Have you ever noticed that family and friends turn to you for life advice, share their struggles with you, or look to you for motivation? And when they seek your guidance, have you noticed an improvement in their sense of well-being and motivation? If effectively helping others is a skill you’re proud of, a career as a life coach might just be the perfect fit.
Becoming a certified life coach will put proven, science-based techniques behind your natural talent, bringing deeper results to those you already love to help. Not only do life coaches feel personally fulfilled in their ability to improve lives for others, they get paid well to do so, with the highest earning coaches producing $250,000 in annual income and beyond.
If this sounds like the career path you were born to do and would like to learn how to become a life coach, our complete guide will help you get started on the right foot.
First, some background.
What is a Life Coach?
Put simply, a life coach is a trained professional who helps clients understand where they’d like to be (either personally, professionally, or both), what’s stopping them from having it right now, and building real action steps with them to promote progress in reaching their goals. As a life coach, you may help clients reduce stress, build their self-esteem, encourage a positive lifestyle, reduce negativity in their lives, and help them move towards fulfilling their life purpose.
A life coach is not a therapist, a psychiatrist, or any mental health practitioner (although some people become qualified in multiple areas and practice both). As a coach, you won’t be diagnosing or treating mental illness. This is an important distinction to make, as you’ll learn more about these differences if you choose to become a certified life coach. Your network will likely include various types of mental health practitioners so that you can direct the correct clients to one another based on their own needs. Coaching is conversational and focuses on the present and future of a client as well along with empowering them to realize their full potential in life.
A life coach has the ability to see potential in a client objectively, showing them how to take real action to reach their goals. Weaknesses and challenges always play a role in a client’s progress, and an effective coach will bring awareness to these in an empowering way.
Benefits of Life Coaching
Aside from the obvious attractive qualities such as money and fulfillment, freedom-based entrepreneurs enjoy the notion of working from anywhere. Life coaching can be done in person, over the phone, online, or even through courses and books. You get to know your client who needs guidance in an area of life, see their potential, use techniques to help them take action to improve their own life, and show them how to move forward in a healthy way. Your income potential is built around your lifestyle. You can bring in one client per month or coach full-time and spend 50 hours a week on your practice.
Another notable attraction of life coaching is the ability to specialize. A former teacher can coach young adults on finding their career purpose. A mother of 5 can coach busy women to reduce overwhelm and stress. A successful entrepreneur can provide business and mindset coaching and get paid for their time, as opposed to outdated free mentorship. Of course, you can also choose to remain general and coach others based on their unique situation. Getting certified provides you the foundations to take any scenario and coach an individual into their highest potential.
How to Become Certified
Luckily for potential life coaches, the industry is growing exponentially and there are plenty of online certifications you can select to fit your needs. Many of these include payment plans and can be completed part-time. Before you begin your search, take a realistic look at your schedule to determine how many hours per week you can dedicate.
Certifications worth taking will give you in-depth knowledge of psychology, human behavior, habit change, and motivational interviewing. While you are not a therapist, these skills are evidence-based, requiring study and practice. Be sure to factor this into your weekly time availability when planning to enroll.
Pricing of a quality certification is likely between $5,000-$10,000 to complete. Although these are high ticket price points, the ones worth taking are designed to give you a generous return on your investment and prepare you to market yourself as a life coach. Growing as a competitive field, it’s increasingly important for you to not only have coaching techniques, but knowledge on how to stand out in the industry. If those numbers still scare you, affordable payment plans should be available to you for multiple programs.
Finding the Right Program
You’ll be most successful searching for ICF-accredited courses as this has been the gold standard for years. Be on the lookout for a certification with transparency in what their courses look like. If you can see an informative outline of modules, themes, or a “You Will Learn:” section, you can trust the organization is not hiding a vague program. Ideally, your program will cover themes such as the psychology of habit change, foundations of life coaching, motivational interviewing, stages of change, and show you how to structure any kind of session no matter who the client is. You may not see these exact words in the course outline, but a key to this is also making sure a reliable representative from each program is available to take your questions. You can ask them about these topics to ensure you’ll learn them all.
Online certifications are ideal so you can learn conveniently at your own pace, and the best online courses will offer some community or group coaching for you to ask questions and share your progress. This helps you stay accountable to yourself. You should also look for a course that requires you to take practice clients or practice coaching sessions with other students. Learning as you go is crucial to building your motivational interviewing skills. One last box to check is a network; your program should be well-known enough to provide you with either a Facebook group or community to network and collaborate with.
Overview of Top Programs
Area of Focus & Specialization: iPEC offers certification in 3 core modules: Life & Leadership Potentials, Core Transformation, and Breakthrough Coaching. This combination is due to their emphasis on students choosing a career “track” to specialize in, such as life purpose coaching or health and wellness. You’ll be trained in classic methods and foundations to coach any client, and iPEC stands out as a certification with the highest level of focus on specialization. Other options include business coaching, transition coaching, executive coaching, and more.
Method of Delivery: iPEC offers online coursework and requires certain in-person trainings for students to experience face-to-face coaching practice. You’ll complete each module (3 total) over the course of 12 weeks, with the last module taking 4-8 weeks. Each includes collaboration with peers, self-study, mentoring, assignments, and webinars. The second module will focus on your specialization and the last will prepare you to complete your certification and understand your business tools. Between the online work and the intensive in-person events, iPEC provides a well-rounded understanding of effective coaching.
Duration: 7 months
Business Development: Marketing and business development are included in your course material. iPEC’s emphasis on specialization arguably provides you with an edge in marketing yourself as a life coach due to your ability to narrow down your “niche”, or ideal client.
Community & Support: Students are provided with an unlimited online community, success coaching, a personal mentor coach, and a large network during in-person events. Notable to iPEC are the six 1:1 sessions you’ll receive with a mentor, providing you access to privacy and intimacy as you develop your coaching voice. Students who thrive in an in-person environment will love the live trainings, where you’ll meet your new network.
Area of Focus & Specialization: What makes HCI unique is its combined health and life coaching certifications. The Become a Health Coach program will teach you all the foundations of becoming a health and wellness coach, with a life coaching training included following the health coach material. This combination comes from the holistic health model where physical and mental health are deeply connected; giving the coach tools to assist a client in both areas is essential. During the marketing trainings, you’ll be taught how to specialize and create specific programs for your practice.
Method of Delivery: This course is entirely online, with virtual classes, downloads, practice sessions, tests, and assignments. You can complete this at your own pace, but are required to complete all materials within one year. You’ll take on practice clients, an accountability student partner, receive group coaching sessions, and listen to sample coaching sessions along with done-for-you templates.
Cost: Begins at $4500
Duration: This certification is a 6 month training, and you’ll have one year to complete coursework.
Business Development: HCI boasts a complete marketing module including how to narrow down your niche, create specialized programs and sessions based on any person, how to network effectively, deliver speeches, build your email list, and more. The done-for-you aspect of this particular marketing training makes HCI stand out as a competitive program.
Community: HCI’s online portal provides the ability to connect with fellow students. You’ll receive accountability partners, a Facebook group, and group sessions with your mentor success coach. HCI does promote live events where you can network and meet with the founders, and these have often included a free seat for current students.
Area of Focus & Specialization: Well known for the Co-Active coaching method, CTI is a long-established course in the industry. Learning the C0-Active method relies on the philosophy that the client’s self-awareness and knowledge of what is best for them will lead the life coach to powerful results. You will be able to coach any client after learning the foundations in your six courses. The main principles you’ll discover include Fundamentals, Fulfillment, Balance, Process, and Synergy.
Method of Delivery: You can expect five in-person workshops where you’ll learn the foundations and primary five courses of your certification. After you’ve completed these, you’ll finish your certification online for your final course. During your workshops, you’ll receive hands-on coaching, practice experience, group mentorship, and one-on-one supervision. After you complete all courses, you’ll be eligible to take a written and oral exam to become a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach.
Duration: 1 year
Business Development: The Fundamentals course includes training on how to apply your certification into your existing profession or avenues you can explore as a new life coach, however CTI business development trainings and certifications are separate programs.
Community: Community wise, CTI boasts tens of thousands in its professional network of students and coaches. Thanks to the live trainings, you will receive hands-on support from your mentor coaches as well as fellow students, which you will lean on as your career grows.
Area of Focus & Specialization: Notable due to its option to become a spirituality coach, Life Purpose Institute offers a unique fit for potential life coaches looking to help others grow their spiritual purpose. LPI also offers a Life Coaching certification with foundational tools to coach any client (topics include: Relationship, Health, Life Transition, Career, Purpose and Life Balance Coaching). One requirement worth mentioning is the need for a Bachelor’s Degree to complete the certification program to ensure optimal success. LPI boasts its personalized training and small class sizes to enhance your sense of progress and success in the program.
Method of Delivery: Luckily for busy professionals with unique schedules, the same content is broken up into different formats to fit student lifestyles. You can choose from 5 or 7-day in-person intensives with online follow ups as well as online 3 and 6-month programs with biweekly follow up sessions. Small class sizes and individual attention for each student provides opportunity for feedback and you can expect to have all of your questions answered.
Cost: $2500-$3600 (depending on your state)
Duration: Depending on your choice of delivery, you can choose the 5-7 day intensives with follow-ups online as well as a 3 or 6-month online programs.
Business Development: Accredited by the Center for Credentialing & Education, LPI offers Business in a Box business development tools as well as its life and spirituality coaching curriculum. You’ll receive tools to create a marketing plan and, if needed, a transition plan to leave your current job. Mastering business tools is a requirement for completion of an LPI certification.
Community: LPI provides in-depth personalized training, and your class sizes will allow you to feel intimate and supported along your journey. Alumni support includes a Facebook group and free monthly classes for continuing education.
Area of Focus & Specialization: The Certified Coach Training includes a module teaching topics clients need most, client-centered sessions, effective coaching tools, and how to structure a masterful session. Specialization is encouraged and primarily explained in the business development modules.
Method of Delivery: You can expect 60-90 minute weekly tele-sessions where you’ll learn in a class of up to 12 fellow students. You’ll also enjoy access to a mentor coach for observation and/or critique and should be prepared for self-study sessions 1-2 hours per week. The online Coach Training Accelerator provides you with the virtual access to techniques, coaching materials, and media that makes CTA a noteworthy option.
Duration: 6 months
Business Development: Business tools are integrated throughout the modules, specifically on how to become a “client magnet” and effective business tools. Marketing yourself as a coach is covered as an integral piece of your training at CTA.
Community: CTA provides levels of community support, including virtual classrooms where you can connect with students and converse on common challenges and successes. You’ll also learn through group mentoring, where you can be coached, practice coaching methods on others, and receive feedback from your mentor coach.
CTA also provides a directory upon completion where you can connect with other graduates and promote yourself as a life coach.
Taking Action: Enroll
As a life coach, you’ll learn that the biggest block to your own success can simply be you. Once you’ve found a certification program you’re confident in (on paper and in your gut), take real action and enroll. Beginning any new education is exciting and overwhelming, so set yourself up for success. Organize your office, block schedule your studying time, set your priorities (so you don’t get too “busy”), and set some goals. If your program is 6 months, write down 6 month goals to stay motivated. If it’s a year-long program, perhaps set 3 month progress milestones you can celebrate.
Putting Your Skills Into Practice
Finding your first practice clients is daunting, but this small step is the difference between getting a life coaching certification and being a real life coach. Your first clients are already in your life and network, if you’re willing to spot them. Who is already asking you for advice? Who tells you they feel “stuck” in a job, in stress, in their confidence, or in their lifestyle? Ask if they’d be willing to let you help them in a deeper way.
Ask your practice clients for feedback as you go, and bring any criticism to your course community. Your fellow students may have this as a strong point for them and help you improve for next time. Practice clients are the key to the rest of your coaching career: you’ll learn what kind of person you love to coach, you’ll learn which life problems you solve best, you’ll learn how to use motivational interviewing and ask the right questions.
Find Your Ideal Client
Speaking of learning who you love to help most, you’ll want to avoid an enormous challenge for potential life coaches: not knowing who you’re meant to help. If you’ve ever used “I want to help people” as your reason for becoming a life coach, it’s time to get specific. Finding your “niche”, your ideal client, will grow your career and your level of expertise in the industry.
After coaching some practice clients, you’ll understand which life problems people come to you for and which client wins make you most fulfilled. You can still help anyone coming to you with any problem, but your niche will make you a standout when clients look for coaching. If you were a client looking to organize her life, which coach stands out more to you: Life Coach, or Life Coach Helping Busy Women De-Clutter and De-Stress? This is the power of studying practice clients you love.
The Entrepreneur Question
Starting Your Own Business
Once you’re certified and celebrating, a new question comes up… “Now what?” . It will be tempting to go ahead and get your logo, website, photoshoots, and business cards right away. If that’s within your means, enjoy it. If you’re looking to begin coaching and earning income right away, new clients are the first step to take. Inviting practice clients to continue their progress and asking them for referrals is a great idea. At minimum, you’ll want to register your business, create a new client contract (you’ll most likely get a template for this in your course), set up your payment method, and your course will have taught you how to find and secure your new clients.
Entrepreneurship has its challenges: you may not see a return on your certification investment right away if you build your business and clientele slowly. Funding a business depends on your vision for yours and can include marketing materials, networking memberships, travel to conferences, advertisements or website fees, and business insurance costs. You can also acquire these over time and if you charge high ticket prices for your clients early on, many of these expenses can be paid for easily.
Finding the Right Job
Regarding work, one thing to remember is that you are not obligated to start your own business. Many life coaches do, however corporations and large business also have a need for in-house life coaches. Employee happiness is a growing demand and so are you as a life coach because of this. Colleges benefit from career coaches; apps provide mobile life coaching thanks to technology. Mental health services collaborating with therapists and life coaches provide a new level of support for those in need. Regardless of which path you choose, there is a need for your work.
Being employed as a life coach is a double-edged sword to some: your security feels reliable when you land a job, yet your earning potential has an upper limit when you agree on a salary. Some life coaches thrive in an employed environment and enjoy being part of a team (not to mention benefits and more already included). Others choose to test the level of income and high price points they can bring in as entrepreneurs. Some mix the two, working for a corporation and taking occasional individual clients on the side. See this as a choice that depends on your own wishes and goals as a life coach, there is no “right” or “wrong” direction to go if you’d love to be successful in the field.
Bonus: Sample Coaching Session
Below is a sample session where you’ll understand the interaction in a coach/client relationship and common techniques used in life coaching. This client struggles with stress and overwhelm as a working mother, and her coach is helping her feel organized and confident in her work/life balance. Key techniques to look for here include focusing on client “wins”, asking questions designed to let the client decide her own action steps (motivational interviewing), and using small but meaningful actions to make progress.
Coach: “Hi ____, thanks for showing up to yourself today. Something I’d love to practice with you is celebrating wins so you can feel real progress every single week. We’ll be starting every session like this so our good energy can translate into whatever you’re struggling with. So if you’re ready to begin, what went well for you this week?”
Client: “Sure. This past week went well. I did what you suggested and practiced batching my work tasks starting Monday. I made a list of my top priorities on my commute to work and set alarms for myself to focus on each one for an hour. At first it was challenging, but by the end of the week I felt like I had a routine. That was the best feeling because you know I’ve been having anxiety around feeling stretched too thin and being exhausted. I was actually done early most days after trying this.”
Coach: “I want to celebrate you for trying something new even though it was challenging at first. I know it’s hard when you have so much to do, but I hoped time batching would make your work day more organized. How did it feel at the end of the week knowing you had a routine?”
Client: “Let’s just say my stress levels were lower than they’ve been in a while. I got to leave early Friday and enjoy dinner with my family. I’m proud of myself.”
Coach: “That’s great to hear. If you’re open to it, let’s keep practicing time batching next week so your routine feels even stronger. I’m glad you seemed to have a great week! Was anything challenging for you despite your win?”
Client: “Even though I felt on top of my work stuff, I still don’t feel like I can completely unwind at home. I’ve been slacking with my chores and responsibilities since work was overwhelming me and my husband has had to do more at home. I want to help more again, but I’m scared of getting overwhelmed right after I get this work routine going.”
Coach: “I understand. You’re nervous about taking on too much as soon as you get a break in the thing that has stressed you out for so long.”
Client: “Exactly!! If I move too fast it’s going to blow up in my face again and he’ll resent me even more.”
Coach: “How would you feel about one small step at a time? We want to protect your mental health and focus the most on your progress at work so that it doesn’t impact your home life. But I can see that you’re willing to increase your effort at home. How do you feel about setting one of your action steps around this? If so, what could that small step realistically be?”
Client: “I could make dinner one or two nights a week. I miss cooking with the kids helping me and it might make me more motivated to stay on top of my work if I have this to look forward to.”
Coach: “That’s a great idea. I’m sure this is an action step that will motivate you since you love cooking with your kids! What needs to happen for you to stick with this action step? I know you both have a hectic schedule, so how do we make it work?”
Client: “I’ll have to sit down with him Sunday to plan some meals. If I know which days I’m cooking and what I’m making, we’ll both feel less overwhelmed knowing what’s expected of each other. I also will need to grocery shop right after before I forget.”
Coach: “Sounds like a plan. If it helps you stay accountable, leave me a quick email Sunday night to let me know you’re feeling good and ready to start the week off right. Is there anything else you’d like to plan for to keep your stress levels down this week and feel organized?”
Client: “I actually feel more organized every week, so thank you. I’m still worried about crashing and burning. Every time I feel like I have my life together, I mess up again, let the work pile up, and I’m back to square one. I need your help staying motivated but I’m not sure how.”
Coach: “It seems like you’re nervous about losing your motivation after making so much progress with these small steps every week. One thing that we know helps you feel proud is to thank yourself for those wins as you go. This could be nourishing yourself, letting loose a bit, or treating yourself in a way that doesn’t impact your progress. What comes to mind when I say that?”
Client: “Maybe after this week after practicing time-batching more, I could apply for a vacation day soon. I haven’t taken one in a long time because I always feel behind, but now I’m starting not to. I think a vacation day here and there will reward my hard work in staying organized.”
Coach: “Excellent. How about Friday afternoon, if you feel proud of your time batching efforts this week, you take a look at your calendar and apply for a day off? You and I will work before then to make sure you still feel organized and prepared at work and home.”
Client: “YES. I just got so excited to finally apply for my day off.”
Coach: “Perfect. Your action steps are to continue time batching at work, plan meals with your husband and cook them, and to apply for your day off.”
Client: “Got it. I actually feel on top of my week right now!”
Key Techniques Used in this Session
Notice that the coach began this session by celebrating the client’s wins. Starting a session on a positive note allows the client to experience pride, feel like she is moving forward in her progress, and reflect on how her own efforts pay off. This prompts her to view any challenges in the session as less intimidating. The coach made a point to build on the client’s work progress first, then added a layer of action steps around her life at home. You’ll also notice the coach using motivational interviewing questions to prompt the client to create her own action steps and reflect on where she’d like to place her efforts next. This allows the pair to create small, specific, but meaningful actions to slowly create real organization in the client’s life.
Notable Challenges Presented by the Client
When clients experience overwhelm, there are likely countless directions a coach could choose to guide their progress. It’s important for a coach to keep action steps simple, specific, and small at first. Clients with overwhelming action steps will only experience more stress. One step a new coach may have missed is asking the client for an extra layer of accountability (asking her to confirm she planned her meals via email). If a coach senses that a client may not follow through, extra steps can be taken to support their sense of teamwork. One last technique to focus on is the emphasis on the client creating her own action steps. Many new coaches are quick to provide ideas without discussion and brainstorming first, but letting the client think allows her to create her own solutions… even if she asks for ideas. Coaching is collaborative and client-centered.
There is no better time to be a passionate, ambitious, and empathetic human than right now. Not only do these qualities make you a caring person, they will also reward you with a fulfilling (and lucrative) career if you are looking for one. Life coaching provides an outlet for the right people to share their tools on living life to the fullest with others… and get paid for it.
Your path is entirely up to you and your life coaching career will evolve as you help more people. Be open to changing your niche, working with challenging people, and raising your prices as you provide deeper and more effective results. Remember that life coaching is a career where you are constantly of service and can be rewarded generously for seeing potential and helping others change their own lives. If you choose the right program and set yourself up for success, you’ll be able to enjoy a life of freedom and fulfillment.