With recent exposés on unscrupulous coaches making promises they couldn’t keep, misleading potential clients about their lifestyle, encouraging clients to get into debt, and in the worst cases, actively stealing from their clients, we spoke to three experts in the industry to get their thoughts and debunk some of the common myths around the coaching industry.
Lucy Wheeler is a lawyer and the founder of Lucy Legal Limited, a legal services company that specialises in supporting entrepreneurs with the legal side of running a business in the UK. Lucy feels strongly about this issue, in part because “the issues with the online coaching industry are escalating”. She went on to add: “I am hearing from at least one entrepreneur a week looking for legal advice about a problem they have had with a coach they have worked with”.
The coaching industry is vast and growing rapidly; it was reportedly worth $15 billion last year. While segments of the industry are regulated in the UK, such as health coaches, the business coaching and life coaching sectors are unregulated with no governing body - someone can call themselves a coach without any training or experience. While most will not set out to deceive, the industry is open to abuse the way it is currently set up.
Rhiannon Bates, business and mindset coach and founder of PR business, Garnet PR agreed with Lucy’s comments.
“I feel so strongly about this. As a visibility coach with PR expertise, I want the industry to be regulated more so that it is trusted more. And until that happens, the responsibility is on all of us as coaches to deliver our services with integrity.”
Lucy added: “Although there is not yet a central regulator, coaches are still subject to commercial legislation which offer protection to purchasers. Sadly it seems that despite that the really dishonest coaches have worked out ways to create terms that are really biased in their favour. It’s really important for both coaches and coachees to have any contracts checked over by a lawyer if there are any parts that are unclear. However, a ‘good’ contract is one which is clear and easy to understand by both parties.”
Rhiannon suggested that when looking for a coach, you should do your research. “Any coach you choose should have a good connection with you, the relationship should be a good fit. They should also be an expert in their niche. Look at their career history, the social proof - do their accounts go back a long way, have they got positive testimonials from genuine clients, do they have a refund policy? An honest coach will be happy for you to speak to their past and present clients to find out what their experience has been.”
Amy Crumpton, founder of Social Cactus and business & mindset coach added: “It goes without saying the energy in your coach has to be right, finding someone that you vibe with, but also before you settle on someone, get really clear on the result you are looking for and find someone whose skills align with that. When reviewing testimonials, I’d also take it deeper and look at the client’s businesses - are the results genuine and do they match what you want to create?”
“And while qualifications, experience, and testimonials are key”, added Lucy, “it should go even further than that. Some qualifications can be obtained over a weekend, with no assessment of skills. Comprehensive coaching includes 100+ hours of delivery, so take the time to check the details of any qualifications your coach has attained.”
After finding a coach that you feel is a good fit, conducting your due diligence, and reassuring yourself that this is the real deal, does the responsibility end there?
Rhiannon thinks not: “Not at all! Apart from the fact that a good coach should always put their clients’ well-being first, working at their pace and comfort level, one of the most important things is transparency. If you are in an agreement with a coach but it becomes apparent that you aren’t a good fit or that they can’t help you, your coach should be willing to review the agreement and come to an amicable parting.”
Lucy went on to add: “Although the industry is unregulated, that doesn’t mean there are no rules. There are trading standards rules which must be adhered to and coaches have obligations to their clients to properly outline their services without making fanciful promises which they can't deliver on. In the online world, it is common to see business coaches sharing stories about the amount of money they make each month and the lifestyle that goes along with that. There are UK coaches who will mislead their customers by charging in sterling but sharing their revenue in dollars, and coaches who will hire out luxury houses for their photoshoots.”
She continued with: “There are so many traps out there to be aware of. There is a lot of noise in the online space and many people promise fast results. Coaching of any kind can involve a few months of work and commitment before results are seen and it is important that coaches make their clients aware of that and manage expectations.”
Rhiannon commented “Plus, so often a coach can feel responsible for their clients’ results. A coach is there to guide and provide the necessary tools, but the client is the one required to do the work. That needs to be made clear from the outset.”
Though there is clearly a minority of charlatan ‘coaches’ out there, there is also a number of qualified, passionate coaches who get results and who want to do the best for their clients.
Lucy concluded with: “I have seen a dramatic rise in coaches looking for support who want to conduct their businesses legitimately, protecting both themselves and their clients. It is those coaches who will be the ones to succeed as the industry grows.”