Many people who want to become a coach, assume that being a coach requires a whole lifestyle choice.
This lifestyle of being a coach involves not just coaching but building a coaching business, finding clients, creating a personal brand, serving a distinct niche, following a professional body’s set of behaviours, and much more.
But does it have to be that way?
To ask this in a different way, is coaching a choice to be self-employed in a specific way or is it an approach to communication and personal change that can be used in multiple ways?
I would argue it is both. If you decide to undertake a coaching course you have both pathways open to you and you might join knowing you want to change your career or you might want to change how you are in your career (and even in life).
This is somewhat different to counselling and psychotherapy which represent very specific, standalone roles, whether in private practice or the health sector. For instance, if, as a manager, you studied counselling, you might become a better listener to the people you manage but it is unlikely that you would say you are providing psychotherapy in any literal sense.
Coaching on the other hand, not only enables this, but as a way of working, it is positively regarded within the workplace. The manager-as-coach is becoming not just normal but almost the norm.
More than ever, managers, leaders and entrepreneurs are being asked to coach their team rather than merely manage them.
Coaching straddles the line between a standalone profession and an immensely flexible communication tool for many areas of life. For many, it does indeed become a standalone role, a new business and a way of life but for others it becomes an approach to communication that changes much of what they do.
But, why am I even talking about this?
Well, quite frankly, it’s because, for whatever historic reason (historic being the last 20 years), many people assume that to become a coach it is necessary to commit to a major change of life, most often with a leap into self-employment.
Whilst this is absolutely possible if that’s what you are committed to, I don’t believe that this is what coaching requires of you.
There are more ways to use coaching than starting a private practice with everything this requires. And I say this as someone who has loved having my own business since I was 30 (that’s 23 years at the time of writing this blog post!)
The thing is, many people become fantastic at coaching and they gain huge enjoyment from coaching. But they become stuck when trying to create a business. They struggle with the time it takes, the new skills that are required beyond coaching, the feeling of having to do it alone and much more. They get disappointed if it doesn’t happen quickly enough or they put too much on the line by giving in their career.
I want to try to avoid people doing that. I want people to make the right choice for themselves based on knowing what’s possible.
I find that such a waste of motivation and energy to fruitlessly pursue something that doesn’t bring you joy, and if starting a business doesn’t bring you joy, then don’t do it – there are other ways to coach and other benefits to becoming a coach.
My sense is that many people who think about taking a coaching course think that to learn coaching is to be a coach. In other words, the skill of coaching gets inextricably tangled up with the sense of identity as a coach.
Certainly, many, many people who train as a coach with Animas and who qualify with us go on to build great businesses and would fully adopt this identity – “I’m a coach”. Indeed, I’ve interviewed many and explored how they have gone about creating their practice.
But I also know many people who become frustrated with themselves and with their perception of the industry or profession and who wish they could spend time coaching and not having to find clients.
At Animas, we emphasise that, whilst starting a private practice as a coach is one option, the reality is that there are multiple ways to use coaching that don’t require you to start a business.
Indeed, at our Introduction to Transformative Coaching session, we talk about the 5 pathways open to a coach after qualification.
Before I describe these five, I want to be clear that, in fact, there are even more than this.
These five allow you to pursue coaching to a significant degree but coaching can equally be brought to bear on how you manage a team, how you engage in constructive dialogue in meetings, even how you sell an idea to a group of individuals. Beyond this career use, it is often deeply transformative for life as well. I’ll say more about this later.
First, let’s take a look at the 5 career pathways.
- Start a coaching practice as an independent coach
- Become an associate coach
- Work as an internal coach within an organisation
- Add coaching to an existing service you already run
- Volunteer as a coach for social impact projects.
The 5 Career Pathways for Coaches
The Independent Coach
OK, so let’s face this one head on.
This is the one that many people assume that they have to choose if they want to become a coach.
It is also the one that is both attractive and terrifying in equal measure since it can often require changing career and even giving up a stable salary.
That’s because the independent coach is self-employed and they have to build a business.
They set up a coaching practice to provide a full-time or part-time income. They are responsible not only for the coaching, but also finding their clients and the admin that goes along with that.
Life coaches, executive coaches, niche-specific coaches, coach therapists, group coaches and team coaches are all likely to be independent coaches.
However, it is really important to say that you don’t have to throw in your career for this. It is not all or nothing!
Unless you are deeply unhappy with your job or have taken some form of redundancy, then we would encourage you to build coaching practice alongside your job. Take the pressure off.
If you do want to go full-time as a coach, then slowly reduce the hours of your existing role until you create a stable practice.
Building a practice is not as scary as it might seem if you take your time and don’t put yourself under financial pressure.
The Associate Coach
The Associate Coach role is a growing opportunity in coaching.
It represents a hybrid between the independent and employed coach and offers coaches who don’t feel confident in building a business the opportunity to find sustainable work to either replace or complement any independent work.
The Associate Coach is self-employed, but they join the roster of one or more organisations which provide them with coaching clients within, typically, large organisations such as BetterUp and CoachHub.
Of course, nothing comes without a cost, and the price of not needing to market yourself as a coach is that you will earn less per client than if you were independent, since a portion will go to the parent organisation. That said, this is often a price well worth paying for some coaches.
A great deal of executive and corporate coaching is done through the associate model.
It is worth saying that to become an associate coach you first have to gain experience as a coach. This is not as hard as it might seem but it does require time to get there.
The Internal Coach
For those who don’t want to create a coaching business at all, the internal coach role is where things get really interesting.
Internal coaches most typically have a different “main” role in an organisation but they get to carve out significant time from this role to coach other members of the organisation.
In the UK, the NHS and civil service both have a large contingent of internal coaches. But they are not alone – internal coaching is increasingly common since building internal coaching capacity is both cost-effective and culturally-effective.
If you want to become a coach but don’t want to build your own practice, then this is an excellent place to look.
If there is no existing coaching function in your organisation, speak to the head of HR. If the company is smaller, talk with the owner and make the case for providing internal coaching. People are surprisingly open to this and we have seen this pay off many times from Animas coaches who made this very move.
If there is an internal coaching function then you might be expected to train as a coach or they may provide some basic training. However, much internal coach training is very basic, focusing on somewhat limited models and concepts of coaching like GROW that don’t factor in the emotional and complex issues people are really facing. A course like the Animas coaching diploma provides the necessary depth that will allow you to become a coach in an organisation.
Coaching as an Additional Service
For those people who already have a business or provide a service such as consultancy within an organisation, coaching can offer an additional way of working with clients that embeds easily into their existing workflow and client work.
We find that many therapists, counsellors, consultants and trainers choose to become a coach because it enhances what they already do.
In some cases, they may already have skills but wish to seek professional credentials as a coach. In other cases, coaching may be a new skill for them but fits seamlessly into the work they do.
The Volunteer Coach
This final pathway is less a career than simply an avenue for doing meaningful work that fulfils you.
Although still a relatively new field, there are ever more opportunities to coach voluntarily or for a small fee within the voluntary sector, local communities, schools and more.
Of course, we recognise that spending a significant amount of money on training, only to then volunteer is not something that everyone can justify, but many people find the cost is more than repaid by the sense of meaning and purpose they gain through volunteer coaching.
At Animas we have worked with a number of organisations to place coaches, including Macmillan Cancer Trust, Age UK, St Christopher’s Hospice, Spark Inside and Yes Futures to name just a few.
Volunteering as a coach is also an extremely effective way to build experience that will serve you later should you wish to become an internal coach or associate coach and need to build hours for your credentials.
Finally, of course, volunteer coaching can be combined with any of the other pathways and we have many coaches who volunteer for social impact projects whilst building their private practice or working internally as a coach.
Benefits Of Coaching Beyond the Career Path Of The Coach
So far we have only discussed ways of using coaching as a career.
What we haven’t yet looked at, and what I truly believe is just as important, is that when you become a coach there are other deeply important benefits that might appear less tangible yet which often become the most important outcome from the training.
Whilst I would never say someone should train as a coach if their sole outcome is to gain better relationship skills, I can categorically say that when I became a coach, overtime, it transformed my way of relating to people and helped me in unfathomable ways.
Before becoming a coach, I had been divorced twice and, looking back, I cringe at how hopeless I was at expressing what I needed, asking questions of my partners that enabled constructive conversation, and facing the discomfort of challenging discussions. I can honestly say I am a different person altogether in my relationship now (happily married a third time!)
Coaching is simply life-changing when it comes to helping you face yourself and be more courageous, truthful, compassionate and non-blaming in conversation with those you most love.
Improving People Management
Likewise, coaching helped me become a better leader, someone who is able to engage in deep dialogue with team members to explore any issues and face any truth, no matter how challenging that might be for any of us.
We all grow when we look at what is real for us and engage in curious, respectful conversation about it. There is no question in my mind that coaching skills enabled that for me.
The biggest payoff for many people who undertake our coaching course is the extent of their own personal transformation as they start to assess their beliefs, their values, their relationships, their aspirations and so much more.
The skill of coaching almost invariably creates shifts in one’s own life as you start to take stock, get clear and take action.
Coaching as a Deeper Process of Change
What’s going on here is more than just the conscious application of coaching skills to your life – it is a deeper change that comes from the gradual absorption of the principles of coaching which recognise the personal agency we all have, the ability we have to stop and ask what is really true for ourselves, and the courage to take action that we have either avoided or simply been unaware of as possibilities.
I will repeat though that I do not encourage people to become a coach if all they are after is the personal transformation. For this, I would recommend getting a coach. Nonetheless, it is a phenomenal side-benefit of coach training when you yourself transform in fundamentally life-changing ways.
In this post, what I hope I achieved to some degree is to create a question mark for you.
Perhaps you’re keen to become a coach but you’re worried whether you can create a business. Recognising that fear now is useful. It doesn’t mean you can’t start a coaching business but it’s probably a good sign that you need to be aware it’ll take time and energy and that it won’t happen overnight. No business does.
It might also mean that you realise you don’t even need to start a business to become a coach. Perhaps you can speak to someone in your organisation and ask if you can coach for half a day per week. Over time that might expand and as you build your experience and skills, you also slowly build a private practice of clients.
Or perhaps you don’t want to have private clients and you just want to coach people in an organisation for a day or two per week. It’s possible.
Perhaps you love your job but you could get some time off to volunteer as a coach in a charity or social project.
Or maybe you’re a consultant and you realise that coaching skills will help improve what you already do. You don’t want to start something new, you want to do what you do better.
Whatever it is, drop the myth that to become a coach is to turn your life upside down. It is a skill that can be used in so many ways and which can ultimately change your life.