Hi! I’m Sheila Anne, a Whole Person Certified Life Coach and ICF Professional Certified Coach (PCC).  I wrote this article to help you find your own way into coaching.  If you have questions please ask in the comments box!

I was first introduced to life coaching by a friend visiting me in Boston from Los Angeles. After sharing with her how unfulfilled I was with my work she suggested I explore becoming a life coach. At the time I worked in sales and customer service and while my work certainly allowed me to work with people, it wasn’t the way I truly wanted to help others.

As I learned more about coaching and how it worked, I was immediately magnetized…

Who wouldn’t love a career where you can employ your experience and passions to support other people others holistically? Championing people to realize their deepest desires in their personal and professional lives through a collaborative process resonated deeply with me.

But, instead of acting on my excitement, I daydreamed about the possibilities of becoming a life coaching. What could happen if I took the leap? Would I be a good life coach? Would I lose all financial security? What would my friends and family think of me?

Life will move you along, like it or not

The sudden loss of my mother to cancer changed all of my fears. My mother was a light in my life. She believed in me fiercely. Losing her ignited a drive to believe in myself and take the leap into pursuing a life that felt aligned and alive. No more waiting or playing small, I wanted to follow my dreams, and let her light lead my way.

My journey into coaching began with a multi-month backpacking trip with my boyfriend (who became my fiancé on the trip!). On the road, I interviewed life coaches, relationship coaches, and coaches that had been in the field for 30+ years. I inquired about their new careers and life as a coach, as well as their training backgrounds. Through these enlightening conversations, I envisioned what a coaching career might look like for me. Clearly, I wanted a strong coach training foundation from which to build from. I also wanted to design my own business and customize my coaching to reflect my philosophy and processes.

Google became a close friend of mine. But regardless of my searches, I didn’t find the answers I needed. I was overwhelmed by the lack of clarity and abundance of perspectives. I wanted to know exactly how to get certified and how to start “coaching,” whatever that meant. I was determined to find the “right” school and program, and fearful that I’d end up choosing the wrong one and end up with nothing but debt to show for it.

Don’t let fear stop you from acting

“Uh – oh” I remember thinking “No way I’m going to let my over-thinking tendencies sneak in and keep me from taking the leap again!” I realized that fear of choosing the wrong school could keep me from choosing at all… and I could not let that happen. Instead, I committed to simply be in the process, gather all the information I could, and to trust my heart. So I moved forward on the hunt for the right coach training program for me, making sure to feel out what called to me.

As I dove into my program research with renewed energy, I considered my options: work for myself or pursue a job as a life coach? Another option was working as an external coach for a coaching firm. For me, I felt that becoming my own boss would give me the greatest freedom as well as the opportunity to wear multiple hats.

My interviews with other coaches had helped me to understand the importance of ICF credentialing and the credibility it would earn me, especially as a newer coach. The decisions I made up front helped me to determine the kind of training I should attend and whether or not I would earn an ICF credential.

Figuring out how to become a life coach wasn’t easy. I had many questions and was confused by all of the information. Below I’ve explored key questions that helped me in my process to become a holistic life coach. You may find some questions to the things you’ve been mulling over. My hope is that you walk away with inspiration and confidence.

What exactly does a life coach do?

Coaches are change-makers, luminaries, influencers, maximizers and so much more. A coach plays a vital role in their client’s progress toward greater success and fulfilment. They support their clients to maximize their potential, identify and overcome limiting beliefs and ultimately achieve what truly matters to them. But that’s not all, a coach offers a process that holds the potential to transform their client’s life or business in ways they may not have thought possible.

Pretty exciting, right? Beyond “who” the coach is in the coach-client relationship, there were many advantages that felt both professional and personal for me.

What experience is required to become a life coach?

When I began to seriously explore coaching, I worried if I had enough life experience to be a “good” life coach. I by no means considered myself a “life expert” (still don’t!) and I wondered how I could help others while working through my own challenges and growth.

What did I learn? Life coaching is not about being the expert in the room but instead a champion for your client, an observer, a deep listener, and a courageous question-asker. The wonderful thing about being a coach is that you get to pull from your own life and career experiences, and you step into whatever support role your client needs you to be on any given day.

As a Whole Person Certified Coach, I infused my rich experiences into my coaching. This allowed me to feel confident in my ability and to coach others my way. I pulled from my years working in a large corporate setting and a small startup, my experiences team building, and my personal journey with physical and emotional wellbeing.

Recognizing how you want to leverage your experience whether it be from the school of life, academic, workplace, or a combination thereof can help you hone in on the people that you want to support. I found it helpful to explore possible niches where I could leverage my whole self into my work as a coach, and I’ll share learnings with you below.

What are the different types of life coaching niches?

As you may have seen before, there are ICF accredited programs out there that are business oriented, career oriented, health oriented, etc. While I found it helpful to explore various coaching niches, I wasn’t sure if I wanted a program that would focus on just one niche. Along with deciding whether to pick a niche program, I wanted to ensure that the program I chose included education in science and psychology.

I weighed the benefits of earning expertise in one area versus being able to get a holistic foundation that would enable me to serve in my own way. In the end I decided that the former would pigeonhole me into serving a specific group of people whereas the latter option would offer me freedom to explore and design my own path. After all, I wanted to become a coach to serve and lead my way, so I needed a program that would enable me to do just that.

Next, I desired more understanding around the ICF Certification process. This is where things got a little cloudy and confusing. I hope to offer some wisdom to make your journey a little clearer than mine was!

Is it important to attend an ICF Accredited Program?

I’ve already shared that my interviews with coaches helped me to understand the importance of having an International Coach Federation (ICF) credential, but you might be wondering why.

The ICF is the global leader for the coaching industry. This global organization accredits coach training programs and certifies coaches. As a coach you can earn an ICF Associate Coach Certification, ICF Professional Coach Certification and ICF Master Coach Certification. This happens when you attend a school that is accredited or approved by the ICF.

As I mentioned, this part was confusing. I kept seeing acronyms for coach training programs that looked so similar but were apparently indicating very different things:

  • ACTP: ACCREDITED Coach Training Program which offers 125+ of coach training, is a start to finish program toward certification, and is often seen as more credible and more thoroughly vetted by the ICF.
  • ACSTH: APPROVED Coach Specific Training Hours which is typically not a full coach training program and therefore those on this track need to piece together requirements from different sources in order to earn an ICF certification.

By choosing a program that is ICF Accredited Coach Training Program (ACTP), you guarantee yourself a strong coaching foundation and credibility to future job and client prospects. I instantly knew that I wanted to attend an ICF accredited program because I wanted to ensure I was learning from the best!  You can read more about the benefits of an ACTP program here

I knew that choosing an ACTP school would offer a start-to-finish experience, which was important to me. But, as I searched through schools, I realized that some ICF ACTP programs didn’t include the required ICF mentor coaching in the program tuition. I’d have to obtain my own mentor coach or pay extra to earn this ICF certification requirement. This added 1000’s of dollars to my costs.

Keeping things simple, I wanted a robust, one-stop-shop that would offer everything I needed to earn my ICF certification for one price.

Inclusions I looked for included:

  • An ICF mentor coaching program that included the oral exam and coaching evaluations
  • My own dedicated coach, I didn’t want to go through my journey alone! I saw that some schools offered the opportunity to have a senior coach or mentor.
  • Textbooks & online resources
  • In-person experience with the option for online should I need it.
  • Ability to join an online coach directory (to market myself!)
  • Ongoing continuing education
  • Life-long access to the digital content and support from the school

Now that I had a few ICF Accredited schools in mind, it was time to make my final decision. I set aside some time, took out paper and pen to jot thoughts, and really dug in. Here were my considerations.

How to Choose a Life Coaching Certification Program

My Top Priorities

Before diving into the details of each program, I wanted to be crystal clear on my top priorities. I’ll give you a window to what the top of my list looked like…

  1. ICF Accredited Coach Training Program (ACTP)
  2. Feel of school
  3. Coaching Method Philosophy
  4. In-person option
  5. Graduate within a year or less
  6. Access to a large, diverse community

But there were other considerations too…

  • Desired timeline and scheduling requirementsYou can certify in a week with a fast track program or you can train for months, some schools even offer self-paced options. It’s helpful to understand what all of the options are, including training dates. I considered schools that boasted flexibility and those that were more structured and regimented. Apart from the program schedule, I realized that I needed to keep in mind coaching experience hours outside of class and estimate that commitment into my timeline as well! As I was coming off of a European backpacking trip and settling back into what my new life would look like, I decided that I wanted my coach training program front and center. I had the time and flexibility, and decided to do two week long intensives in January and June. Personally, I wanted time in between the intensives to sustain learnings and get coaching practice.
  • Coaching Instructors
    These are the amazing people you’ll be learning from, so of course you’ll want to connect with their experience and style. Some programs will have multiple trainers, while others will have one. I found it helpful to explore the backgrounds of the trainers. I knew I wanted someone with a wealth of experience in coaching and business. I also wanted to feel a certain level of connection with their story and personality.
  • Delivery Format
    Online, virtual, textbook, experiential – there are so many formats to learn these days and often  schools will have flexible learning options to fit unique needs! I found it helpful to consider how the various programs would complement my learning style. In reflection, I realized that I learn best from direct experience, so I wanted a school that would get me out of my comfort zone and practice right away! I also wanted a program that was interactive both online and in-person so that I could engage with the community and review lessons between the intensive training weeks.
  • Location
    To kick off my life coaching journey, I knew I wanted to jump two-feet-in and attend an in-person training. I noted which programs offered an in-person option and also if it was required to attend in-person. I looked for flexibility to attend remotely in the future, in case things changed (which they certainly did when the pandemic hit!). If you hope to travel and train in-person, it will be helpful to ensure that it’s viable considering your timeline, budget, and also your interest in visiting that place. One of the programs I considered was in the New England area, and another was on the West Coast. Since I had spent most of my life in New England, I was energized by the idea of traveling somewhere new!
  • Length & Depth of Support and Size Classes
    Across a variety of programs you’ll see different group sizes and levels of support. As I considered support and size, it was helpful to review past learning experiences, in school, at workshops, etc. I knew that I didn’t mind being in a group but I also didn’t want to be a number. I get value from interaction and asking questions, so I was turned off from programs that seemed to run like a machine – just churning out coaches without a sense of community. I also considered what opportunities there were to collaborate in teams, get support 1:1, and if I’d have access to a large diverse community well after the program ended.
  • Referrals
    Gathering input and experiences from others was a great way to find out what programs were out there that I could be missing and what people’s personal experiences were.  I learned that some programs offered a graduate commission for referring new students, so I always asked ahead of time if that was the case so I knew I was receiving an honest perspective.
  • The Feel/Vibe of the School
    It’s important to resonate with the mission, service, and vibe of the program/school. I always paid special attention to the experience that I was being offered, how quickly I got a response, who I was able to speak with, what the follow up was, and how I felt on the phone with the trainers. I noticed how I felt when I landed on the school website, as I read through content, and as I interacted with the trainers and graduates. This was important information!
    When I found Coach Training World, I truly felt like I was “home” and that was validated further during my first in-person intensive training in Portland, Oregon. I had never felt so comfortable so quickly, and this enabled me to feel more courageous and develop friendships while earning my coaching certification.
  • See What Graduates Are Doing
    Though I wanted to coach my own way, it was helpful to see what was possible in the missions and journeys of others that went through various programs. I learned how graduates of different schools had gone on to leverage their coaching experience. It was fascinating to see a plethora of niches, businesses, and experiences and it showed me that truly anything was possible! This helped me to find the program that felt most aligned for me, because I could easily imagine myself as a graduate of Coach Training World in particular. I especially enjoyed this Meet Our Graduates section of the Coach Training World website because it highlights the breadth of ways that coaches are having an impact on their clients and the world.
  • Investment
    There is a wide range of pricing when it comes to earning a certification, so consider what your budget and willingness to invest is. Currently you can expect to pay between $8,000-$20,000 for an ICF accredited program. As I was of the mindset that it was like going back to school, I preferred a robust program over one that was cheaper and less immersive and supported. As I mentioned in the Inclusions section, I made sure to not just look at the up-front cost, but also what was behind that number so that I could estimate any additional costs on the top.
  • Test drive a program/school
    One of the best ways to find out what school is right for you is to try it out for yourself! Schools will typically offer the opportunity to test drive their experience, so that you can make an educated decision. See if you can hop on a call with one of the trainers, join a webinar (even better if it’s live so you can ask questions!), or see if you can sit in on a class. Personally I hopped on the phone with school trainers/owners and this really helped me get a feel for the program and people.

 Finally, before I jumped into my first training with my chosen school, I wanted to create a vision for what my life and career as a coach would be.

Creating a future coach vision for yourself

In the past few years I’ve adapted more embodiment into my life, and found it especially powerful when I am working toward a goal or making a change in my life, career, or relationship. Before I started backpacking, I considered what kind of traveler I wanted to be. When I entered a relationship with my current partner, I considered how I wanted to show up, support, and ask for support. Stepping into coaching required the same step and I feel it made a world of difference. Here are some of the questions I considered.

What kind of coach do I want to be?

Okay, this is a fun part where I put myself in the shoes of my future self!

  • How do I see myself as a coach?
  • How do others see me and what do they look to me for?
  • Who do I serve and on what scale?
  • What kinds of problems do I solve or what solutions do I offer?
  • What lights me up about my work?

These questions were key for me as I stepped into coaching because they helped me focus on how I would employ my coaching skills to effect change in my own unique way.

How will use coaching into my life as a whole?

All aspects of our life are interconnected, and when we add coaching to the mix it’s no different. I made time to consider how the acquisition of coaching tools might impact my relationships and personal growth and asked questions like:

  • What aspects of me or my life may thrive?
  • What might change?
  • What might become less important and fall away?

Changes like this are an exciting time for renewal, so I enjoyed the process and continue to come back to these questions often.

Who are you excited about helping?

As I’ve mentioned, a key driver of my decision to become a coach was the ability to work with people and impact lives. As I created my coaching vision, I thought about who I would feel excited about working with. I often hear that coaches are drawn to helping people that they once were, and this was certainly the case for me! I was energized by the idea of working with women that felt a disconnect between who they are at their core and the career, relationship, and lifestyle they are currently engaged in.

Envisioning your pathway forward is an excellent way to test drive if a career or business in coaching is right for you. Discover You helps aspiring coaches like you to do this!

Other questions you might have…

Can I make money coaching?
Absolutely! There is a wide range of ways that you can make money from coaching experience. What you charge is up to you and your business model. I’ve seen that some coaches charge $100 per hour while others charge over $1,000. Often where newer coaches get stuck is when it comes to their money mindset. Checkout how you can think bigger for your business using the money-love lens.

What are the opportunities for me as a coach?
There are endless possibilities – start a podcast, write a book, speak, join a coaching firm, launch a business, bring coaching to your organization, create your own niche and opportunities! The more open you are to testing and experimenting, the faster you’ll learn and discover what aligns for you.

Do I have to start my own business?
Nope! Training to become a coach can be valuable in so many ways that have nothing to do with owning a business. Coaching tools can help deepen relationships, resolve conflicts, and up-level your career. Plus you can always work for a coaching firm or get a job as an internal coach. I personally suggest remaining open. I’ve even heard that some of the coaches at Coach Training World got hired because of their certification qualifications on their resume.

Do I need a niche?
The benefit of choosing your coaching niche, or signature way of coaching, is that it sets you apart! As there is only one you, you deserve to stand out. There is a plethora of coaching niches, and you can create your own! Consider how amazing it  would be to curate your job description, business model, and clientele. So while you don’t “need” a niche, you may find that it could help you design your dream job and ideal lifestyle. 

Is the market too saturated for me?
My take is that the more coaches there are, the more clients can be served by their dream service provider – how cool is that? Take an opportunity to discover what your special sauce is, and you’ll never worry about standing out in the market. But don’t forget if you want your ideal clients to find you… you’ll need to marketing yourself.  Because I knew this was so important I enrolled in the CoachPreneur Academy.

Do I have to be a life expert / have my life together in order to be a life coach?
Definitely not! As mentioned in the section “What kind of experience do you need to become a coach,” clients don’t need perfection – they need a real, understanding human who brings their wealth of work and life experience to the relationship. Match your unique background with a comprehensive coaching foundation, and you are set.

Closing Thoughts On My Journey into Life Coaching

Though the path toward choosing a coaching career, finding a coaching program, and developing a new life vision oftentimes can feel cloudy and winding, in reflection I realize that big questions and pivots have made my journey feel all the more meaningful. I am deeply grateful for the invaluable coaching foundation I’ve built, which has not only helped me change the lives of others but has also changed my own life!

After reading this you likely have some questions, and maybe even more questions than you had before! Write any questions or thoughts in the comment box and I’ll be sure to respond.