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How Much Experience Do You Need To Be A Coach?

Cat LeBlancIn my work, I get to talk to so many people who know they want to be an entrepreneur. They know they want to do something, but they aren’t totally sure what that something might look like.

At times, they really do know what they want to do, but they aren’t giving themselves permission to do it.

I see a lot of people who really want to be a coach of some kind, but they haven’t been able to say yes to it yet, because they’re afraid they don’t have the qualifications or experience. Then others are totally gung-ho and ready to start promoting themselves as a coach but they have yet to build any expertise in their chosen area.

So let’s address the elephant in the room: Can you be a coach if you haven’t done it yourself?

The answer? It comes down to what exactly you mean by the term ‘coach’.

Are you a coach or a consultant or a hybrid?

Generally when people use the term ‘coach’ in the online space or talk about coaching certification they are referring to life coaching. You can do more specific coaching training after this but it stems from the same model.

If you are a life coach your role is to ask the right questions in order to guide your client to their own right answer. You are expressly forbidden to give advice, or consult, you can only facilitate your client’s own answers.

If you are a business coach or a specialist coach of some kind and not using the model of asking your clients questions so that they find their own answers, you are essentially a consultant rather than a coach; you’re giving clients advice on how to solve particular issues.

Both models are valid and they can both be used by the same coach. But can you imagine how frustrating it would be to go to a business coach to find out how to start or scale your business and have them ask you “Well, what do you think you should do?” I would want to smash my head against the wall and I have heard of cases of this happening. When seeing a coach do find out how they work before signing up. I call myself a strategist because I want to avoid potential mix up.

So really, is it any wonder people are confused about what coaching is and whether or not it’s for them?!


So why does this difference matter?

If you are giving specific advice on how to do something, like for example how to build a business, then you are more of a consultant than a coach, so I (personally) think you need to have some experience in this area to be offering your advice on the subject. In business coaching, you need to be ahead of your clients. It wouldn’t make very much sense for someone to hire a business coach who was also brand new to business.

When I started off my consulting business, I had just come off running a successful business (that I ultimately decided not to continue with) and I focused on just helping people find the right business idea. I only added coaching once I felt I had enough experience and knowledge to be able to help my clients with building their businesses, essentially after clients started requesting it from me.


If you truly are using the life coaching model, it looks different

If you are essentially a life coach then the nature of the coaching is different. You help people find their own answers, you don’t have to have gone through it yourself. Your role is more that of a facilitator.

Of course, you may have experience in your particular niche and that absolutely helps. For example, if you specialize in helping people overcome eating disorders, or survive divorce, it almost always helps to have gone through some of those experiences yourself.

So the question is are you really a coach or really a consultant (but everyone uses the term coach)?

If you are a life coach then you are not giving advice, so you don’t need to have lived it. If you are a consultant you are going to be much more credible if you have some experience. If you are somewhere in the middle then it’s your judgement call!

Do you need a coaching certification?

If you want to be a coach then it’s going to be really useful training, although not everyone decides to do a certification. I don’t believe a coaching course or certification is absolutely essential to becoming a successful life coach. There are some very successful life coaches out there who have never done a certification. That said, I do think those sorts of programs can provide you with the tools to be a more efficient or effective life coach. If you are serious you likely want to get some training.

If your coaching requires giving advice you may find a coaching certification frustrating and limiting. Because let’s face it how the hell will you help clients if you can’t advise them?

Ultimately, I don’t think people hire any kind of coach — or any other professional — based on the letters that come after their name, or the certificates hanging on their walls. They hire the coach they believe can get them the results they want.

So if you are still unsure ask yourself this: “Am I sure I can get clients results?” and that will be your answer right there.


Do you agree?

I know this can be a somewhat controversial topic, and people may have different opinions, and these are just mine, so I’d love to hear yours:

Do you agree that you should have some business experience to be a business coach?

Have you been confused about the term coaching?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

15 Responses to How Much Experience Do You Need To Be A Coach?

  1. Hey Cat. Great post and a good one to raise. The term “coach” never really sat (and still doesn’t) well with me. Coming from a sporting background, it immediately conjures up the an image of the person/people who used to coach me on how to hit a mean backhand ;) Personally, the term business consultant/strategist sits much more comfortably with me when I talk to people about what I do.

    You hit the nail on the head with this. “if you are still unsure ask yourself this: “Am I sure I can get clients results?” and that will be your answer right there.” What a great question for anyone who might be doubting their abilities or figuring out where they stand on giving advice.

    Thanks for the great post and food for thought.

    Tracey (aka Business Strategist) ;)

    • That’s also the reason I call myself a Business Strategist. I don’t feel good about the term coach because of the confusion around the word. Strategist sits much better with me.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Cat x

  2. I am a biz strategist too. I actually hate the word coach when used in business and I get told that I can’t coach because I don’t have a ‘certificate’. 1. I don’t to be a coach at all. 2. I’ve run several successful small businesses – taking 2 of them to 6 figures pretty darn fast. I’ve helped 100s upon 100s of clients all around the world launch their own successful businesses too.

    People in biz need solutions and strategies, not reflective questioning ;-)

    xoxo Star

    • Thanks for commenting Star, and for having such an awesome name and pic :-)

      Life coaches do seem to be very protective of the word coach. As you said as well, it has only very recently been used in this context and previously in the sporting world it had a different meaning.

      I do agree that in business strategy is what it’s all about.

      Cat xx

  3. Always a hot topic this one Cat. I call myself a mentor (not to add to the already various options!) and definitely need to have lived what I consultant around.

    Although I do believe that people in biz need coaching – some, depending where they are at. Therein lies the beauty of needing all sorts of different types out there to satisfy different needs (and hey ho to business competition being replaced by collaboration and new methods without the ‘one size fits all’).

    Great topic – this is going to be an interesting thread!

    • Nooooo.. another option! Ha ha.

      Calling yourself a mentor definitely makes it a lot clearer.

      You are right that the variety in the industry is wonderful. If I feel a potential client needs more help with mindset or getting past blocks rather than getting the business strategy right I’ll always refer them.

      I hope everything is going well for you. I saw you had an awesome launch!

      Cat xx

  4. Great post! And very informative :) Thank you for this post and more clearly defining coach, life coach and consultant.. It’s confirmed for sure.. I am a consultant/ coach, not a life coach.. I would go crazy if my clients had to answer all their own questions, I like to get in there and advise and help solve problems and give guidance :).

    I’m looking forward to browsing through your site. Nice to meet you :)

  5. great post!!! I always am boggled by all the business coaches out there that have only ever had their “online business coaching” and claim to be business coaches …. how can you be a business consultant if you’ve only ever had that ONE online business ?!

    I didn’t do a life coach certification but I have been to numerous tony robbins conference’s that have given me the skill set I need. I’m not really a life coach but I do apply the principles I’ve learned in my own business. I always wondered if life coaches should be certified or not! I think they need to follow and apply at least some school of thought.

    • It’s a really hotly debated topic as to whether life coaches should be certified or not. Some are really very strongly for it, others not so much.

      One thing I have noticed is that many very successful coaches don’t speak about being certified which makes you wonder a) if they are and b) if their clients even care.

      Another interesting aspect is that the certification boards are only businesses themselves and their business model is making other businesses adhere to their concept of whatever they certify.

      Coaching is a new industry and not all coaching courses meet the new certification authority’s ideas or standards. But then at this early stage who is to even say they are right?

      One thing I do agree with is that any coach/consultant needs to have some kind of process that they follow and they need to be getting clients results.

      Lots to think about!

      Thanks so much for commenting.

      Cat xx

      • Good points Cat! I’ve honestly never looked for any certification when I’ve decided which coach to work with. I’ve looked at their results, if there’s synergies between us, testimonials etc.

        I guess it also comes from having met a whole lot of coaches that were certified but not very effective…

        At the end of the day you want to work with someone with integrity, a process that works and that gives results. I don’t see that – at the moment – any coaching qualification that guarantees any of that, so I’ll keep looking for other signs of credibility and trust.


  6. Hi there, Thank you for this post! I believe that everything we have accomplished, as long as we know the way we did it, the steps, then we can teach another very well. Be it business building, life coaching or healthy food teaching.

    We are a certifiable life livers and bring a wealth of wisdom to each and every one, making a huge difference and supporting their results!

    We truly have what we need and all we need to teach the people who are drawn to us. It works very well for me and so many others! <3 Coach Bette

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