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How Much Do Life Coaches Really Make? – The Overlooked Fine Print of Earning as a Coach

Last updated on June 6, 2023

Coaching is booming. According to the International Coaching Federation’s (ICF) 2022 Global Study, there are now more than 71,000 coaches worldwide, which has increased by 33% since 2015. At the time of this study, 75% of coach practitioners in the U.S. were women, and more impressive still, 70% of coach practitioners globally were women. 

As someone who has enjoyed a fruitful career as both a personal coach and a coach trainer, I am excited to see our industry grow as more and more people, especially women, embark on this path. There’s just one tiny problem: We’re not making as much money as we are led to believe we will. 

How a Career in Coaching is Advertised

Next to the Google search, “How do you become a life coach?” the most common question we ask Google is, “How much do life coaches make?” Unfortunately, the data is a bit all over the place. The primary tracker of this information is the ICF which, as a training organization, greatly benefits from upholding and expanding its image as “the leading global organization for coaches and coaching.” 

As a member of the ICF, I appreciate what they do to uphold a higher standard for an unregulated industry. But when it comes to the stats about how much we’re all earning as coaches, the data gets murky. They claim that the industry is, on the whole, generating more than $2.8 billion a year globally, with $1.4 billion of that being generated within the U.S. alone.

These numbers bode well for us, right? Even Paperbell optimistically notes that,

“According to a report released by the International Coaching Federation (ICF), there are approximately 71,000 life coaches based in 161 countries worldwide. This is a massive increase from the 53,300 coaches that were in the industry in 2018. In case you were interested, this figure represents a huge 33% increase on the 2015 estimate! Holy moly. As you can see, coaches are smashing it, and the industry is predicted to keep growing at this incredible pace, as people become more interested in personal development.” 

While, at first glance, the boom in the number of coaches worldwide seems to correlate with the boom in successful and sustainable coaching businesses, the two don’t always go hand-in-hand. And when we start investigating this data in more detail, an alarming trend emerges. 

What Really Motivates Coaches in My Community 

While I’ve been a coach since 2010, I’ve been a coach trainer and business mentor for more than six years. In that time, I have personally sat down with more than 250 coaches, the majority of which are women who are just emerging on the coaching scene. Almost 100% of them tell me that, for them to sustain their livelihood, their coaching business needs to earn between $8,000-$10,000 per month. 

But making a sustainable income isn’t the only goal. My real goal has been to create a healthy and sustainable business that I can rely on to provide for myself and my family, both today and into the future. I also want to ensure that my coaching has a positive impact and that I can grow and maintain a business with honesty and integrity. I personally have no desire to scale my business in a way that negatively impacts the type of deep work I know is required for me to be an effective coach. Ultimately, I want to be part of a global society where money, and the ways we earn it, is reclaimed and used to repair economic injustice, resource new ideas, support future generations, and mend our impact on the earth. 

When we see that we could potentially accomplish all of this through coaching, a service I know we all wholeheartedly believe in, why wouldn’t we take the leap? After all, the income we’re looking for in this work isn’t just a number we come to on our own—it’s a number that has already been marketed to us and sold to us before we even make the leap into coaching. And for many, it’s actually why we make the leap. 

The Uneven Landscape of the Coaching Industry

Here’s what the data really shows: The average income for a coach across all 50 U.S. states is $38,330 per year, and .02% of coaches in the U.S. earn more than $100,000 per year. 

Today, an excessive number of coaches are teaching six-figure systems. The market is flooded with e-books, blog posts, seminars, podcasts, and coaching programs claiming to teach you the ins and outs of making $100,000 per year. In fact, it seems to have become a niche of its own within our industry. 

But it doesn’t take more than a quick peek into the world of coaching to see some glaring discrepancies. You’ll find pricing ranging from $45 per hour to $150,000 per year, a smattering of certified and uncertified practitioners hanging out their shingles, and you’ll find that the industry’s highest-paid coaches aren’t actually the women who majorly represent our industry. 

The average income for a coach across all 50 U.S. states is $38,330 per year, and .02% of coaches in the U.S. earn more than $100,000 per year. 

This originates from the fact that the coaching industry is unregulated and has no legal standard for being a coach or charging money for your coaching services. I used to believe that some regulation would solve the disparity between ethical practices and pricing, but now I don’t think it’s that simple. Given the current lack of regulation—and the fact that less than .02% of coaches are earning more than $100,000 in their businesses—it’s highly unlikely that women will, on the whole, suddenly begin earning more. In fact, the average coach’s income has only increased by $10,000 per year in the last 6 years. 

The question, then, becomes this: How can we actively move more women coaches toward the financial benchmark that contributed to their leap in the first place? 

Bringing Needed Balance to the Coaching Industry

In almost every coaching conversation I have with women where the topic of money is on the table, they tell me two conflicting truths: “I am terrified of money and all the stuff that is packed inside my fears, stories, and myths about making and having money,” and, “I want to earn $8,000-$10,000 per month as a coach so that I can be resourced, serve my values, and support my family.” 

I believe that when women providing services are financially resourced, we will be supported in showing up in ways with money that are good for everyone. I believe that we will: 

  • Hire other women
  • Speak to economic justice
  • Donate
  • Invest in what we care about
  • Rewrite generational money stories
  • Be financially empowered women
  • And more 

Yet, the gap between effective coaching skills and running a successful business is glaring. Coach trainers are not doing nearly enough to equip coaches, especially women, for the reality of running a business and earning a viable income for themselves.

Telling women to just try harder—an all too common sidestepping of the real issues—is not sufficient. In case it isn’t already obvious, most women don’t want to play by today’s slanted business rules. Women in business already have to prove their status time and time again—women of color even more so than white women. None of this is constructive or sustainable.

How, then, do we get more women coaches on a more financially equitable footing? I have a few ideas.

1. Women need more readily accessible financial education

It took me close to ten years, hundreds of books on the topic of money, and multiple money courses and seminars to understand this resource that I touch almost every day. 

Considering how prevalent the influence of money is in our lives—earning it, saving it, and managing it—it’s hardly an easy subject to make sense of, let alone make work for us. This knowledge could be so much more accessible. I am not talking about economic theory here, but rather the ins and outs of what money is, where it comes from, and how it moves around (both outside of you and within your life). 

While I truly wish that this subject was an optional one, that just isn’t the case in our current system. Because of this, understanding how to navigate this subject can only serve to empower us. Looking back on my journey, I know that I could never have changed my financial reality without first filling in my financial knowledge gaps. 

The primary and most influential gap was learning how to ask to be paid for my services. In fact, more than 90% of the women coaches I work with on a regular basis—many of whom are looking to grow their businesses—tell me that they don’t ask for a sale in a consultation or are quick to discount their services on the spot, fearing potential rejection. 

2. Women need more affordable access to training and easier access to accreditation

There is no (other) industry where services are rendered to an individual, especially as it pertains to someone’s personal and professional life, where it is even remotely acceptable to practice without training, accreditation, and oversight. Yet, many coaches have exploited this lack of regulation to their advantage. And, as is often the case in unregulated industries, many—including women+ and BIWoC—do not benefit from this lack of regulation in the same way. 

This imbalance was glaringly obvious at an event I hosted once, where the solo white man in the group said, “I’ve never been asked for my educational background as a coach,” to which a Black woman in the room replied, “I was asked three times just this week.” 

While coach training is still significantly more affordable than higher education for adults, it is not eligible for a student loan or grant programs. As a result, most coaching students are paying out of pocket for their training. Today, it’s not hard to find both accredited and non-accredited coach training programs costing upwards of $10,000, and in some cases as high as $20,000.

Seeing that none of this is even required to start your business, I can see why so many people are opting out. As coaches, we are tasked with helping people—but without proper preparation, coaching just becomes expensive meddling in people’s lives. I think we can do better.

If, as an industry, we are generating a collective $2.8 billion per year, there should be scholarships, education subsidies, and easier access to early-paying clients so that we, especially women+ and BIWoC, can apply for accreditation within a reasonable amount of time.

3. Women have to get comfortable earning

Learning how to earn money is one thing, but learning that you can is another. Earning was kept from women as an expectation and even a right until recently, with the Equal Pay Act only being passed in 1963. In spite of this, white women still earn about 73 cents for every dollar that white men earn, while Black women earn just 64 cents for every dollar that white men earn. 

No matter how many times I read it, this data is never any less shocking. Yet, it persists. When we are unable to realize our earning potential, too many women turn inward, assuming they alone are at fault. But in truth, the system is broken, not you.

As a business owner, I have the freedom to pay myself, give myself raises and bonuses, and create more financial equity within my own lifetime. But in order to do any of this, I have to first be comfortable earning. Even when all messaging that has ever been directed at me as a woman has told me the exact opposite: that I am a dispensable worker and am not worth being compensated for equal education or skill. 

When we are unable to realize our earning potential, too many women turn inward, assuming they alone are at fault. But in truth, the system is broken, not you.

Earning was uncomfortable for me at first. Earning more than enough was super uncomfortable. Tapping into my earning potential is my right, even if the world around me doesn’t always see it that way. I have been passed up by clients for male coaches with less education who charge more money because of their perceived authority. I have been questioned about my rates and pricing even when they were well under what average coaches with similar backgrounds and experience charge. Navigating the terrain of earning might never feel comfortable because the conditions we’re earning within are not stacked in our favor. But this doesn’t disqualify us from being worth it.

4. Women need more successful women role models who don’t perpetuate the scarcity myth

The scarcity myth, as defined by entrepreneurial depth coach Kate Holly, is: 

“…the story we all carry that we are not enough, or that we don’t have enough of what we need to pursue our dreams, to make an impact, to be of value, or to leave this world better than we found it. This story has been baked into our systems, our culture and our economy, and is upheld as a convenient excuse for why there have to be winners and losers in the zero-sum game. It keeps us trapped in competition, division, fear, and unsustainable consumerism as we try to buy or hustle our way to worthiness.”

We need more women in business modeling enoughness and sustainability with resources like time, energy, skill, relationships, community, personal history, education, and, yes, money. 

When we accept the scarcity myth as true, the constant pursuit of more in the name of feeling like enough easily goes unchecked. This creates an endless pursuit where attainment becomes, quite literally, impossible. 

But when I look at the world of business, more often than not, I find women claiming their piece of the pie and calling it financial empowerment. When you look closer, though, it becomes apparent that the same tactics used in scarcity capitalism are still at play. What if the goal, rather than scarcity-driven attainment, becomes a place of inner enoughness with money that reflects our unique, authentic needs? 

The Coaching Industry that is Possible

I want a future where women earn and are highly valued in our role as service providers. In this future, I also want to see more women growing their businesses in a way that reflects their sense of a full and complete self, rather than furthering their external pursuit of worthiness.

When we imagine these radical yet possible shifts, the future suddenly begins changing shape. In this future, women’s earnings are centered on their extraordinary value as service providers. In this future, women grow their businesses from their own innate value—from their deep sense of enoughness—because they are no longer chasing these things outside of themselves. And in this future, the things we have always imagined possible through answering the call of service will be realized.

Editor’s Note: Want to read more by Andrea? Get her take on social media for coaching and check out our interview with her.

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Andrea Leda - Brave Coach - Guest Author
Andrea Leda

Andrea Leda is a sought-after master coach, teacher, and mentor with over 10,000 hours of coaching experience since she began her practice in 2010. She is dedicated to helping each of us learn to trust our own innate value and worthiness so that we can show up for the work we’re truly here to do.

By harnessing her deep and practical knowledge of powerful coaching techniques—including NLP, journal therapy, mental emotional release work, and BodyMAP coaching—Andrea supports heart-centered coaches and visionary change-makers in reaching their fullest potential in both life and business. In her coaching work, she has been called "a force to be reckoned with and a brave woman who truly makes this world go round.”

In 2022, Andrea founded Braver Coach—a mission, a community, and an educational platform for coaches who are reimagining coaching by bringing forth all of who they are. As a certified training organization through the Association of Coaching, Andrea equips coaches so that they feel empowered to do the work they are called to do—and help their clients and communities do the same.

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