easy as completing training, getting business cards, and waiting for the phone to ring, is it?

    • Susan, it’s not easy not to be naive! There are so many training sites trying to tell you this thing is easy and so many Life Coaches sites giving the same impression.

      The reality is we’re involved in the Emperors New Clothes and many people won’t realize that until they try to set up their own practice.

  • Pippa

    I am definitely part of the crowd that would like to learn more. I’ve been considering moving in to the life coaching arena and know that it’s an extremely hard slog (I think I might have a good niche though).
    Thanks for putting forward such a frank, honest view of life coaching because there are so many people that just talk about the good points rather than the reality.

  • Tim, the more I look around, the more I see the truth of what you say. There are so many pieces to it and as one of those who knew but sorta didn’t all that was involved, I’d love to hear your thoughts about it all. Count me in big time – when we had our phone conversation, you offered me some suggestions that I thought were very helpful and I’d happily join in the conversation.

    :)

  • Laura

    Agreed–any info you are willing to share would be greatly appreciated! Especially if it comes with your usual dose of sarcastic wit. Makes everything seem so much more worth reading.

  • Kassie Ritman

    Heck yes you should write an ebook about this…and you should charge for it, and be insistent on referring free-bee seekers to it. I wonder how many of them would even lay out $1 for it?People think they can be coaches because they can sit in their underwear, activate a free website, buy some blog followers and then people who haven’t thought of this on their own will throw money at their lazy asses. If you “give it away for free” …here’s the real laugh in my opinion…what makes them think somebody is gonna pay them?
    Wow, Mama is cranky today… Can you tell I’ve been responding to requests for book reviews and endorsements all day…

    I am generally a nice person, and really what makes me keep running is helping others. But those who become snippy with me when they ask for the truth as I see it, and want to argue with me that I’m a mean ol douche bag (as I am still involved in doing them a free favor) those are the ones who I’d like to door check with my innocuous looking Volvo. Yep, it’s been a long week…

    Speaking of free stuff, thanks for the downloads you send my way. I think I need to work thru some of the free-bee stuff before I call you and give you the epic coaching challenge of your career (me). Don’t worry, I can’t attack you with the car door via telephone or skype :)

  • Hey Tim,
    Thanks for this great article.

    I love the parallel you’re making with the Gold Rush. I seems to me very realistic (I would even extend it to online entrepreneurs in general).

    I discovered Peter Drucker (never heard about him and seems very interesting) and loved the video about Virginia Satir. It could not come at a better time.

    I like your description of what it takes to have a successful practice and your openness in telling the reality. It is extremely helpful. I also appreciate your view about competition. I totally share it. It took me some time to understand it and accept it! A few years ago, I used to be afraid of it.

    Thanks again for this article. Your work matters :-)

    • Virginia Satir was amazing Anne.

      There is a foundation of hers where you can buy a lot of her recordings working with groups and individuals and they are ridiculously cheap for the value they offer. I bought a 10 cd set for about $25, although that was about 4 years ago.

  • BTW,I come up with the best solutions to life’s problems whilst I walk the dog each day.
    I’d even venture as far as saying the time walking the dog is frequently more productive than an hour with a life coach.
    On a more serious note, perhaps the swing toward life coaching is a reflection of the dissatisfaction many are feeling with the traditional life path.
    And a need to a provide a more satisfying life.
    By finding individual approaches in negotiating life’s journey.
    To feel that what one produces is valuable.
    I have no ambition of being a life coach but have begun to blog. As a blogger, if you have followers you sort of become a life coach.
    This is a different process from my previous traditional job where I was required to ‘sell the sizzle not the sausage’
    I’ve now ventured into a world where I’m adjusting to it being OK to sometimes not know, look like an idiot, share vulnerability and get back on my feet when things turn to shit.

    • Priska I am going to have to ban you for reminding me of the sizzle metaphor from when I was in sales ;-)

      I’m with you on the dog front, me too. I also agree that most new coaches do want to help people. However, there are a lot of people with blogs who dispense advice that can vary from useful to downright dangerous.

      People take what we write seriously (for the most part) so we have to nail it and know our subject imho.

  • Tim
    this is not just a Life coach issue, we have exactly the same issue with Christina’s Dog grooming bushiness,when people inquire about the training courses, they are also somewhat surprised and generally disappointed to find out its bloody hard work too.
    And the best ever this week, was when a girl was disgusted, disgruntled and rather put- out to find out it wasn’t free either.
    People hey!!!!

  • Great post. And it applies to other industries equally… I could pretty much exchange “Life Coach” and “Massage Therapist” and it’s the same story, the same way schools and “teachers” are creating unrealistic expectations, and the same skillset one would need to survive.

    Susan, the thing with “luck” is correct… but you will still need “knowledge of running a business, social media, marketing, branding, sales, SEO, networking, an ability to communicate your ideas, a willingness to look like a total idiot on occasions, being comfortable in the public domain” and more in order to make “luck” more probable.

    I’m only writing this comment because I sometimes have what others call “luck” in promoting my business, in being interviewed on TV, in being promoted by high-profile clients.
    And yes, skills are necessary. But those people don’t find me because of my skills.

    They find me because I’ve been busting my ass in order to have a decent online presence, network, yadda, yadda, yadda.

    So even luck is relative.

    • Good point Lu and I just mentioned what you said in my follow up.

      I have heard this quote attributed to at least 3 different people so I’ll just repeat it”

      “the harder I work, the luckier I get”

  • Ben

    Interesting Tim,
    Do you feel alot of these life coaches are popping up because they think ‘oh I can make money on the latest craze’?

    I never really thought of it, I just know all the experiences i’ve had and what i’ve gone through and learnt from it that one day I thought “I can help other people avoid the same mistakes”.

    If I hadn’t gone through that and instead was like “oh a life coach sounds good even though i’ve never had experience solving similar issues in my own life’ that would be a terrible way to approach it!

    I’d love a post on common mistakes made by coaches.

    -Ben

    • I’m not sure that is at the forefront of their mind if I’m being honest.

      I think it’s more along the lines of “I can help people and earn a great living”

      Most end up helping nobody because they can’t attract clients and end up losing money.

      And the new post is up.

  • Your article re-fired a nerve for me having become frustrated with a huge influx of new ‘Life Coaches’ I am witnessing through an online business school alone.

    Deciding I wanted to learn more about expanding my online presence I joined a successful online entrepreneur’s business school. Regardless of the content, the online community associated with the course has been excellent. Fantastic networking and lots of great women who have a range of incredible skills and experience.

    But, it is becoming increasingly frustrating to see how many of the group are crossing over to Life Coaching, simply because they can. They seem to see coaching as an easy tack on to almost ANY business, and believe they can happily spin a couple of hundred an hour for simply posting up an extra web page titled ‘Coaching’.

    At first I though it was the fact that they didn’t have any training that bothered me, but I realise it wasn’t really my training that made me a coach, it was all the trial and error, the hours of coaching, the willingness to keep altering my course, the learning from my clients and the desire to absorb every single book, article, video and audio I could find about coaching. Whereas these new ‘Life Coaches’ haven’t done more than decide to coach and yet believe they are more than ready to add to the saturation of the industry.

    As you say, it’s not about competition. I greatly admire the good life coaches that are in the industry, and which I would love to be in competition with. It’s the fact that the good coaches are being watered down by the mass, diluting the perceived value and expertise.

    I am patiently hoping that, like with many new and fandangled industries, the buzz will wear off, the overnighters will wander away and those who really do want to be here will be left to rebuild the empire.

    Until then, it seems we just have to keep panning, searching for gold, and trusting we are in the 4% of those who will be ‘lucky’ enough to find our fortune.

  • Sarah Mills

    Thank you for this blog. I tried my hand at starting a life coaching buisness and was very naive for sure! I am relieved to know that I am not the only one who STRUGGLED finding clients. I am no longer coaching. At first I felt like a failure but I learned more about myself. What percentage of new life coaches wind up closing their buisness because of lack of clients?

    • I honestly don’t know the answer to that Sarah. I think a lot of coaches who aren’t dependent on the income can limp along grabbing the odd client here and there for years whereas as some will simply do what you do.

      There was some research done in 2004 that said 90% of coaches in the US make less than $20k per annum. My guess is there is probably 50x as many coaches now as there were then and that figure is probably over 95% making less than $20k.

      If you said pick a figure of how many coaches actually make a good income (let’s say $40k or over) I’d say less than 1%, much less.

  • Sarah Mills

    Thank you for writing this. I, too, started a life coaching buisness and was very naive in doing so! I am no longer in buisness because of lack of clients. What percentage of life coaches stop due to lack of clients?

  • Thanks for this Tim. I am indeed one of those people bumbling along trying to get clients though, unfortunately I fall into the category of wanting to help people – yeah yeah, yawn yawn I know!
    I read your blog and at first wanted to rush out and pan for gold but realised I’d probably starve because a bear would eat my food! Then I was going to get the rope out and find a nearby tree and jack it all in, but then you gave me little hope so I’ve left that for another day.
    I would really appreciate any help or insights from you and I love your sense of humour.
    Something I have thought, is that when you sign up for the training programs they tell a good story and don’t give you any business advice. I was totally naive I have to say but it’s ok, I’ve learned an awful lot this last year or so and I’m not ready to give in just yet.

  • Vasily Ingogly

    Paragraph six under “Pick a Life Coach, Any Life Coach” (the one that begins “To be successful”) should be required reading for anyone who’s considering going into life coaching as a profession.

    Eight or nine years ago, I was working as a licensed mental health professional and several of my fellow therapists and I started meeting at our agency to discuss life coaching. We took training from different schools, and compared notes. About half of us were happy with our training, the other half not so happy. All of us saw life coaching as a potential alternative to working in a field increasingly affected by managed care to the point where it’s difficult making a living, and burnout is a constant danger. Following my foundations training, I started doing coaching on the side, with the goal of working toward certification. (I’ve been back in the software field for a few years, but that’s a different story).

    Then the life coach explosion happened. My impression is that it started because (1) you had a large number of training programs cropping up, all of them promising the sun moon and stars, and (2) Oprah and other media types started pimping coaching, Big Time. The end result is, a flood of coaches into the market (“hey! Life coaching! I know about life … I can do that!”). Unfortunately, you’ve had a similar thing happen in the mental health professions, with the proliferation of for-profit counselor training schools cranking out large numbers of master’s level and doctoral level counselors and psychologists. That’s a lot of people clamoring for a slice of the pie.

    At this point, I wouldn’t recommend the mental health professions or life coaching to anyone who isn’t prepared to work hard at the business side of things (which for many means operating well outside their comfort zones), and has a day job (or sufficient wealth, or a working spouse) that will enable them to survive through the lean years as they work on their practices. Bear in mind when you invest in education, you’re making an investment … and you need to work the numbers up front to determine whether it’s really going to be worth it.

    I’m working on reframing my practice as an online counseling practice that also offers coaching integrated with the counseling. I can afford to do that because I have a 9 to 5 job … and in a few years, I’ll be semi-retiring so I won’t need to depend on a full-time practice to live a decent life. Plus, I’ve been working on my website design business … everything I’ve read and the continuing education I’ve taken on building a successful private practice has said, you need to think multiple streams of income, and you need to market. This is as true in coaching as it is in the mental health professions these days.

  • I must confess to not realizing that mental health counselors were experiencing the same problems. I had noticed more and more getting into coaching but I assumed that was because of insurance red tape as much as anything.

    Good comment Vasily!