How to Become a Life Coach: 8 Steps to Build a Successful Coaching Business

How to Become a Life Coach: 8 Steps to Build a Successful Coaching Business

“Coaching isn’t therapy. It’s product development, with you as the product.” – Fast Company

That quote might be 23 years old (!), but life coaching hasn’t gone out of style:

  • The life coaching industry is expected to bring in $1 billion in revenue this year
  • There are over 18,000 life coaching businesses in the US
  • The life coaching industry saw a steady annual growth of 2.2% between 2014 and 2019

People become life coaches because they’re driven to help others. But life coaches are more than just good listeners and advisors — they’re entrepreneurs. When you start a coaching business, you become a marketer, a salesperson, a networker, and a leader.

It might sound intimidating, but with the right training, tools, and experience, you can set yourself (and your life coaching business) up to become a successful life coach.

8 steps to becoming life coaching and building your business:

  1. What skills do you need to be a life coach?
  2. Find your coaching niche
  3. Get certified as a life coach (…or don’t)
  4. Set up your coaching business
  5. Plan your life coaching services and prices
  6. Build your online presence
  7. Automate and scale your email marketing and sales
  8. Find ways to upgrade your skills

Step 1: What skills do you need to be a life coach?

Life coaching sounds exciting and glamorous, but it’s a lot of work and takes time to establish yourself and your business.

Think about what life coaches really do. As a life coach, you’ll help clients answer:

  • What parts of my life need growth and development?
  • What are my goals for those parts of my life?
  • How can I reach those goals?
examples of how life coaches can help people

Life coaches help their clients figure out how to be their best selves — whatever that means to each person. (Source: The Coaching Institute)

Life coaches are not therapists. Traditional therapists work through patients’ emotions and treat mental health. Life coaches help clients ask important questions and plan for the future. Good life coaches are good listeners — but there’s a lot more to life coaching than listening to people’s problems.

As a life coach, you’re more than an advisor. You’re an entrepreneur, marketer, and salesperson.

As a life coach, you’re more than an advisor. You’re an entrepreneur, marketer, and salesperson. Click To Tweet

Becoming a life coach requires these skills (and more!):

  • Entrepreneurship
  • Active listening
  • Budgeting
  • Marketing
  • Networking
  • Creativity
  • Strong sense of ethics
  • Leadership

Do you have those skills? More importantly, are you willing to spend time, energy, and money improving them? Then you’re ready to start your journey to becoming a life coach.

Step 2: Find your coaching niche

Life coach is an umbrella term. To find your place as a life coach you need to choose a niche, or specific area of focus. A niche helps you determine:

  • The issues you’ll help your life coaching clients with
  • Your area of expertise

“I have many clients who have reached the coveted 6-figure mark coaching people on relationships, or mindful eating, or confidence. But the thing that makes those coaches’ businesses work is that they have chosen a very specific niche, and not been afraid to build a brand around a very specific problem” – Becca Tracey, The Uncaged Life

Becca Tracey life coach email to join her waitlist

Becca Tracey found her niche: Coaching other coaches! She helps her clients “learn what it takes to actually get clients online – narrow your niche, refine your message, nail your pitch, and create killer packages.” (Source: The Uncaged Life on Facebook)

Types of life coaches include:

  • Leadership
  • Executive/business
  • Career
  • Personal improvement
  • Spirituality
  • Family and romantic relationships
  • Organizational
  • And many more!

Ask yourself these questions to help identify your niche:

  • What valuable expertise do you have that you can share with others?
  • What are the biggest obstacles you’ve overcome in your life? What skills did you use to overcome those obstacles?
  • What kinds of difficulties do the people in your life come to you for advice on?
  • What topics are you the “go-to” friend, coworker, or family member for?

Reflect on your experiences, strengths, and skills.

  • If you have tons of experience with public speaking, coach other people through their fear of speaking
  • If you have marketing/branding experience, use that to coach small business owners (maybe even other coaches!) on building up their brand and marketing their business
  • If you have HR or recruiting experience, focus your coaching on helping people find their dream jobs

Step 3: Get certified as a life coach (…or don’t)

There’s no governing body that requires you to pass a test or earn a specific degree to become a life coach.

But earning life coach credentials from a recognized organization — like the International Coaching Federation (ICF) — boosts your credibility, especially when you’re just starting out and don’t have a ton of client testimonials yet.

Check out these stats from the ICF:

  • 77% of coaches agreed that clients expect them to be certified or credentialed
  • 83% of coaching clients reported that it was important for coaches to hold a credential
  • People are more likely to recommend a coach who holds a credential than a coach who does not

The ICF offers one of the most widely recognized professional coaching certifications. Their programs focus on:

  • Building coaches’ knowledge and skills around coaching
  • Committing to high ethical and professional industry standards

The ICF offers three levels of certification (listed from least to most time and money required):

  1. Associate Certified Coach (ACC)
  2. Professional Certified Coach (PCC)
  3. Master Certified Coach (MCC)

These certification programs require training, coaching experience, examinations, and references from credentialed coaches. Depending on the certification level, you must complete anywhere from 100 to 2,500 hours of (at least mostly paid) coaching.

To become a certified coach through the ICF, you must pass the Coach Knowledge Assessment (CKA). The CKA checks for these 11 core competencies:

  1. Meeting Ethical Guidelines and Professional Standards
  2. Establishing the Coaching Agreement
  3. Establishing Trust and Intimacy with the Client
  4. Coaching Presence
  5. Active Listening
  6. Powerful Questioning
  7. Direct Communication
  8. Creating Awareness
  9. Designing Actions
  10. Planning and Goal Setting
  11. Managing Progress and Accountability

The ICF also offers accreditation to other coaching programs that follow their curriculum. If you choose not to receive certification directly from the ICF, you can find ICF-accredited life coach training programs through their Training Program Search Service (TPSS).

An ICF membership gives you networking opportunities in the coaching industry. Other coaching associations include the International Association of Coaching (IAC) and the American Coaching Association (ACA).

All of that said, many successful life coaches choose not to get ICF-certified. Although it can be valuable if you want to be a corporate coach, the certification can be expensive and time-consuming.

You might find that you’re able to build enough word-of-mouth and hands-on learning experience to scale your business without a certification.

If you choose not to get certified by a recognized coaching organization, make sure you have other ways to show credibility to potential clients. This includes:

  • Education. Depending on your niche, a degree in psychology, organizational behavior, and even marketing or business can lend credibility to your coaching practice.
  • Work experience as a therapist, social worker, HR professional, consultant, marketer, entrepreneur, etc. What makes you qualified to advise in your niche?
  • Testimonials and references from friends, family, and coworkers who you’ve coached or advised, professionally or otherwise

Step 4: Set up your coaching business

(Before this next step, a caveat: I am not a lawyer. Before you make any legal business decisions, please consult a lawyer and/or financial advisor.)

It’s time to choose a business entity type for your life coaching practice.

If you’re starting your new coaching practice on your own, you’ll probably want to choose between:

  1. Sole proprietorship: Unincorporated business with one owner (you!)
  2. Limited liability company (LLC): Registered business with limited liability for all members

What’s the difference between a sole proprietorship and an LLC? Without getting too bogged down in legalese…

  • Liability
    • In a sole proprietorship, a sole proprietor (you, personally) is responsible for all of the debts and liabilities of the business. If your business runs into financial trouble, you’re on the hook.
    • In an LLC, the business itself is responsible for the business’s debts and liabilities. If you intermingle your personal funds with LLC funds, it can result in the loss of your limited liability protection.
  • Costs
    • An LLC costs more upfront because you’ll need to register with the state and pay initial registration and annual maintenance fees.
    • You might be required to hire a corporate lawyer or registered agent who provides the best llc service, for example, to receive government correspondence, and compliance-related paperwork on the company’s behalf.
    • A sole proprietorship has minimal initial costs
  • Regulations
    • An LLC is more heavily regulated than a sole proprietorship and, depending on your state, you may need an operating agreement for an LLC
  • Taxes
    • Sole proprietors are taxed as self-employed
    • LLCs follow typical corporate tax structures

For a complete breakdown of the difference between LLCs and sole proprietorships, check out this article.

Once you register your business, you may also want to get business insurance for your coaching practice. It’s not a requirement — and you’ll hopefully never need it! — but it can help protect you in case of emergency and/or lawsuit.

Here are some types of insurance to consider:

  • Malpractice insurance: Life coaching is a big responsibility. If your advice causes a client harm or you share their confidential information with others, they might sue you for professional negligence. A malpractice policy can help cover legal defense costs and any settlement or damages.
  • Business owner’s policy (BOP): This general policy covers both commercial liability (a client gets hurt at your office) and property damage (your office goes up in flames)
  • Cyber liability coverage: If you keep personal and confidential client information on file, cyber liability coverage can help you out if you get hacked (and sued). It can also cover the costs of restoring your computer (and your reputation).

To learn more about life coach insurance, check out this guide from Fit Small Business.

At this stage, make sure you have a rough idea of your budget. Life coaching can be a mostly-digital business, which helps keep startup costs low. Here are some of the costs to budget for:

  • Business registration costs
  • Membership dues if you choose to join a coaching organization like the ICF, IAC, or ACA
  • Marketing tools and campaigns (Email marketing, paid social and search ads, and more)
  • Website design and hosting/domain name (Will you use a template or pay for a custom design? Will you go with a .com extension or choose a .life domain name instead? What platform will you use? Each of these can add costs)
  • Payroll software if you plan to hire staff
  • Insurance
  • An office if you choose not to work from home or public spaces
  • And, of course, a reliable phone, computer, and internet service to meet with clients through video chat or over the phone

Step 5: Plan your life coaching services and prices

There are 3 main ways that life coaches charge for their services:

  • Per session (usually hourly)
  • Per month
  • Per package (usually $X/3 months or $X/6 sessions)

Charging clients per custom coaching package is a great option when you’re first starting out. When you know upfront how many months clients sign up for, you can better predict your income and manage your expenses.

You also attract more committed clients – people who take coaching more seriously and are in it for the long haul. More sessions provided during the package means you can have a bigger impact on their lives (and charge more upfront).

Life coaches charge an hourly rate anywhere from $75 to $1000. That’s a huge range. To figure out the right price to charge, consider your:

  • Niche
  • Amount of experience
  • Target market
  • Income goals and budget
  • Credentials

Do some market research, too — what do others in your niche with similar credentials charge? How much is your target audience willing (or able) to pay for life coaching services?

Here are some examples of pricing for tiered life coach packages from Thumbtack:

One-month life coaching packages from a life coach in Michigan:

  • (3) 60-minute sessions with limited contact between sessions: $300
  • (4) 60-minute sessions with limited contact between sessions: $350
  • (4) 60- to 90-minute sessions with unlimited contact between sessions: $400

6-month packages from a coach in Massachusetts:

  • 1 session a month for 6 months: $630 ($120 savings over purchasing individual sessions at $125)
  • 1 session every other week for 6 months: $1,170 ($330 savings)
  • 1 session every week for 6 months: $1,950 ($1,050 savings)

Make sure to include a coaching contract when new clients purchase a package. Use simple, straightforward language to let clients know what they can expect from your services — and what you expect from them. If you’re not sure where to start, GrowthLab shares coaching contract must-haves — plus examples and templates — in this post.

If you’re not ready to dive in and start selling full packages, consider offering free or discounted mini-sessions to your friends and family in exchange for testimonials and candid feedback. This can also be a great vehicle for word-of-mouth marketing.

Step 6: Build your online presence

If life coaching is your digital business, you need a digital presence! The two biggest pieces to focus on here are your website and social media.

Must-haves for your life coaching website

Your coaching website should have:

  • Details on what you offer clients: Hourly sessions? Online trainings? Workbooks?
  • Information on your packages and pricing
  • Your credentials, qualifications, and experience. Why should potential clients trust you?
  • Testimonials. Social proof can be your most powerful marketing tool.
  • Personality! Add photos of yourself and an “About” section to introduce yourself to potential clients. Consider including a short video that shows potential clients how they may benefit from your coaching and whether they’ll mesh with your personality.
  • A contact form or online scheduler. Let people reach out to you as soon as they decide they want to learn more.

You don’t need to spend an arm and a leg for a professional-looking website. Platforms like Appy Pie, Squarespace, and Wix offer beautiful, pre-made templates to help you get started.

example of how Squarespace can be used for life coaches

Squarespace offers website templates for pretty much every use case — portfolios, online stores, blogs, local businesses, events, professional services, and more. (And no, this post is not sponsored by Squarespace.)

For now, focus your time, energy, and money on meeting new clients and getting the word out — you can always upgrade your website later on.

Use social media to reach more coaching clients

Social media gives you a powerful opportunity for word-of-mouth marketing and to grow a following. I recommend setting up business accounts on Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn and updating each of them regularly.

Different platforms matter more depending on your niche.

If you plan to work mainly with executive clients, then LinkedIn will be more helpful than Instagram. If you want to work with clients focused on wellness or mindfulness, your target audience is probably more active on Instagram.

Here are some tips to make the most out of social media as you grow your coaching business:

  • Create mini coaching lessons and share on social platforms
    • Instagram Stories and IGTV are great platforms for these
  • Use hashtags
    • Find the most popular hashtags in your niche, then post relevant content with those tags
  • Join relevant groups on LinkedIn and Facebook
    • Put the networking in social network by connecting with other coaches and potential clients in your niche
  • Get involved
    • Share your blog content on your social channels to drive more traffic to your website
    • Join conversations on different platforms and share your knowledge and expertise. People will start to see you as a leader.

The social media tactics above cost $0 — perfect for a brand new business owner. As your business grows, consider building out your marketing budget and adding pay-per-click (PPC) ads on search engines or social media.

Social media gives you a powerful opportunity for word-of-mouth marketing and to grow a following. Click To Tweet

Step 7: Automate and scale your email marketing and sales

“For me, time is my most valuable asset. I’m always looking for ways that I can save time.” – Reese Evans

Most life coaches are solopreneurs, which means time is your most precious resource. There aren’t enough hours in the day! Email marketing and sales tasks can take up a lot of time. Automate them and focus your energy on helping people and growing your coaching practice.

Reese Evans runs personal development and coaching platform Yes Supply. When she launched her coaching business, she knew she needed to automate parts of her sales process to save time and reach more people.

“I realized that with the CEO mindset, you can’t be on the phone selling your programs,” she says. “If your business relies on you to make sales, or to get leads alone, then your business essentially crumbles the moment you get sick, the moment you want to take a holiday, whatever that is.”

I realized that with the CEO mindset, you can’t be on the phone selling your programs. Click To Tweet

Here’s how Reese automates the beginning of the sales process with ActiveCampaign:

  1. A lead magnet on her website offers free training in exchange for an email signup. This is how she collects email addresses from new prospects.
  2. Once contacts opt-in to her email list, she uses ActiveCampaign to send them five days of free content
  3. After the free five days of training, Reese uses ActiveCampaign to send a series of email invites for her masterclass
  4. She asks clients if they want the in-person or online version of training then tags them to follow up
influencer and life coach opt-in form example

This is how Reese gets contact information for new prospects.

”I did the five days of education so that anyone who came to Yes Supply cold could at least get an understanding of why it’s so valuable to make this investment in themselves and in their business,” Reese explains.

What happens if they don’t join the masterclass right away?

  1. Reese uses ActiveCampaign + Facebook Custom Audiences to retarget her leads on social media
  2. She uses Zapier to pull live training attendees into a spreadsheet so that her assistant can follow up

Reese discovered that automation is a powerful way to manage your coaching business. Automating email marketing and sales for Yes Supply helped Reese save time and scale to 6 figures (and counting).

Step 8: Find ways to upgrade your skills

You can’t help others improve without improving yourself.

Life coaches value personal growth and professional development. Continue to seek out learning opportunities to stay on top of your game. This includes:

  • Continued training from an industry association like ICF or IAC
  • Attending industry events like ICF Converge, the Art of Coaching Conference, or smaller, local coaching workshops
  • Speaking on panels or webinars about your experiences — then listening and learning from other speakers and audience members
  • Reading the latest books, articles, and research in your niche
  • Participating in online communities to find education opportunities
  • Finding a mentor in the life coaching community — and offer to mentor industry newcomers
  • Asking for feedback from your clients — then learning from and acting on it

When you continue to invest in yourself and your skills, you invest in your business. As you pick up more skills and get results for more clients, you’ll be able to grow your business faster (either by charging more or by reaching more people).

Conclusion: What you need to know about the life coach career path

Still have questions? Before you go, here are some FAQs about the life coaching career.

How much does it cost to become a life coach?

Becoming a certified life coach can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000. That said, you don’t have to get certified or accredited to become a coach. There’s no governing body for life coaches that requires certain credentials.

Otherwise, the business startup costs for life coaches are often low — you just need reliable internet, a way to contact clients, and any necessary business registration and insurance.

What education do you need to become a life coach?

You don’t need any specific degree or education to become a life coach. But a background in psychology, education, wellness, or even business — and/or a coaching certification from an accredited training program — can give you credibility and make you more marketable as a coach.

What is the average salary of a life coach?

The median salary of a life coach is $33.82. The annual salary of a life coach can range from $28,034 to $251,068, according to Payscale’s salary database. Your salary as a life coach will depend on a bunch of factors, including:

  • Your niche
  • Your location
  • Your target market (executive coaches are usually paid more than coaches who work with individuals)
  • Your level of experience
  • Your training and credentials

How long does it take to become a life coach?

Life coach certification can take you anywhere from 16 to 100 hours to complete, depending on your program. You need at least 60 hours of coaching experience with clients for most certifications.

If you choose not to become certified through the ICF or similar organizations, you can become a life coach as soon as you book your first client!