3 Ways to Sniff Out if a Life or Business Coach is Legit or an Imposter

Recently, I’ve been getting a lot of questions from potential clients about the rise of business & life coaches they are seeing on social media since COVID19. Most are confused and suspicious by the “Trust me, I’m a #lifecoach” message. And, rightfully so.

This isn’t really new. The coaching market has always been muddied by the untrained, self-anointed “coach”. It seems some people have re-evaluated their lives and what they do. They say, “My passion is to help people find their passion.” “My purpose is to help people find their purpose.”

This is a noble and beautiful goal; to dedicate your life to empowering others to reach their full potential. According to a Gallup poll, 70% of Americans are disengaged with their jobs, and millions of people are depressed and unfulfilled. 

We need more coaches. More business coaches, relationship coaches, career coaches, leadership coaches, communications coaches, and even more life coaches. But we need coaches who are honest about the services they are able to provide to their clients. And more importantly, to be just as authentic about the services they are not qualified to offer.

In 2012, the International Coach Federation (ICF) reported that life coaching is a $2 billion a year industry. Since there is wide disagreement on the value of professional coaching certification programs and many coaches don’t pursue formal training, this number is probably higher.

Here’s the rub. It feels like every third or fourth post on my Instagram feed is a quote from some “guru” or a perfectly manicured story of how a coach has experienced self-growth and personal a-ha’s and somehow their personal revelations alone, now makes them qualified to help you. Low barriers to entry are allowing more people to anoint themselves as coaches – and that presents some issues.

Just to confirm, I am a huge fan of coaching. I am a Coach. I’ve had numerous coaches (business, life and otherwise) in the years I’ve been an entrepreneur and they’ve had a positive and significant impact on my life. Some of the most successful people in sports, business and in life all have coaches. A legitimate coach can take your life or career to a whole new level.

Yet most of these new coaches are not legitimate. Reading The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, watching a Dr. Brene Brown TED Talk and learning about chakras doesn’t give anyone the expertise or the talent to shepherd others through the major healings, breakthroughs or life changes they need to make – personally or professionally.

There are dangers present with this new dynamic. If you fall prey to, no fault of your own, a fake-it-till-you-make-it coach, they are not just being an imposter, they are misleading people at best, and potentially harming their lives at worst.

So what should you do if you want to get a coach?

Here are 3 questions to ask when looking for a legitimate coach who can serve your needs.

1. HOW RELATABLE IS THIS COACH?

Do they get you? Can they relate to what you’re going through? Many cannot. 

If you seek personal help, ask if this has coach been through and overcome the things you’re experiencing. This could include being stuck, low self-esteem, work/life out of balance, non-existent self-care, limiting beliefs, self-sabotage, trust issues, ADHD, parenting challenges, divorce, loneliness etc.

On a professional level, ask if this coach has started a business, created wealth or been at the levels that you want to reach? Ask them about their career and what they’ve actually done. Having a career of their own, does not make them qualified to be a career coach. 

In fact, while you want someone who can empathize and truly understand what you’re going through, their personal experience alone is not enough. Beware of the coach who over-shares their story. If it feels egomaniacal to you, it’s probably best to move on. 

Have they been coached?

A good coach usually has a coach. They understand what it feels like to sit on the other side of the coaching conversation. They know first-hand that coaching can be uncomfortable in a good, life changing way. They know what it means to be vulnerable and how difficult it is to do the difficult work of change. If you look at sports, a majority of sports coaches have played the game. They’ve been coached. 

2. HOW CREDIBLE IS THIS COACH?

Do they have training?

While many coaches undergo some type of training, in theory, there’s nothing stopping anyone from sliding “coach” into their Instagram bio or LinkedIn. Coaching is a skill that needs to be honed and practiced. A coaching conversation is much different than giving advice. Training isn’t a one -time thing. Most dedicated coaches are life-long learners, engaging in new methods and practices to stay current and relevant. 

First do no harm. 

Because there is no single regulating body that imposes oversight in the life coach industry, and when “experts” are self-anointed, there’s much potential to do damage. During my 2 years of coach training we explored the many differences between coaching and therapy. We were trained to not cross the line into therapy. Most well-trained coaches know just enough about psychotherapy to be dangerous. 

And while not every potential client may be rushing to unpack their most serious trauma, stakes run high when issues that are typically handled by a highly trained psychotherapy professional fall into the hands of an undertrained “expert.” 

Do they have certifications?

Many of the top coaching certifications cost several thousands of dollars and help provide tools and frameworks for coaches. While certifications aren’t everything, it’s certainly important to consider as a method for measuring substance and commitment. There’s no standard signifier indicating training, education and certification, such as MD for doctors or LCSW for social workers. 

Do they have references?

One quick way to validate a coach is to ask for references. If they are experienced, and effective, then they will definitely have great references. 

If the coach is too new to have references, that’s ok. Yet, they should be upfront about it. Then you can make a judgement call based on how you feel about them and their pricing.

BEWARE of the fake testimonial. 

Even if there is a name and picture, some self-anointed coaches have had a friend pose as a client. Watch the language used too. If there is marketing lingo like “I’ve been transformed.” “Something inside me has been ignited.” “My life was forever altered after only one session.” – It’s probably a total fake at worst or embellished by the so-called coach at best. If you wouldn’t use those words yourself, that’s a good sign neither did an actual client. 

How long have they been doing this?

When researching a coach, you should inquire as to their experience level in terms of number of clients, years of practicing, & hours of coaching. The latter is the best sign they are credentialed. Every credentialed coach has to track coaching hours. If they’ve just started, then it’s reasonable to assume that they don’t have the expertise, or they may not even be as committed to the work. If you see some history, that’s a great sign that they are committed, experienced and have value to bring.

Everyone deserves the opportunity to start from somewhere, yet an inexperienced coach can simply charge as much as an experienced coach. It’s important to understand the value proposition. 

A legitimate new coach commonly offers pro-bono and reduced cost sessions. It’s their best way to practice honing the skills of coaching. They are upfront with you that they are practicing. Do not get stuck paying top dollar for an inexperienced coach who is only using you to reach their own personal income goals. 

3. HOW LIKABLE IS THIS COACH?

First impressions are everything. In this digital age our first impression is usually on-line. Peruse their website. Research them on social media. Listen to your gut as you’re scrolling through Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Do they have a good photo so you can see who they are? Yes, that is important for first impressions. 

Or is every other post a picture of them followed by a caption saying, “Listen Babe, blah blah blah advice.” Coaching is not about giving advice. It’s quite the opposite and that’s for another article. 

If something turns you off, move on.  

FINAL WORD

While there are exceptions to every rule, determining if a coach is Relatable, Credible
and Likable
are effective in sniffing out any red flags. You want to feel comfortable on both pragmatic and intuitive levels. At the end of the day, you want to look for honesty, authenticity and expertise.

Use your mind to evaluate their legitimacy and use your intuition to feel out what is best for you. Then dive into the work. Good luck.

3 Comments on “3 Ways to Sniff Out if a Life or Business Coach is Legit or an Imposter

  1. Dear Carlene, thank you so much for your advice! Everything you wrote is so true and it is very helpful for us to have a guide on what to be careful of and to dare ask questions the potential coach!
    Congratulations, very professional approach!
    Kindest regards,
    Christina

    • Hey Christina,
      I’m so glad this is helpful for you. I appreciate you taking the time to leave your thoughts. If you have any questions around this topic please reach out to me.

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