Online coaching is a great way to help people from nearly any walk of life or industry. The profession includes many specializations: online nutrition coaching, online business coaching, fitness coaching, life coaching, and even online vocal coaches are all in high demand.
Coaching clients online opens up lots of opportunities that are not available to coaches who only offer in-person sessions. You can work with clients worldwide and be more flexible with your hours. You can also start right away since you already have everything you need — a computer with an internet connection.
That said, while starting an online coaching program is simple, the job itself isn’t always easy. At the very least, you’ll need an in-demand idea that you have the skills to realize. Plus, finding new clients and scaling your business can be just as challenging online as it is in the offline world.
In this guide we cover everything you need to know to coach online, from writing a business plan to using social media for marketing.
Why start an online coaching business?
As Simon Sinek said in his seminal book Start With Why (and his popular TED talk), “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
It’s a good practice to ask yourself first: Why do you want to offer coaching services online? While everyone is going to have their own unique reason, there are also plenty of universal benefits to running coaching programs on the web.
1. It’s profitable
Expanding your potential pool of clients online makes it easier to fill up your schedule and increase your rates on a regular basis.
2. It’s more scalable than in-person coaching
While taking on more one-on-one coaching can fill up your calendar and become a burden over time, coaching online offers lots of opportunities for group coaching classes via online coaching platforms.
3. You can coach clients from around the world
Delivering coaching sessions online allows you to tap into markets with the highest levels of consumer spending internationally, not just your local community.
4. It can generate passive income
You can turn your expertise into on-demand coaching programs that thousands of people can take and pay for on their own time. You can do the work once, record yourself while doing it, and then earn passive income by selling it as a course for as long as the course is active online.
5. It’s time-efficient
With no commute, you can also take more clients via video conferencing than it would be possible in an office setting. Or you can lead a more balanced lifestyle and decide to spend more time on other important things in life.
6. The demand for online coaching services is high
As the nature of our work changes faster than ever before, education and learning online have become increasingly important. This means the demand for coaching has grown too.
For example, it’s estimated that the demand for life coaches will continue to grow at about 7% annually and make $1.34 billion in revenue in 2022.
How to start an online coaching business: 8 steps
Regardless of what type of coach you want to be, you can follow the same eight steps to create a successful online coaching business. The key here is to plan in advance and have a strategy mapped out before you dive into execution.
1. Work on your coaching skills
All online coaches, from business coaches to health coaches, essentially use the same set of coaching tools and rely on their core competencies to set them apart. Start by assessing your area of expertise and your unique specialization (e.g. online fitness coach vs. online bodybuilding coach). Ask yourself how your skillset can be improved.
Most online coaches — except for online health coaches — don’t need official certification to do the job (though you should check the regulations in your jurisdiction with a lawyer). Still, getting certified might help you improve your skills and attract more profitable clients.
Besides the industry-related expertise, it’s never a bad idea to work on your soft skills too. (These can arguably be even more important when it comes to coaching!) Soft skills all online coaches should master include:
- Being empathetic
- Knowing how to listen
- Staying calm in stressful situations
- Recognizing your biases
- Offering emotional support
- Seeing client’s potential
- Inspiring confidence
For more information, read our previous article on 6 proven methods for improving your coaching skills.
2. Draft up a business plan
Even if coaching is not your primary occupation and you’re just working on it part-time in the evenings, you still need to have a business plan. Otherwise, how will you know what you’re working towards? How will you measure your progress?
First, you need to define your audience. Who are you trying to reach and why? Why do they need your service? How much are they willing to pay?
Second, research your niche. Who are your competitors? How are you different from them?
It pays to be as thorough as possible in your market research to identify both opportunities and areas where your plans could fall short. Stay flexible and keep things simple — the main way you learn in business is through trial and error, just like anywhere else.
You can use this coaching business model canvas to map your unique value proposition, the way you make money, and how you deliver your coaching services.
Jennifer Kem, brand building expert and CEO of the Master Brand institute, recommends getting as specific as possible on the type of people your area of expertise serves.
The more specific you are, the easier it is to identify what key areas you need to communicate to attract clients. An online fitness coach who specializes in helping people who were injured and are getting their health back on track is very different from someone who helps elite, amateur-level athletes increase their dynamic range of motion. Both are fitness coaches which means they cover the same concepts however in practice, these are two very different things.Jennifer Kem, CEO of Master Brand institute
“The more specific you are, the easier it is to identify what key areas you need to communicate to attract clients. An online fitness coach who specializes in helping people who were injured and are getting their health back on track is very different from someone who helps elite, amateur-level athletes increase their dynamic range of motion. Both are fitness coaches which means they cover the same concepts however in practice, these are two very different things.”
3. Plan your coaching program
Once you have a business plan, you should create a coaching framework that will outline all the processes you will follow in your coaching practice.
To maximize your profits, you should consider two coaching styles for your framework:
- A scalable, on-demand, one-to-many group coaching online course presenting the fundamentals of what you know
- Exclusive, one-to-one, “executive” coaching sessions that are priced high and aimed at solving the unique problems of your select audience members
Tip: Don’t rush into pouring all of your knowledge into your first online course (or video). It’s more efficient and effective to deliver your coaching in smaller chunks. So instead of a two-hour masterclass, try 12 10-minute ones.
With your one-to-one coaching, it’s good to offer one or two trial sessions, and then require a minimum commitment (e.g. six or 12 coaching sessions) to lock in revenue and reduce churn.
If you’re ever unsure of your framework, go back to market research. Check what people say about your competitors on social media, Amazon, and online education platforms. Talk to people in real life about your program and see how they would improve it.
It’s also important that you not build out the entire program before selling it. It’s easy to get caught up in building something then trying to force your clients to follow each step instead of molding the program to your clients.
A best practice that Jennifer Kem recommends is to sell the outline of your program then to build it out as you work with people. She believes if you do this with ten different clients, it’ll give you a thorough understanding of what clients need in order to find success.
- How to Plan a Productive Coaching Session (Free Coaching Session Template)
- Build a Coaching Program in 7 Steps (Free Coaching Program Template)
4. Build your brand
There’s nothing more important at the beginning of your online coaching career than standing out. You need people to talk about you, and you have to give them a reason to do so.
The best way to become known is to provide a reliable solution to one of your target audience’s urgent problems. To do that, you must know their pains, desires, goals and troubles, a.k.a. their psychographic profile.
With more information on the demand side of your business, you can position yourself and start building your brand in a way that speaks directly to your audience. Make sure that your brand is consistent and expressed the same way across all platforms, including your website, online courses, social media, and other marketing channels.
Your personal brand = consistency × standing out.
5. Set up your online coaching service
These days, online tools are heavily automated. So, if you find yourself manually copy-pasting things and spending time on repetitive admin tasks, you probably just haven’t found the right tools to simplify your workflow.
Here are a few types and examples of online tools used by online life coaches, business coaches, personal training coaches, and others.
Primary coaching channel. In the world of online coaching, you need a reliable video conferencing tool that syncs with your calendar, has chat, allows you to share your screen, exchange documents, record sessions, etc. This will help you make sure your day-to-day practice runs smoothly and you keep your clients on track. A few popular apps in this category are Google Meet and Zoom.
Secondary coaching channel. Based on your coaching framework, the other coaching channel you might need is an online learning platform that helps you create group coaching courses. Some key considerations here are price, ease of use and the ability to customize your platform (e.g. add your branding).
Thinkific is an easy to use platform for building and marketing online courses. You don’t need any coding or tech skills to start using it. You can just sign up and create your first course in one day, using the intuitive drag-and-drop interface. You can also use the platform to design your own marketing website, where you can create a central destination for your brand online.
Use Thinkific to make a bigger impact on your clients and earn more revenue — without trading your time for money.
A communication channel. Think about the best way to connect with your audience. Are they using Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, or email? Managing multiple social media channels can quickly become overwhelming, so you may want to use a centralized social media management app for scheduling posts and replying to comments, such as Buffer.
Email newsletters are also a great way to convert more followers into customers. You can ask your audience to sign up for email updates and then send them occasional supplemental materials or offer discounts to keep them engaged. Mailchimp is the leading tool in this space, perfect for anyone from personal trainers to online weight loss coaches.
Need more? Take a look at the top 7 online coaching platforms.
6. Price your coaching program
Income is the main driver of your business. So when it comes to pricing your coaching sessions, do some research to find out the average rate in your niche. Then pick a number that’s 10–20% higher than that and use it as a benchmark for your pricing. If you find that the number you landed on is too high or too low, you can adjust your pricing strategy as you go.
Remember that you don’t charge customers to cover your costs — you charge customers based on the value you provide to them.
$1,000 per session might seem high to most people, but if you helped a CEO with a $100 million merger, it can be a reasonable price to pay for expert advice. The idea is to price your online courses and services high enough to indicate value and legitimacy, but low enough so your target audience can actually afford them.
7. Find customers
Looking for quality clients is something you’ll continue to do for as long as you have your coaching practice. To get a steady flow of clients, you should think of your marketing in terms of a conversion funnel.
- Top of the funnel awareness building happens through social media posts, online ads, podcasts appearances, conference presentations, and other situations where your audience remains passive.
- Middle of the funnel engagement and consideration tactics include sending email newsletters and distributing free materials (e.g. PDF ebooks in exchange for email address registration on your website).
- Bottom of the funnel is where conversions (a.k.a. sales) actually happen. It’s your online course demo and your free 30-minute online coaching consultation, at the end of which you direct your audience to make a purchase.
Ensuring you always have leads at every stage of your conversion funnel is a good marketing strategy. Right away, you can see which aspect of your marketing is underperforming. Not enough new social media followers? Try appearing as a guest on someone’s podcast. Not enough email subscribers? Write a new guide to share in exchange for emails.
Keep in mind that you always should focus on the outcome and speak to people’s emotions, showing them that you understand their problems.
8. Collect feedback and improve
No process comes full circle if you don’t collect feedback to improve it.
First, you need a community of peers who you can discuss ongoing issues with and help each other resolve them. Even if you’re in a small niche (e.g. an online running coach), you can still find a group of people to meet online or offline every week. Start your own community if you have to.
Second, set up a feedback loop with your clients. Whether they take your courses or meet with you one-on-one, you can send them short and anonymous surveys to rate the quality of your content and suggest ideas for improvement.
Make sure to set aside some time each week to review new feedback coming in and figure out how you can apply it to your work moving forward.
Starting an online coaching business: Frequently asked questions
Leveraging the information above, you can quickly start a real online coaching business. However, you might still have a few questions. Here are the answers to the most popular ones.
How much money do online coaches make?
Since online coaching is not an industry, but rather a service that cuts through multiple industries, the compensation varies a lot.
For example, an online bodybuilding coach might not spend that much time with you (you should spend most of it at the gym, following their exercise plan) so they might make less for actual coaching sessions but make up for it on custom programming, etc.
Online business coaches, especially executive coaches, on the other hand, tend to make much more — on average, hundreds of dollars an hour. That’s because their coaching is tied to high-value transactions.
Your rates would also depend on where most of your target audience lives. In the US, you can expect to charge at least $50 an hour. Multiply that by the number of hours worked, and you have your gross income.
Related: How Much Do Life Coaches Make?
How do I offer a coaching service online?
To be a professional coach online, all you need is a video conferencing tool (e.g. Zoom) and maybe a scheduling app (e.g. Calendly) that you can integrate into your website. For more, read our 2022 guide to essential online coaching tools and platforms.
How do I price my online coaching program?
The way you price your coaching services should correlate with the amount of value you provide (as perceived by the client). If you’re not sure about how to value your work yet, start with the industry average rate and add anywhere from 10-20% to test the waters.
How do I get more coaching clients?
By far, the best way to get new clients is through referrals from your existing happy clients or alumni. If you don’t get referrals organically, reach out and ask for them. Ask to be introduced to anyone who might benefit from your services — then sell your services to them!
How can I generate passive income as an online coach?
You only have so many hours in a day for one-to-one coaching. Eventually, you want to get to a point where most of your revenue comes from services that you don’t have to actively participate in every time.
Online courses are a perfect way to build passive income from your coaching practice. Create your own online course using Thinkific today and see how easy it is to turn your knowledge into profit. Starting with Thinkific is fast and free. So challenge yourself to do something new that will pay off handsomely in the long run.