Subscribe to the Prosperous Coach Podcast
This short episode is part of the Start Smart Series.
Let’s explore a sticky question today. Do you really need to be certified in order to say that you’re a professional coach?
It’s sticky because there are two camps — the yeas and nays — with strong opinions.
Ultimately though, whether you certify or not is your decision.
2 Types of Coach Certification
- Certifying through a coach training organization. You enroll, complete training and certify through some sort of review process when training is complete.
- Independent certification such as through the International Coach Federation (ICF). You work towards it by completing requirements and paying an application fee. You’ll need a certain number of hours of paid coaching, completed training with an accredited organization, and being mentored by people who are certified at the master level.
To maintain or advance your ICF certification you have to re-up every few years. It’s a significant ongoing investment in time and money.
NOTE: The ICF and other certifying bodies often change requirements for the various levels of certification. So, if you’re on route to certify, stay in touch with the requirements so you’re not blindsided by changes.
Independent certification helps to mature emerging fields and garner acceptance in the marketplace. ICF launched in 1995, when life coaching was burgeoning, and now has a presence in 140 countries and over 30,000 members.
There is a segment of the coaching industry who will firmly say YES, that you must be certified to be considered a professional coach. I was in that camp when I first became a coach but I’ve softened on this over the years. Let’s look at the reasons proponents give …
6 Main Reasons to Certify with an Independent Body
Reason #1 That coaches who certify are more likely to earn more and not drop out of the profession.
Reason #2 That certification distinguishes you from all the people who co-opt the term ‘coach’ but who have not been rigorously trained.
Reason #3 That maintaining certification requires you to stay in tune with best practices.
I’ll chime in here and say there’s a logic to these reasons to certify. A professional path does help you stay in the profession. However, independent certification does not necessarily mean you’ll earn more.
Your income largely depends on your coaching niche, target audience, offers and your ability to market and enroll.
Reason #4 That the public will perceive you as being a more skilled coach if you’re certified.
Reason #5 That your clients will require it.
If you go into the executive or leadership coaching track where you’ll provide services to people within corporations, coaches that are ICF certified will likely have a competitive edge.
But for many other tracks, niches and audiences, certification is a non issue as far as clients are concerned.
In my 20 years in the industry, only 2 people have asked me if I was certified and that was early on by representatives of ICF. None of my potential or actual clients has ever asked me.
And, I’ve checked recently with experienced fellow coaches, who either have never certified with ICF or haven’t maintained it. We agree that for most niches the client does not require or even ask about certification.
Reason #6. That you may be legally required to be certified in the future.
This could happen, however, I don’t see a lot of energy being put forth to move in that direction.
Regulation would likely only come about if coaching, as an industry, becomes a nuisance. In other words, enough coaches irritate enough clients that those people lodge complaints or sue. If there’s a push for regulation there will likely be a ramp up period and it will be licensing rather than certifying. Although the ICF will definitely lobby for certification to be a part of the regulation. And who can blame them?
The Bottom Line
Here’s what I tell my clients … why not work towards certification?
Research the requirements and work diligently towards them while growing all aspects of your busines. It will keep you on a professional path.
Then, as you grow in your coaching business, if your integrity tells you that to feel legitimate and be valuable to your clients you must maintain certification, then you’re ready. If not, trust yourself and find other ways to walk a professional path.
I keep records with the number of hours I coach/mentor each client. I also have a Terms & Agreement document that I ask each client to initial and sign that gives me permission to share their name with ICF as proof of our professional connection. Although I’ve heard that ICF eliminated that requirement.
Know that independent certification is a significant and continuing investment of time and money. I’ve been through it and I respect the rigorous effort and institution.
On the other hand, through the years, some of the best coaches I know are not only NOT certified but some are not even trained through a coach training organization. They are financially successful, highly respected and doing great work.
In any case, some sort of familiarization with what coaching is and is not is critical if you’re going to call yourself a coach.
And here’s something to ponder …
How will you learn and maintain best coaching practices?
How will you challenge yourself to higher levels of skill and integrity in your services?
Because it’s only through maintaining your integrity that you’ll achieve true professionalism in any field.
Mentioned in this episode:
Click here to download an example Terms & Agreement document. Note: This is not a legal document. Have your lawyer assess your own final Terms & Agreement document.
The next episode in this series is: How to Feel Less Isolated in Your Coaching Business
Joel Bass created my theme music. Thanks Joel!