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Running your own business can be incredibly rewarding. But as you gain more and more valuable experience, you might get an itch to share your knowledge and expertise with others.

Small business owners tend to make the same mistakes. And you might be able to help them avoid common pitfalls, set smart business goals, and streamline growth.

All of the above falls into the realm of business coaching services. This coaching niche is now an $11 billion industry and has been growing exponentially, as more and more startups have been joining the red-hot market in the past few years.

Sounds interesting? If you’re wondering how to become a business coach, read this guide to find out what it takes to start your own business coaching practice today.

Skip ahead here:

What does a business coach do?

The primary goal of a business coach is to help entrepreneurs and business owners succeed. They create accountability, assist in goal setting, detect blind spots, adjust business plans, give feedback, and much more.

The consultant-coach does not have to be an all-star player. His job is to teach the client and see that his best ideas are carried out.— William S. Royce, How To Be A Business Coach

There are different types of successful business coaches. While some might resemble motivational speakers, others are anything but.

Here are a few reasons why entrepreneurs and business owners decide to hire business coaches:

  • Avoid unexpected but critical business mistakes
  • Solve specific business problems (e.g. operational bottlenecks)
  • Help raise funding or go through the IPO process
  • Generate new business ideas and directions
  • Temporarily replace key personnel (e.g. CFO)
  • Improve business owner’s performance

In other words, the type of work you decide to specialize in will determine the type of client you should focus on.

Don’t think you have to be an all-knowing maverick of the business world to start positively impacting the companies you work with. To become a successful coach, you might not even need a business coaching certification — more on that below.

Who can become a business coach?

Business coaching is not a regulated industry. This means you’re not legally required to go through coach training before coaching others.

The only thing that matters is whether you can deliver value to your clients. Chances are, if you have some practical business experience — you can!

If you’re not sure you have everything it takes, remember that even world class coaches tend to experience impostor syndrome in some way. Steve Jobs hired coaches too — guess how they felt?

At the same time, there are lots of coaching programs that can help you gain the skills and develop a vision for your own coaching journey.

You can become a certified business coach through an ICF-accredited (International Coaching Federation) institution, for example.

Alternatively, there’s an unlimited amount of educational content related to business coaching online, from courses to strategic frameworks to client check-in questions.

Business coaching is not just for large corporations and their executives. Small business coaches are just as important. After all, there are over 30 million small businesses in the US, making up 99.9% of all enterprises.

How to become a business coach in 9 steps

Excited to share your knowledge and expertise with others through coaching? Follow this 9-step process to kickstart your coaching practice, from choosing your coaching niche to setting your pricing strategy to analyzing feedback.

Step 1: Identify your niche and your audience

The first step to becoming a business coach is knowing what type of a business coach you want to be.

Ask yourself:

  • Will you specialize in one-on-one or team coaching?
  • What’s the area where you can deliver the most value?

Your strategy, framework, pricing, coaching programs and personal brand will all depend on the coaching niche you decide to pursue. But don’t let that slow you down. Since you’re just starting out, you can easily change your niche if it doesn’t turn out to be a good choice.

After you pick your coaching niche, think about what type of client would be an ideal match for your skills. Try to answer questions like:

  • What’s a problem they can’t effectively solve themselves?
  • How experienced are they at running a business?
  • What kind of a company are they running? What’s the industry? What’s their revenue? How many people work there?
  • Why would they hire you?

Questions like these will help you develop an ideal customer profile, which describes demographic, psychographic, firmographic and behavioral qualities of your potential ideal clients.

Use your ideal customer profile to strategize about the best place to find your first clients (e.g. an industry conference, LinkedIn, local business network, ads).

Step 2: Work on your skills 

Even world class coaches need to constantly learn something new about their industry to stay on top. In fact, that’s the only way they can remain world class for any significant amount of time.

Based on the problems you’re solving for your clients, classify all your skills as primary, secondary or tertiary. Rate your competence in each of them.

Then create an improvement plan. If you feel you’re anything less than excellent in your primary skills, start working on improvements right away. Sign up for business coach training, get a specific business coaching certificate or even hire a coach for yourself.

Your secondary skills should be regularly improving as well. Subscribe to leading industry publications, buy online courses, read books, etc.

Tertiary skills are also important for general industry awareness and can likely be covered with occasional podcasts, YouTube and local (or virtual) meetups.

Step 3: Set up a framework for your work

Next, you should define your own business goals and build a supporting structure around them.

Not all successful business coaches are working with clients full-time, for example. Lots of them continue to run their own businesses and coach clients on the side, whether it’s to give back to the community or better understand their own work.

Besides, the way you engage with your clients can also vary quite considerably. Some business coaches prefer to provide services on demand for emergencies (e.g. investor pitches). Others like to set regular appointments or even join the client’s team for a short period of time to make a significant long-term impact.

There are lots of coaching strategies you can pick from. Here are just a few:

  • Coaching specific teams (e.g. sales) to improve results
  • Working with executives to uncover their vision
  • Helping CEOs to grow their business
  • Collaborating with the leadership team to elevate the company’s brand
  • Focusing on key team members to optimize their performance

To help you structure effective business coaching programs and productive coaching sessions, we’ve come up with lots of free templates you can use.

Note: If you’re not sure how to teach and present new information to help your clients internalize and remember it, our guide to instructional design models will help.

Step 4: Work out a pricing strategy

Figuring out how much to charge clients tends to be a very sensitive topic for all new online business coaches. Here’s how to approach it productively.

On a high level, you should know the cost of your efforts. If you have a full-time job or a business, what’s your hourly rate? Just divide your salary plus dividends or bonuses by the hours worked. This is the lowest hourly rate that you shouldn’t cross (unless you’re working with nonprofits or charities, etc.).

Realize that as a coach, you’re charging based on value. Does $500 an hour sound high? What if four such sessions with you helped a startup founder raise a $4 million financing round? Suddenly, $500 an hour becomes a no-brainer.

Talk to other coaches in your area or niche regarding what they charge. Being informed what your potential clients are ready to pay will help you start.

But don’t let the pricing issue slow you down. Just pick a number and find your first client. You can always increase your rates later on. You can also experiment with cash vs. equity, performance bonuses, being on a retainer or charging per project.

Step 5: Build your personal brand

The absolute best way to get new clients is through word of mouth and referrals from your existing clients.

To make it easy for other people to refer to yourself, you should be known as the best at something. We’ve already covered picking a coaching niche above — now you should think about developing a personal brand within that niche.

A personal brand would not only position you as a successful coach but also help you develop trust, build your network, attract more clients and charge premium rates for your work.

To build a personal brand, you should define your vision, mission and value propositions. Where are you going and how are you going to help others get there too?

Make sure that all your communication and all the content you produce tie back to your brand. That’s how you establish a personal brand over time. It’s not immediate, but the benefits are truly long-lasting.

To get started, take a look at our detailed How to Build a Personal Brand guide for freelancers and entrepreneurs.

Step 6: Build an online coaching program

One of the best ways to convert your coaching leads into actual clients is to help them solve a small problem while demonstrating your coaching technique.

In the world of online business coaching services, the best way to do so is to create an online course you can share with anyone.

The first thing you need to do is find a platform that makes creating your business course easy.

Thinkific is a perfect tool for creating and selling any type of online course you can think of. You can get started for free, use a simple drag-and-drop editor to build out an engaging learning experience and publish it right away.

You can even use Thinkific to create a marketing website around your course as well. No coding skills required!

Watch how easy it is to create a Thinkific course.

Step 7: Market your coaching business

Now that you’ve got everything set up, from strategy to personal brand foundations to an online course, it’s time to get more coaching clients!

Attending networking events and testing (and tweaking) your pitch will quickly show whether your industry assumptions were correct. Joining local meetups (in-person or virtual) for small business owners is also a good idea.

Besides, you should be pretty active on social media that’s relevant to your niche. For small business coaches, that might be LinkedIn. To get exposure to large businesses and their executives, you should consider Twitter as well.

Finally, start a blog and a newsletter. A blog will help you test and clarify your ideas as well as attract organic traffic coming from search engines. A newsletter can be a powerful way to turn your website visitors and social media followers into contacts, who’d be more likely to purchase your online course or hire you as a business coach.

For more ideas, refer to our complete guide on marketing and increasing sales for your online course.

Step 8: Collect feedback

The only way to ensure your business coaching practice is on the right track is to gather as much feedback as you can, especially in the beginning.

To receive feedback regularly, you should set up a system:

  • After every pitch (especially unsuccessful ones), ask what sounded interesting in your offering and what didn’t.
  • Request written testimonials from your past or current clients.
  • Nudge people to leave reviews for your online course.
  • Send out surveys to your audience, your contacts and your customers to ensure you’re on the right track.

Step 9: Analyze and improve

Your coaching practice is not for everyone. So, inevitably, you’ll receive some negative feedback. Everyone does.

Make sure to sort constructive criticism from emotional reactions and use the former to create a process that consistently integrates changes to your practice. Track how your feedback changes over time.

Start an online business coaching practice today

With all the information above, you’re ready to get started as an online business coach right away.

Use Thinkific for your online course and website. Our easy-to-use platform is already helping tens of thousands of coaches, creators and teachers create engaging learning experiences online.

You can try Thinkific free and see for yourself how easy course-creation can be.