How Much Does A Life Coach Earn?

Holy shit, that can’t be right!

I stopped dead in my tracks much to the annoyance of my dog.

I fished inside my coat to pull out my iPod and rewind it.

I hadn’t misheard at all, the guy clearly said that 90% of Life Coaches in the United States earn less than $20k per annum.

This was late 2005, and I was devouring everything I could on coaching as I had just launched my coaching business in the UK and our move to the US was imminent.

“We can’t survive on $20k per year” I said out loud to myself, “not even with Helen’s wages as a nurse”.

She was tied to an agency for the first 18 months and her income was capped slightly above sweat shop level.

For a moment I felt my old friend anxiety start to build up in the pit of my stomach and I began to wonder if I had made a terrible mistake.

I started to walk again and got to the field where I could let Ellie off her leash to run free.

I ruminated on the thought of having to go back into sales, which was a blessing in disguise even though it initially created more anxiety.

Happiness Isn’t A Dollar Amount

Most sales people (especially if you include retail sales) don’t make very good money. It’s only the top 10% or so that really earn the big bucks and I had been part of that 10%.

I don’t say that to sound arrogant because even though I earned very good money, I was miserable.

No job no matter how much it pays you is a good job if it’s making you sick and unhappy.

That’s nobody’s definition of success – or at least it shouldn’t be.

I relaxed somewhat knowing that a lot of the skills I’d learned in sales were directly transferable to Life Coaching.

Rapport building, question asking, listening and even selling were all crucial elements and they were all things I could do well. So why should I worry that I’d be in the 90% group earning so little?

I also thought (incorrectly as it happens – sometimes ignorance is bliss) I had a reasonable understanding of marketing and I knew that the competition in the Life Coaching industry really wasn’t that great.

I’d be ok.

On February 2nd 2006 we finally moved to the US complete with Ellie.

It was an exciting time not least of which when the Beagle sniffing for either drugs or bombs tried to get in the cage with an irate and hungry Ellie causing mayhem.

We got to customs and the guy asked me what I did for a living. I proudly said I was a Life Coach expecting some jolly banter, but he just grunted, stamped my visa and waved all three of us through.

Yes indeed, he waved a 90lb Doberman into the country without checking her rabies certificate, fitness to fly or any of the other myriad of papers we were instructed we needed for her. Go figure.

The first 12 months were hard.

Hard, sitting by the pool drinking beer. Hard, enjoying the gorgeous weather and hard, trying to explain to my wife that I really was getting shit done.

The reality was I wasn’t getting much done at all, I was being lazy after a decade of almost working myself to death.

I’d flipped from one extreme to the other with consummate ease.

My First Year As A Life Coach

Do you know how much I made that first year?

No of course you don’t and I’m too scared to go and grab my accounts to tell you accurately, but it was significantly less than $5k.

And that by the way, was before expenses.

Early in my second year I realized I was part of the 90% and something needed to change, so I started to blog and reach out.

But even so, it wasn’t enough. I was a sales person and had no real clue as to how to use online marketing to generate clients. I was making it up as I went along.

Having said that, I did breakthrough the $10,000 barrier in year two.

Whoop-dee-doo eh? Let the good times roll baby we’re eating at Denny’s tonight – albeit it from the dumpster around the back.

By now I wouldn’t say I was panicking, but I was hardly the epitome of grace and ease. I knew I needed help – and fast.

I brought in somebody to do my SEO, I hired a designer and I started to guest post like a man possessed.

My income doubled and a bit more and I was at about $25k.

Still not enough to keep us in the US or pay all our bills when our dwindling savings ran out, but it was trending in the right direction.

The Breakthrough

Year 4 was big for me because I really was taking things seriously now.

I was building relationships, growing my blog and newsletter following and not treating every sunny afternoon as an excuse to chill with a beer and a book by the pool.

I have said many times, I was incredibly lucky.

In 2006, there was little competition, I had a supportive wife and we had some savings. I didn’t get through the first 2 or 3 years because of anything smart I did, but because of fortunate circumstances.

I don’t believe in Guardian Angels, but if I did, I obviously had one then.

I have seen so many stats on what Life Coaches earn and they vary so much that I’m not even going to link to them or take them seriously.

Often the sample polling size is way too small and the people doing the polling have a vested interest in in the results to encourage more people to become coaches.

It’s unlikely the ICF will announce to the world that most Life Coaches are on their arse, struggling to get clients and the majority will be doing something else within two years.

It wouldn’t be very good for business, would it?

But I genuinely believe that to be the case and I know a lot of coaches who agree with me.

None of this is very encouraging if you are looking for assurance as a new Life Coach, but in many ways it should be.

The reason most coaches struggle isn’t because there aren’t enough clients, it’s because they don’t know how to run a business.

I personally know coaches who earn over $250,000 per annum and I know of coaches who earn well over $1,000,000 per annum.

Although to be fair, most of the bigger earners rely on multiple streams of income such as book sales, public speaking (which can be extremely lucrative) and webinars etc.

We will be releasing a digital version of Coach The Life Coach next month for this specific reason.

Not because I’m greedy, but because at the moment if I were unable to work my income would take a rapid nose dive. That is somewhat unsettling.

I have worked with a number of coaches who have earned nothing – and I do mean nothing – in a year.

You don’t hear about that a lot because whereas a client may tell me that in confidence, she is hardly likely to be preaching it to her social media following.

How Much Does A Life Coach Earn?

Asking how much a Life Coach earns is like asking what is the best Life Coaching question to use with a client?

It depends entirely on the circumstances.

I’ll probably hit the $100k mark this year for the first time and in no way am I working my fingers to the bone.

I’m just working a lot smarter now than I ever have.

I have learned about online marketing. I have built up a lot of inbound links to my website. I have hired some great people to help me.

And I realize that the business element is just as important as the coaching side of my practice.

I’m not driven by the desire to be wealthy at all, which is why I’m not.

I’m driven by the desire to help people and live life on my own terms as much as feasibly possible.

And you may be the same.

In fact you may only need/want to earn $25k or less if you have a partner who earns decent money or you live a meagre life style.

And that is totally fine presuming you still act professionally.

The answer to the question ‘how much does a life Coach earn?’ is a really simple one.

Life Coaches earn whatever they want to earn depending on their desire, commitment and preparedness to do what is necessary.

You don’t need to spend 4 years like I did, but to be honest, unless you have a lot of money for marketing you probably do need to be thinking of around 12 – 18 months to start to see the return on your time and energy.

Next week we will be announcing the super early bird for the tenth running of the Coach The Life Coach course and we will only be making this offer for one week.

The course will now be starting on Sunday October 4th and we have some really cool discounts for you if you’re ready to make that jump and take your coaching career seriously – unlike me in 2005, and 2006, oh, and some of 2007 too!

Comments

  1. Tim – I really appreciate your sharing your experience and realistic benchmarks.

    I see so many people selling coaching support, which begs the question of where the money is.
    Like selling picks, pans, and shovels to gold miners lol.
    But as you note, the spoils go to the persistent learners.

    Kind Regards, Jeff Popoff

    • Tim Brownson

      You make a good point Jeff and I honestly don’t know.

      I suspect that there are as many people selling to coaches who are struggling as Life Coaches. And it always amazes me how many are doing it that have never coached or struggle to do the things they claim they can teach coaches to do.

      I’m really good at online marketing, but I still felt like I needed help to take the training to the next level which is why I brought Karl in.

  2. Jenny Good

    I am curious as to if you have noticed particular niche focuses among those you mention earning $100,000+ per year. Sometimes it seems like the majority of higher earners are in executive coaching or marketing coaches; do you regularly see similar earnings outside these specialties?

      • Tim Brownson

        Holy shit, now that is what I call a niche!

        That’s about as tight as any I have ever heard of, although I *suspect* there may be some consulting involved in that.

    • Tim Brownson

      It depends how you define executive coaching Jenny.

      Usually it’s the business that does the hiring to help a mid-level or senior exec who they see as having potential but may need help in certain areas.

      Some people think that Execs who hire a coach are therefore hiring an Exec Coach and that’s not necessarily the case. I have worked with senior execs, but I’m not an Exec Coach.

      Having said all that, the high earners re obviously charging a lot of money so by definition they are going to get hired by high earners.

      I know one guy who does very well just dealing with realtors, another who only deals with attorneys – so on reflection it maybe they niche more tightly.

      Not even sure if I answered your question there!

  3. Meg Sorensen

    My follow-up question to this would be how many hours on average do you work per week? My husband has a very successful career, and so we don’t particularly need the money, but I would like to do some work because I find it fulfilling. In an ideal world, after the initial push (of a year or two) to get my business going, I would like to only be working about 20 hours per week. If it takes me longer to get to the point where I could work this few hours, I would be fine with that, but 20 hours on average is my goal.

    So how many hours did you work per week in the beginning when your figures were low, and how many hours do you work now that they are high? Congrats on the 6 figures, by the way. 🙂

    • Tim Brownson

      Tough to answer Meg for a number of reasons.

      Do I add up time walking my dogs if I’m also reading an article on SEO on my phone or doing a consult.

      Do I include time sat thinking about how to make CTLC better or blog post ideas, or reading up on Social Media whilst on a bike at the gym?

      I’m sorry to be vague because the honest answer is I’m not really sure – probably 40ish now.

      To begin with probably about 20. Then I went mental writing and was publishing 4 or 5 times to my own blog and a couple of guest posts a week sometimes and I probably hit 60 then.

      I’m not sure I have answered your question either!

      • Meg

        That actually does answer my question pretty well. I feel like learning about one’s trade shouldn’t count toward hours worked, but that’s only because I enjoy learning so much. I frequently listen to self-help, health, and/or psychology books while doing chores, and I definitely don’t count that as “official” work. If I did, I’d be working upwards 10 hours a day frequently!

        • Tim Brownson

          Exactly! I don’t feel like I’m working as I’m driving and listening to an audio book.

  4. Yeah, definitely not in the interests of ICF or the training organizations to tell the truth about how hard it is to make it as a coach. I have the advantage of living outside the US. Otherwise??? Heck, even outside the US it ain’t easy.

    • Tim Brownson

      I didn’t realize you were outside the US Ed, where are you?

      I think possibly the UK is the most open to coaching, but that’s just a feeling even though I personally get very few clients from there.

      • I’m in Bogota, Colombia Tim (remember I’m married to a Colombian). Bogota’s not cheap but it’s definitely cheaper than a lot of places in the US. Plus the dollar-peso exchange rate is amazing right now! 🙂

  5. TIm, this is a great article. Thank you. When I started I had no idea how little I knew about marketing and how important it is. As you say, it’s at least 1/2 the business – at least to start (and maybe down the track too?) and more coaches need to know that. 🙂

    • Tim Brownson

      If I include all the reading I do for CTLC, I’d say only 35/40% of my working time is actually with clients or training.

      I guess it’s not all marketing per se, but it’s interesting when I think about it.

  6. Michael Wecke

    Hi Tim, I’d love to see your answers to Jenny and Meg’s questions.
    From my perspective this was just the blog post that I needed to forward to my son (25) who is concerned that his old Dad is falling into a snake oil sales pitch trap by undergoing Life Coach training and planning to become a Life Coach! (“Dad, read about all these life Coaches on Reddit”!!)
    Cheers, Michael

    P.S. You’re OK, are you? Normally you are very quick to respond.

    • Tim Brownson

      Oh man don’t get me going on Reddit!!!

      That’s like saying I read it in the Daily Sport or National Inquirer. It’s a free for all where good information gets lost amongst piles of shite and people looking for stuff to whine about 🙂

      I was just on a writing blitz yesterday mate and didn’t respond to any comments on either blog knowing I could do it all this morning.

      Thanks for the concern!

  7. Andy

    Thanks for that Tim!
    This was just the kick in the butt I needed. We’ve just immigrated too and I’m in my first year as a life coach chilling at the pool drinking too many beers haha. But that’s going to change. Let see if I can get the return on my investment in 12 to 18 months! Cheers, Andy

    • Tim Brownson

      Best of luck mate!

      Fortunately we have now bought a house and we don’t have a pool so that temptation has been removed.

      I’m also on an alcohol sabbatical, so that one has too!

  8. Tim,

    Great post and so timely as I am preparing to launch my practice. I really appreciate your transparency. I may reach out for some guidance.

    I also wanted any Life Coaches who are considering your course to know it is definitely worth the investment. Real information presented in a way that makes the information useful immediately. Tim helped me put my business goals in perspective.

    Great work!

    • Tim Brownson

      Thank you Athena I really appreciate that.

      You’re ability to be open to feedback was an example to all. And I really am not just saying that, you were gracious at all times.

      • Jeff

        Hi Tim – organic search = unpaid google.
        Isn’t that more or less the standard definition.

        In any case, I’m curious how people find you online and approx what % of clients that works out to.

        Reason I’m curious is it seems to me people look online for solutions to problems. Do they explicitly search for coaches? Or ‘problem’ keywords that map to how coaches might help?
        Given your experience I’m hoping you have insights.

        Thanks Tim!

        • Tim Brownson

          Jeff it would take me hours to answer that thoroughly.

          The problem with looking at it as an organic search is you then have to break that down so here’s some examples of what I mean.

          1. Someone types ‘Life Coach’ into Google and I come up. For most coaches this will never happen because it’s too competitive, but I get it once or twice per week.

          2. Someone types in a long tail keyword that I have written a post on and land on my blog. Why do you think the title of this post was used? 😉 It will get indexed in the SERP’s and it’s a common question wannabe coaches may type in.

          3. Social Media could be in some respects be organic as it is so integrated with the search engines now.

          4. Would it be organic if someone searches for a book on Amazon and then comes across my page and clicks to my site? Not in the traditional sense, but it could be argued.

          5. What about guest posts? Again not traditionally, but it’s kind of organic because it’s not firect advertising.

          In effect ALL my clients bar 2 I could track back to the Internet.

  9. Tim, I LOVED this post. I found it refreshingly candid and delightfully entertaining while driving home the real point about ROI in terms of time and effort.

    Thank you!

  10. Hi Tim – to answer your question I would define organic search as unpaid google/bing queries.

    I’m curious what keywords people are generally looking for when they find coaches? (Niche dependent I’m sure). And from a coach perspective how many might follow along on a coach email list before one decides to become a customer?

    I’m just trying to gauge how SEO stacks up against direct referrals or other marketing methods.

    Thanks Tim!

  11. Thanks for your thoughtful reply Tim, I appreciate you taking your time.

    Seems like there is not substitute for the long term game of niche long tail keyword posts and guest post backlinks.

    Oh well, hard work always helps reduce the competition 🙂