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On the Coaching industry

This will be a deeply subjective critique of the coaching industry by me, someone who has been a coach since 2016 – primarily a hybrid of Life & Business coaching. I’m sure it will upset a lot of coaches.

There are a handful of exemplary professionals I know and rate highly in the coaching industry which I will link on a separate page here on my own site who are well worth your time.

This article is not about them.

If you yourself are (or you know of anyone thinking of) getting into the coaching industry this may be for you. It may enrage you if you are already a coach.

This may get ranty – those who know me know I love a bit of a rant at times, although I do it a lot less these days as it’s quite exhausting and often pointless, but oddly still feels a bit cathartic. My rants tend to come from what I these days feels like a neurodivergent instilled strong sense of what “should be” and moaning about what often “isn’t” in the way the world seems to work.

Rants come from a sense of wanting to be heard even when no-one is listening – to say “This isn’t right” (As in a sense of “The right thing”).

Please note that I do not intend to disillusion anyone with the enthusiasm for getting into a new career in whatever flavour of coaching they desire – I am simply disillusioned myself and feel it authentic of me to explain what is good and what feels fake. That which doesn’t feel fake – mostly one’s own take on one’s own work can feel incredibly, wonderfully rewarding emotionally which is why I stuck with it for relatively so long.

To be frank, however, a lot feels fake. Beware false prophets and all that.

One of my favourite coachy phrases:

“Take what you need, leave what you don’t.”

Trying to make a living from helping others find their own ways to live a better life can truly be a wonderfully rewarding experience – more in the emotions of it than the money.

It is also an extremely saturated market and the life and work is not entirely like the vocal coaches you see on social media may portray. Unless you’re fortunate to have hit the big time.

Also note that as a natural empath, I’m rather sensitive to everything and am naturally I’d say about 80% introvert. I can be social and enjoy it, but it does drain me. It very much depends on the company I have at the time and the depth of communication with them – like Goldilocks: too light and small talky it becomes boring; too heavy as if you’re channelling Freud, Kant and Wittgenstein and it becomes boring.

I’m terrible at “doing” social media – partly the ADHD curse of not being able to maintain consistency of a posting schedule, but also in creation of “attractive” phrases, lines, images and anything thought provoking (along the lines of, “I musty contact this guy, he sounds amazing”).

Realities of Coaching (to earn a living)

Economical sensitivity

Note that in a recession, coaching, training etc falls off a cliff. It is super sensitive to the economy.

It’s also somewhat seasonal – you don’t get as much business between the end of Nov and the end of Jan, plus summer holiday time no-one cares about coaching. It’s around the time of financial year starts and the lulls between summer holidays and Christmas, also the new year resolution periods (once folk get paid at the end of Jan) that you may find the most influx of enquiries and referrals… I am speaking from actual experience here.

Financial realities and styles of coaching

By the end of my UK business (2016-2020) I was managing to bring in about £10k pa. Whoop. Go me. Considering my accountant at the time explained that most coaches she had on her books earned about £5-6k a year, and were mostly married with full time working partners, I think I was considered to be doing relatively well. I did know one coach who worked their ass off doing all manner of events, networking groups, and did a lot of corporate consulting as well (I absolutely don’t have the energy for that, and also never like to be in the limelight) who claimed they were doubling their income year on year and has just hit about 6 figures within a similar timeframe. I genuinely don’t think they were exaggerating. It IS possible to make a lot of money in the industry if you want and dependent on what you want to do (and have energy for).

I didn’t want to do corporate coaching or to be on any “panels” – it’s too light touch and not particularly personal for me. I get the impression it’s more driven by business needs and tick boxes than it is about giving actual fucks about the people you’re coaching and the money you’re being paid for it.

I excel in the private 1 to 1 space outside of expectations of work and of clients’ family life – both of which affects one’s happiness. I work less well in groups despite wanting to – it’s perhaps my issues about not wanting to be on stage in the limelight…

Direct approach

I also excel in the direct approach – the “let’s call a spade a spade” attitude. I would even ask clients how challenging they want me to be on a scale from 1 to “drill sergeant”. Most say “I want to be challenged, so about 7”. I regularly check in to see if their “7” is aligned with mine and that I’m not pushing too hard or too little. I am fairly sure that “accredited” organisations would frown on this, but I find it helps define the scope of working with a client, having learned from experience and applying James Clear’s Goldilocks Rule model to coaching.

That’s my personality. Unfortunately, I have found that limits me, although the majority of the testimonials I get are glowing (available on request if you don’t believe me).

Spade leaning against rock Spade is a spade Joe Hendley

Digging holes for myself – Photo by Alexey Demidov on Unsplash

(Incidentally, I asked Chat GPT to copywrite a description of a spade for me – it did this)

ChatGPT copywriter: “A spade is a versatile and essential gardening tool designed for digging, turning, and moving soil with efficiency and precision. This sturdy implement typically consists of a long handle, often made of wood or metal, attached to a flat, wide metal blade with a pointed tip. The blade is usually rectangular or trapezoidal in shape, and its sharp edges are designed to cut through soil, roots, and other obstructions in the ground.

Spades come in various sizes to cater to different gardening and landscaping tasks, ensuring they can be adapted for both light-duty work, such as planting and weeding, and heavy-duty tasks like digging trenches or edging. Their ergonomic handles allow for a comfortable grip and efficient force application, making them a trusted companion for any gardener or landscaper. Whether you’re creating a new flowerbed, transplanting a shrub, or simply turning over soil in your garden, a spade is an indispensable tool that gets the job done with precision and ease.”

Me: It’s a fucking spade, you shove the flat end in the ground to make holes. What do you want? Diagrams? An essay? Pointy end goes in ground. Work it out for yourself from there. You’re an adult.

Analogous to most of the tripe you see on social media vs my attitude.

Guess which gets more clients.

In early 2022 I started a new business in coaching to focus on the 1 to 1 space, but quite honestly, apart from creating my own WordPress website (again – I made one for my first coaching business in the UK) and starting writing here which is clearly not coaching or business focused, I just didn’t have the same level of motivation to do much with it. I shut down my LinkedIn profile in 2021/22 as it seems like LI was getting as angry, toxic and as divisive as Facebook and the other usual socials. I was getting actual name calling and very unprofessional berating comments from a variety of sources and I really don’t tolerate bullying. I have had enough of that.

I have had 2 coaching clients since starting the coaching business in Ireland (April 2022). One of those I didn’t finish with as they weren’t doing the work necessary at their end – we ended it amicably. The other was good to work with but as is often the case with busy minded people, they never did get round to doing the promised testimonial. It feels naggy and needy to remind them.

Consistently creating original thought works for Social media content creation

To keep the momentum of attention going in order to get clients there is a belief that one has to consistently create a stream of valuable consciousness to attract people to ask about getting coaching with you.

Consistently.

For years.

If you aren’t seeing a pattern in me, then to get the spade out again – consistency is not me, try as I might. In some things, yes.

For example: on-boarding documents, contracts, project/client scope and delivering consistency on a per client needs basis, yes. In other words delivering what was promised in agreement with a client, yes.

As in creating what feels like actually original thought, no.

Rehashing unoriginal thought for social media feels very fake.

Like the idea that there have only ever been 7 books written – it’s the same with coaches on social media. The infinite line of monkeys at their keyboards waiting for Shakespearean work to form (and I think we all now know that William may have stolen work and ideas from others anyway!)

For a variety of reasons, as much as I love doing the 1 to 1 coaching work with clients, I am tired of the “need” to do networking and social media content creation on it. It’s really not me – regurgitating the same endless supply of coachy things that everyone else does… I started creating a private list of lines to add to a “Little Book of Coaching” at one point (now deleted) to sarcastically take the mickey out of the endless supply of banal lines others would produce on LinkedIn. Imagine this scene from Black Books (Dylan Moran and Bill Bailey)

Unfortunately, it seems this endless stream of consciousness in the coaching world seems to be endlessly lapped up by followers.

Don’t people get bored of it?

It certainly seems that the general reputation of anyone not transfixed euphorically by motivational “coaches” is that both LinkedIn and stereotypically coaches is rather full of “it”.

No-one seems to actually like LinkedIn other than salespeople, “thought leaders” (people with Blue Peter Badges that I believe LI has launched in recent weeks) and “keynote speakers”, and anyone who’s written a book that’s sold 5 copies on Amazon. It’s easy to create an authentic looking “awards” website that no-one has ever heard of, with a bunch of fake names and your own inserted as a winner of the overall top salesperson (or whatever) and then claim to be an award winning coach. I have seen this done. I called it out, got shouted at, called rude and blocked. Oh well.

It’s a fakery bakery.

It all feels just a little bit icky.

Before anyone notes – to do anything in self-employed land these days, one “needs” to be on social media, certainly until you get a good word of mouth reputation network going. If I am to get into a visual creative industry that’s still important – yes, but easier to do that that think of content on coaching work. Especially for a limelight-avoiding introvert.

Also, I’m naturally (or have learned over the decades from childhood upwards, to be) cautious, mistrusting and cynical unless proved otherwise. Learned experience.

I technically have a metric ton of skills and experience in a variety of business critical roles, yet still struggle to keep a job, struggle to enjoy working for someone else (as I find most “leaders” very patronising) and/or to have the focus to be self-employed. But self-employment is really, I firmly believe, the course for me. But it is a struggle too. At least I get to make my own policies. And can go to the doctor, barber, shops etc without needing permission to be away from the desk. The world of work is often ridiculous and/or mistrusting of their employed adults to do the work they’re contracted to do. And I hate that.

The Coaching industry (and why I don’t fit “there” either)

Then there’s the way other coaches treat coaches (or treated me).

Remember…. I’m not very good at being told what to do and will certainly question everything.

I get the impression over years of being on LinkedIn and receiving enough “feedback” on my perspectives that I am the one with the problem (fair, ha) and that “the way” things are done and liked in the coaching industry are perfectly fine.

I didn’t go for a Masters degree in Coaching (mostly because of finances to be frank). I have done courses to get NLP Practitioner and also Practitioner from Lumina Learning to offer individual, team, leadership and sales “portraits” with their personality reports which I very much like. They are expensive. It would cost me around £130 per portrait to buy, let alone sell on with one or multiple coaching sessions.

Note that no client has ever asked about my qualifications.

I absolutely do follow and fully agree with ethical codes of practice – I adhere to that presented by the Association of NLP which most closely resembles my values (despite my cynicism of NLP trainers).

Interestingly, the only people that have ever questioned my ability to coach based on the qualifications or accreditations I don’t have are other coaches.

On more than one occasion did another coach in Nottingham say to me when I explained I didn’t have £6k Barefoot Coaching “qualifications”, or ICF or EMCC “accredited” course “qualifications”,

“Well, you’re not really a coach, then.”

…in the most disparaging manner you can imagine high-school, resting bitch faced people might say.

Game of Thrones Queen resting b face meme

“You’re not really a coach, then”

Ironically unprofessional of them. Coaches who get paid to empower people belittling the competition…. What a wonderful world.

Thus, herein lies my main gripe with the business of being in a coaching business.

It’s often elitist behind the veneer of smiles, success facades and empowered marketing words.

I didn’t want to pay thousands to do courses “accredited” by the usual bodies which aren’t regulated just to fit in with other coaches in order to build “reputation”. Yet that is how you get on in the coaching world, especially if you want to get onto “panels” or be recommended for corporate work.

None of the organisations you learn about when getting into coaching are, as far as I can tell, regulated by governmental or other legal bodies in any country. Curiously, in Ireland I believe that psychologists aren’t regulated either – psychiatrists ARE, however. I believe it is common practice that most psychologists sign up with British governing bodies which are regulated and from which you can be struck off, meaning it’s illegal to practise if you do bad things.

Here’s a nice article which explains the problems of coaching being unregulated. Keep this in mind.

“…whether in person or online, psychologists and psychiatrists provide therapy in the context of heavily regulated, highly scrutinised professions. Despite coaching organisations calling for it, coaches still have no formal requirements for education, training or licensing, and largely practise in a legal and regulatory vacuum.”

That goes as much for me as it does the people running the certification programs which are sold as a way to make you look more professional.

A note on ethics: I have done some business coaching with a client who told me he was going through counselling at the same time. As soon as he told me this, I questioned (out loud) whether it was ethical of me to be doing any coaching with him during that process lest there be any overlap between the two which might cause issues. The client seemed ok with it, but I still had my reservations.

Questions to ask yourself when considering hiring a coach

What happens when a coach is unprofessional and/or unethical?

Not much. You can technically try suing them for loss of business, or reputation etc perhaps, but good luck with that. We are all told to have professional indemnity insurance in case of such claims. Contracts are carefully worded. Any coach with any sense will consistently remind prospect clients or actual client that “coaching is not therapy” which is code for “I’m not a trained or regulated therapist”. Read the contracts before signing and ask questions if you are uncomfortable about various situations.

Ask the coach what happens if you’re unhappy with the service.

What happens when you aren’t happy with the coaching work delivered?

Again, not much. The contracts are usually worded in a way that puts the blame for lack of results on the client, such is the way. “If you don’t do the work, it’s not my (the coach’s) fault.”

I personally have had awful service from at least one coach who purportedly has a good reputation in the lands here – one who made me feel incredibly uncomfortable, stupid and worthless. I tried acknowledging that out loud and cancelled 2 of the 4 “contracted” sessions – I got zero value from the first 2 sessions. I was still sent invoices and felt duress to pay the money for those two worthless sessions, which aren’t cheap.

There is no comeback other than the way in which the individual coach decides to handle conflict. On the one occasion I had similar conflict with a client of mine, I refunded them.

I do not want to be remotely associated with such people.

Internationally recognised accreditations

I’m going to use the International Coaching Federation as the prime example as it’s the best known “accreditation” provider. Others include the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) and World Business & Executive Coaching (WBEC).

Right from the start on the ICF website we are told

“ICF Credentials add legitimacy to your coaching practice and boost your bottom line.” (Lovely focus on the money there. Don’t worry about the clients.)

and

“Anyone can call themselves a coach.”

[Indeed]

”But ICF-credentialed coaches are professionals who have met stringent education and experience requirements, and have demonstrated a thorough understanding of the coaching competencies that set the standard in the profession. Additionally, they adhere to strict ethical guidelines as part of ICF’s mission to protect and serve coaching consumers.”

My immediate thoughts are:

  • Who defines these “stringent education and experience requirements”?
  • What are these “coaching competencies”?
  • Who defines whether the competencies are competent? Compared to what?
  • Also, who defines the ethics? Do any independent (and regulated) bodies gauge the ethics of their ethics?

To get accredited, “The ICF offers 3 levels of “Accreditation””:

  • “Associate Certified Coach (ACC) – Completed 60 hours of coach specific education and 100 hours of client coaching experience
  • Professional Certified Coach (PCC) – Completed 125 hours of coach specific education and 500 hours of client coaching experience
  • Master Certified Coach (MCC) – Hold or have held a PCC Credential, completed 200 hours of coach specific education and 2,500 hours of client coaching experience”

We are told “Earning an ICF Credential is a rigorous process”. The word “rigorous” is a power word, one specifically used to elicit a sense of arduous work to go through. I would imagine training and testing to become a member of some special forces unit to be rigorous. Such power words are liberally sprinkled across marketing language to elicit emotions, usually something to make you want to buy into the thing. I am already suspicious.

Have a read through their Core Competencies page here: https://coachingfederation.org/credentials-and-standards/core-competencies

I was naturally doing all of this in my coaching practise anyway, and I would hope that anyone getting into the empathy industry would do the same. So, what exactly do I get for my money in getting accreditation other than a badge and a piece of paper to “demonstrate” “a thorough understanding of the coaching competencies that set the standard in the profession“?

Whose standard?

Remember: unregulated.

Then there’s the costs.

Take this example for the base level “Associate Certified Coach (ACC)”

https://coachingfederation.org/credentials-and-standards/credentials-paths/acc-credential

Education Requirements & Application Paths

“At the ACC level, 60 hours of coach-specific education are required. This education may be earned through one or more ICF–accredited or non-accredited programs. Your Credential application path is determined by the type of education you received.”

Firstly, why would you take a course from a non-accredited program to gain accreditation? It’s this sort of thing that makes me super confused and makes my brain hurt trying to work out why people write and do that sort of thing.

Secondly, that leaves “coach-specific education” (remember, “unregulated”) with an ICF Accredited program provider.

If I’m understanding the blurb here, to apply for the ACC membership, you can opt to apply after doing Level 1, Level 2 and Accredited Coach Training Programs (ACTP), OR Accredited Coach Specific Training Hours (ACSTH) hours, OR via a Portfolio Path (using non-accredited programs).

Level 1 / Level 2 / ACTP Path Application Price 

  • ICF Member: $175 USD 
  • Non-Member: $325 USD 

Estimated Time for Review: 4 weeks

ACSTH application:

ICF Member: $375 USD 

Non-Member: $525 USD

Portfolio application:

  • ICF Member: $475 USD 
  • Non-Member: $625 USD 

Estimated Time for Review: 14 weeks (so 3.5 months!)

To get to that point of application, for each of the three paths, you have to tick off these requirements:

  • Coaching Education
  • Coaching Experience (75 of 100 hours need to be paid, and the other 25 have to be unpaid. And must be within 18 months of application submission)
  • Mentor Coaching (either do a Level 1 or 2 ACTP program, or 10 hours with a Professional or Master Certified Coach (ICF), 3 hours must be one to one.)
  • Performance Evaluation – (either do a Level 1 or 2 ACTP program, or submit 1 recorded coaching session with transcript)
  • Credential Exam
  • Submit application (prices as above, min $175 + Global Membership of €245 USD, or £50 if joining a UK Chapter. Membership requires you hold a credential already or Have completed at least 60 hours of coach-specific training that meets ICF standards or “Be enrolled in 60 hours of coach-specific training in a program that has either the ICF Accredited Coach Training Program (ACTP) or Approved Coach-Specific Training Hours (ACSTH) distinction. (For new members only.)”
    (So basically have an accreditation already to be a member. My head hurts.

A lot of this seems unnecessarily complicated. It took me 10 mins just to find the costs and requirements to become a member let alone get accreditation. Then finding out that you basically have to have accreditation to become member in the first place.

I’ll give my puny brain a rest after this.

Ok, so, Coaching Education and Mentor Coaching. Let’s try and find prices for this from accredited training providers. Note that most coaches I have come across list their private client rates around £/€90 per hour upwards. The most expensive I came across was £250ph.

Trainers tend to be more costly, because they know they have a captive audience where they act as gatekeepers to accreditation which is sold as the prime way to get clients to make a successful business. It’s the classic FOMO/scarcity paywall generator.

Become the world’s leading “authority” on a thing, then create a certification program and accredit training providers who are authorised to teach your certification program to your standards, who then are able to set whatever price they like to sell that course…. As you are now the leading authority on that thing, everyone not adhering to that thing’s “accreditation” is deemed “lesser” in some way, so that they are encouraged to become part of your authoritatively defined thing and pay for membership of that thing which they can only get via accredited training providers, with encouragement being that their bottom line/success is higher than without it.


I’ll just leave this word and definition here:

Cartel: noun

Synonyms of cartel

1: a written agreement between belligerent nations

2: a combination of independent commercial or industrial enterprises designed to limit competition or fix prices

3: a combination of political groups for common action

Did you know?

“A cartel is an organization of a few independent producers for the purpose of improving the profitability of the firms involved. This usually involves some restriction of output, control of price, and allocation of market shares. Members of a cartel generally maintain their separate identities and financial independence while engaging in cooperative policies. Cartels can either be domestic or international. Because cartels restrict competition and result in higher prices for consumers, they are outlawed in some countries.”


You can look up Mentors in the ICF database. I chose Ireland. Out of the 9 listings, 7 have bothered to get a website. None of them list their rates. I know qualified, regulated therapists charge at least €90ph, so let’s go with that. This is another bugbear of mine with coaches – why do y’all not list rates?? It doesn’t give an air of exclusivity, it just gives an air of opaqueness and is very off-putting. I always list rates! I’m weird like that.

So, you need at least 10 hours of Mentor Coaching, so that’s at least €900.

I have tried looking for ICF accredited coaching programs in Ireland and again, can’t find much in the way of pricing. One from Kingstown College is listed at €3450. There’s a “Diploma in Personal & Business Coaching” from the Irish Lifecoach Institute, but no mention of ICF, for €2650. A couple of other sites which are laden with standard stock photos of smiling office people with some decidedly dodgy website design with zero prices….. Yep, 2 pages of Google and one result with an actual indication of price listed. Do your own research. Barefoot Coaching in the UK (which is apparently well-respected and uttered by such qualified coaches with an air of pride) costs £6,600 for ICF accredited courses.

But now we are at non member ACC certification application = $325 (approx €300 today)
+
Accredited course = €3450
+
10 hours of Mentor coaching = €900
+
Do 25 hours of unpaid coaching (say €2250 of “lost” income at €90 ph)

75 hours of paid coaching (say €90ph) = €6750 (if you can get those in 18 months)

Total = €6750-€4650 = €2100 profit

In 18 months.

Not taking into account any other business expenditure for software, web hosting, possibly web design (*cough*), business software (eg Office 365) and any other memberships you feel are necessary. If you take out the 25 hours of unpaid coaching requirement as well, then you’re €150 in the red.

For a badge of honour to say you can coach people in an unregulated industry.

Given by people who define how you should coach. If you don’t fit their mould, you won’t get the accreditation and shall forever more be exiled as some kind of pariah until you redo things until you learn to conform.

I can almost guarantee you that you will be forced to use standard coaching tools everyone does.

Tools like “The Wheel of Life”. I found this on the internet in Pinterest.

Wheel of Life from Pinterest

I’m sure you can work it out for yourself. For best result do a before coaching and after coaching diagram to see if it’s improved.

A relatively new contact of mine this year went through some training via an accredited coach training provider and I believe they felt similar – forced to align with some awfully cheesy acronym model. Not aligning with these tools in the training = no passing. And no, you can’t argue your case or have an opinion on the matter, let alone criticise the effectiveness of said tools. Because they’re the accredited training provider, not you.

A couple more tools which will may well be familiar with, which are often copy pasted into coaches toolsets, or rehashed into their own acronyms:

The omnipresent GROW model and SMART goal setting (oh and SWOT). The lesser known PESTLE helps for your business too.

Training providers often like to come up with their own. Let’s try one

EMPOWER

  • Empathy
  • Motivation
  • Productivity
  • Ownership
  • Wins
  • Enjoy
  • Results

Or something. I dunno, I spent 2 mins on that.

Google “Coaching tool acronyms” and you’ll find all sorts of free resources to copy paste into your social media and coaching toolbox to use with clients 🙂

In summary

My lived experience – the coaching industry is a fear based, money making machine that breeds elitism, not supportive empathy. Perhaps out of fear for losing business in a saturated market?

I could tell more stories on this. For example, on how I have been backstabbed by coaches who purported to want to work with me to provide workshops only to find out they started providing the same workshops with the presentation material I created without me. Fuck those people. And their smiles.

It’s a shame, because I have loved doing the work with the clients I have – all genuine people who like calling a spade a spade.

I’m off to create websites for coaches (and others) who want to stand out from the crowd and be real with transparent, open communication who genuinely want to support others. People with decency and honourable values. And transparently listed service prices.

Good luck to those of you who do want to become coaches and change the world. Just be wary of the smiles. They tend to be expensive.

Spade leaning against rock Spade is a spade Joe Hendley

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