How to Start an Online Coaching Business in 2023
As a subject-matter expert, there are many ways to monetize your expertise online. One of the most rewarding ways is to add online coaching to your portfolio of offerings. In this post, I’ll review everything you need to know about online coaching, from what it is to the best online coaching platforms and software tools to get your career off the ground.
But first, let’s address what online coaching is and how it works.
Don’t confuse online coaching with counseling or consulting. The role of an online coach is to partner with clients to help them make progress toward specific, well-defined goals and maximize their potential, whether personally or professionally.
Coaching is all about looking to the future and implementing plans to create change and drive success. Counseling, by comparison, is far more backward-looking. It’s about resolving past issues in order to develop a different mindset.
Consulting can involve elements of both coaching and counseling, but tends to focus on tightly defined projects, usually with a clear end point and specific deliverables the consultant will be responsible for creating. A coach is more likely to form an ongoing relationship and take a more holistic approach.
For example, let’s say John has always struggled with maintaining a healthy weight and wants to lose 50 pounds. A counselor might explore the reasons for John’s overeating and help him create new habits so he doesn’t rely on food when times get hard. A nutritionist might act as John’s consultant, reviewing his health and metabolism to create a diet plan that will help him achieve his target. And a coach might work with John to keep him motivated, create workout plans, and support him through the day-to-day steps of his weight loss journey until he reaches his goal.
You can become an online coach in any subject you like, although most coaching falls into one of just a few broad categories.
- Business Coaching
- Career Coaching
- Wellness Coaching
- Financial Coaching
- Skills and Performance Coaching
- Life Coaching
Because coaching is goal-oriented, most coaches niche down within their specific field. For example, a wellness coach could help clients to stop smoking, or a careers coach could train clients in successful interview techniques.
All these coaching techniques can be done in person, of course, but in this post we’ll focus specifically on online coaching. Coaching online has a number of key advantages over in-person coaching that make it an ideal career solution or additional line of business for subject matter experts and established online educators.
The first consideration is your audience – especially if your expertise is in a niche subject and/or you live in a remote location. Finding prospects who are interested in achieving the right goals is much easier when your coaching is open to the broad population of the internet, rather than just the people in your specific physical location.
You can also afford to be choosier about the people you accept as clients and potentially charge more per client. In a limited field, in-person coaches are often forced to accept less than ideal clients. That’s problematic because the clients may be unmotivated to change or difficult to coach. When working with a larger pool of prospects, you can find the ones who respond best to your methods, and for whom you can deliver the best results.
Online coaching is also a business move that can fit easily into your existing routine, without costing a fortune upfront. That’s a powerful incentive if you’re just testing the water. There are no venues to rent, no equipment to purchase, and if you’re only available to coach at 10 p.m. that’s no problem — just look for learners in different time zones.
Ultimately, online coaching provides the best opportunity to match people and coaches who are an ideal fit for each other.
From the client’s standpoint, finding an online coach can also be preferable to in-person coaching. They, too, might have scheduling conflicts that limit their availability, or live in a remote area where there aren’t any coaches specializing in their area of interest. Moreover, online coaching sessions can be recorded and revisited, allowing the coachee to fully absorb and reflect on their lessons.
Online coaching has a lot going in its favor, but it isn’t always the right choice.
From a very practical perspective, becoming an online coach might not be the right solution for you if you don’t have a quiet space where you can offer your clients your undivided attention and ensure their privacy. Learners also need a similar quiet space for coaching sessions, and the infrastructure — from tech to a reliable internet connection — to facilitate communication.
Some coaching subjects also require the use of equipment. It might make more sense, for example, for a learner to hire an in-person coach at a gym to help them get fit, than it does to hire an online strength training coach and still have to pay for the equipment.
The social and emotional aspects of coaching are also very important. Successful coaching typically involves a very individualized, personal connection between the person being coached and the expert they have entrusted to coach them. Forming and maintaining those types of connections with clients is definitely not every expert’s cup of team – and, even if it is your cup of tea, how easy it is to achieve will vary widely among your coaching prospects.
So, consider how these pitfalls might affect your motivations and your abilities as an online coach. Do you have reliable technology and infrastructure or will your coaching sessions be plagued by spotty connections and failed calls? Will your customers need access to expensive equipment that you can’t provide? Can you develop strategies to connect with and support your coachees during difficult periods of their coaching when they might find it easier to avoid your calls?
None of the pitfalls I’ve outlined are deal breakers, but they are obstacles that you should consider and develop a plan to overcome.
Never listen to anyone who tells you an industry is saturated. There are always opportunities for experts who are willing to do the work to shape their expertise into a compelling offering and build their audience.
Since the COVID-19 shutdowns, however, learning and self-improvement online have boomed. More and more people switched to virtual for almost everything, from work and school to hanging out with friends, visiting the doctor, and learning new skills. Exercise equipment and online training brand Peloton doubled their membership as gyms closed, and teleconferencing software Zoom made massive gains, from $200,000 net income in Q1 2019 to a staggering $27 million in Q1 2020.
With every other aspect of life moving online, so too did personal and professional improvement. Online learning platform edX welcomed 15 times more learners than average in April 2020 (that’s a 1500% increase). Across the year, new memberships were up 161%. With fewer social distractions and more free time thanks to zero commuting, people invested their time in mastering new skills.
According to Class Central, one of the most popular online courses of 2020 was edX’s “How to Learn Online.”
All of this is great news for online coaches, because it shows what a lot of us already know — online learning doesn’t always come naturally, and developing a new skill set is a skill in itself. Finding an online coach is an ideal solution for many who want to change their lives for the better but who have found that they struggle to follow typical self-paced remote learning options.
As a subject matter expert, online coaching can add significant value to the overall portfolio of offerings in your expertise-based business. Here are five key reasons you should consider adding online coaching to your business today:
All you really need to start online coaching is a webcam and a reliable internet connection. At the lowest level, you can start your online coaching business right from your smartphone. While I recommend setting up a simple home studio to deliver the most professional coaching sessions, you don’t have to invest thousands in order to begin working.
While there are organizations that support and certify coaches, there are few formal requirements for online coaches. Depending on your field, gaining a teaching certification or other qualification that demonstrates your expertise could be beneficial, but isn’t mandatory. That means you can begin coaching learners in your chosen field immediately.
Unlike online courses, coaching also doesn’t require you to develop a detailed course outline, script out your content, or invest in developing content. Indeed, because it is so oriented toward the specific circumstances of the person being coached, too much advanced preparation can actually be a hindrance. You need to be prepared to respond effectively in the moment to each person you coach.
Finally, online coaching doesn’t require large upfront investments in physical space, equipment, travel, or related expenses. You don’t need to find and travel to an office or classroom or provide supplies. Your customers come to you, and make their own arrangements to access any equipment they might need.
As a subject matter expert, diversifying your offerings is the best way to develop a reliable income that isn’t overly reliant on a single revenue stream. Online coaching is a valuable addition to this business model. Coaching online helps you build personal relationships with your clients and fills the gap between mass-appeal courses and high-level consulting work. It can even be a natural continuation to consulting or teaching, offering to continue coaching key staff as they implement your recommendations or lessons.
In fact, whatever your area of expertise, and whatever your most successful revenue stream, you can offer one-on-one coaching. Use coaching to upsell and/or as a follow-on to online courses, books, seminars, business training, and group classes and expand your income by offering more to customers who already understand the value of your expertise.
You can hold online coaching sessions from any location at any time. In fact, coaching often lends itself to out-of-hours sessions in order to fit around work, school, and social commitments on the part of both the coach and the learner. Online coaching enhances this flexibility because you can solicit clients from absolutely anywhere, including different time zones, or even different countries.
The international availability open to online coaches also provides more areas of subject expertise that you can exploit. For example until recently there was a $100 billion industry of native English speakers coaching Chinese students who were learning the language. That particular market might have dried up, thanks to new legislation enacted by the Chinese government, but similar opportunities are still available from second-language learners worldwide.
Another significant advantage to online coaching is the ability to exploit cost of living and currency conversion rates to increase your income. A high hourly rate in one country can be a negligible amount in another, so accepting international clients in your online coaching business is a fast and effective way of raising your income.
When coaching in-person, your time is limited. You only have so many hours in a day! However online coaching frees up your time in a number of significant ways, enabling you to scale your business. First, you don’t have to commute to a meeting place, set up equipment, or waste time doing anything but coaching. That immediately buys you more time that you can spend with paying clients.
Next, you can automate large parts of your online coaching business. Use email and marketing software like ClickFunnels to convert visitors into subscribers and manage your new client onboarding process. To speed this up even more, use Leadpages to offer coaching packages at a fixed price. Packages offer a great deal for learners because all their expectations are managed in advance, from their time and financial commitment to the goal they’ll achieve. That also makes them easier to sell.
Once your coaching business begins to take off, you can even develop a range of related products to generate revenue without demanding more of your time. Many online coaches eventually develop training programs or courses using the methods they’ve refined while coaching other learners.
For edupreneurs and expertise-based businesses, reputation is everything. Clients want to be taught and coached by the best, but it can be hard to know who to trust, especially in fields that don’t have many formal qualification requirements. The low barrier to entry for online teaching and coaching can also mean higher competition from less proficient experts. Establishing yourself as a recognized name in your field will boost your business by leaps and bounds, and online coaching is a great way of getting ahead.
Udemy had over 183,000 courses available as of June 2021. That’s a lot of competition! But learners sign up for online courses all the time and fail to complete them. That means the educator behind the course only gets limited reputational benefit. When you coach somebody one-on-one, they’re more likely to show up, complete the work, and see the benefit of your coaching. And once they see a tangible benefit, they become an advocate for your business. That gives you important social proof through word-of-mouth referrals, testimonials, and reviews.
Don’t just take my word for it. Here are seven top online coaches with thriving businesses.
1. Tiffany Napper
Tiffany Napper took her own experience of running three successful businesses — and subsequently burning out — and turning it into a coaching community for female CEOs and entrepreneurs who want to hustle smarter, not harder.
Tammy Adams is an entrepreneur with years of experience running businesses large and small. She hosts the The Badass Business Owner Podcast, and offers coaching and online courses to other entrepreneurs who want to make their first $100,000.
Dale Calvert spent thirty-plus years as a top performing network marketer. Now he teaches others how to emulate his success through Calvert Marketing Group, a training, coaching, and consulting company.
Erin Treloar founded Raw Beauty Co. as a way to support and empower women. She offers coaching as well as webinars, a podcast and blog, and related products.
Christina Sambak is a business development coach who helps new coaches develop their online coaching businesses (say that three times fast). If you’re sold on starting coaching, but need help figuring out your angle, she’s the woman to call.
Sara Wiles built an online business empire of virtual assistants and managers, and now offers mentoring services for entrepreneurs who are looking to scale their own ventures.
Jack Canfield is a world-renowned transformational speaker and mentor who pioneered the field of personal development. Today you’re not likely to be able to hire Jack himself, but you can sign up for one-on-one coaching with a Canfield Advisor who uses the same training and techniques.
The first thing you need to do is decide on your area of expertise. Coaching falls into a number of broad categories, as outlined above, and you’re best sticking with them in order to make your business easier to market. Will you be a business coach, a life coach, a financial coach, or something else? No matter what subject matter or skills you’ll ultimately be teaching, identify the category to which your coaching model belongs.
Once you’ve chosen your broad category, it’s time to niche down. While niching seems counterintuitive because it reduces your audience, what it really does is laser focuses on the right people. Those whose needs match your skill set. Here you’ll define the services you offer. The best way to do that is to solve a problem. What skill do people want to learn? What problems do they have, or goals they want to achieve? Pick just one and offer it as your coaching target.
Not every area of expertise will require certification, but being certified – whether as a coach, in your field of expertise, or both – will give you an edge over other coaches in your field. Even if you’re coaching people tricks and techniques learned from your own experience, you may find it useful to gain certification in coaching itself.
Having an end goal for your learners in mind should help you roadmap how you’re going to help them achieve their aims. Your plan can be as loose or as detailed as you like, but creating a series of steps for your learners to undertake will help keep your coaching sessions on track and moving forward. Otherwise you risk becoming a counsellor or mentor instead and failing as a coach.
With your business plan in place, it’s time to start selling your services. Your coaching website doesn’t have to be elaborate or complex. It can be as simple as a landing page on an existing site. But make sure you have a place where learners can sign up for your coaching business. If you’re offering package coaching sessions, include a payment gateway on the site as well.
I’ve written extensively about how to promote your online teaching business. Promoting your online coaching is no different. Take every opportunity to spread the word, from containing your mailing list to harnessing social media and making judicious use of paid ads. You should also consider on-page advertising tools such as ClickFunnels to drive even more sales.
With your online coaching business established, it’s time to start scaling up. Remember this is just one string in your bow. The more revenue streams you create, the more stable your income becomes. Consider turning your key coaching lessons into an online course, writing an ebook, or starting a membership community. There are plenty of ways in addition to coaching to monetize your expertise.
There are a range of platform options to support online coaching. These include many online course platforms that have expanded to include coaching services. With an increasing number of learners seeking out more personal relationships with educators, these features are only likely to grow. Here’s my pick of the biggest online course platforms that are offering features for online coaches right now.
Podia offers a complete digital storefront for educators to sell online courses, downloads, memberships, and coaching sessions. Podia integrates a calendar application when you add a 1:1 Coaching Session in order for learners to purchase and book their coaching immediately. Just set your session length and availability.
Another great all-rounder, Kajabi has taken its coaching tools to the next level. Set your agenda, upload resources, take notes, and define the parameters of your live sessions, all in one place. Kajabi also makes it easy to upsell coaching sessions from your other products, add coaching to your existing sales funnels, and track learner engagement through its native CRM.
Teachable also offers online coaching and includes features such as milestone setting, assignments, notes, and of course a calendar integration so learners can book sessions that suit your schedule. You also have the option to bundle your coaching sessions with course membership.
There are also coaching-specific platforms that are worth exploring before making a commitment, especially if you’re not already tied into a specific software.
Yo!Coach offers software designed from the ground-up with coaching at the forefront. As well as a robust framework for designing and hosting online coaching sessions, Yo!Coach also provides a virtual whiteboard, code editor, screen sharing/recording, and real-time auto translation. These extra features are powerful incentives for online educators and consultants, especially those teaching languages and programming.
ClientFol.io is designed to streamline your coaching business with a simple set of software tools. Create goals and track stats, build in accountability checks to keep learners on course, and maintain an audio trail of every session. The pricing is competitive at less than $20/month, and includes unlimited clients as standard.
Industry-specific coaching software is also available, with big incentives for some educators, especially if HIPAA or GDPR compliance is a factor.
Quenza is an excellent choice for coaches focusing on mindfulness. It includes a number of preset options for self-improvement assignments, visual performance tracking outputs, and legal document processing. Quenza meets Privacy by Design standards and is healthcare industry compliant.
Healthie is another great healthcare-focused application, designed for coaches working in diet and fitness niches. Healthie’s biggest selling point is the ability to integrate insurance billing, submit claims, and track payments.
TrueCoach is the go-to app for gym owners and fitness coaches. Clients can update their information with stats about their diet, health, and latest workout routines, allowing coaches to monitor their progress in real time, and coaches can create custom libraries of workout videos that only their clients can access.
If you already have your own workflow set up for other ventures, you don’t have to switch to an all-in-one coaching platform. There are many powerful tools on the market that are designed specifically for coaches and will handle just enough of your online coaching business to help you scale and be more productive.
Satori automates the administrative side of online coaching, leaving you free to conduct your sessions in your own way. Create and bundle sessions and build packages, then use Satori’s marketing tools to convert customers and automate follow-ups. Integrate your website and newsletter, build landing pages, and collect payments. And the scheduling application allows clients to book and update sessions, and even coordinates group classes or workshops.
CoachAccountable is a lesson delivery platform designed to keep learners engaged and drive accountability. Session notes, action plans, goal setting, automated reminders, and smart analytics let you and your learners see their progress and keep them motivated. And despite a host of clever features, CoachAccountable claims you’ll go from new member to selling your coaching business in just three minutes.
Nudge enables coaches to build their own apps, customized to fit their businesses, with no coding knowledge required. Track progress, communicate with clients, send and receive messages, and deliver content directly to your learners’ devices. There’s even a free version so you can test the program with 1-3 clients before making a commitment.
Calendly is a freemium scheduling app that integrates with your calendar and lets clients choose the best time for their next session, without compromising your schedule. It’s also incredibly easy to rearrange appointments and with a paid subscription you can create multiple event types, giving both you and your clients more control over your sessions.
Starting an online coaching business is a great way for edupreneurs and expertise-based businesses to diversify their income streams and grow their businesses, without requiring a significant upfront investment. Whether you choose to use a dedicated coaching software platform or your existing setup, you can start making money from online coaching in just a few simple steps.
So, think through how and why online coaching might be a fit for your businesses, sketch out a plan using the steps outlined above, and get started today!
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