Can I be a Life Coach Without Certification? What Coaching Schools Don’t Want You to Know

Do life coaches need to be certified?” is one of the most common questions asked by those considering becoming a life coach.  Everyone inside and outside the industry seems to have an opinion on it. So here’s my take on the age old question…

Can you be a life coach without certification?

Yes.  You can be a life coach without a certification.  There are currently no existing regulations that you are required to meet before you can call yourself a life coach.  

That doesn’t mean you can just fall out of bed and automatically be qualified to be a life coach… just because you have life experience.  Whether you can be a life coach without certification depends on a couple of key things I cover below, and in this video: 

We’ll also discuss:

  • 01:40 How to Become a Life Coach Without Certification
  • 07:43 Life Coach Certification Costs (Is it Worth the Money?)
  • 10:32 What Education Is Needed to Become a Coach?
  • 11:22 Legal Requirements For Life Coaching
  • 11:53 Does a Life Coach Need a Business License?
  • 12:28 How Can You Be Confident or Credible If You’re Not Certified?
  • 16:01 Is Coaching a Real Career?
  • 17:00 What’s the Best Way to Get Started as a Life Coach?

If you want to skip forward to any of these topics, you can click on the (above) time codes to skip to that part of the video.

How to Become a Life Coach Without Certification 

First we need to draw a distinction between becoming a life coach and starting a life coaching business…

Being a Life Coach VS Running a Coaching Business -- 2 Different Things
Being a Life Coach VS Running a Coaching Business — 2 Different Things

Becoming a life coach doesn’t necessarily mean you’re running a coaching business (perhaps you have a job coaching, or you’re currently coaching for free).

To become a life coach, you’ve got to ‘do’ and ‘be’ a few things:

You’re likely already doing the basics of coaching without the formal title.  

You’ve got to love helping people (and you probably do, or you wouldn’t be reading this).   

I was the 6 year old that the 8 year olds used to ask for advice.  If you’re like me, people already seek you out to discuss challenges they are facing in their life.  

You’ve got to have coaching skills.

The International Coach Federation says the skills it takes to become a life coach are:

  • Communication
  • Compassion
  • People Skills
  • Creativity
  • Problem-solving
  • Goal-setting
  • Progress Management

Beyond that, you should be good at listening and asking questions to help someone discover:

  • what they want
  • what is preventing them from getting it
  • what they must change to accomplish what they want

…and then be able to set up a structure to support the change.

These are the core responsibilities of a life coach.  

If you’re ‘that person’, then I’d consider you a life coach (with or without certification)!

That said, if that’s all you’re doing, people probably wouldn’t consider you a life coach, unless you treat it like a profession, rather than just a hobby.

What's the difference between a life coach who's certified versus a life coach who isn't?
What’s the difference between a life coach who’s certified versus a life coach who isn’t?

What’s the difference between becoming a life coach WITH a certification versus WITHOUT a certification?

ANSWER:  The Certification

You can become a life coach who happens to be certified, or you could become a life coach who isn’t certified…

The certification is the only difference… 

Do You Need Certification for Life Coaching?

NO

“Then, why get certified as a life coach, Kris?”

A lot of new coaches think the biggest reason they should get certified before they start coaching is because they believe it will make clients ‘fall out of the sky’…

Do you really think all the clients are waiting on the other side of the ‘magic certification line’?

I’ve talked to new coaches who are deluded to the point of believing that certification is a magic line, that, if they cross it, everyone will automatically hire them… because now they have a certificate.  

Many coaching schools feed into this incorrect thinking because it fits our culture of “you have to go to college, and get a degree, and then you can get a good job because now you’ll be qualified.”  This cultural bias for ‘education first’ makes it easy to get aspiring coaches to buy their certification programs.

Something tells me that these ‘certification factories’ aren’t worried if after they already have the new coaches money, the new coach discovers there is a far greater requirement than just a certificate to make coaching their full time profession (learning sales and marketing skills).  These schools aren’t concerned that some coaches may not be willing to do what it takes, or that they wouldn’t have gotten into the profession at all if they knew that up front.

The Certification Reality

Saying you need a certification for life coaching is a disservice to new coaches.

Why?

Because it’s an unrealistic expectation that will disappoint a new coach when they realize that a piece of paper (or letters after your name) doesn’t convince a human being to trust you enough to give you their hard earned money, or let you be a catalyst to help them create the future of their dreams.  

Coaching: Selling The Invisible

Coaching is INVISIBLE… a SERVICE.

A certification doesn’t change the fact that life coaching is not a ‘worldly object’ that you can show people the same way you might display your new house, or a nice watch, or a new car. 

It requires blind faith for a new client to enter a relationship they don’t understand (coaching) until they experience it.

Coaching is an EXPERIENCE… 

An experience that clients can’t tell their friends about without potentially appearing like there is something wrong with them.  The fear is that your client’s friends say…

What’s wrong with you that you need a coach?”

“What’s wrong with you that you need a coach?”

An experience where they may face the ugly parts of themselves that they aren’t proud of.

Sometimes, in coaching, your client will face ugly parts of themselves.
Sometimes, in coaching, your client will face ugly parts of themselves.

An experience where they’ll push themselves to do things they don’t really feel like doing.  

If you think that you can create that kind of experience for your coaching client without developing a deep, personal, emotional connection with them…

Think again!

A ‘coaching connection’ is a connection you can’t build by attempting to appeal to a client’s logic alone… by showing them a piece of paper, or the letters after your name.  

Claiming that a coach can create a deep enough connection with a new client through a piece of paper, or website alone… is an irresponsible falsehood, and a disservice to new coaches.  Yet, this very falsehood has become a common obstacle that will get in the way of many new coaches’ success.

The Confidence Myth

Another myth new coaches often believe is that having a certification will make them confident in their coaching.  I’ll address that feeling later in this article.  

Certifications: From The Coaching Client’s Standpoint

Your client doesn’t care where you went to school.  

Your clients have no idea which coaching certifications matter (or if they matter at all).

You could make up a “RSDQ” certification in the place of an ICF Certification, and most of your clients wouldn’t know the difference… 

…not because they are ignorant, but because they don’t see a certification as a sign of coaching competence.

They don’t even know what coaching is.

So, how would they know what makes a “qualified” coach?

How would they know whether or not a coach is UNQUALIFIED?

Clients will have to see coaching from you, feel it coaching with you, experience coaching with you… for the vast majority of them to believe in your qualifications or worth to them as a coach.  

In all my years of coaching (since 2007) I have NEVER been asked by a potential client (in a sample strategy session) if I’m certified.  

…AND, I didn’t get ONE single certification until I had been coaching full time for 3 years.    

There are a few valid situations where it may make sense for you to get a certification:

  1. If you plan on coaching full time for a corporation.
  2. If you’ll be coaching executives or performing government coaching contracts, or doing corporate coaching for a fortune 100 company.  These are certainly some coaching clients that will highly value your ICF Certification.
  3. If you want to learn a specific coaching skill (or you just like to take courses), and, as a side effect of learning that skill, you get a certification.
  4. If coaching is a hobby that you want to use with friends, or in volunteer work, and you have no intention of financial profit.
  5. You’ve already got a successful coaching business, you’re committed to being in the profession for a long time, and you plan to pair advanced coaching skills with your clients in the real world… to achieve the outcome of mastery of all the skills of coaching.

Life Coach Certification Cost (Is it Worth The Money?)

Many coach certification programs cost from $5,000 to $10,000 (or more) for a certification.  

An aspiring life coach may feel this is a worthy investment, since life coaches can make a significant income if they treat it as a profession (rather than just as a hobby, as we will get into a little bit later).  

The Point of Certification

But what’s the point of certification for a new coach?

There are TWO valuable points to getting certified as a life coach before or during the start of your career:

  1. Get a title (or some letters) after your name.
  2. Learn a basic coaching method to follow.

If you feel the cost of a life coach certification is worth the money in your case, then invest in a coach certification that is approved by ICF (or International Coach Federation).  If that’s of interest to you, contact us, and we can help you meet the requirements to qualify with significantly reduced tuition costs.

During the webinar, I’ll cover how you can gain an ICF Credential in a matter of months. Click HERE now to attend the webinar.)
During the webinar, I’ll cover how you can gain an ICF Credential in a matter of months. Click HERE now to attend the webinar.)

ICF offers three levels of coach credentials:

  1. Associate Certified Coach: Achieving this level requires at least 60 hours of training and 100 hours of coaching experience.
  2. Professional Certified Coach: This credential requires at least 125 hours of training and 500 hours of coaching experience.
  3. Master Certified Coach: This highest credential requires at least 200 hours of training and 2,500 hours of coaching experience.

The ICF also requires you complete 40 hours of approved continuing education every 3 years to maintain your certification. 

The majority of those coaching hours MUST be paid coaching hours.

If you were planning on avoiding learning how to get paying clients until after you were certified…

It’s NOT going to happen (at least with ICF).  

DON’T MISS THIS POINT:

Getting paying coaching clients is REQUIRED if you want to get an ICF Credential.

In fact, a lot of aspiring coaches pursue certification because they believe it will help them avoid having to learn sales and marketing skills.  

A big mistake.

Getting paying coaching clients is REQUIRED if you want to get an ICF Credential.”

Kristoffer Thompson

Another big mistake new coaches make is thinking that paying for your coach certification is the only important expense you’ll need to consider when getting started as a coach.

There are two other major expenses of time and money that you’ll need to consider to support your goal of becoming a successful life coach…

The real question is… 

How important are these expenses compared to certification?

MAJOR EXPENSE #1 – BUSINESS EDUCATION:

The first expense is business education.

Without the proper sales, marketing, and business education, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll ever become a successful coach, no matter how skilled a coach you are.

I’m going to explain the details on business education for coaches (and on mentors) at the end of this article when we talk about exactly how to get started. 

MAJOR EXPENSE #2 – BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT:

The second expense is business development.

You’re going to need to spend thousands of hours, and, chances are, thousands of dollars on developing your business over time.

I’ll also explain the details of these business development expenses (along with developing your website) at the end of this article as well.

What Coaching Schools Don’t Want You to Know

A lot of coaches (because of the misconceptions we’ve covered so far) spend all their time and money getting a certification, thinking it will get them clients. Then they don’t have the time or money to learn the business, sales, and marketing skills that REALLY matter in a coaching business.  

Don't waste all your money, or go broke to get certified...
Don’t waste all your money, or go broke to get certified…

And worse…

They have to get a “day job”.  

What a tragedy!

Don’t let this happen to you!

What Education Is Needed to Become a Coach?

All or some of the following is fundamental education needed to become a coach.  

  1. Understand how to listen and guide someone through the process of coaching – like a safari tour guide.
  2. Be an expert, or be willing to do the research to become more of an expert — to solve a difficult problem your clients need your help to solve.  

You can find much of the education you could need to become a coach through reading a thorough success book on a key life topic such as 

  • Finances
  • Health
  • Goal Setting
  • Relationships 

Then, help your clients execute the ideas in that book…

You can build your coaching expertise through READING BOOKS...
You can build your coaching expertise through READING BOOKS…

THAT ALONE could be enough to help your coaching clients produce profound results.

Coaching is about helping your client execute on success principles in specific areas of their life.  

Keep things simple.  

At times, filling their head with more and more knowledge will actually distract them from what they must focus on to improve their results. 

Legal Requirements For Life Coaching

As long as you don’t claim to heal illnesses (like a licensed healthcare professional does) there are no legal requirements for life coaching.  

If you feel your client may have an illness, then suggest they seek out a licensed professional to address it. 

In life coaching we don’t diagnose sickness and treat it.  

We take already healthy people and we help them get better.  

Our focus is today, and the future with our clients, not to focus on the past.   

Does a Life Coach Need a Business License?

Generally, no.

A life coach does not need a business license.  

It’s always a good idea to check with your local city hall to be sure.  

Also, you may want to consider speaking to your CPA to determine what business structure you will use for tax purposes.  

“Do I need a brick and mortar location for my coaching business?”

NO.

You do not need a brick and mortar location.  

Most life coaches start working out of their homes using their cell phone.  

You don’t need to meet people for coaching sessions in person.  You can do it over the phone, or video conferencing easily, and clients usually love it (not to mention that you can coach people all over the world).

Keeping your coaching business lean and agile will make it easier to grow.

How Can I Be Confident or Credible If I’m Not Certified?

Confidence refers to how well you believe you can accomplish a particular task or goal.  

How can you be confident if you’re not certified?  

You’ll only get confident by practicing coaching, and doing coaching for clients.  

It’s especially important for your confidence and credibility to be paid for coaching as soon as possible.

Kristoffer Thompson

It’s especially important for your confidence and credibility to be paid for coaching as soon as possible.

Even if your clients are only paying you a very small fee, it’s a critical part of their ‘buy in’ of you and the coaching relationship.  

It’s their way of saying “I believe I’m going to get results.”

…which is huge to help you build confidence.  

What new coaches are REALLY wondering when they say they want to feel confident?

They need more self esteem.

They need more self love.  

They’re really wondering if they are good enough.

They’re really wondering if they are worthy enough to get paid.

They’re really wondering if they are worthy enough to lead people bravely forward in their lives.  

If you think this might be you…

You ARE enough! 

You’ve ALWAYS been enough, you can’t DO anything to be MORE enough, just like you can’t pour more water in a glass after it’s full.  

You’re already FULL

It just OVERFLOWS…

If you don’t ALREADY see your worth, getting a certification will only be like chasing your tail.  

Once you get your certification, you still won’t be confident.

There will always be ‘one more thing’ you’ll need to learn, or ‘one more course’ you’ll need to take before you’re “ready.”   

If you don’t coach, then you’ll NEVER be confident.

To become a confident coach, you must coach BEFORE you feel ready.

Kristoffer Thompson

To become a confident coach, you must coach BEFORE you feel ready.

Isn’t that what you’ll be helping your clients do… taking action BEFORE they think they’re ready?

…and so that’s what you must do.

How can you be credible if you’re not certified?

  • Credibility is in the eye of your market.
  • Credibility is inside the relationship and trust you build with your clients.
  • Credibility is gained by ringing the bell of the inner truth your clients know in their hearts…

…Credibility is about THOSE things MUCH more than it is about what letters are after your name.

Clients care if you understand them.

Clients care if you’re able to help them solve their problems.

You can show that kind of credibility through testimonials or by showing them that you can do what they find difficult to do. 

PROOF Testimonials Work

Here’s an example that’ll show you how testimonials create credibility…

Imagine you have a brain tumor.

That’s not the fun part of this exercise, but seriously, try this on and it’ll make sense.

You have a brain tumor, and you have to have surgery.

You have two surgeons to choose from.

Just like choosing a Doctor, choosing a coach is a matter of credibility.
Just like choosing a Doctor, choosing a coach is a matter of credibility.

One surgeon is a fresh graduate from the top of their class… an ivy league school.  There’s no finer education and credentials available than theirs when it comes to working with brain tumors.

The other choice is a surgeon who has an excellent track record in handling brain tumors.  

They have tons of real world testimonials from patients saying that they’re a phenomenal surgeon.  

Which doctor do you pick?

The one that just graduated from the ivy league school with the best education?

Or…

The doctor that’s got 5,000 successful brain surgeries (as proven by those testimonials)?

Nobody really cares where you went to school.”

Kristoffer Thompson

Of course, you’re going to pick the experienced brain surgeon… the one that has tons of testimonials, and has a track record of success.

Coaching is JUST LIKE THAT.

Nobody really cares where you went to school. 

They care that you’ve shown in some way that you can solve their problem.

“But, Kris, I don’t know a lot of great ‘coaching techniques’…”

We can help you with that, but you’ve got to coach. 

You’ve got to start. 

You’ve got to stay in momentum. 

Coaches COACH.

We’re coaches.

That’s what we do.

We coach. 

If you’re not COACHING, you’re NOT A COACH. 

If you’re not COACHING, you’re NOT A COACH.

Kristoffer Thompson

We call this a ‘coaching practice’ for a reason.  You’re going to need to continue to practice to grow your skill set. 

Keep coaching.

Get the help you need.

But, whatever you do, don’t stop.

Don’t wait. 

Why?

Because if you stop, you’re less likely to start again.

Go out and make a difference for people.  

They need you. 

There’s someone out there right now that is looking to connect with you. 

You’re the RIGHT COACH with the RIGHT VOICE that they need to hear RIGHT NOW. 

The coaching connection that they are going to have is going to be with YOU.

YOU’RE THE ONE that’ll make a difference FOR THEM. 

And, they’re the one that’s waiting for YOU because you’ll be a great fit together.

So, go out there and HELP PEOPLE. 

You’ll be able to build the rest later.  

Is Life Coaching a Real Career? 

So, you might be asking if “this life coaching thing is a real career?”

I can see why you’d ask that.  

Can you really talk on the phone and get paid?

Is coaching as a profession really any different than just being a good friend? 

YES, it is.

A great coach is usually the only person in your life that is NOT trying to get something from you for themselves (other than their coaching fee, of course).

Can you really talk on the phone and get paid?”

A recent ICF study, conducted by Pricewaterhousecoopers, from a group of over 6,000 coaches, found that the average salary of a full time coach was just over $82,000, and part time coaches made $26,000.

Life coaching over the last 10 years consecutively has been the second fastest growing industry in the world according to realbusiness.co.uk.  

So, yes, life coaching is a REAL career.  

Life coaching is a growing industry.   

You have an opportunity to make a good living and lifestyle for you and your family while doing something that helps people…

…AND is fulfilling for you…

…IF you’re treat it like a true profession, and not just a hobby. 

What Is the Best Way to Get Started as a Life Coach?

Coaches ask me all the time “What’s the best way to get started as a life coach?”

…and there’s no ‘right way’ to get started…

…but, in my experience, these three steps are the most important actions that you can take to get started as a life coach (and it’s usually best to do them in this order)…

STEP ONE:  Start talking to real breathing human beings with problems, and help them by giving them one time ‘sample sessions’.

If they can fog a mirror…

…and they’re mentally and physically healthy enough…

…coach them.

A lot of coaches will wait until they get certified before they’ll even work with a single client.

There’s no ‘right way’ to get started…”

Kristoffer Thompson

The only difference between them and you… is you’ll start coaching right away.

That’s what I did. 

I started out doing a ton of coaching, right away.

My clients were normal people with problems. 

It was GREAT for me, because:

  • I got a lot of experience.
  • I got testimonials.
  • I got paying clients.
  • I got to sharpen my skills.

…And I discovered how coaching is in the real world with people.

It made me a much better coach.

Do what I did:

Stay in momentum.

Coach people.

STEP TWO:  Hire a mentor.  Learn sales and marketing skills.

While getting certified may help you get certain types of clients, nothing you do will help you become successful as a life coach if you don’t know how to run the business.

Business education is absolutely required if you don’t know what you’re doing when it comes to marketing, selling, and delivering professional services to others in a way that allows your business to succeed.

Sales and marketing education can be quite expensive, requiring Investments in the multiple thousands of dollars (if you want the most effective education).  That said, you may be able to get away with reading a few of the right books to help you get your coaching business ‘ball rolling’ before you perfect your business development process.

USING MENTORS AND COACHES:

It’s likely way more valuable to invest in a mentor, or to apprentice with another coach, so you can really learn the business from the inside out, versus getting a certificate.

There’s lots of certified coaches who don’t know what they’re doing because they missed this step. 

I’d invest many times over in my mentors and coaches before I’d ever get my first certification in order to be successful in this business.  

Why?

When you can see exactly how an already successful coach is producing their results, it’s priceless.

Why?

Because you can copy their methods and reap many of the same rewards. 

I’d invest many times over in my mentors and coaches before I’d ever get my first certification in order to be successful in this business.”

Kristoffer Thompson

A mentor will also help you to perform at the level necessary to reach the success you want to experience, despite the fact that there’s no way you could know the nuances of how to reach it on your own.

A mentor will help a new coach know how much energy is required to be successful, and what strategy a new coach ought to put that energy into… so they reach their coaching business goal.  

A mentor will save a new coach a lot of time and mistakes trying to ‘figure it out on their own’ or reading a bunch of conflicting information on the internet… not knowing the correct guidance to believe.

STEP THREE:  Sell and market. 

Pick a niche:  Seek out people that know they already have the problem you want to solve.

Schedule MORE one time free sample sessions (yes, more of this… again):  Then invite prospective clients to hire you to coach them

Deliver your coaching:  Once you have paying clients, the journey isn’t over, of course… COACH THEM!

Execute daily discipline:  As a professional business owner, it takes daily routines, hard work, and facing challenges to continue your businesses success.  

Focus on CASH generation:  Gary Vee likes to say “Cash is oxygen”.  So do things every day that generate CASH, including joining networking groups, building your social media and web presence, and putting in the day-to-day work involved in starting, building, and growing your business to six figures.

COACHING WEBSITE:

If you choose to build your coaching Business Online, you’ll have to build a website, which likely includes some level of investment in hosting, design, tech education and tools, etc. 

These costs will likely range between $500 to tens of thousands of dollars on the high end.  

STEP FOUR:  Learn coaching skills (may include certification).

Getting educated as a coach does NOT need to include certifications.  Just GET EDUCATED and learn the skills you’ll need to be an effective coach.  

Some do say, “Get certified in case the industry becomes regulated so you can be grandfathered in.”  

One problem with that thinking?

If you don’t have any clients, you’ll go out of business before you get certified.  

There is no RIGHT WAY to coach.”

Kristoffer Thompson

Another problem is the DOGMA that follows many certifications… It insinuates there is only one ‘proper’ way to coach people.  

WRONG.

There is no RIGHT WAY to coach.

The first rule of coaching is there are no rules.

It’s called a coaching ‘practice’ for a reason.

The coaching industry is constantly evolving, and every situation has nuances that will require you to adapt to each client.  Booksmarts are great, but there will always be a level of street smarts that you will need to help the client in front of you that no certification will be able to teach you…

…only experience can teach these lessons.

I hope that you took some great value out of this discussion around whether or not you really need a certification in order to practice as a life coach!

What’s YOUR opinion?

Do YOU think you can be a successful life coach that makes a good living AND makes a difference for clients without having a certification?  

I’d love to hear your feedback, so make sure that you leave a comment with your thoughts or questions.

By the way, if you want my help with starting or growing your own money making coaching business, I’m holding a webinar in a few days called “How to Make Money Coaching” (imagine that) that you can attend for FREE.  Just go HERE to attend:

https://wellpaidcoach.com/webinar-signup

In the webinar, you’ll learn what stops new coaches from getting their first paying clients.

Kris Thompson
Designated Accountability / Strategy Coach, Master Coach University
Head Coach, Synergy Private Client Program

FREE Video Course: How to Build a High Paying Coaching Business

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