Even though I can be outspoken, I genuinely have mixed feelings about the ICF (International Coaching Federation).
As I pointed out in my post Do Life Coaches Need ICF Accreditation, they obviously want to advance coaching by educating and guiding coaches toward operating professionally and within a code of ethics.
They also promote the co-active model of coaching, which has been shown scientifically to be the most successful in helping clients achieve the desired results.
As such, if a new coach can afford the time and money to take ICF training and it doesn’t leave them with no money to invest in building their coaching practice, I’d encourage it.
Similarly, for any coach wanting to work in the corporate sector, then an ICF accreditation, whilst guaranteeing nothing, is probably going to be a minimum requirement.
But the insistence of many people who train with them that there is only one way to coach (there isn’t) and that coaches should never offer advice (that depends), frustrates me.
And the ICF have no real power in an unregulated industry.
They cannot stop you or anybody else from coaching. Nor can they stop any other training company offering coach training or making outrageous claims.
Plus, and more worryingly, the entire setup feels akin to a pyramid scheme designed to generate revenue than a professional body overseeing its members.
Is The ICF Pyramid Scheme Real?
I received the following comment under my post Do Life Coaches Need ICF Accreditation? in May of 2021, and it sums up a lot of what I have read and been told by coaches over the last few years.
I found this (article) really helpful as I am in the process of getting my ACC certification.
My employer paid for my coaching training, but I paid for my mentor coaching ($1500) and will then have to pay the certification exam fee and processing fee myself.
It’s a substantial investment, but because my employer does want me to coach, and I want to develop a private practice of clients, I figured it would be worth it.
However, I was going through the ICF site and realized that to renew my ACC certification 3 years after I receive it, I have to go through another 10 hours of mentor coaching (even though, presumably, I will have been coaching the entire three years).
So, 2.5 years from this fall (when I expect to be certified) I will have to invest more money in mentor coaching, because the mentor coaching has to be done over a certain number of months to meet ICF standards.
That made me realize, this is an interesting little closed feedback loop the ICF has created, and I can see why they did it.
So many coaches say they struggle to get clients. However, if people getting or renewing an ACC must get 20 hours of mentor coaching (10 to obtain, 10 to renew), that creates a built-in market for coaches to coach other coaches.
And, in fact, in searching I found tons of websites with PCCs or MCCs offering “mentor coaching packages” that were all $1000+. I would love to know how many of those coaches are doing coaching of non-coach clients, or if the bulk of their business is coaching other coaches?
Corollary question, does the ICF really exist to create a “gold standard in coaching,” as they say?
Or is it to create a closed loop market where coaches get certified, renew, and then can coach other coaches and have somewhat of a guaranteed audience/income stream?
I am still going to get my ACC – I’m too far into it to abandon it at this point. Whether or not I renew will become a different story. I figure if I get the credential, and don’t renew, I can at least then say I had an ACC credential, but chose not to renew it for X reasons.
My education and experience will be verified, but I’m just not sure how interested I am in financially propping up the ICF for the rest of my career.– Michelle
Since that comment was left, I have received many more, with none disputing what this lady had to say and almost all agreeing wholeheartedly.
The cost of hiring a mentor coach to maintain (or achieve) ICF affiliation is significant for an established coach, never mind one struggling to find clients.
You won’t find these people coaching for $50 per hour on some shitty life coach directory.
There’s big money in mentoring ICF coaches.
So big that all the ad slots on Google for the term ICF mentor coach are all sold to companies and none to individuals.
Many coaches believe these people are only busy because they are constantly being paid to mentor coaches who are looking to add/maintain ICF accreditation.
Isn’t that the definition of a pyramid scheme? When the many people at the bottom maintain the success of the few people at the top?
Are some successful coaches only successful because they are teaching other coaches how to be successful coaches?
But is any of this the fault of the ICF?
Are they not merely trying to manage an industry as best they can with an arm and a half tied behind their back because of the lack of Government regulation?
Well, kind of, but not really.
It’s hard getting coaching clients
What the ICF doesn’t tell you, and what some of the less scrupulous large training organisations actively hide, is how fucking hard it is to get paying clients.
Coaching is as competitive as any industry on the face of the planet.
I strongly believe that as an industry-serving non-profit, the ICF has a duty of care to advise new coaches of this elephant in the room.
Too few new coaches realize that their peers who do well independently of the ICF are as dedicated and skilled at marketing as they are at coaching.
And that nobody succeeds as a coach just because they are a good or even a great coach.
The ICF could spell this out.
But they don’t, and it could be said they do the opposite by publishing the ICF Global Coaching Study.
The ICF Global Coaching Study for 2023
The ICF publishes their survey results every 3 or 4 years as a report on the state of the coaching industry.
The 2023 report/study is now out (you can read it here), and as with previous studies, it reads like a work of utter fantasy to anybody outside the ICF.
Note: I have only read the executive summary (business word meaning highlights). The full report is priced at $99 for members (I’m not one) and $149 for non-members (i’v eno intention of becoming one).
14,591 coaches completed the 2023 survey
That is quite a respectable sample size for almost any survey, especially as the coaches span 157 countries.
However, it’s highly skewed because the vast majority of people calling themselves a coach are not paid-up ICF members.
I have worked with hundreds of coaches one-on-one or through my courses, and I’d take a conservative guess less than one-quarter were ICF members.
You cannot have a survey purporting to represent an industry that excludes the majority of people representing that industry.
It’s akin to publishing a poll on the restaurant industry but only talking with people who went to culinary school.
ICF training is expensive and time-consuming.
Consequently, the coaches who have taken it are often a lot more financially and emotionally invested in succeeding as a coach.
If you cough up $10k and work hard to get certified for 18 months, you’re far more likely not to quit when things become tough.
Especially when compared to the coach who just bought a copy of The Prosperous Coach (number 31 on this list of books coaches should be reading) and threw up a cheap website.
How much do coaches earn?
According to the 2020 report, the average coach in North America earned $62,500.
Not too shabby, but in the new report, that figure is up to $67,500
Most coaches would view that as splendid news.
After all, we’ve just been through a raging pandemic, and there’s a subsequent global recession/slowdown.
As such, any growth is to be warmly welcomed.
And $67,800 is a very respectable income for the majority of people in the US and higher than the national average.
Is the average coach earning $67,800 in the US?
As I already mentioned, I have met/interacted with hundreds of coaches, and I can count the ones who earned more than $70k on the fingers of both hands without having to wake my thumbs up for assistance.
I would wager my house and worldly possessions that less than 5% of coaches earn that much.
And I’d wager your house and worldly possessions (trust me, you’re not going to lose everything) on it being less than 2% if you exclude coaches working outside the corporate sector.
Whereas that stat is eyebrow-raising and amusing.
The next one is belly-laughingly ludicrous.
How many hours does the average coach work?
I rarely work less than 40 hours weekly, and I’m largely in maintenance mode.
When I was building my life coaching practice at A Daring Adventure, I seldom worked less than 60 hours.
Well, it would appear I’m a fucking idiot of biblical proportions.
According to the ICF, the average coach works less than 12 hours weekly.
To be fair, the executive summary is vague, and maybe the full report would explain in more detail, but it doesn’t say what work means.
So, I don’t know if that means 12 hours with clients, 12 hours on building their business or 12 hours in total.
The survey also asked whether coaches were optimistic for 2023 and 2024.
Are coaches optimistic about their future in coaching?
Well, of course, they are.
Then again, most coaches would be optimistic if you gave them an umbrella and threw them out of a plane at 30,000 feet.
Because, ya know, they’re fucking coaches!
The report says that over 70% of coaches believe they will get more clients and earn more revenue next year.
Time will tell.
The entire report felt as did the one published in 2020, like it was carefully designed to encourage more coaches into the industry.
Part of me thinks, well, what do you expect?
But as I previously alluded, part of me thinks the ICF are culpable in bloating an already bloated industry.
Of course, at an individual level, this need not concern you specifically.
Presuming that is, you learn how to market your services and get clients.
What’s your take on the ICF?
I would LOVE to hear your comments, observations, and thoughts on the ICF, either positive or negative. I am not looking to create an echo chamber here; all opinions are welcome.
And please, please, share the post with anybody you know who may be interested.