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Beginning to coach

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A lot of folks are considering a career change to move into coaching and have been asking me what’s needed. This one’s for you, buddies!

You might decide to do it all t’other way around to what I suggested below – there are plenty of coaches who only go for formal accreditation after decades of experience (or not at all). But – if you’re interested in doing it professionally, qualifications will help. And maybe, like me, you’ll be delighted to find that the study is actually fascinating.

Step 1: Dip your toe in the water. 

Do a short course on coaching; read a few books on the topic; start practicing this approach. 

I was lucky – work paid for myself and some colleagues to do a group course on agile coaching. The approach was fascinating for me, and I started reading more and practicing. It was quickly obvious that getting teams and individuals to come up with their own answers to their questions was far, far better than telling them my opinion.

Yes, I had probably been wasting my breath for many years.

As I moved into consulting in delivery, I quickly found myself choosing the coaching approach rather than consulting frequently when working with CEOs, CTOs and other business leaders. 

These were typically fairly young, very successful people. But while highly intelligent and accomplished, they often didn’t have decades of business experience behind them, and felt isolated, and unsure of whether what they were doing was the right thing. And, of course, they couldn’t show anything but total self confidence to those around them. 

Working intensively in highly stressful situations, it’s easy for negative behaviours to build up. So offering these leaders a confidential chance to step back and decide what *would* work better, proved helpful. 

After some years of this intermittent practice, I realised that this is what I wanted to do fulltime. You could call it my Martin Luther King moment. I literally ‘had a dream’ – woke up one day having dreamt about coaching, and realised, yes! – this is me. Time to move out of consultancy and into pure coaching.

Step 2: Decide what qualification you’re going for. 

I chose to focus on the International Coaching Federation’s Associate Certified Coach (ICF ACC). The ICF is probably the most globally recognised coaching body. It seemed consistently in demand everywhere I looked. 

The ACC is the first level of qualification. They have three paths to achieve ACC, with varying levels of training and experience hours. 

Note that they only count experience AFTER starting the training course – previous experience doesn’t count.

The courses must be accredited by the ICF (apart from Portfolio where you can use other courses – but it’s tricky, as you’ll have to prove those courses covered all the ICF competencies). 

TrainingExperienceAssessmentMentor coaching
ACTP125h>100 h (70 paid)CKA*0
ACSTH60h>100 h (70 paid)CKA + performance evaluation of recorded session10
Portfolio60h non-ICF approved training, with extra evidence on how it covers competencies>100 h (70 paid)CKA + performance evaluation of recorded session10
Paths to ACC qualification with the ICF

* CKA = Coach Knowledge Assessment

Also worth considering European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) – their Global Individual Accreditation (EIA) is highly rated. The Association for Coaching is also fairly international, though UK in origin. 

Here’s a useful table comparing the practice/study requirements at each level for all three orgs – summary of the main points below:

ICF, EMCC and AC compared re coaching experience, training hours, CPD, mentor coaching and ethics requirements

Step 3: Decide where to train

Having decided on the ACTP path, I used the ICF’s own search tool for accredited providers in the UK. 

I wanted a UK company to provide my training – easier timezone, and they might be better able to link me to UK businesses in need of coaching. It had to be online training, as I’m often out of the UK; and had to be a weekend course. That helped narrow it down.

So, I checked all the providers in the ICF’s list of dozens of UK providers. Many seemed to focus only on life coaching rather than executive or business coaching, and felt a bit ‘fluffy’ – more spiritual, less practical. Staying firmly on the practical side, it boiled down to three options for me:

  • Barefoot Coaching / University of Chester – I knew a few people who had done this and strongly recommended. It forms part of a Post Graduate Certificate, and can be extended to a Masters degree in coaching
  • Henley – the course was accredited by all the providers above (ICF, EMCC, AC) which was tempting; they also had a Masters extension option
  • Academy of Executive Coaching (AoEC) – also triple accredited

All three looked like excellent options; all in the £4k to £6k region. I heard great feedback about Barefoot, though knew no-one who had trained in the others. Henley looked perhaps a bit too purely focused on business / executive coaching – yes, that’s my background experience, but I believe in a holistic approach. Ultimately, it boiled down to timings and availability – and Barefoot won, with a weekend course kicking off in the near future.

Pleased to say it’s been the best training of my life. I chose it with a ‘tick the box’ approach to get my qualification – but I loved every session. Coaching has *some* theory and tools training, but it’s not a precise science with a ton of academic abstractions. Most of what you learn is down to practice and observation. Barefoot supplied this in bucketloads:

  • observing expert coaches running coaching sessions;
  • running practice coaching sessions on fellow students, with really useful feedback from others, including the tutors;
  • observing fellow students coaching and considering practice differences.

Step 4: Get doing

Part of the course involves working with ‘volunteer’ coachees on a pro-bono basis. Plus, once you’ve started the course, you can start stacking up the 100 coaching hours that you need for the ACC qualification. Also: the ‘doing’ contributes a huge amount to your learning – so: get doing. 

Whatever course you chose, it should be helpful in finding clients and setting your business up. While they don’t introduce clients or hold your hand, there’s plenty of opportunity to ask tutors and discuss with fellow students to come up with lots of ideas.

Getting those first clients can be tricky if you don’t have a lot of experience, and you still don’t have credentials. Don’t lose hope; keep reaching out and trying new things.

You’ll probably want to be set up professionally at this stage, even though it’ll likely still be few clients. Personal setup:

  • WordPress for website. They offer a fairly hand-held experience for beginners; try out the free option to begin with. I’ve gone for a more advanced setup for – but you can worry about upgrades, custom domains and all the fancy stuff once you’ve got something up and running.
  • Calendly to let clients book see your calendar availability and book a slot in. You could skip this and just tell them to contact you, but I think that users like the immediacy of just booking direct.
  • Google ads and Google analytics – this bit is fairly complex even for me, and I’ve worked in digital for years. Getting the basics up and running is not too bad, but you could spend a lifetime learning the nuance. Google also offers Site Kit plugin to make WordPress integration for analytics etc much simpler.

Step 5: Credentials

Once you’ve done a bunch of coaching and training – yay, you can get your credentials. The number of hours varies depending on which set of credentials you went for, but most are similar to the ICF – 100 hours of coaching time and 125h training.

Step 6: Onwards and upwards

Credentials will open a lot of new options for coaching in companies. Most HR folks won’t really consider anyone without, unless you’ve been coaching since before the credentials existed – in which case, you probably didn’t need to read any of this. And even individual coachees will sometimes look for these credentials. So it should start to get easier from this point on.

But – there’s always more to learn. Keep training, keep reading, keep journalling so you keep improving. More external credentials are always nice – but informal learning is also essential. There’s no such thing as a perfect coach, and there’s an infinite amount to learn.