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Do you think you would enjoy helping people navigate personal or career challenges? If so, you’re not alone—the number of life coaches in the U.S. increased by 33% between 2015 and 2019, and there are more than 22,000 coaches in America as of 2022. And surveys of life coaching clients would seem to indicate that most coaches are having a significant impact on society: 70% of coaching clients say they’ve improved their work performance, communication, and relationships as a result of their sessions; 80% say they’ve improved their self-esteem or self-confidence.
Life coaches come to the profession from a variety of backgrounds. If you’re wondering how to become a life coach and thinking about what your practice could look like, keep reading to learn more about the journeys of two successful life coaches, Jaclyn Gallo of Clarity and Action Consulting and Patria Rector of The Broken & Beautiful. Both have taken very different journeys and operate different types of businesses, but their insights are relevant to anyone interested in applying their skills to help others realize their potential.
Both Jaclyn and Patria discovered life coaching as a result of experiencing—and overcoming—challenges in their own lives.
Patria went to college to become a nurse and spent 20 years in that profession. But she was always aware that her favorite part of the job—and even the education—was psychology. “There’s a lot of that in nursing,” she says. But when she needed help with issues that had begun to crop up in her life, she turned to a life coach for help. “I fell in love with the process. ”
While she was still a nurse, Patria volunteered at her church, helping others through ministry the same way she was helped. “I found I really loved it and seemed to be good at it. But when I started volunteering 20 to 25 hours a week, I knew something needed to shift. That was when the idea began to form that I should start a business.” She got her coaching certificate and started her business in 2019.
Jaclyn’s journey began when she was in college. “My vision was to get a job in corporate marketing. I had an internship that I really liked and about two months into it, I was driving home one day and I thought, Is this it? Is this what I’m going to do every day for the rest of my life?” Despite the fact that she was “at an 80 out of 100 in terms of my fulfillment,” she felt drawn to a more entrepreneurial path, which she believed would get her to that 100-level of fulfillment.
But her first business idea—and even her second—failed. “All this time I was having my own personal journey of overcoming these failures and focusing on personal growth and trying to build my confidence, which was so difficult after being beaten down and beaten down and failing again and again and again.”
She was also struggling to understand her vision for her life. She wasn’t trying to build a business for the purpose of selling it; in fact, the idea of raising capital and finding investors wasn’t appealing to her. She simply wanted to create a business she could enjoy every day. Not knowing what to do, she spent about a month just feeling lost.
“Then I came across this Facebook ad that talked about women being public speakers and it sparked me. All these flashing lights went off in my brain, in my heart, in my gut—all over my body. I’ve never felt that before. But I was so beaten down. I had so little self-confidence that, even though I had those signs, I still felt like, No, I don’t have anything to talk about. Who’s gonna listen to me? I’m young, all I’ve done is fail. And then it hit me—what if I talked about failure? What if I could help other people get back up? Because at this time I knew I couldn’t give a talk on success, but I could definitely give a talk on failure.”
“I felt like, No, I don’t have anything to talk about. Who’s gonna listen to me? I’m young, all I’ve done is fail. And then it hit me—what if I talked about failure? What if I could help other people get back up? Because at this time I knew I couldn’t give a talk on success, but I could definitely give a talk on failure.”
She tested her ideas at a few local colleges, speaking to students about failure, and they loved it. “It really resonated with them because it’s something that’s clearly not talked about a lot.” From there, her business unfolded naturally. “A lot of entrepreneurs say that your customers tell you what they want. After my speeches, students would come up to me and say things like, I don’t know what to major in. Can you help me figure out what to do with my life? Or, I have a business idea and I want to pursue it but I don’t know where to start. And I thought I could tell them about the basic things I’ve learned.” She also thought she should get some training, which helped her understand what life coaching is all about.
Things took off from there. In 2019 she became a certified life coach and started working with clients; since then her business has taken off. “Now, I feel like I’m exactly where I’m meant to be. And while the failures were really challenging at the time, I know that I was meant to have them so I can share these stories and teach these lessons.”
Patria started her life coaching business by doing…
… marketing activities. She invested in hiring someone to help her create a website, which she relies on heavily even now as a marketing tool. She also looked for ways to make connections with people and raise awareness of her business. She had the opportunity to be interviewed on a podcast that was widely disseminated; she also agreed to interview requests in hopes of getting exposure for her name and services. In short, she says, “I decided to say ‘yes’ to any doors that opened.”
People who are considering becoming a life coach might wonder if they have what it takes. Life coaches are motivated to help people; they enjoy it and are fulfilled by it. But is having conquered a major life challenge also a prerequisite for coaching? Jaclyn says no—everyone has something to offer in terms of life experiences, and could learn the tools from a good certification course, apply them, and start helping people.
“It’s not necessarily about all of the things you’ve done in your life, although sometimes those things come into play in marketing and in branding. In the actual sessions, you’re not giving advice if you’re truly coaching. (If you want to do consulting—some of which I do in my own work—then it might be different.) But if you truly want to coach, you don’t need to have done anything.”
Additionally, everyone has a story someone else can identify with—there’s always someone out there who’s in the same position you were just a year earlier. Even if you’ve grown just a little bit since then, she says, that person needs you and needs to hear your story. “It’s much more helpful for people to receive help from someone who’s just a little bit ahead of them than from someone who’s ten steps ahead of them because they can believe [progress is] possible. They can see themselves in you. So all of that to say, you are capable, you are qualified, and you can learn the tools that will really help someone.”
Patria notes that coaching is highly focused on identifying and setting goals, whether those goals are related to business, parenting, etc. “If that’s not up your alley, then coaching is not the thing for you. But if you like being able to set and meet goals and walk with clients who are engaging in that, then it’s pretty exciting.”
“If you like being able to set and meet goals and walk with clients who are engaging in that, then coaching is pretty exciting.”
Both women noted that coaching is fairly fast paced and often requires long days of calls and appointments. If that sounds overstimulating to you, life coaching might not be a good fit—or you might need to reconsider your business model (more on that below).
Jaclyn’s biggest challenge in starting a business was…
…maintaining a consistent income. Some clients would pay for a certain number of sessions; others would pay upfront and then not pay again for six months. And during the school year she did lots of speeches, but the opportunities dried up in the summer. Something she’s working on now is creating a variety of income streams that she can grow over time and that will eventually balance each other out. That will help her maintain a steadier income stream should any one of them experience a disruption.
According to the International Coaching Federation, a large majority of coach practitioners agreed that individuals and organizations using coaching expect their coaches to be certified or credentialed. Both Jaclyn and Patria advise that if you want to become a coach, definitely get certified. The International Coaching Federation (ICF) is the industry’s governing body; choose a certification course that is ICF-accredited.
There’s huge value in having training on how to become a life coach, says Patria, including learning how to properly listen; the nuts and bolts of effective listening and question-asking; and being able to tend to your own issues that may arise when you’re working with someone. “Also, to me it’s a matter of integrity. If I’m going to be offering a service, I want to be able to say I’ve done my due diligence.” She notes that certification is different from licensing, which is required for counselors and mental health therapists. “That’s a whole different arena that people can go into. Coaching is not that. It’s a certification you get, and it’s a different type of helping people. We’re addressing goals and obstacles. And a lot of times, coaching helps create new things or gets people out of places where they’re stuck.”
Jaclyn has gotten numerous certifications from the ICF-accredited Quantum Coaching Academy in an effort to build her knowledge. Her favorite one is related to neuro linguistic programming (NLP)—essentially the science of how our brain creates our behavior. “When someone wants to change their life, oftentimes they’re trying really hard on a conscious level, but there are neural pathways that have been wired into their brain to continue their old habits. And so understanding different tools and techniques that can help with that is amazing and life changing.”
Other certifications she recommends:
Jaclyn explains that the core of life coaching is helping your clients to find their own answers; you don’t tell them what to do and you don’t give them advice. “You help them—through powerful questioning using different techniques—to get clear on what they want, what their vision is, and what action steps will get them there. You as the coach get to decide what questions to ask. How will you take them from point A to point B? What’s best for each client? The more you get to know your clients, the more you can really figure out what’s going to help them.” For example, studying neuro linguistic programming helps you understand how someone learns. Do they often use words that talk about how they feel? When they make a picture in their mind, is it a picture of a feeling? Do they always say things like, I can see that you say it that way, or I can see why things are the way they are?
“You can start to pick up on their learning style and how their brain will get them from point A to point B,” says Jaclyn. “Once you know that, then you can then speak that language because that’s what will resonate with them. There’s so much involved in understanding a specific person and what’s going to help them.” In her view, what makes coaches unique is the approach they choose to take to guide people.
A Few Life Coaching Stats:
When most people think of life coaching they think of a series of one-on-one sessions with various individual clients, with meetings taking place in a physical location or via an online meeting space. That’s the traditional way of doing business, and how Patria’s team works. She currently shares an office in Lincoln, Nebraska, with seven other experts trained in spiritual direction, life coaching, storywork, mentorship, and professional counseling.
Jaclyn’s business unfolded a little differently. In her work, she does coaching and consulting. Coaching is really helping someone find their own answers, but sometimes she shares her knowledge or expertise for the benefit of people who want to do something that she’s done before and where she might have some experience. “I started marketing my business on my Instagram page, which had been growing already from all of the other things I had done. Even though I’d failed in those endeavors, people were still following me because I had built personal connections with them. And on my page, I shared so much about my life and my journey because that was fun for me to share. I didn’t know it, but I was building a personal brand.”
When she finally announced she was taking on clients, many people signed up. That was great, but it took her a while to figure out her long-term vision. “I’m just one person. It’s really challenging to build a scalable business when you are the product.”
What helped her overcome that hurdle—which took a few years—was getting clear on her vision. “Some people could have a really successful life coaching business where they want a comfortable income, they want to help people, and they want flexibility. For me, I started this for that fulfillment mission. And fulfillment for me is two pieces: Number one was reaching my full potential. Number two was to make a really big impact.” Having the desire to change millions of lives led her to think deeply about how to scale. Now, she’s decided to work with her current clients only (no new clients), and focus on building her speaking calendar and producing content. Her goal is to create more online courses that are accessible to many people.
One of Patria’s biggest challenges was also the initial lack of clarity around how big she wanted to grow her business, or even what her ultimate goals would be. To keep things moving but manageable, she advises setting goals for today and for next week and this year—and remember they’ll always be changing.
As you build your own business, consider not only what people are asking for but your own vision as well. Your business should be a combination of both. You don’t have to do one-on-one meetings—you can work in groups and find different ways to manage your schedule. You can choose to build your business locally and meet only in person, or work exclusively online with people around the world. You can also choose a specialty.
Think about the overall goal for your business. Where would you like to get to, and does that strategy fit with your overall income goals? There’s no right way to build, says Jaclyn. “Maybe you only want to be on three calls a day in the afternoon while your children are at school. But remember, you don’t just have to do the calls; you also need to market your business and handle the accounting.”
Really think about your business model and if it’s a good fit for you. “For me, I would feel really drained spending an entire day, nine to five, on calls. I’ve done that many times because I thought that’s what you were supposed to do. And then I thought, oh my gosh, I’m exhausted. Is that how I want to feel every day? [That type of schedule is] really for someone who is extroverted. I consider myself very outgoing but not as extroverted.” For Jaclyn, being around people all the time can be draining; but if being around people really excites you, working one-on-one with clients may be just the right choice.
Jaclyn advises thinking about all those things from the start, something she admits she could’ve done better. In the beginning, “I didn’t really think about how the things I was doing were getting me to where I wanted to go.” Have a clear vision of where you’re going, even if it seems far off. If you can see it, then you can work backwards and start where you are to get there.
For more information on how to become a life coach, explore the International Coaching Federation’s website or the sites of various life coach certification programs that are ICF-accredited—there’s a roundup of several here. And if you need resources to help grow your audience, check out Fresh Scribes’ template kits, which you can use to create attractive lead magnets quickly.