In running my career coaching and consulting firm, I’m dedicated to helping women “dig deep, discover their right work, and illuminate the world with it.” I meet thousands of people each year who want to do just that, and are desperately longing to reinvent their careers and professional lives. Many are considering chucking their unhappy corporate lives and launching a coaching or consulting practice. They dream of transitioning into coaching for several solid reasons (mostly around wanting to do something more meaningful, helpful and rewarding), and many come with great, top-level marketing or business experience.
Right after 9/11 and a brutal layoff from my VP role, I had the same burning feeling, that I wanted to run away from the pain and unhappiness I experienced in corporate world, and I deeply longed to “help people, not hurt people and be hurt.” And that burning desire catapulted me into becoming a therapist and a coach. I’m so very grateful I took the plunge, earned my Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy, trained as a coach and launched my business, immersing myself in the world of personal and professional development and never looking back. But I’ve seen after 11 years in this field, that this coaching path is not for everyone, not by a long shot. And hundreds (if not thousands) end up broke and despairing after pursing their dream.
Part of my work now is helping people evaluate if launching a coaching practice or other independent, entrepreneurial venture is a viable step for them, and will bring reward and joy, as well as offer the lifestyle and income they want and need. We first start by conducting a thorough, in-depth assessment of who they are and what they want: their deepest goals, abilities, talents, preferences, personality, values, mission, purpose, and long-term visions. (Here’s a powerful survey that will help you do just that.)
Sadly, what I’ve seen with so many people in this situation is that they believe the running to the coaching life will heal them. They think it will provide a perfect and easy escape route from the woes of their corporate existence. They’ve painted a magical picture of coaching as a safe and easy endeavor that’s all about helping, and nothing to do with the hard realities and challenges of running an entrepreneurial venture or business.
And that can be a fatal assumption that brings people to their knees, financially and otherwise.
So how can you determine if you are suited to becoming a coach, working for yourself, and growing a successful coaching practice?
First, ask yourself this:
Are you ready and able to do what it takes to make this successful? Are you 3000% committed?”
About becoming a coach, the International Coach Federation conducted a study in 2012 of ICF members around the world, which revealed that globally, the median annual revenues in 2011 for professional coaches were $25,000 (i.e. one half of coaches earned less than that amount from coaching and the remaining half earned in excess of $25,000), and the average annual revenues from coaching were $47,900.
From what I’ve seen, there are thousands more coaches who are not ICF members, who haven’t received any formal training, who’ve launched online coaching businesses, invested many thousands but are not earning close to $25,000, and won’t.
The numbers are clear: it’s not an easy path for most, and clients and customers will not simply fall in your lap. Success requires time, empowered action, perseverance, know-how, commitment, and a good number of top level skills to differentiate yourself from the immense global competition today. And today, coaching has morphed away from the one-on-one, private coaching model, to offering thought leadership, courses, training, and other passive income programs to generate a large enough community and reliable revenue sources to continue to fill your pipeline with paying clients and customers.
Interestingly, a coach from the largest coaching organization in the world told me awhile back that of all the folks that reach out to them to explore coaching, only 40% are truly “coachable,” and of those, only 30% are remotely interested in contemplating making a commitment, and finally less than 30% of that subgroup ever end up signing up for services. Those numbers are similar to what I see in my business as well.
I’ve realized something that feels like a real “aha” to me – coaching is for a group or culture that is at the highest level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – the level of self-actualization. And in my own model of Empowerment, I see that coaches need to be empowered in the realm of their Relationship with the World. If not, their business endeavors don’t succeed. (For more on that, check out my book Breakdown, Breakthrough.) Today, however, our economic and financial challenges have pushed millions of people down several levels of that hierarchy – to the level of “safety” — so that their primary focus now is on financial safety and security.
If you’re desperate for financial safety and security, the coaching path is not a good fit for you, because coaching is a business pursuit and your ability to succeed in that business is not a 100% sure thing. It’s important to seriously evaluate yourself, your abilities, skills and talents, your passion for this, and your commitment to launching and maintaining a thriving practice/business.
In short, are you ready to do what it takes to a thriving entrepreneur?
One way to begin to understand the realities of coaching is to interview 10 coaches you know about the realities of making it work. And don’t just select the highly successful, wealthy ones. Take off your blinders and find out what is truly going on behind the scenes, for both successful and struggling coaches, so that you enter into this with eyes wide open.
Finally, if you’re considering making this leap to coaching, ask yourself these critical questions:
1. What must I earn each year, to achieve the standard of living I need? What have I earned before (and if I want to top that, what do I need to do in the coaching arena to make that happen)?
2. What’s my risk tolerance? Can I tolerate a sustained lack of stability, fluidity, and security? Am I truly an entrepreneur, or do I feel happier and better working for someone else?
3. What is my relationship with money today? Do I know my own money story and wealth programming? How do I deal with it, earn it, save it, invest it and grow it? Are my actions around money, and feelings, and views powerful and healthy? Am I committed to doing what’s necessary, no matter how far out of my comfort zone that is, to make the living I want?
4. What is deeply motivating me here – consciously and subconsciously – to want to be a coach? Is there anything I’m running away from (pain or a lack of confidence or trauma from experiences in my corporate life, for instance) that I need to address first, in order to create more success in this next chapter?
5. If I do everything I can to make my practice work for three years, and $30,000 remains my income, will this be acceptable and viable for my life and family? If not, what will be my plan to grow myself, my knowledge and skill set — to be part of the minority segment of high-earners in the coaching field? Or how can I pivot to another direction that will generate what I need.
6. Do I have the abilities, courage, confidence, perseverance and commitment to undertake all the facets of running a thriving practice/business, including: client and business development, networking, social media, marketing, branding, speaking, workshops, writing, business and financial leadership, and providing top-notch client services – all in one? If not, where will I get top-level support and feedback, learn new skills, and how will I fund this growth?
7. Am I open to figuring out what I don’t know or what I’m not good at, and get help all along the way to fill in my knowledge, power, and business gaps?
8. Am I ready to let go of my “build it and they will come” mentality, and step up to what it actually takes to run a successful business/practice?
9. Finally, what am I longing for – a job or a calling? Am I kidding myself here that coaching will be an easy way out of my current corporate trauma?
It’s so important to address these questions as honestly as possible. I offer them not to discourage you from following your dreams, but to present a realistic picture of what’s essential in running a successful coaching business today. If you conduct a deep exploration of your answers to these questions and come up ready to move forward to pursue coaching as your career, then it’s time to get going.
If not, then other avenues and outcomes of career reinvention are more suited to you, and will make you happier and more fulfilled.
If you do wish to move forward into coaching, I’d say it’s time for you to explore it further and embrace the possibility.
Here are some first great steps:
Research, research, research what it will take (start first with the International Coach Federation) and explore training programs, resources, and other coaches’ businesses and models. Find a successful coach to hire who could serve as your mentor business coach. Work with a business coach who has already achieved what you long to.
Get powerful with your money today – don’t wait. Gain a thorough grasp of your financial situation – what you need to earn, what you spend, what you can cut back on, how you will fund your reinvention, and so on. Get a great financial consultant to help you sort out your situation, and set realistic, stretching goals. Get out of denial, and get powerful with your finances.
Go where the energy is – observe yourself in the process of exploring this path. Does it feel exciting, energizing, enlivening, or daunting and discouraging? For you to make a go of this, the predominant feeling needs to be excitement, possibility, and passion (and yes, you’ll be a bit scared too).
Receive training and education – nothing moves us forward faster than powerful training and education to help us be and know more than we do today. Don’t skip that step. Coaching training and business skill development are absolutely vital to teach you how to be the best coach, and business owner, you can be.
Develop a sound business plan with concrete marketing and financial growth strategies. Find a great non-profit organization (such as SCORE or, in Connecticut, the Women’s Business Development Center) in your area, to help you create powerful business and marketing tactics, and a plan, to make your endeavor successful.
If you want to reinvent your career, it’s time to brave up and do what’s necessary to evaluate soundly the best next direction, with your eyes wide open.
To learn more about how to build great success as a coach, take my free 4-part FREE video training The 6 Critical “C’s To Building a Successful Coaching Business Fast” and get my free report “The 10 Most Crippling Mistakes New Coaches Make.”