Life coaching is the second-fastest growing industry in the world, with yearly growth increasing by 6% on average, and from 2016 – 2020 the number of coaches within the industry increased by one third.
Coaching in all forms has surged in mainstream popularity in recent years, with celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Serena Williams openly talking about the benefits. Coaches can often help people to understand their focus and gain clarity on what it is that brings them passion, creates purpose and delivers personal growth.
But what exactly does a coach do? Well, the job description is pretty broad and loose; people may look to a coach for advice on their careers (including many freelancers and entrepreneurs who work without a boss helping them to keep track of their progress and development), their personal relationships, their health and wellbeing, and sometimes just to discuss their values, beliefs and bigger purpose.
However, in the UK, the coaching industry isn’t regulated. Therefore individuals do not need any qualifications or experience to start advising people on potentially life-changing decisions, which may explain why so many people seem to be doing it.
Whilst there are many coaches out there that have taken the steps to ensure that they have the qualifications and/ or experience to successfully and authentically take their clients through various tools, techniques and methods, there has been a serious rise in the coach ‘con-trepreneurs’ who are inexperienced, unqualified and ill equipped to help others to a high standard.
As Lucy Wheeler, lawyer and the founder of Lucy Legal explains, there are numerous bodies who purport to offer legitimate coaching courses, but that in itself can be a little bit of a minefield.
“There are courses and providers who offer training ‘qualifications’ after a weekend of study and with very minimal coaching experience,” she shares. “The very best courses tend to be the ones which require at least six months’ worth of studying and a significant number of hours spent coaching, for example, 100 to 500 hours.”
You can train with accredited coaching associations such as the Association for Coaching (AC) or the European Mentoring and Coaching Council UK (EMCC UK) but this is more of a ‘nice to have’ rather than a requirement to practise and coach clients. And at present, there is no protection for the public or any other mechanism to hold unregistered practitioners to account.
On Instagram alone, under #lifecoach there are 10.9 million posts. Say for example only 50% of those posts are from qualified, experienced life coaches, that means that there are potentially hundreds of thousands of individuals that are asking you to put trust and money into their business where they have all the secrets and answers to your problems.
Despite the lack of rules and regulations around the industry, there are many people that would say they owe some of their biggest achievements and most valuable personal growth to their coach. However, there are some that have unfortunately fallen victim to the ‘con-trepreneur’.
Here, we share tips to spot red flags, what the big no no’s are, and what you should be looking for in a coach.
Like any partnership you enter into where you are expected to share trust and integrity, the relationship between a coach and a client should be professional and one of equals. It’s about working with someone who understands the environment that you’re working in, who helps you to find the answers within yourself, rather than telling you what you should be doing. Coaches or other service providers that use language to make you feel inferior to them is a red flag for a con-trepreneur.
Whatever the setting, a coach should be there to tailor the experience to you. Even if coaching is undertaken in a group setting, your experience should still feel unique. Coaches that seem to regurgitate a one-size fits all approach, often referred to as ‘cookie-cutter’ in the online space, should be avoided at all costs. Not every human is the same, so why should your coaching experience be a rinse and repeat of the person before you?
It is also important to look for someone that can offer you support outside of your sessions. This isn’t just about having someone to ask questions to, but it’s about feeling support from them too. Do they advertise in their programmes that they will continue to help you move forward and progress throughout your time together, hold you accountable for your actions and help you to find the answers to your questions? Good, because these are all signs of a valuable coach.
Amy Crumpton, founder of Social Cactus and business and mindset coach, agrees, adding that the main purpose of coaching is to help someone work towards achieving a specific goal.
“Normally, your coach will work with you to uncover any mindset blocks or self-limiting beliefs that may be holding you back, help you to create a strategy that feels aligned to you, and hold you accountable as you take action,” she highlights.
Something that is seen all too often on social media is the use of pressuring, persuasive language, particularly on those who are most vulnerable or who have low self esteem. When someone is continually trying to make you take action NOW, because it’s the LAST CHANCE and PRICES WILL GO UP!, it’s because they are trying to appeal to a scarcity mindset – getting you to fear the lack of something. This is a scaremongering tactic, designed to induce panic buying – and is often a good indication that they may not be the coach for you.
Stephanie White, owner of copywriting company By The Way Creative, believes that ethics in copywriting comes down to one very simple rule: Do not intentionally deceive the reader.
“When I hear people talk about ‘I made £10k on my last launch’… it’s important to specify if that was turnover or profit. If you invested £5k in ads to make that £10k, then really you only made £5k profit. The other myth I’ve seen floating around in the coaching world is suggesting that you run a 6-figure business because you had an £8,333 month… i.e £8,333 x 12 = £100k. If your business has not turned over £100k, you are not a 6-figure business owner.
“When it comes to marketing tactics, bullying mindset tricks and financial guilt-tripping, such as suggesting that if someone doesn’t invest in your programme then they don’t want to grow, are nothing short of manipulative. We don’t like it when politicians or religious leaders use coercive language… So why do we stand for it in business?”
Another huge red flag – the promise that you will make your investment back before the programme is complete. If they say this, do they delve into it – do they mean in new sales? Do they mean in cash? Will they refund you if you don’t make the investment back? Investigate these big claims before handing over your trust and your money.
Never look at taking on a coach who claims that they have the secret answer to whisk all your troubles away and create a six figure business in the process, oh and by the way you can do all of this by working 4 hours a week. It’s simply not realistic or guaranteed.
Coaches are there to guide you, not to dictate how you should live your life or operate your business. For genuine, authentic coaches, their clients are with them because they feel confident that they can help them, and most likely they will have common ground or have had similar experiences with different clients. Coaching should be about empowerment, and you should leave a coaching session with strategies or actions that you can build on and integrate into your life to continue sustained improvement.
Trusting those that paint a picture perfect life, with no transparency around challenges or behind the scenes insight are most likely the ones that you have to be dubious of and are another red flag to beware of.
Rhiannon Bates, Founder of Garnet PR and business mentor, says: “Social media is often a show reel, carefully curated to paint a desirable and aspirational picture and is not an accurate reflection of the reality so take it with a pinch of salt. Many ‘con-trepreneurs’ say what they think people want to hear, or show what they think people want to see, but the proof is in the pudding. A true professional will have testimonials, case studies and former clients they would be happy to put you in touch with should you wish, they aren’t all smoke and mirrors but have true substance, not just a slick looking social presence.”
Arguably one of the real struggles in the coaching industry is not just the fake gurus and practitioners, it is the clients who believe (because of false information) that simply handing over money and talking to someone for an hour a week will change their lives and transform their results simply because they have paid and started.
Amy continues: “The key thing about coaching is that it isn’t a done-for-you, one-size-fits-all service; rather it is guidance on a path the person already wants to be on, encouragement and support along the way and empowering people to achieve results.”
Rhiannon concludes: “The fact of the matter is that nothing will change in your life unless you take action and start implementing steps and boundaries to do so. That is where a genuine coach can help. But it’s important to recognise that it’s a partnership – a coach can guide, support and share expertise and knowledge, but the client has to do the work to get the results – coaching is not a magic wand. It’s vital coaches make this clear, transparency of what is expected on both sides is absolutely key.’
Despite the number of people operating unethically, there are plenty of coaches, qualified and not, that do what they do because they genuinely believe, care and understand what the power of coaching can do to help others. Good coaches can help to change mindsets, remove limiting beliefs and help to propel individuals and businesses to their definition of success with clarity and confidence.