This post is going to be a tough read for any coach looking to get a feel for the state of coaching in 2023.
But it’s a necessary read if you’re looking to start a coaching business.
If you want unicorns, rainbows and assurances that doing what you love will bring untold wealth, you’re in the wrong place.
If, on the other hand, you want the opinions of a guy who has spent the last 18 years working in the coaching industry and has worked directly with over 500 coaches, then buckle up and stick around.
The ICF (International Coaching Federation) has polled its members worldwide every four years since 2012 to get a feel for what is happening in the coaching industry.
The last survey was conducted in 2020 and read more like a Hans Christian Andersen fairytale than a true reflection of where the coaching industry is at.
This is hardly surprising. No organization is going to commission a report that will cast them in anything other than a very bright light.
The ICF has a lot to lose by suggesting that most new coaches are at best struggling and at worst utterly fucked before they even start.
Like previous reports, the 2020 publication bore no resemblance to what I was seeing and hearing from the coaches who hired me, took my masterminds or courses, or interacted with me on social media.
So in 2021, exasperated at what felt like yet another work of pure fiction, I decided to do my own research by asking the people on my newsletter list and in the Fully Booked Coach Facebook group for their feedback.
Admittedly, my sample size is a lot smaller as I only have about 10,000 coaches available to me and the ICF has over 50,000 members.
Plus, because of the vagaries of social media and email marketing, it was a lot harder for me to get in front of my people because I couldn’t legally email anybody directly.
However, I’d be prepared to wager my firstborn (if I had one) that my results are far more indicative of an industry that is close to breaking point.
Hopefully, you will leave a comment under the post offering your opinions/thoughts irrespective of whether you agree or disagree with me.
Also, if you have any questions or if anything is unclear, please ask in the comments and I will answer as best I can.
The State of Coaching in 2023
A total of 95 coaches completed the survey which was down from 111 in 2022 the results of which are here.
However, I don’t necessarily see the drop-off as an indication that there are fewer coaches joining the industry.
That could partly be the reason as I expect a worldwide recession is making some people think twice about paying for training.
But also, when I transitioned from the old domain of Coach the Life Coach to The Fully Booked Coach in June of 2022 I removed over 2,000 people from my newsletter list, so I have a reduced reach.
You as a coach
Where in the world are you?
Understandably as I lived in Florida for 14 years and have been back in my native England since the end of 2020, the majority of people were in the UK or the US. But countries as diverse as Bali, Nepal, Israel, Japan and Barbados were also represented.
Where are you on your coaching journey?
Less than one-third of people were full-time coaches, but that is an increase from last year when the figure was just 27%
When did you start coaching?
Almost 40% of respondents had not yet started coaching or were in their first year.
I was reassured to see that over a quarter of coaches had been in business for over 5 years.
My sense after working with hundreds of coaches is that if you can get past the 2 to 3-year mark you’ve probably got your shit together.
Your coach training
Have you had formal coach training?
A whopping 80% of people reported that they had paid for formal coach training which is brilliant – good for you lot!
How much have you spent on coach-related training?
What is even more pleasing is the fact that almost 60% of those people have spent $5,000 or more.
The amount of money spent on coach training doesn’t necessarily equate to how good it is because there are some bad but expensive training companies.
But it does indicate how serious the person is about becoming a professional coach.
Did your coach training offer help with marketing?
Disappointingly, only 44 of the 81 people who undertook training got any help with their marketing whilst doing so.
I totally get that it’s not the training companies’ responsibility to ensure their students know how to get coaching clients. Even so, it’s disappointing that almost half of the people who had paid for training got no help in attracting clients.
How good was the marketing/business training you had?
What was even more disappointing, however, was that only 5 people out of the 95 who completed the survey had had marketing/business help which made them feel confident that they could get clients.
It would be interesting to follow up with the 55% of people who thought their marketing/business training was a good start but left them with gaps in a year’s time.
I’m confident that the gaps will have proved to have been much bigger than anticipated.
One of the main problems with marketing is not knowing what you don’t know.
I thought I knew a lot more about marketing when I started my first coaching business in 2005 than was the case. And I had 20 years of sales experience.
In working with scores of coaches who have had marketing help whilst on their coach training, it’s rarely better than mediocre and it’s frequently dreadful.
Bad marketing advice is much worse than no marketing advice.
Your coaching practice
Do you have enough paying clients?
Of the 89 people who completed the question about having enough coaching clients, only 6 said they had enough paying clients.
I have worked, or am working with, four of those people and the other two have worked with a different coach. Maybe that’s a coincidence?
The really scary (but not at all surprising) stat was that almost 40% of coaches had zero paying clients.
How serious are you about succeeding as a coach?
Almost 40% of respondents said nothing will stop them from succeeding as a coach.
We shall see.
I’m all in favour of you having a total belief in yourself and your own abilities to become a fully booked coach.
But you have to be sensible and understand that there are always things that can stop you.
Life can fuck you up in a heartbeat – quite literally if you suddenly notice that you have no heartbeat.
The ‘nothing can stop me’ approach concerns me for three reasons.
- You may become too risk averse because with risk comes the chance of failing. Yet without risk comes certain failure.
- It may stop you from anticipating potential problems because, ya know, nothing can stop ya!
- If something does stop you (like it does most coaches) you’re going to feel like utter shit
Failure is always an option, so embrace it or go back to bed.
How much money do you need to earn as a coach?
I would wager your firstborn (if you have one) that the average person who thinks of themselves as being a coach earns a lot less than $20k per annum.
I rarely meet coaches who earn north of $50k that haven’t been coaching for at least 3 years.
Not that it can’t be done more quickly than that, of course it can.
It’s just very hard.
And getting harder.
56% of coaches who filled in the survey need that amount (or a lot more) if they’re not to quit.
If they’re not paying for help or are brilliant at marketing, let us offer them our thoughts and prayers.
What did you spend on growing your coaching practice in 2022?
But even though so many coaches need to scale up so quickly, only 10.5% spent over $10k in 2022 on marketing their business
A further 14.7% spent between $5k and $10k. Meaning 75% of coaches spent less than $5k growing their coaching practice and 21% less than $1k.
When I then asked coaches to estimate what they planned on spending in 2023 the figures were much the same.
How many competitive industries do you know that will allow you to break in and be successful with little to no investment?
Where do you plan on marketing your business?
I no longer encourage any of my clients to devote all their marketing efforts exclusively online unless they are already reasonably well established.
You can no longer succeed as a coach by marketing yourself exclusively online from a standing start.
Unless that is, you have a chunk of money to throw at ads. Or maybe 50+ hours per week to pour into your efforts.
That ship has sailed and there are just too many coaches vying for too few clients.
It would appear, however, that a lot of new coaches haven’t got the memo, or refuse to believe it. Because almost 60% are only going to market themselves that way.
I couldn’t do it if I was starting from scratch and I know a little bit about this online marketing malarkey.
How long do you spend marketing your coaching practice?
If the wheels weren’t off already they are now.
I think we can all accept that no matter what some of the less scrupulous training companies are apt to say, the industry is saturated.
I would conservatively estimate that there are 20 times more coaches than the industry can support at this moment in time.
That doesn’t necessarily need to affect you.
Most coaches are shit at marketing, so if you get to be good at it, you can leapfrog your way to near the top of the queue.
But there is one rather large elephant in the room-sized caveat.
You need to invest your time.
All things being equal, it will take the coach working five hours per week on their marketing five times longer to hit their income goals than it will the coach working 25 hours per week.
But, it gets worse.
The coach who doesn’t have much time is not only seeing the coach who is treating their practice as a business disappear over the horizon.
They are also being passed by all the new coaches flooding into the industry behind them who have more time.
If you have 5 hours per week or less to work on your business and that is all online and not likely to change, then you’re fucked unless you can afford to outsource your marketing.
Seriously, quit now and save yourself a lot of heartache and angst. I wouldn’t even take you on as a paying client because nobody can help you.
You won’t be surprised that 5 out of the 6 coaches who have enough paying clients were also spending the longest on their marketing
Note: I spend about 25 hours per week on marketing-related work and I’m only in maintenance mode.
What is a coaching client worth to you?
This is slightly higher than last year, but it’s still too low.
Almost two-thirds of coaches who gave an answer said it was less than $1,500.
For most coaches, the math doesn’t work.
If you want to earn $50k, then you will need to attract 33 new paying clients every year.
That is hard.
If you doubt me and presuming you have paying clients now, how hard was it getting them?
Do you know how many hours you will need to put into your marketing to get 33 clients?
No, neither do I, but you’re not going to do it working 10 hours per week never mind 5.
Have you ever hired a coach to help you with your marketing?
Almost 60% of coaches haven’t hired their own coach to help them grow their practice.
I’m not entirely sure how many I have hired over the years, but it’s more than 10 and I have spent well in excess of $100k.
A coach who has done what you want to do offers you a shortcut and gives you an advantage over other coaches trying to figure things out on their own.
I totally understand if you cannot afford one, but at the risk of seeming insensitive let me ask you this: Can you afford to be a coach?
What has stopped you from hiring a coach?
I fucked this question up by inadvertently leaving Other as an option and so I had all sorts of random answers.
Having said that, I must have a messaging issue if 14 coaches responded that they hadn’t found one they trusted enough!
Hello <waves> you may want to check out this page if you’re a hard worker and very determined.
How do you feel about your coaching journey?
There were a handful of questions at the end such as asking why people chose to become a coach (mostly to help people as you would expect. And this one…
How will you feel if you have to quit because you can’t make it financially sustainable?
Here is a representative sample of some of the answers.
I have copied and pasted the responses and left out anything that may potentially identify somebody.
Disappointed, sad, frustrated
I won’t let that happen.
I would feel upset, and a failure, but it’s not the end of the world for me.
Like a failure
Incredibly frustrated. I wouldn’t want to say that it would be a waste of time though because I’ve learnt an enormous amount that will be useful whatever I do next. Still really annoyed though!
Disappointed and guilty
There’s no reason to quit if I can have a flexible schedule and incorporate other part-time streams of revenue to supplement along the way.
Defeated. That has been my story off and on for the last ten years. I’ve been fortunate to have other self employed work to allow me to continue to “coach on the side” but I want to make it my primary business.
I am 100% confident that I will make it work financially.
A broken soul, like an artist which has been ripped off its creative ability.
Disappointed, sad, and angry. Quitting is not an option for me, I would find other ways to make it work.
None of those makes for uplifting reading, but equally none of those people (and you may see your own answer there) need to fail.
Just learn marketing and sales and it becomes a moot point.
The state of coaching in 2023 – Conclusion
I think my thoughts on the state of coaching are obvious.
It worries me a great deal.
Too many coaches are entering the industry blissfully ignorant and unprepared for what lies ahead and how hard it is to succeed as a coach.
I don’t want people leaving our industry sad, frustrated and feeling like a failure.
Because they’re not failures, they’ve just been misled, or flat-out lied to on their way to following a dream.
And that reflects poorly on us all whether we are involved directly or not if we do nothing about it.
Which is why I choose to speak out.
Every coach, me and you included, has to take personal responsibility for our success or lack thereof.
But equally, the coach training industry has to shoulder some of the blame for the insane turnover of coaches.
I doubt there is an industry on the planet that has a higher failure rate than coaching.
And the unscrupulous marketers selling bullshit get-rich-quick schemes to desperate coaches are culpable too.
If I see one more marketer claim they can have coaches scaling to $10k a month using their high-ticket client attraction formula I think I’ll fucking burst into tears.
Reality update: There are NO quick wins!
If you have got to the bottom of this post and still feel confident you can become a successful coach, then good for you, I think you have a chance.
Most coaches won’t have got this far because it’s hard work reading a long post and they have lame memes and quotes to post on Facebook.
Or, they prefer to live in denial and/or think any form of negativity poses an existential threat.
But we need to, if not embrace the negative in our lives, then at least recognise it so we can manage it.
This post has taken me a lot of time to compile and I would love it if you could share it with any coaches you know and also leave a comment so we can broaden the conversation.
Thanks for reading.