What No-one Teaches You About Being A Coach

80% of coaches make less than $20,000 a year.

And some informal research I conducted after doing my psychotherapy training suggests that most post-diploma students see on average only 6 people a week.

It’s a bit of an indictment that the professions supposed to be helping the rest of us live well haven’t quite cracked it themselves, don’t you think?

This was something I was discussing with a colleague recently. We’re both successful in our own respects, currently morphing our work to become even more congruent with who we are, both working across therapeutic and coaching modalities. And we were talking about the challenges inherent in all of this.

“Nobody teaches you how to do any of this,” we said.

And it’s true.

Few trainings spend time helping you think about the business side of things at all. Never mind how, if you’ve been in practice for some time and want to change, how you do so and stay profitable.

There’s little guidance from within these professions on how you attract a different kind of work to you.

How you maintain good relationship and ethical practice in the process of switching.

Or how, heaven forbid, you work with integrity across different skill sets.

Here are, however, four insights I’ve had at the coal face.

Business skills are as critical as professional skills

Coach and therapy trainings focus on building your skills of supporting people change and grow. But there’s little on how you take these skills to the world in a way that’s of mutual benefit to you and it.

Over the course of a four-year part-time psychotherapy training, I had one evening’s lecture, at some point towards the end, on how to run a practice. In a nutshell the advice was: set up a bank account; get business cards printed; make sure you’re listed in the key directories. Oh, and if you’re feeling brave and have some money, get a website.

Nobody taught me how to consider my practice as a business, much less how to make a profit from it. In fact I’d go so far as to say that my college had a bit of a problem with the idea that therapy work wasn’t some sort of charitable venture. Which I guess is okay if you’ve got an inheritance or a rich spouse. But rubbish for those of us who want to make a difference and fund ourselves well in the process.

I was fortunate that my first career was in the commercial world. Still, it hasn’t stopped me investing a small fortune on supporting myself to build my business smarts.

It’s all about serving the client

In both coaching and therapy there’s so much bullshit. Models, jargon language, standard diagnoses.

Sometimes we need to upend the applecart and see things through our client’s eyes. What has she come for? What kind of language is she using to describe what she needs and wants from you? And can you meet her there?

Look at most therapist or coach websites and they’ll talk about what they do. In fairness it’s just them implementing the business advice in the first point above. But thinking about what it delivers is quite something else again.

That takes practice before you know the sort of results you do indeed help create. And that needs you to build a belief that you’re potent.

I’m a player in the whole thing too

In both coach and therapy training, the implicit client-getting model is that it’s all done by referral, and you should be pretty happy when someone – anyone! – comes along. And pays you whatever they’re offering. Normally not a lot.

In contrast, we’re also taught that good outcomes depend on good relationships. And the last time I checked that meant that both people needed to have skin in the game.

Many folks come into these professions believing that they can work more on their terms. Wanting to be as present as they can be for their work.

But then there’s scant regard given to helping them think about what that means in practice. Who their “best-fit” clients are likely to be. How much of the work they want or need to do. What kind of money they want and need to be paid.

That requires some marketing knowledge on the one hand, and the ability to value yourself highly on the other.

Both require the kind of work that’s not often addressed in college.

Who I am at work is not static

In both coach and therapy training, we spend a lot of time focusing on how to support people through periods of transformation. We consider how people are not static, and how the world’s labels can constrain the soul. How important it is to “live your truth”.

Then we allow coaching and therapy to become their own form of boxes. As defining and constraining as any other.

Add to this the snobbish dividing line that separates forms of coaching and therapy, and the paucity of good supervisors who understand the power of using different modalities and can hold all of your practice, and you realise how tough it is to live your truth as you work within them.

Again a huge paradox give the nature of each beast.

So, those are my learnings. How does any of this jive – or not – for you? I’m curious to hear your reflections!

Creative Commons License photo credit: HikingArtist.com



  1. *jaw drops, claps wildly*

    YES! This is EXACTLY what I have struggled with–add in ethics, changing technologies/laws, and the inanity of state by state licensure…

    This would be why I’m applying for teaching/educational/professional development type of jobs…

    • Christine says:

      Glad this has resonated, Jeanie. These are great additional thoughts.

      Not surprised you’re taking a different direction!

  2. I’m with Jeanie, clapping wildly!!!

    It took time for me to realize that just being a good coach was not enough. That I actually had to learn some business skills, develop an entrepreneurial mindset. And, you’re right Christine, the schools and organizations do a crap job of teaching it.

    Thanks for shining the light on a big pile of BS and getting real. Much appreciated!
    Sandi Amorim recently posted..A Sailor’s Guide to Confidence

    • Christine says:

      Whoa! Don’t mention the *entrepreneurial mindset* in some therapeutic circles, Sandi. You could end up in some wild conversation about the shadow side and all that “oooh, I’m really uncomfortable with making money, so I’ll turn it into a psychological complex” kind of stuff!!

  3. Thanks for this post. I’m giving some thought to venturing out as a coach and this is helpful perspective. I have no formal training, but I’m not convinced I need it.

    Still creating my way forward on this question.

    Thanks again!

    • Christine says:

      Tough one, Peter. On the one hand it’s great for skill building and good ethics to do training. On the other it can be really institutionalizing in a less than helpful way. Whatever, if you go this route, make sure invest in your own support.

  4. I’m clapping and cheering here too, oh my goodness me yes! I came out of a long career in the civil service to launch my own coaching business and it’s taken me almost 2 years to grasp the fact that actually I’m going to have to spend MORE of my time marketing than coaching if I want to get anywhere at all. I’ve been learning by doing and I’ve thrown away money I didn’t have because I had no concept of how to run a business.

    As you say, I’ve developed and my coaching has developed and I’m realising that I really ought to get trained as a therapist because a lot of what I do now is a blend of coaching, therapy, teaching and guidance – and I want both me and my clients to be and stay safe.

    So yes, what you say certainly does jive with me!! Thanks for saying it :-)

    • Christine says:

      Absolutely, Cathy. It’s so tough when you’re starting out to know what it is you don’t know about marketing etc to make sure you get the right support. I too have wasted money in that department, although, looked at positively, have learned from the experience!

  5. It is the rare coach indeed who has excellent coaching skills and killer marketing skills. Those who do are top of the class. On some level both skills are innate but the bright side for the rest of us is that you can learn to do both well. I’m still a work in progress on both counts. Great post.

    • Christine says:

      Thanks Adam! You can indeed learn both. I think part of the challenge is embracing that’s there’s both to learn, and that both come with the territory. Do that, and you can fly!

  6. Great points Christine.
    Most of the coaches I come across who are doing well (in terms of business success) seem to be from a business background or have embraced the need to wear a business hat and be a business owner.
    Just doing our “thing” isn’t enough to earn a living from what we love. Learning the skills of being a successful business owner are as important as learning the skills of our trade.

    • Christine says:

      Yeah, I think you hit the nail on the head here, Ali. It IS about becoming a business owner. That’s a huge missing piece.

      • Good article and good comments.

        I think what you say applies to any business. People that are financially successful are about making money and the product or service provided is secondary. Clearly they need to provide a product/service that people want and to an acceptable standard or they will damage their reputation and not get these prized referrals.

        In my profession of photography & website design I have seen people with great talent who are not successful in business and some whose talent in their field is dubious who do very nicely.

        To succeed people need to have a viable business plan, a robust marketing strategy and no qualms about being in business to at least make a living, even in a compassionate profession.

        • Christine says:

          To succeed people need to have a viable business plan, a robust marketing strategy and no qualms about being in business to at least make a living, even in a compassionate profession.

          Spot on, Norm!

          Thanks for taking the time to share.

  7. Very interesting Christine. I think that coaches and therapists can get a bit sucked into the idea that as professionals who are helping people they do not deserve to make more than a certain amount, as they get such high job satisfaction from seeing the growth of their client.

    Always had seemed a bit strange to me that idea. Throwing business ideals out the window as you get job satisfaction. Looking at it now from my current position it is all a bit strange, as there is always a market rate for services but the price that anyone will pay is directly equivalent to the value they will get from the service. There can be barriers to entry but ultimately if someone believes they are getting value they will pay.

    Being entrepreneurial/good at marketing and not being able to deliver as a good coach/therapist will obviously lead to disappointment (for the client) but being a good coach and terrible at business is also going to lead to disappointment (for the practitioner).

    I would think that there has got to be enough in it for both parties otherwise there is a mismatch or lack of balance and ultimately an unhealthy relationship.

    There is my braindump on it for what it’s worth.


    • Christine says:

      Yeah, I think too that there’s a misguided view around that, if you’re doing what you consider to be your “vocation” you shouldn’t also expect to be paid well. Like earning well and doing what you love are two mutually exclusive states.

      I totally agree with what you’re saying about there having to be enough in it for both parties. For me, I want my clients to be interesting and inspiring. My clients on the other hand need to feel that working with me is significantly value-adding to their lives. In that mix, some of the magic can happen.

      Good to see you here :-)

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