Episode 3: How to Become a Coach

This episode opens the Getting Started series, in which we're covering the basics of what you need to know to enter the profession of coaching, start working with clients, and build a sustainable business. We are kicking it off today with the very first question most coaches ask themselves: How do I become a coach?
How to Become a Coach - Coach with Clarity Podcast with Lee Chaix McDonough

3: How to Become a Coach

Welcome to the first episode in my Getting Started Series! This series is going to help you get started in your coaching practice by covering the basics of everything you need to know to enter the profession of coaching, start working with clients, and build a sustainable business.

Subscribe:  Apple Podcasts  |  Spotify  |  Android Devices  |  Stitcher  |  RSS

Show Notes

Welcome to the first episode in my Getting Started Series! This series will help you get started in your coaching practice by covering the basics of everything you need to know to enter the profession of coaching, start working with clients, and build a sustainable business.

In this first episode of the series, I’m discussing the very first thing prospective coaches ask themselves and that’s how to become a coach.

I feel very passionate about this topic because there are multiple paths you can take and each one has their own pros and cons. I believe it’s incredibly important to know the options available to you so you can choose the right one for you.

Topics covered

  • Can you simply call yourself a coach  and then – POOF! – you are one?
  • Why doing that puts you at a disadvantage from the very beginning of your business
  • The one pro to simply declaring yourself a coach
  • Why this option typically leads to blurred lines and confusion, especially for those with a mental health background
  • Do you really need to be credentialed?
  • How receiving non-credentialed coaching training can help those who aren't ready to pursue credentialed training
  • How not being credentialed might cause you to lose money in the long run
  • A breakdown of the recommend credentialing opportunities available in the United States

Resources mentioned

Now it’s time for you to show the world what it means to be a Coach with Clarity! Screenshot this episode and tag me on Instagram @coachwithclarity and let me know what you’re more excited to explore in future podcast episodes!

* * * * * *

Discover your Coaching Superpower! Go to https://coachingquiz.com to learn more about your strengths – and what to look out for – as a coach.

Want to connect further? Follow me on Instagram and continue the discussion in the Coach with Clarity Facebook group.

Want to work together? Become a Coach with Clarity Member today!

Download the Coach with Clarity Business Blueprint


Well, hello friend! Welcome back to another episode of the Coach with Clarity podcast. I'm really excited that you're joining me today because today kicks off what I am calling the Getting Started series. The next sequence of episodes in the Coach with Clarity podcast is really going to help you get started in your coaching practice. We are going to cover the basics of everything you need to know to enter the profession of coaching, start working with clients and build a sustainable business. 

So it is going to be quite a series, and we are kicking it off today with the very first question that most coaches ask themselves and that is: how do I do this? How do I even become a coach? 

This is a topic I feel really passionate about because there are multiple paths to becoming a coach. Each path has pros and cons. And I think it's really important that prospective coaches know the pads in front of them so that they can choose the right one. So we are going to break down what I see as three separate paths to becoming a coach. And by the end of today's episode, my hope is that you will feel even more clear about which path is right for you. 

So let's start with the first path, which is you simply call yourself a coach. That's the thing about coaching, at least in the United States, and in most countries, there is no federal or state governmental oversight of the coaching profession, which means there's no title protection, anyone can call themselves a coach and put themselves out as providing professional coaching services. 

The good news is that it means coaching is a very easy profession to enter and get started into. There are not a lot of limitations. The bad news Is that coaching is a very easy profession to enter, and there's not a lot of limitations. What that means is that consumers, people who want to receive coaching services, really need to do their homework, because there is no guarantee that someone who's calling themselves a coach has training, experience education and knowledge to back up their coaching services. 

The benefits of taking this path simply calling yourself a coach, I think are pretty obvious. You can put yourself out there, start your business, start trying to find clients, and you're not investing a lot of time, energy or money in training. And for people who are bootstrapping, I see the appeal of that. It can be really scary to invest in yourself financially or energetically, if you're not exactly sure that this is what you want to do or you have doubts about whether your business is going to take off. 

But honestly, and I may be a little biased here, that's really the only pro that I can see to this path. I see way more many cons and I want to walk through some of them. First and foremost, if you are going into the profession without any sort of coach specific training, then you are really figuring it out as you go along, which means that every client becomes a bit of a guinea pig, as you figure out what it is you're supposed to be doing. 

What that means is that you will probably not be serving those initial clients very powerfully. And it's those initial clients that really help you gain traction in your coaching business. They are who can potentially provide referrals or testimonials, and so you are putting yourself at a disadvantage early on by working with clients before you're ready to do so. So that's one thing. 

Number two is that I see people who have a lot of experience in other fields moving into coaching without any coach-specific training because they think that the knowledge and training they have from their primary profession is enough. I see this a lot with healthcare or helping professionals, and I see this with creatives as well. So here's the thing: I absolutely believe that the training, education and experience you have from a previous career is relevant and helpful to your coaching practice. I mean, that's really what I've built my business on. Coach with Clarity is all about helping talented, experienced professionals leverage their training, education and wisdom into a coaching practice.

But what I see a lot is that people who are really good in their first profession assume that because they know what they're doing there, they can coach others around it and so then they can just start calling themselves a coach. And without the proper training and education, aspiring coaches can inadvertently blur a lot of boundaries and confuse the client. 

So let me give you an example of something I've seen in my profession, because as many of you know, before I became a professional coach, I was a licensed psychotherapist. I see many therapists who are super interested in the profession of coaching, and so they just start adding coaching to their practice. They don't seek any coach-specific training, because they make the assumption that because they're a therapist, and because they know how to build relationships and work with people, that coaching is just going to be easy. And nothing could be farther from the truth. 

Coaching and therapy are two very distinct professions, as we discussed in Episode One of the podcast, so if you didn't check that out, I strongly suggest heading back a few episodes and taking a listen. But because they are two separate professions, if a therapist goes into coaching, just treating it as “therapy lite,” well then, they're really doing a disservice to the client. They don't understand how taking a coaching approach differs from taking a therapeutic approach, and so in essence, they're going to fall back on their therapy tendencies, and they may wind up providing therapy to a coaching client. 

This is an issue because a coaching client didn't consent to therapy, and it could actually put the therapist in a really precarious position if they are working with clients in states or countries in which they are not licensed. All of a sudden, they open themselves up to possibly being accused of providing therapy across state lines, and that, my friends, is not good. So if you are a therapist out there, and you want to become a coach or you are already providing coaching services, I strongly encourage you to seek some coach-specific training, not only to benefit your clients, but to protect yourself and we're going to talk a little bit more about that later. 

I also want to share what I've seen happen with a lot of creative entrepreneurs. So I'm talking to my photographers, my wedding planners, my designers, my course developers, all of you who know how to create programs and products and services to serve your people. There's an assumption that because you are really good at those things, you can move into coaching and help others do the same. 

Well, now we're blurring the line between coaching and consulting. Again, that's something we talked about in Episode One, so go back and take a listen if you haven't already. But there is a big difference between instructing people in how to do something, versus coaching them and serving as a guide and asking powerful questions so that the client can develop their own plan of action, create their own way forward, and your job is not to tell them what to do, but to inspire them into action. And so without coach-specific training, again, a lot of times creative entrepreneurs will default into more of a consulting role rather than providing true coaching. 

Now, listen, there is nothing wrong with providing therapy if you're licensed to do so, and there's nothing wrong with providing consulting services. But the point I'm making is that if you want to be a powerful coach, then you need to know how coaching differs from those professions, and the best way to do that is to receive some sort of coach training. 

So that leads me to the other two paths to become a coach. But first, I just want to clarify that legally, anyone can call themselves a coach. My question is whether that is the right decision. And for most of you out there, that's not going to be the right decision. The best path for you is probably going to be one of the two that I'm going to share with you now. 

So paths two and three, both involve training. Now what differentiates these two paths is whether or not that training leads to credentialing. So let me just take a little sidebar and explain what I mean when I talk about credentialing. 

Now, as I mentioned earlier, in the United States and in many other countries, there is no one governmental oversight body for coaching. However, there are several professional organizations that do provide oversight, that provide a code of ethics for coaches to follow, and who credential coaches and accredit coach training programs. A few of those include the International Coaching Federation, which by the way, it is now the International Coaching Federation. It used to be International Coach Federation, and they just changed it in early 2020, so it's the International Coaching Federation. I'm still getting used to saying that. There's also the Center for Credentialing and Education, which is something that many therapists, counselors, and health care providers may be familiar with. There's the International Association of coaching, there are some European organizations, and there are many professional organizations out there whose sole purpose is to advance the profession of coaching. They do so by ensuring that there's quality training and certification programs out there. 

Today, I am going to speak mostly about the International Coaching Federation, because that is the largest and best-known in the United States, which is where I'm located. Now for my therapists and counselors out there, and as I talk about these two paths, I am going to be talking about training that does not lead to an ICF credential, and training that does lead to an ICF credential. So that's what differentiates the two paths I want to talk about for the remainder of today's episode. 

So let's talk about the path that includes training but no credentialing. So the pros here are you're entering a profession and you are electing to receive coach-specific training, and that gives you greater insight into what it means to be a coach, how to develop powerful coaching relationships, and you can start to develop your own approach based on evidence-based practices. 

And you can do that by essentially creating your own program. Sometimes I'll talk about creating your own self study program, and that might look like reading books about coaching. It might look like listening to podcasts, such as this one. Maybe it means you're attending workshops, or retreats or continuing education events, about the art and practice of coaching. It might also mean working with your own coach and receiving some coaching and some mentoring as well, so that you can start to develop your own coaching perspective. 

All of those are great examples of receiving some form of coach-specific training in order to enhance your ability to provide powerful coaching services. And I would say some of the benefits of taking this route is that it's incredibly flexible, because you are creating your own training program. You are able to pick and choose what's going to work best for you and the modalities that will work best for you, in order to build your knowledge base when it comes to coaching. 

That flexibility also means that you have more control over how much you are investing financially. If you choose to structure a program that's based largely on reading books and listening to podcasts, you're not going to have to invest a whole lot of money to do so. And for people who are first starting out, that's really attractive. 

Now, again, if you're attending workshops, or retreats or CE programs, then that is going to be more of a financial investment, but you're probably going to be getting more structure and more support from a trained coach. And likewise, if you invest in your own coaching, which honestly I do believe is one of the best investments a new coach can make, but with that comes a higher price tag. 

But when you are creating your own program and you're not worried about credentialing, you can decide what to take when you want to take it, how much you want to invest in terms of money and time, so the possibilities are really endless. And that's why many people, especially those who are first starting out, choose this path. It's a very easy way for them to get started in the profession while coming from an informed place. 

So let's talk about some of the downsides to this path. Well, first and foremost, it does not lead to a credential at the end, and depending on the type of coaching you want to do, or who you are working with, that could be a pretty big drawback. My experience has been particularly for people who want to do corporate coaching or executive coaching, having an ICF credential is very important. The ICF credential is very well respected in corporate culture, and many larger corporations require that credential if they are going to contract with you or if they're going to bring you on as an internal coach. 

So investing time and money in training that doesn't lead to a credential may not serve you in the long run if the people you want to serve value that credential, so you'll want to think about how important having a credential is to your audience. We're going to talk a little bit more about defining your audience in the next episode of the cultural clarity podcast, so you're definitely going to want to stick around for that one, because knowing your audience can really help you decide how you want to approach your coach training. 

The other thing to be aware of is that there is a wide range of quality when it comes to coach training. Right now, you could head to Google, search “coach training” and find programs that are 30 minutes long and cost $5 on a site like Udemy offering you a “certification” in coaching, and you'll find programs that are $15,000, $18,000, $25,000 that truly are robust, evidence-based programs. And then there are all sorts of programs in between. 

So it can be a little confusing when you are looking for coach training and you're not seeking credentialing, because some of those programs out there are going to serve you well, and some of them may not and they may offer you a quote, certification at the end, that really is little more than a certificate of attendance. So that's why it's very important that you do your homework when you are looking for coach training. 

And one thing you may want to look for is whether or not the training program is accredited by the International Coach Federation as a Continuing Coach Education program. So as an example, the membership program I run, Coach with Clarity, is an ICF-accredited Continuing Coach Education program. So this means that my members who attend our live Hot Seat Coaching Calls and our Q&A Calls and our Guest Expert Trainings are eligible to receive Continuing Coach Education hours that they can use when they renew their credential. 

Now, you don't have to be an ICF credential holder to be a Coach with Clarity member; in fact, most of my members are not ICF credential holders, but they know that because my program is accredited by ICF, it meets a certain threshold, it meets certain standards, so that they know they are receiving quality, evidence-based coach training, even if they're not pursuing or renewing an ICF credential. 

So that's certainly an option for people who are, again, dipping their toes into the coaching profession, and maybe they're not quite ready to go for the ICF credential, but they still recognize me appreciate the value of having some formal training. So again, looking for an accredited Continuing Coach Education program such as the Coach with Clarity membership might be a really good option. And you can learn more about the Coach with Clarity membership at coachwithclarity.com

Okay, so that was the second path to becoming a coach, where you are pursuing training and that training might look like self study, books, podcasts, continuing coach education programs, workshops, working with your own coach… you can really pick and choose, it's almost like a buffet, you can decide what's going to work best for you and create your perfect plate. So that is the second path to becoming a coach. 

The third path is pursuing coach training that leads to a credential. So when you are pursuing a credential, and this is not just for the International coaching Federation, this applies to almost every organization that provides a coaching credential, but there is a minimum number of hours of training that you have to receive, as well as experience hours, or the number of hours of coaching that you've delivered. There's typically an exam that you have to take, an oral exam, a written exam, perhaps both. So there are training, education and experience requirements that you have to achieve in order to receive a credential. 

With the International Coaching Federation, there are three levels of credentialing. So the first level is the Associate Certified Coach, or the ACC. That requires 100 hours of coaching experience, 75 of those hours need to be paid hours, and it requires at least 60 hours of coach-specific training. The next level is the Professional Certified Coach, or the PCC, and that's the credential I hold. That requires 500 hours of coaching experience, 450 of which must be paid, and at least 125 hours of coach-specific training. 

And then the final level is the Master Certified Coach, or the MCC, and this is the one that can take a decade or longer for many people to achieve, because it requires over 2500 hours of coaching, 90% of those hours need to be paid, plus 200 coach-specific training hours and a really in-depth performance review. So obtaining that Master Certified Coach or that MCC credential through ICF, that is a big deal. 

Most coaches out there, start with getting their ACC and then move towards the PCC, that's what I've done, and then a select few will go for that MCC. So that's a brief summary of the credentialing levels for ICF. Again, there are other organizations out there that offer different credentials. I've specifically focused on ICF because that is the gold standard in the United States, it's the one that's best known here. It's also the path that I chose because I am a PCC holder, so I am credentialed through ICF, and Coach with Clarity is an ICF-accredited Continuing Coach Education program. 

I really believe in ICF principles, their core competencies, and their code of ethics. So if you want to learn more, you can head over to coachfederation.org and you'll find everything you need to familiarize yourself with the International Coach Federation's policies and how to obtain that ICF credential. 

Now for my health care professionals out there, specifically my mental health people, you may also want to pursue credentialing through the Center for Credentialing and Education, or CCE. This is because when the CCE was created, they were kind of an offshoot of the National Board of Certified Counselors, and so they do offer the BCC, or the Board Certified Coach. 

If you hold a master's degree in counseling, then the requirements to obtain the BCC are a little less stringent than, say, if you hold a master's in social work, like I do, or a master's in another healthcare profession, or if you’re bachelor's-level trained. There's different education and training hour requirements for the BCC depending upon your level of training in counseling. So the BCC might be something that you would wish to pursue. I will say that it's not as well recognized in coaching circles as the ICF credentials, but it may be an option to pursue if you are a counselor who's interested in adding coaching to your repertoire. 

So if you choose this path where you are receiving coaching training that leads to a credential at the end, it is going to be pretty well spelled out for you what you need to do. There will be specific courses that you take, or specific retreats that you attend, there will likely be peer coaching within your program so that you can actually apply the skills that you're learning, and there will likely be some sort of rigorous examination at the end, in order to ensure that you are mastering the skills you're learning about in the coach training program. 

So one of the pros of this approach is that you do end it, ideally, with a credential, so that when you go out and market yourself as a coach, you can let people know, you have training, you have experience, and you have the credential to back it up. And that's really valuable, because as I mentioned before, anyone can call themselves a coach. So if you can call yourself a coach and say, yeah, I'm a coach, I'm a credentialed coach. I have taken hours of training and I have this credential that demonstrates my proficiency in this profession, well, then that's really going to set you apart from other coaches who aren't able to say that. 

So that's definitely a considerable pro. But with that comes a considerable cost, usually in the form of finances. Coach training programs are significant investments. They vary in price – I've seen everything from low four figures to high five figures depending on who you're working with and how long the program is, so it is a serious financial investment. It's important to think of it as an investment; however, because again, just as you spend money to go to college or to grad school, this is another form of learning. 

You'll want to think about this in terms of the potential return on your investment. If you are going to invest 10,000 or $15,000 ina coach training program, yes, that's a lot of money. But if it allows you to then turn around and build a six-figure coaching practice, and to do work that you love, that absolutely lights you up, well then, the investment may just be worth it. 

So you can learn much more about the ICF credentialing process by going to their website, coachfederation.org, and I will likely do a future episode about the ICF credentialing process, because in addition to three different credentials, there's different paths to obtain each credential. I know, it sounds complicated, right? It's really not but it probably warrants its own episode, so be on the lookout for that one in the future. 

Okay, I have just walked you through the three paths to becoming a coach. First, you can just call yourself a coach and put yourself out there. Second, you can pursue some coach-specific training without leading to a credential, or third, you can pursue coach specific training that does lead to a credential. So now that we've explored each of these three in depth, I think it's time for our Clarity in Action moment. 

Alright, my friends, so this week's Clarity in Action moment is all about deciding which path is right for you. So hopefully you have a really clear understanding now of the three paths in front of you, and the positives and negatives for each path. It's time for you to decide which makes the most sense for you. 

You'll want to consider your background, your training, your education, and all of the really valuable traits and qualities that you bring into the coaching profession. You're also going to want to have an honest talk with yourself about how much you're willing to invest financially and energetically into building your coaching and business mastery. And you'll want to consider whether having a coaching credential is important to your potential clients and whether it's important to you. Really at the end of the day, that's what I want to encourage you to really tap into. 

Take a moment to get quiet and connect with yourself and clarify what matters most to you. Really connect with your values, and ask yourself, “Which path am I being called towards? Am I interested in pursuing formal credentialing? Is that really important to me? Or would I rather build my expertise and my education through a less formal route?” There's no right or wrong answer here. It's simply what's going to work best for you, for your clients and for your business. 

And if you decide that pursuing some type of coach-specific training is in your future, then I would love to invite you to the Coach with Clarity membership program. Within the membership, you will develop your skills as a powerful coach, and you'll learn really important strategy to help you build a sustainable and profitable business, and you'll do it within a larger community of intuitive supportive coaches. 

And I have to tell you, that's really what makes this membership different from just about every coach training opportunity out there. You have a community of other coaches to lean on, to receive guidance from, and to support so that you're not doing this alone. So again, check out the Coach with Clarity membership at https://www.coachwithclarity.com/membership, if you are feeling called to pursue coach training in order to really up level as a coach and as an entrepreneur. 

I want to thank you for joining me this week as we explored the different paths towards becoming a coach. This was the first episode in our Getting Started series, and in our next episode, I'm going to help you clarify who you want to serve as a coach and how you want to serve them, so you are not going to want to miss that one. 

In the meantime, thank you for listening. If you haven't already subscribed, be sure to do so right now so that you don't miss the rest of the Getting Started series. And we're going to continue this discussion over in the Coach with Clarity Facebook group. So if you are not already a member, you can head to https://www.coachwithclarity.com/facebookgroup, and that will take you right to the page so that you can join. I cannot wait to hear your thoughts and your questions about today's episode over in the Facebook group. 

All right my friend, thank you again for joining me today. My name is Lee Chaix McDonough and I'm reminding you to get out there and show the world what it looks like to be a Coach with Clarity. 

Click to read the entire transcript

Recent Episodes
Clarity Coaching

Download the FREE Coach with Clarity Business Blueprint

Looking to Grow Your Coaching Business?

Go from idea to income in 90 days or less with the Coach with Clarity Business Blueprint.

What's your coaching superpower?

I’ve uncovered five primary coaching styles — which one are you?