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Professional Life Coach

How to Become a Professional Life Coach: 4 Soft Skills to Excel

It seems like everyone has a coach at the moment. And that may not just be all in your imagination. Searches for life coaches on employment service LinkedIn have grown 1,567%1. Which means coaching is a hot topic right now. And that’s not entirely surprising. Having someone in your corner to help you nail down your goals and overcome limiting beliefs can be incredibly helpful. But if you’re interested in getting a piece of this fast-growing industry, how exactly do you get started? In this article, we’re going to look at what a professional life coach does and the soft skills needed for success.

Illustration of a man talking to a woman with compassion showing this is how to become a professional life coach

What do professional life coaches do?

Professional life coaches work with clients to empower them to take action in their lives. They help their clients to make positive changes. They do this through effective goal-setting and tailored support.

Life coaches may support clients in targeting either professional or personal growth. They may focus on a particular area, such as career, relationships, or wellness. Life coaches are future-focused. They aren’t therapists. They’re not interested in unearthing information about a client’s past.

A key tenet of professional life coaching is the belief that clients already have everything they need to reach their potential. The coach’s role is to offer tools and practical exercises. These help clients access their strengths and let go of fear and limiting beliefs. This helps them move forward and achieve their goals.

Professional coaches may work in both the public and private sectors. They may be employed in-house by businesses, charities, and education providers. Organizations may provide coaching as a wellness benefit. They may contract freelance life coaches to support their employees. Self-employed coaches may also see private clients.

Life coaches may work alongside other professionals. These may include fitness trainers, nutritionists, and business mentors. These may also include therapists and career or relationship counselors. They can work with coaching clients face-to-face, over the phone, or online.

What are the soft human skills needed to become a professional life coach?

Now you’re clear on what a professional life coach does, let’s take a dive into the soft skills crucial for success in this job.

Active listening and reflecting skills

One of the most critical skills for a professional life coach is active listening. Really listening to what someone is saying is essential for building the rapport needed to support them effectively.

A fundamental principle of coaching practice is believing the coachee has all the tools they need to move forward. They may just be stuck because their fears or lived experience creates a barrier to progress. To help them overcome these challenges, life coaches use reflecting skills to bring awareness to the problem. Once the problem is defined, the coachee can set goals to tackle it.

Coaches also listen for and reflect back occasions when the coachee has performed well. This gives the coachee ‘evidence’ that they can break through any obstacles holding them back.

Empathy and compassion

People often choose to work with a coach when they feel stuck and aren’t sure of the next steps to take. If something is holding them back from following their dreams, it takes courage to explore those limiting beliefs.

Working with a coach requires people to be vulnerable and admit uncertainty. It’s crucial that you project empathy and compassion when working as a professional life coach.

Clear and effective communication

People seeking life coaching are looking for someone to bring clarity to complexity. As well as excellent listening skills, coaches need to be able to ask relevant and productive coaching questions. Effective questioning can act as a catalyst for sense-making. It may unlock a way forward not previously considered.

Coaches need to be able to follow their coachee’s, at times unstructured, conversation. They should then succinctly reflect back what they’ve heard. Being able to consolidate your coachee’s thoughts and clearly express them is a crucial skill.

The ability to pick up on nonverbal cues is also essential. Clues as to what might be holding them back, or equally what lights them up, may not just come from what they're saying.

Interpersonal skills

Strong interpersonal skills help build trust. They help your coachee feel comfortable sharing their goals, dreams, and challenges. As well as empathy and compassion, you’ll need tolerance and patience. After all, it might take some time before your coachee is happy to reveal the crux of their problem. You’ll need to put aside any of your personal beliefs to facilitate the correct outcome for your coachee.

You’ll also need to create a balance between being engaged and staying detached. And you need to demonstrate that to your client. Your coachee needs to feel like you’re invested in their success. Equally, you need to stay objective. You need to help them make sense of what’s going on without getting caught up in the weeds of the problem. You’ll need to be able to challenge their assumptions and limiting beliefs effectively. They need to feel supported, not attacked.

Develop these important professional life coach skills

Soft skills are critical to your success as a professional life coach. Being able to connect on a human level is essential for building the rapport necessary to be effective.

At Fingerprint for Success, we have over 20 years of experience in using people analytics tools to study these types of soft skills. We’ve identified the attitudes and motivations needed to succeed.

Take our assessment today to find out how your personal motivations relate to these core life coaching skills. Once you’ve taken the assessment, Coach Marlee will provide you with personalized insights related to your goal. You’ll receive feedback on your motivations and insights related to any blind spots.

Then set a personal development goal and use F4S’ free coaching to increase your performance and excel in your coaching career.


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How long does it take to become a professional life coach?

First off, let’s address the elephant in the room. Life coaching is not a regulated profession. So pretty much anyone can create a LinkedIn profile, build a website, and start calling themselves a life coach.

Thankfully, most potential clients are pretty savvy. They'll look for a life coach with the qualifications and experience that meets their needs. When comparing coaches, they'll look for accredited coach training programs. They may also consider their ongoing professional development and years of coaching experience.

So, let’s take a look at what education, training, and certifications might put you ahead of the pack.

What higher education might clients be interested in?

What you studied at university is probably not going to be the first consideration of potential coaching clients. Degrees in psychology, sociology, or learning and development might show a long interest in this area. But they’re not crucial for being a successful coach.

There are two notable exceptions. Life coaches with a specialization in health or business may have some useful insights from their formal education. But remember that being an effective coach means the session is not about you! You’re not there to give advice or mentor your client. Effective coaches can have pretty much any educational background and still be fantastic in the role.

The second exception is a recently-established pathway. This pathway uses psychology or other relevant degrees as a springboard for coaching higher education. It’s not yet widely offered by universities. And it may take longer and cost more than traditional routes into coaching. One example is the MSc in Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology offered by the University of East London, UK.

What licenses, certifications, and registrations are needed?

Professional life coaching is an unregulated industry. But there are several international coaching bodies that govern training standards and practice. The most well-known is the International Coaching Federation (ICF). Two others are the Association for Coaching and the European Mentoring and Coaching Council.

These organizations provide comprehensive training directories. They'll help you find a life coach certification program via an accredited training institution. These types of life coach training programs often need significant time and financial investment. But they're worth it for the extensive number of teaching hours and the opportunity for mentorship and supervision.

What on-job internships or apprenticeships are typically undertaken?

Becoming a certified life coach often requires delivering a significant amount of coaching hours. Building a portfolio of verified work experience is critical for accreditation by governing bodies such as the ICF.

Internships or apprenticeships aren’t necessary to become a professional life coach. However, they can help coaches build up their experience while working to become a certified life coach. These types of roles may be found in coaching consultancies or agencies. Verified work experience may also be gained while building a freelance life coaching business.

Some businesses also run an in-house coaching service. Working in-house is great for newly-qualified coaches. They can practice their skills on other employees while working toward their accreditation. And, potentially, while retaining their day job. Reputable governing bodies also provide mentoring and coaching supervision for new coaches.

What advancement or specialization opportunities are there?

Life coaches can choose from almost unlimited continuous professional development (CPD) opportunities. These may include life coach training courses, event attendance, webinars, and workshops. 

Advanced coaches may also choose to become accredited coach trainers or coaching mentors. These qualifications enable more experienced life coaches to deliver training to would-be coaches. They may also mentor newly-qualified coaches and help them improve their coaching skills.

Life coaches may also choose to augment their coaching practice with other specializations. This is especially true if they are self-employed. For example, a wellness coach may decide to pursue a nutrition qualification. This increases the number of services they can offer clients.

Some coaches might decide they want to return to school. They might want to gain an undergraduate, post-graduate, or doctoral-level coaching qualification. Or they might pursue a complementary area of study, such as psychology.

CPD enables life coaches to offer a more multifaceted service to their clients. This means they may attract more clients than competitors and may be able to charge more. Building an attractive website and increasing your social media presence can also help. And don’t forget to ask satisfied clients for a testimonial. Word-of-mouth is a powerful tool for growing a successful coaching business.

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What are the career opportunities and outlook for professional life coaches?

The outlook for professional life coaches is positive. Globally, there was a 33%2 increase in coaches between 2015 and 2019. As of 2020, there were an estimated 71,0003 coach practitioners worldwide.

Over half of these practitioners were from North America and Western Europe. 11,000 coach practitioners were from Latin America and the Caribbean, with 6,300 from Eastern Europe and 4,600 from Asia, respectively4.

There are several career opportunities for professional life coaches. These may depend on their chosen coaching niche. In a global study by the ICF, 65%5 of practitioners identified business coaching as their dominant specialization. As well as coaching services, practitioners may offer consulting services, training, or facilitation.

Coaches with a relationship specialization may choose to work as mediators. Wellness coaches may also offer complementary services. These might include guidance for specific diets, fitness planning, or advice on sleep or breathwork. Career coaches may offer resume services or help with interview preparation.

Where can professional life coaches work?

Professional life coaches can work both in-house and externally. They may be self-employed or hired by an organization for a specific project, such as executive leadership development.

In-house coaches may be employed either full or part-time. They can support employees with goal setting and achievement. Full-time in-house coaches will likely be part of the human resources department. In some organizations, employees may be part of the in-house coaching service. This may be alongside their day job.

Coaches may also be employed by organizations providing a host of umbrella services. These may include treatment or residential care facilities. These may also include job centers, education providers, and charities.

Self-employed coaches may run a private practice. Or they might join forces with other complementary practitioners to run a small business. This may be more sustainable at first. It allows the sharing of costs such as the building lease and utilities.

Some coaches may choose to run their life coaching business entirely online. The use of online communication platforms to run coaching sessions doubled between 2015 and 20196. This has likely increased further since the Covid-19 pandemic.

Self-employed coaches may also need to complement their professional training with other skills. These might include website creation, social media marketing, email marketing, and basic bookkeeping. They'll also need business insurance.

How much can professional life coaches earn?

There’s no cap on how much professional life coaches can earn. Celebrity coaches, such as Tony Robbins, reportedly earn thousands of dollars an hour. The International Coaching Federation reports an annual global average of US$47,1007.

This salary is highly market-dependent. Eastern European coaches report an average annual income of US$19,100. North American coaches report the highest earnings. They have an average annual income of US$62,500.

Broken down by gender, 44% of male coaches earn between US$300—$500/hr. The same is true for 36% of women. Around a fifth of both genders report charging over US$500/hr8.

These hourly rates do not translate to the more modest annual salaries reported above. This suggests either coaches are working far fewer hours than a typical 40-hour working week or the datasets are immature. This would not be surprising given the relative newness and rapid growth of the industry.

Frequently asked questions

How do I start a career in life coaching?

You don’t need any formal qualifications to become a life coach. However, the life coaching industry and coaching profession are maturing. Potential clients are becoming more discerning when it comes to choosing a coach. A qualification from an accredited training provider will make you stand out from the competition. It also allows you to best meet your client’s needs. If you plan to become self-employed, you might also need additional skills. These might include website creation, marketing, and bookkeeping.

How do you get paid to be a life coach?

There are several ways to get paid to be a life coach. You can work in-house, offering internal coaching to employees. You can work within an umbrella organization that offers several complementary services. There are opportunities with care homes, wellness centers, education providers, and charities. You can also set up your own business offering freelance life coaching services to clients.

How long does it take to get certified in life coaching?

The length of time it takes to become certified in life coaching depends on which pathway you choose. There are many different levels of certification. A Masters-level coaching certification via a University can take one to two years. To become an ICF Associate Certified Coach, you need 60 hours of coach-specific education. You also need 100 hours of verified coaching experience. A Professional Certified Coach requires 125 hours of training and 500 hours of client coaching experience.

What makes you qualified to be a life coach?

As well as any professional qualification, you need to make sure your soft skills are dialed in. Successful life coaches require several essential skills. These include active listening and reflection and empathy and compassion. These also include clear and effective communication and strong interpersonal skills. F4S’ short assessment identifies how your personal motivations align with these core competencies. And it can help you take action to tackle any blind spots.

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Trevor Folsom

All entrepreneurs love data for running their business, but fall short on having any data on themselves. Since 2011, I’ve found F4S to be an invaluable asset as an angel investor in backing founders.
Trevor Folsom, Entrepreneur & Angel Investor, Investible
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  1. 2022 Coaching Trends | LinkedIn - (Dec. 2022)
  2. Coaching Federation -  (Dec. 2022)
  3. IBID
  4. Coaching Federation - (Dec. 2022)
  5. IBID
  6. IBID
  7. Coaching Federation - (Dec. 2022)
  8. Statistica - (Dec. 2022) 

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