Is The ICF Pyramid Scheme Real? (2023 coaching study now out)

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.


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.

ICF study in 2019 - getting coaching clients

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’ve no 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.

ICF 2023 global coaching study

Not too shabby, but in the new report, that figure is up to $67,500

ICF Coaching report 2023

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.

While building my life coaching practice at A Daring Adventure, I seldom worked under 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.


54 thoughts on “Is The ICF Pyramid Scheme Real? (2023 coaching study now out)”

  1. Tim,

    You don’t even need a big hammer to hit this nail on the head.

    I have been coaching/consulting to executives on my own since 1990. So what do I know? This:

    1. It is still very hard to find clients. And always will be. (I found one of my best clients in a bathroom/toilet. Or he found me. My point? Don’t give up. You never know.)
    2. The clients/companies that keep using me (over decades, in a few cases) signed on originally for my experience, not a piece of paper. (This includes a huge federal institution.)
    3. It is normally HR who wants proof of certification. Why? (a) It’s called cover your you-know-what if things go wrong; (b) it’s called lazy because they won’t do the homework to get proper referrals. (For the record, one of my long-term coaching assignments came via HR, so please know that not all HR people make these mistakes.)
    4. My most rewarding clients were, and are, only interested in my experience. But then, these clients are executives, who already know what value to attach to a piece of paper with no real world experience. And they know how to check me out before committing.
    5. Is there a problem with training coaches? Yes, when you get “permission” to call yourself a life coach while still in your twenties. For Pete’s sake. I am in my sixties and I am still learning about life! What the hell did I know in my twenties? Even though I had three pieces of paper.

    A final word for your hammer: A pyramid scheme only works because . . . fill in the blank. (Hint: people willing to hand over their cash with no due diligence. Maybe they needed a coach to guide them?)

    May the nonsense be with you.


    • I think when it comes to pure coaching i.e.the co-active method, then age is largely academic because it’s not about understanding life per see, but asking questions that will help shift peoples perspective.

      I think exec coaching is different however, and it would be almost impossible for a twentysomething to be seen as credible for people in such situations.

  2. I was encouraged to join ICF after my coach training, but I had an ethical issue in that they wanted details of my clients for accreditation. This goes against privacy laws in my country-so no accreditation for me

  3. I have been coaching, training and consulting on a corporate and also on a private level for over 30 years now. I did my trainings and was awarded proper certificates. Not very long ago I threw them all away (just like my old sport trophies) because nobody EVER asked me for them.

    My engagements always went like this: I was hired and my results were looked at. In most cases the engagement went on for many years. Not in every case, though. Some went awry and didn’t last very long. That’s how it goes, in life and in business, n’est pas? There’ always room to learn. And it’s the results our work is measured by, not certificates.

    We all know that the “coaching business” like any other business has been und will be misused. That’s bad enough. But organizations that claim to preserve, protect and defend “the sacred truth” are liable to overdo things once they feel “called”. And especially so if that’s remunerative.

    Rules are guidelines, not iron cages. Or so I learned to see it after having lived in the Mediterranean for almost 20 years.

    I agree with you, Tim – it’s not easy for a coach to find enough well-paying clients. And it won’t probably ever be. But it’s worth the effort, on the long run. If you do your job well.
    That’s all it needs.


    • Yep. I said in the post I linked to, I have only been asked (I think) once if I was ICF accredited. And nobody has ever asked me what training, in general, I’ve done.

      If I were starting all over I’d split the thousands of pounds I spent on training down the middle and spend half on getting marketing help.

      Hindsight is awesome!

  4. Imagine if universities required you to take a refresher semester every three years to keep your degree. Licensing, control and policing is a normal part of Western society. In the US one Dietician organization tried to get legislation that only their licensed members could give ‘diet’, or ‘food’ advice.

  5. Great post Tim. I’ve opted to not use ICF as the cost is really high and I don’t need another piece of paper to tell me I’m an awesome coach.
    If I had known I’d have to learn as much or more about marketing as I do coaching, I would NEVER have started on this journey.
    I’ve been interviewing business coaches, (some are really big names in the industry) and I’ve discovered that all they have going for them is marketing! They have a great message and a promise to help you get paying clients. Then I have to do the work to bring them in.
    Here’s the thing, these folks mostly just suck. 2 of my “interviews” in the last week were the worst conversations I’ve ever had. One was a 30 minute call that lasted and hour (boundaries) and she still wasn’t able to tell me what I’d get for my $5000 other than more do it yourself marketing (while she was distracted by her daughter on camera) and the other was a 30 minute call where after 10 minutes she was trying to end the call, even though I’d previously purchased a program from her (warm lead) and would have paid more to get help getting clients.
    I will be watching to see how our industry evolves. My hope is that we bring a consistent and understandable coaching practice to the public, instead of just coaching each other.
    I’ve been self-employed for 21 years and you don’t get to stay that way if you’re not good at what you do. I’m really good at holding space for others. Grounded with my attention focused on the client. If it’s not about the client, I need to shut the hell up. Thanks for all you do for us Tim and thanks for letting me rant!

    • You’re welcome and you can always have a good rant here!

      Maybe you should have contacted a business coach who has done what you want to do.

      No idea who that could be 😉

  6. You make some really good points. Calling the ICF a pyramid scheme might be a bit of hyperbole, but it does highlight the issues of coaches existing purely to coach other coaches.

    However, the ICF isn’t the only group doing that. Social media is full of ads for courses that will teach you how to create your own life coach training program that teaches people how to create THEIR own life coach training program that teaches others how to create a life coach training program…….
    Since 99.9% of the public is unaware of the ICF, I would submit to you it’s actually unqualified coaches and scam courses giving the whole field a bad name and make it harder for trained coaches to overcome the public perception of life coaching as a MLM scheme. That negative perception makes marketing as a coach just that much harder.

    Unfortunately with no regulation in place, there is no lack of scammers willing to sell how-to courses and promise easy riches to gullible people. If the field is to grow in legitimacy and public acceptance, there needs to be more accountability and ICF-type standards can help with that accountability.

    But how do you get there without involving heavy handed government oversight?

    • In terms of your last question, I honestly have no clue it’s a real conundrum.

      If 99.9% of the public don’t know what the ICF is or does then I’m not sure having more ICF accredited coaches really helps matters.

      And yeh, the internet is awash with scammers with a lot are focussing on the coaching industry because supply far outstrips demand.

      The ads in Facebook feed are pretty much entirely made up of marketers selling bs solutions to desperate coaches. I saw one guy advertising a course called 7 days to 7 clients for $7 the other week.

      Does anybody seriously believe that?

      I’m very much an outlier when I tell coaches, this is really, really hard and there’s zero point hiring me if you want quick wins because I don’t know any.

  7. Tim,

    It is posts like these that literally make me love you. You keep it real! Having been in the industry now for ten years, yes 10, my lens looks more to reality than they hype that is out there. When I first began I too believed ICF was the way to go, until something happened in a peer coaching session. I was doing peer coaching after completing a coaching training program (it wasn’t ICF but supposedly accredited). In the peer coaching session I was the client and my coach pushed too much during the meeting on a particular topic and I ended up in tears. Afterwards I realized it was a trigger, as I have since been diagnosed with PTSD.

    Understanding that the school was not equipped to hand this situation, the coach apologized. But I was left with an emotional hole with no resources. I backed completely away from all private coaching certifications including the ICF. I saw how closely psychology ties to coaching. So I went back to school and earned my B.S. in Psychology/Life Coaching instead of seeking an ICF credential.

    One online coaching directory I was trying to join would not accept me because I am not ICF certified, although I have a B.S. in Psychology/Life Coaching. You are absolutely right they do not tell you how hard it is to get clients. After ten years I no longer dedicate most of my time to getting clients. Yes, I am available but I am seeking other avenues to share my coaching programs with the world.

    Once again, Thanks for keeping things real for us!
    Best of luck to you!

    • Thanks Athena, and it’s always disappointing to hear stories like that.

      The coaching world is a better place because you hung in there!

  8. Oh man, don’t even get me started on the ICF. They call themselves the “gold standard”, but gold standard compared to what exactly? Which other certifying organizations are they comparing themselves to? I think they’re like Starbucks….they’re proabably not the best, but they’re the best at marketing themselves.

    Not to mention having to pay $200+ every year just to renew my membership. I’m honestly considering letting my membership expire, but if you let your membership expire then you lose all the Continuing Education credits you’ve gained.

    Like others have said, I haven’t had a single person ask me about my certification and/or training.

    • Yikes! I had no clue you had to pay $200 per annum too.

      It’s really no wonder they published bullshit ‘market research’ and are happy for almost any company to affiliate with them as long as they can pay.

      Something has got to give in the coaching industry because it’s unsustainable at the moment.

  9. Tim, as always, I love reading your posts and how you say it like it is. I wasn’t going to do ICF, and then I got it in my head that it might be a good idea because I do some corporate coaching, and I wanted to please one of my coach trainers. Hahaha! Yes, I said that.

    Of course, the company I do that coaching for has never asked for ICF, and no one else ever has either. Anyway, I hired a mentor coach. I paid $900 for his poor mentoring skills. Sigh! I have one more call to do with him to complete that process. I’m not sure if I’m going to spend the money actually to do the ICF. Because I do believe it is a big scheme, much like when I was teaching Pilates. The Pilates Method Alliance is the same thing ICF is. Take your money and make you keep on paying for certs each year. Sigh again!

    Anyway, thanks for the post.

  10. I totally agree, they actually say that they have no authority legal that is. That they are a self created and self governing body. The thing is people have been talking about them for so long perception is that they do. And your right about the loop it’s only there chosen coaching trainings that they accept and no others. Saying they don’t meet there standards. What’s that say about all the other trainings when perception is that ICF is king. There are titans in the coaching industry and many others with hugely successful practices in the industry that are trained by other trainings and don’t have or use ICF methods. Weather it was by accident or design but awareness and perception for the public and coaches has to change.

    • It’s actually not that hard to affiliate a training company with the ICF if you have the requisite cash.

      I looked into it with Coach the Life Coach about 5 or 6 years ago before I decided to stop teaching coaching and focus on the marketing element.

      I baulked at the idea because the costs in terms of what I’d have to pay the ICF and associated admin/running costs meant I’d have to triple what I was charging students.

  11. Hi Tim
    I can’t agree more with you on this ,and every word you wrote.
    As a Life Coach, when I began my coaching journey 3 years ago, I also took a training with Symbiosis a training firm in affiliation to ICF and did my ACC .
    I was suppose to renew it this year, which I did not , not on purpose, but that was the time my father passed away on 12th May 2021,and before that his elder brother my uncle , no one due to Covid but due to heart ailments. I was fasting , was a caregiver and finally now a Grief Coach based on what I’ve been through .
    Your articles are something I always read, with 6000 unread emails ,you and few others are the ones I have not deleted , came upon this one today ,and I agree with every word including the appropriate swear on words you have used both for marketing gurus and the research agencies where everyone seems to be only making money through Coaching business.
    In India , it’s simply not just that we have any structure , there is completely no awareness of the profession called Coaching ,when I told my cousins and network I’m a Grief Coach , I was given a second look to go look for a therapist ,as if I ‘m in a deep state of mental suffering .
    It is this unethical reports , and larger than life projections of the coaching profession , that have mislead many , no wonder every Tom, Dick and Harry now wants to be a Coach .
    ICF certifications ,are more useful for those working with corporates ,since big organizations have a good budget for training and development and for their audit purpose they always prefer an organization or an authorized body than an individual or a single person run business .
    I think Coaching Industry actually need a major push from the Government ,to be funded and accredited in order to create a standards for the Coaches both experience and new ,and a body that define and recognize it as a separate Industry ,so that we do not have private players calling the show!

    • Thanks for the kind word Mehnaz!

      I’m on the fence with Government regulation. In many ways, it would be a good thing I’m just not sure how on earth you enforce/police it because coaching is so vague.

      So for example, if you say life coaching is to be regulated, what stops me from saying I’m a peak performance coach, or a lifestyle designer or a goal setting engineer.

      When California tried to legislate for hypnotherapy they had the devils own job, because people just started doing ‘closed eye processes’

      And what do you do with the tens of thousands of coaches already working as a coach?

      Regulation would solve some problems and throw up a whole new set imho.

  12. I was ICF certified and excited to contribute to the organization back in 2008. However, I never found any value in it. And no one, and I mean NO ONE outside of the coaching industry even knows or cares about what the ICF is (MAYBE an HR manager who wants to cover his/herself by pointing to the certification if the coach sucks).

    As a coach who will be above the 6-figure mark this year (last year I fell just short), I agree that it’s hard to find clients. My background in sales/marketing was huge for me being able to only do coaching and no other jobs for the last decade. It can all be learned, but definitely not in most coaching schools and for sure not because you are certified.

  13. Hello…

    Great I had some doubt and now I got it: I will not do it. And yes my small business clients (although some bigger companies as a lawyer’s cabinet or another health clinic -here in Barcelona- are included in my customers’ list), do not ask for it.

    Truly I am spending more time on networking, or taking course for my own expertise than giving the coaching session I’d love to. It is very slow and the money ICF ask for is too important for me right now. I found a lot more important doing Glen Long sprint training or the WBECS you mentioned than spending time and money with/for the ICF.

    Moreover my school here in Barcelona was so ‘on to you’ while we were doing the training and gave us no clue as to dive in the real market… suddenly we were becoming their own competitors. Although all their ‘marketing packaging’ was ICF proof… there’s a great lack of reality as for landing onto the business, ie. I got to your webpage to got some real truth and straight forward data with no b…sh… to make it smooth 😉

    Last but not least: the coach with whom I did my leap to go for my own life changes suddenly went into the business to train coaches and start up her own school. I realized a big part of her income was strictly to train new comers etc. and yes it looked like a loop. Become a coach to train new coaches….. the business is here. This is not where I belong neither what I become a coach for.

    I do love what I do and I know I need to do some extra jobs here and there to go on growing as a person and as a profesional coach. So bye bye ICF…

  14. Thanks for having the guts to post this. I’ve always thought the ICF provided a valuable service but at the same time was a racket. That’s why I started the only other life coach association (IACLP). I did it mainly because the ICF didn’t endorse the certification program that I spent 9 months learning, so I couldn’t be a member. There were many coaches who were highly skilled but didn’t have ICF certification (and sometimes no certification) ,that I thought those coaches needed a place too. Over the years, it’s been a wonderful journey discovering what coaches needed that the ICF didn’t provide, but I could. And as far as credibility goes…it’s the results you get your clients, not your credentials. Most people are only barely familiar with what life coaching is, let alone have heard of the ICF.

  15. Hi Tim,
    This is “Michelle,” who posted the comment you included in this article. Funnily enough, I just went back to your blog today as I submitted for my ICF credential. Paying the $500 was painful but as I said in the comment, after paying out $1500 for mentor coaching I feel like I have no choice but to complete the certification (although I did wonder if I was throwing good money after bad, as my dad always warned me about). My son goes to college in three years and I am really hoping I don’t end up wishing I’d put the $2k I’ve invested into coaching certification into his college fund. In any case, it’s done and we’ll see if I end up getting anything out of it. I don’t think I will recertify (if I get certified, of course) unless somehow having those ACC letters after my name help me earn more – like, a lot more – than I would have to pay out for mentor coaching, etc. to get recertified. I really enjoy your blog and finding this post really tickled me. Sorry I cannot use my real name as I’m worried the ICF would use my comments as a way to deny me certification. Please keep writing honestly about coaching, it is hugely helpful!!

  16. Ha! loving this post and comments! I was in the process of renewing my ACC, as my first three years are almost up. To renew my ACC, I needed the 40 hours CCEUs, plus 10 hours of mentor coaching. I got my CCEUs credits, but still have to get my 10 hours recorded (which mostly have to be made up with someone I know, as clients talking about real issues don’t want a session recorded) and sent to a mentor coach for review. Its just too much. They demand too much for the benefit I have received in belonging. I just made the decision myself to let it lapse and came across this post
    Also, soon to be added to the mix is the requirement that EVERYONE take the NEW entry test at a testing facility. They are making everyone do it when they renew or upgrade starting in 2022 – so even if you have been coaching for years, you will need to re-take the exam at a testing facility. So ridiculous. And, I have yet to have anyone ask if I am ICF certified. It does seem like a pyramid scheme in a way, as I know many who have gotten certified and then end up teaching CCEUs to coaches, and that is the bulk of their business. It just seems they are making a lot of noise trying to make more hoops to jump through to give it (the ICF) added authority. I know 5 coaches, who make lots of money – they went to ICF certified schools- but none of them continued i the process for their ACC. One of them started to jump through the hoops to get her ACC and found them ridiculous so she dropped it.

  17. I just discovered this incredible article and will attempt to share it with others. I am an advocate for licensure for coaches similar to counselors, clinical social workers and clinical psychologists.
    ICF is a money making scam and those who seek their certification or simply victims.
    I am one of the highes paid Emotional Intelligence Coaches in the U.S as well as the Middle East.
    If you google me, visit my website or carefully review my linked in profie you will see that I a Harvard University trained Child Psychotherapist who has achieved financial and professional success in mental health, higher education and emotional intelligence training and coaches.
    At 83, I am in the 10th month of a masive contract to provide Emotional Intellegence Assessments, training and coaching.

  18. ICF is now just a business not an NGO, I have never seen an NGO doing Google AD even if they do It’s just out of the box, Any one if even not a coach can get ICF accreditation they just want to get money I have a deep encounter regarding that they didn’t want my ACTP training certificate and my school has accused me of fraud because of this then ICF said that’s impossible we always ask for ACTP training cert, i provided proof that they didn’t ask the ACTP cert for other coaches as well but no one believed, I suggest every coach to let go the ICF as this is only a business specially since they have released their new rules, I also suggest coaches to go for IAC and read their terms I’m sure you can find better reliable accreditation process,

  19. Thanks for your blog. Not too many are voicing critiques of the coaching industry, nor the ICF, and these grievances need to be heard. The ICF, first of all, is expensive; the membership fees are high, relative to many professional associations. Add to that the fact that, even as a member, many of the webinars and events carry extra fees.
    The organization seems to exist not so much to foster relationships and networking, for worthwhile projects, as to generate money for an ever-increasing slew of trainings and accreditations.
    In the meantime, many coaches struggle to find clients at all.
    There are even service events, where coaches apply (and compete) so that they may coach non-paying clients for free.
    I have a thriving business and joined ICF in order to meet some other coaches to network. I’ve found the organization to be unwieldy and non-responsive.
    I appreciate your honest critique.

  20. I think what is lost in this thread is the tangible value coach training provides you as a skill set. Coaching as a set of relational competencies that you can use to leverage the quality of your relationships, thus the quality of your life. The reality is that coach training programs are necessary to help others build foundational skills in coaching, and the ICF exists in part to promote high standards and safeguard against anyone from selling services as a coach. Like the author and others have said, the realities of the coaching industry are difficult in many respects, and unfortunately many coaches do not realize the challenges until much later on in their journey. However, consider the years upon years and thousands of hours of training required to become a psychologist. Also the amount of money invested to become a psychologist. Coaching is paltry in comparison. At the same time, coaching draws heavily from the psychological disciplines yet their are no regulations surrounding who can practice. At the end of the day coach training (and the ICF) exists to improve your skill set as a coach; the road to mastery never ends (unless you decide). That’s the investment in yourself. That’s ‘The Work’. As a coach you should always be striving to improve your ability, thus results. I would recommend anyone interested to do their homework first. Study the field, read books and articles about the industry. Spending 5k-15k on coach training is a big investment for most. The reality of getting clients is difficult, no matter your profession. Unfortunately, coaches aren’t tied to the medical establishment like therapists, but then again that’s not the client you’re after. I would like to see the coaching profession grow and continue towards professionalization, and realistically the only way that happens is through accrediting organizations like the ICF who can promote and guide the field.

    • I hesitated to publish this comment because it was entirely anonymous and normally I’d just delete it.

      I have no problem allowing anonymous comments when someone has used a legitimate email address, but this person didn’t use their name and used a fake email.

      If you’re the author and went to all the trouble of writing a thoughtful and intelligent response, why didn’t you tell me/us who you are? It’s not like you’re trolling me and it’s not like you didn’t make a valid point.

      Feel free to follow up, although you want get a follow up email so may not know I ok’ed your response. A shame because we had the chance to broaden the debate.

  21. Thank you for this thoughtful, courageous article. Slaying a sacred cow is not to be taken lightly and yet the ICF needs to confront its issues and correct them or eventually, something better and more competitive will come along

    As you have so rightly pointed out, the ICF is a pyramid scheme.

    And, as other commenters have mentioned, it’s prohibitively expensive for the value that it delivers. Additionally, it seems to spend an inordinate amount of time complicating its credentialing to the point that even members struggle to understand how it works.

    But what troubles me most about the ICF is that it sees no contradiction in its “commitment to diversity” while it is at its core an elitist organization. It’s expensive, given the average coach’s salary and it offers no discounts or financial assistance for students or people who qualify as low-income.

    But if you want to coach on a coaching platform or in a major corporation, you need an ICF certification for now.

  22. Thank you for shining a light on ICF. I am also deeply conflicted about the organisation because while I do respect the rigour of achieving accreditation, my main issue is how ICF seems to strategically avoid addressing the elephant in the room which is the slimy layer of coaching “support” businesses such as training, CRM, marketing, business societies offering “awards” at a cost, etc. that profit solely off of the loss aversion bias that pervades the industry.

    I am fully on board with learning and development through further education, but I regularly struggle with the business model many of these coaching support companies present i.e. trap the client into an endless ecosystem of renewal fees and expensive CCE-unit requirements. When I press on ROI data they have to prove their value, many of these companies offer laughable non-answers.

    ICF’s commitment to ethics and integrity are questionable when it appears that they not only do nothing to address these scams, but I have seen it fully enabled by taking sponsorship funds from these scammy companies to promote official ICF events. Also don’t forget the ICF email updates that include a seemingly endless barrage of coaching support company “offers” and discounts for their services.

    I deeply respect coaching and my life has been completely changed for the better by being both a coach and coachee. It’s disappointing to see ICF both allow and enable the damage being done to itself.

  23. Spot-on article, Tim! It’s absolutely a pyramid scheme. I disagree with ICF as the self-appointed arbitrator of coaching quality, and I was sad when the U.S. federal government and many corporate decision-makers decided ICF certification was essential. It doesn’t fit my values to join them to assist my marketing, and I’ve persisted through 20+ years of coaching without them.

  24. Love the post Tim, appreciate the directness and honesty. Had a good chuckle at: “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!” So true!!

    Your post on the state of coaching in 2023 was also very enlightening. Coming to grips with the reality of what it takes to get clients made me realise that I’m not keen to do the marketing work, so never likely to make coaching my primary source of income. Better to know the truth than not.

    Love your work. Many thanks.

  25. Hey Tim

    Thought provoking as per normal.

    Here is the thing, because they rule the roost, they get to dictate the rules.

    Is it about time they had some serious competition?

    I mean if there could be a way of setting up a fairer coaching certification and more affordable then it should (though not necessarily) wake the ICF up that they would need to change or become obsolete.

    We all know what happened to Blockbuster, even when they had the chance to snap up Netflix, could the same happen to the ICF?

    Just a thought

    • Didn’t IPEC try and do that? I’m honestly not sure.

      I think there is also a European body because I could have applied for that after I finished my training in 2005. However, I’d have been living in the US before I was accredited and that seemed to render it pointless.

  26. As always Tim Brownson You’ve written a brilliant piece. I don’t always read all the way through articles, but I certainly read every word of this one.

    There’s not much I could add to the conversation other than my own experience. I spent nearly $20K on my coach training and won’t be spending more for ICF for sure. What I saw back in 2017 as we were finishing the training is about 2 or 3 coaches were doing great out of the hundreds enrolled in the training.

    What was the magic these coaches had? They were coaching the coaches. I thought yes, I’ll do that once I know how to build my own business and attract clients at will. Sadly, I never learned how to have a constant stream of enrolments into my coaching program. Those coaches that we smashing it already had business and marketing training, a large network in business and had no problem telling you they could get you all the clients you could handle.

    The really sad part here is that they can’t. I know because I spent the money and did their training! I have strong ethics and I would never tell someone I have the magic bullet for them when I don’t. The cycle of coaches preying on new coaches is well… just not right.

    I suggest deleting all the hyped up sales people off your page and email and focus on the sound business practices that Tim teaches. Building a coaching business takes time and a lot of work. If you really want to be a successful coach, keep going. I have a few clients that I LOVE working with and they will send referrals my way in time.

    • Nope, they certainly can’t.

      At the risk of blowing my own trumpet after you kindly blew it for me, this is what I try and focus on, in terms of why I’m different to most coaches coaching coaches. I know a bunch that do it because they couldn’t get regular clients.

      And contacts are so important. I have a few clients at the moment who got off to flying starts because they used their contacts. I’d 100% advise that for any new coach as it’s low hanging fruit, BUT you still need to be putting the basics in place for when you’ve burned through those people.

      Thanks for reading it all and leaving a comment Laura!

  27. Hi Tim,

    Firstly, thank you for the great post. It’s nice to see a different perspective on the ICF matter. I am just starting on the coaching journey and I am honestly dizzy with all the accreditations and certification requirements. I have a bachelor’s in Psychology and an MBA and turned towards coaching because I really want to help people and companies thrive. I worked in IT recruitment and aviation, lived in 3 continents and worked with people at all levels of experience. I feel comfortable with my people skills, experiences, and the value I can bring to a client. After spending lots of money on getting my MBA, I am really uncomfortable with spending so much money on icf credentials that need to be renewed and look like kind of a life time “loan” due every 3 years. I think being passioned, genuine and really good at what you are doing is more valuable than any paper. I am not against ICF or certifications, I just don’t think it should be this expensive. More transparency about the reality of the industry should be the “gold standard”. Or at least as the “main ruling body” they should fight for better legislation and control in regards to this profession. Eliminate confusion and really push for it to have a better reputation and make it harder to enter the profession as opossed to anyone being able to call themselves a “coach”.

    • Glad you enjoyed the post and my take on the ICH, Christa.

      And yeah, I’d think with your level of training, you can get where you need to be by reading some books. I do think it’s important for all coaches to understand the fundamental of coaching, but it’s debatable and on a case-by-case basis as to whether formal training is necessary.

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