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The road from natural coach to professional
an insider’s expert guide

by | May 11, 2022 | Thought Leaders, Winter 2022 | 0 comments

Coaching – from natural coach to professional coach a guide

Coaching Certification Guide

Coaching Clients and Cash Flow

Custom Coaching why its critical to your success a professional coach

Buyers Beware – how to choose a coach

Are you a natural coach? The one people come to for a safe space?

Does it just feel right to inspire and guide? Because you sense this is your purpose, your calling?

But you might ask: “Who am I to think I can guide and coach others – I’m not perfect!”

And yet you want a career that feels like an authentic expression of who you are, not an empty job.

So how do you go from being a natural coach to a professional? And should you even try?

If these are the kinds of questions you’re wrestling with, you’re exactly where most coaching students are when I first meet them. Use this to navigate the path from natural coach to professional master coach.

Although I’m the first to admit that the more I learn, the more I feel I don’t know, I’ve spent nearly three decades seeing the good, bad and ugly of the professional coaching world. I’m here to guide natural coaches as best I can to help themselves and others to find inner wisdom.

  • I’m a credentialed MCC Master Coach ICF (International Coaching Federation – the world leader in benchmarking professional standards for the coaching profession).
  • I’ve written ICF Accredited Coach certification programmes.
  • I lead a team of licensed partners who train these courses globally, producing high calibre life coaches, executive coaches, enneagram coaches, business coaches, mindfulness meditation coaches and other unique coaching brands.
  • We also teach consultants, financial planners, psychologists and therapists to add professional coaching to their existing services.
  • Our ‘Manager as Coach’ training was shortlisted in the top five for the prestigious ICF Prism Award in 2014 for our work empowering managers globally with coaching skills.
  • I coach myself almost daily, using the same methods my team and I teach to find inner wisdom.

I recommend going through four phases of development. Use this as a roadmap.

Phase 1 Confident Commitment – check if this path is for you.

Phase 2 Credible Certification – get your coaching skills and toolbox.

Phase 3 Custom Coaching – learn to create custom coaching services.

Phase 4 Client Cash Flow – build an abundant business.

Phase 1 Confident Commitment 

Before you make a confident commitment to the path of becoming a professional coach, it helps to answer these three questions.

  • “Why do I want to become a professional coach?”
  • “What is coaching, specifically? How is it different from mentoring and therapy?”
  • “Do I need certification?
  • “Why do I want to become a professional coach?”

Wisdom taught me that life’s purpose was not something to do but rather who I was meant to be.

“An apple tree might try to make oranges if it doesn’t know who it is?” was the clarity I received.

Are you trying to make oranges? Or are you building a career that honours your apple tree purpose?

We make the difference we are meant to make by being all we were born to be.
You have no choice if your apple tree natural self is a guide, coach and safe-space-holder. This is the calling of your apple tree. It’s who you are.

Do you want to be a hidden, self-conflicted apple tree or a skilled and competent apple tree?


  • When you set fear and self-doubt aside, does it inspire you to inspire others? Y/N
  • When people leave your space, do you hope they’re more empowered and enlightened? Y/N
  • Do you sometimes intuitively know what to say? (Even learning from your own words). Y/N
  • If you had enough money to live well for the rest of your life, would you still want to guide, coach, inspire and facilitate growth for others? Y/N

The more yes answers you get, the more clues to suggest your apple tree is built to coach, guide and inspire.

Perhaps it’s time to empower yourself to empower others.

There are other wonderful practical reasons to become a professional coach, such as:

  • The freedom to work anywhere in the world,
  • To work online and choose your working hours and,
  • Most importantly, the freedom to do work you love to express your apple tree purpose.

 Instead of asking ‘what do you do for a living, rather ask ‘what do you live to do?’

“What is coaching, and how is it different to mentoring and therapy.”

There’s a lot of confusion about what coaching is. Let’s clear that up.

The word ‘coach’ originally comes from the mid-16th century: French ‘coche’ and Hungarian ‘kocsi’ (wagon) from the village of Kocs.

A ‘coach’ or ‘carriage’ gets you where you want to be. In the 18th century, the word ‘coach’ started being used as a verb.

Today a ‘coach’ is someone who helps us to get from where we are now to where we want to be.

Here is a metaphor to clarify the key differences between coaching, mentoring and therapy.

A client wants to climb a mountain (a symbol of their dream or goal).

MENTOR – At the top of the mountain stands a mentor, someone who’s already walked the mountain and guides the client using their experience and expertise.

THERAPIST – A therapist is at base camp – to help them heal from the journey they’ve already walked.

COACH – A coach walks with the client – not telling them what to do but helping them find their reason to walk, their best inner solutions, motivation and inner strength.

Which of the three resonates?

Can you be all three? Yes, assuming you have training in all three. Many of the coaches my team and I train are ‘blended coaches’ (see below).

Pure Coaching vs Blended Coaching

This is often a shocking revelation for coaches.

  • Pure coaching = no advice-giving.
  • Blended coaching = a mix of pure coaching with advice-giving like mentoring/teaching/counselling.

Pure coaching means not telling clients what to do. Not even in the form of questions like: “Have you thought of trying…?”

Pure coaching means empowering people to empower themselves. It’s walking with the client up the mountain, remember.

If coaching were the same as consulting and teaching, you’d have to be an expert in the coaching topic. You could only coach the topics you knew well and for limited clients.

We’re also legally and morally liable for the advice when we give advice.

When you give advice, you give water from your well.

A pure coach guides others to build their well and drink their water. Helping people to help themselves.

Can you be a blended coach? Yes. But it helps to be clear that you are building a career made of a mix of roles.

“Do I need certification?”

In most countries, ‘coaching’ is not a protected term requiring certification to practice. This gives us a lot of freedom, but it also means anyone can call themselves a coach.

Getting coaching certification is a question of integrity and your desire to serve your clients at the highest.

Quality coaching certification can give you:

  • Credibility – especially ICF accredited certification.
  • Confidence – that you know what you’re doing and aren’t harming.
  • Competence – practical skills and coaching methods.
  • Community – support and networking among peers.

I recommend looking for ICF ACTP accredited coach certification (see below for more).

Phase 2 Credible Certification

“Do I need to choose a niche to certify in?”

Many coaching gurus will tell you: “You need to choose a niche.” But choosing a niche too early can severely limit you; it’s only important later for online marketing and advertising.

A coaching niche is a combination of who you want to serve and the coaching speciality you want to offer:

  • Speciality: A speciality like life coaching, enneagram coaching, wellness coaching, business coaching, executive coaching etc.
  • Who: Small groups, like single moms, corporate executive teams, spiritual seekers, entrepreneurs etc.

When interviewing my most successful Master Coaches (with five- to 15-year careers), I asked them, “What niche and speciality are you focusing on these days?”

I was shocked. Not a single one offers a single niche speciality. They all offer several different types of coaching for various markets. They don’t have a niche!

They are successful because they don’t have a niche. Instead, they have a massive coaching toolbox that enables them to custom-create coaching solutions for the client sitting in front of them. This is a real secret to success.

Don’t limit yourself to a niche, especially in the early stages of your coaching career.

The four most in-demand coaching services, which I call the ‘Big Four’, are life coaching, executive coaching, enneagram coaching and business coaching. Learn all four in one certification, so you have the freedom and flexibility to coach anyone anywhere.

The only time to pick a niche is for digital marketing and advertising; it’s your shop window. Read more about this later.

“What is the best Coaching Certification?”

The best professional coaching certification is one that equips you with everything you need to:

  1. Be confident in your skills.
  2. Serve your clients at the highest.
  3. Build a client-attracting abundant coaching business.

When evaluating a course, ask yourself if this certification is going to:

  1. Give me confidence in my coaching skills by training and assessing my skills at international standards?
  2. Help me serve clients at the highest by giving me a big toolbox of coaching processes and several niche specialities, not limited to one-dimensional coaching?
  3. Guide me to build a client-attracting coaching business, so I’m not stuck with certification and no clients?

Beyond these three criteria, I also suggest the following – use this as a 10 point checklist when looking for coaching certification.

  1. Is the training ICF accredited as an ACTP course?
  2. Are you happy with the duration of the course?
  3. Is the training live online classes where you can see and talk to your trainer and group – not teleclasses or self-study?
  4. Are the trainers high calibre and working as coaches?
  5. Are you trained in various niches (not limited to life coaching or executive coaching)?
  6. Do you get practical coaching materials — scripts and worksheets? (At least 20-plus)
  7. Are you taught to coach individuals and groups 20-90 minute sessions?
  8. Will you be guided to create a unique coaching brand?
  9. Will you learn to coach the ‘Big Four’ most in-demand services – life, executive, enneagram and business coaching?
  10. Will you get added value beyond ICF core competencies?

Set up a Zoom call with a student liaison. Start with a short module rather than committing to a complete one-year programme if you’re not sure.

This is how many hours of training it takes to reach certain milestones:

  • TO START PRACTISING (six to nine hours), an excellent foundation course should get you practising coaching within hours of training. Watch out for overly theoretical courses.
  • TO START CHARGING (60-100 hours) to feel confident enough to start charging, with practical assessments for feedback and guidance.
  • FOR MASTERY (200+ hours) to build a big coaching toolbox and have the flexibility of several niche market specialities. If you do a three-hour class per week, this should take approx. 11 months.

“What is ICF Certification and do I need it?”

Wrapping your mind around the ICF’s acronyms can take time. Visit their website for the latest guidelines and definitions.

These acronyms are worth understanding:

  • ACTP – Accredited Coach Training Program
  • ACSTH – Approved Coach Specific Training Hours
  • CCE – Continued Coach Education

The highest and most complete accreditation is ACTP. So that’s what I recommend. With a full ACTP programme certification behind you, you’ll have a shorter and less expensive path later if you choose to be ICF credentialed. Without an ACTP course, you’ll need to complete a practical oral assessment with the ICF.

Recommended ICF path

  1. Complete your ICF ACTP certification (aim for 200+ hours) – this is already door-opening, even if you stop here.
  2. Work as a professional coach and log your coaching hours.
  3. If you choose to be ICF credentialed (entirely optional), apply for ACC or PCC credentialing.
  4. Work towards applying for MCC (there are few MCC coaches globally, so they tend to be highly sought-after).

It took me years to apply to the ICF for MCC, but it has been well worth it. Now I love guiding other natural coaches to reach professional and master level.

Phase 3 Custom Coaching

“How do I find coaching clients?”

It makes me sad to see inspired coaches struggling because of poor training.

Here are five of the biggest mistakes I see newly certified coaches making when trying to find clients:

  1. Premature website or social feeds;
  2. Perfection prisons;
  3. Niche limitations;
  4. Making a product in a vacuum;
  5. Not customising.

Premature website or social feeds

Many newly certified coaches think all they need is to create a website or social feed, which will miraculously bring a stream of clients. Ninety per cent of my top master coaches don’t have websites; most get by with a basic LinkedIn profile and a few ads.

I highly suggest NOT building a website or social media feed until you’ve proven you have a client-attracting coaching product with at least five to 10 sales. Then you can boost your business massively with online marketing, but it’s unnecessary.

“But Colleen, surely I need a digital presence?” I hear you asking. Absolutely. Do have something online to position yourself as a professional. But in the early stages, that’s literally all you need.

So how do you find clients without digital sales funnels, websites and social media?

It all comes down to this… create opportunities to have natural conversations with potential clients.

I call this having sticky conversations. The term ‘sticky’ comes from digital marketing; a website is sticky if visitors stay. We stay on a website because it gives us exactly what we seek.

Sticky conversations find out exactly what our clients need. Sticky conversations are the most important action you can take to build your coaching business.

Every massively successful master coach I’ve mentored uses sticky conversations regularly. They win coaching contracts, get referrals and turn existing clients into multiple income streams because they have sticky conversations as often as possible.

What is a sticky conversation?

It’s a natural, authentic conversation. Use your coaching skills to listen well, create a safe space and ask questions to discover the following:

  • The Specific
  • Searched for
  • Significant
  • Solutions that your client needs.
  • You’re looking for where your potential client is struggling, suffering and stressed.

That’s how you Serve at the highest.

If you don’t create sticky solutions for your client’s sticky problems, you’ll battle to find clients.

Serving clients at the highest means striving to find ways to ease our clients’ suffering, struggles and stress. If we’re not doing that, we’re not serving. If we can’t communicate this to potential clients, no one will know how we can help.

Here some master coaches create opportunities to have sticky conversations; they:

  • Join online forums and generously help people.
  • Join business, wellness and special interest groups (where people gather together because of a common problem, goal or belief system).
  • Follow and engage with potential clients’ social media feeds, not to be creepy or cheesy but to genuinely enjoy connecting, learning and starting conversations.
  • Talk to people they know, looking for sticky problems and finding where they can be of service.

The best way to prove you can help is to help.

Every week look for new opportunities to have sticky conversations. This can be done in a very natural, authentic way. It all comes down to human connection and natural conversations.

Perfection prisons – Taking months to choose a font

I can’t tell you how many coaches I’ve seen waste months choosing a font for their brand. Yes, it’s important to have a professional brand, a well-designed logo, font and colour palette because an amateur brand turns clients away. But this is not the make or break of a business. Not having sticky products and sticky conversations is the make or break.

Use my motto: “Professional, not perfect.”

Be careful of being trapped in a ‘perfection prison’ instead of getting out there. Professional is good enough.

Niche limitations

Only your shop window (your optional digital marketing and advertising) needs to be focused on a niche.

The secret to the success of master coaches is being able to custom-create coaching solutions, which you can’t do if you’ve limited yourself to one niche or one speciality.

Making a product in a vacuum

Don’t try to create a coaching service or product alone at your desk.

We have to be a lot braver, more natural and organic in our approach to building coaching products and services. The best way to build a product or service for a client is with your client – in the fire of the client experience.

This doesn’t mean jumping into coaching without skills or certification. You’ll have more than enough to serve your clients at the highest if you’ve picked credible certification that gives you a big, flexible coaching toolbox.

Start with a draft product or service, then learn while you’re delivering; remain flexible, creative and intuitive to build the service organically. Don’t make a coaching product or service in a vacuum. Co-create with your clients. Start small and charge less while you pilot-and-polish your service.

Not customising

This is one of the most important things I can teach you. Don’t create a coaching product in a vacuum and, instead, customise.

Why on earth would you create new coaching products for every new client, isn’t that more work? You’ll only struggle to customise if you have a small coaching toolbox or rigid one-dimensional coaching skills. But if you’ve got a big coaching toolbox and flexible coaching skills, it’s easy and can liberate the success of your coaching career.

What customising looks like:

You meet a potential client, have a sticky conversation, find out where their biggest stress struggle and suffering are and say something like: “Based on what you’ve said, I have some ideas about how I can help.”

Then you explore those ideas, co-creating a solution with your client.

I tell my master coaches to develop three draft solutions with three price levels and matching values. Then to ask their clients which appeals to them and further customise.

When you custom-build coaching solutions, you give clients a premium service that’s far more valuable than an off-the-shelf coaching solution. You open up more opportunities and learn directly from your clients how to build high-value coaching services.

Phase 4 Client Cash Flow

“How do I break free of selling coaching hours so I can go on holiday?”

So, you made a confident commitment to the path of becoming a professional coach and completed credible certification, building a comprehensive coaching toolbox and flexible skills to serve any niche.

You built custom coaching solutions by having natural sticky conversations with clients seeking ways to serve them at the highest. Your clients were so impressed they referred others to you and now you have a steady stream of coaching work.

This is where coaches hit the next wall.

  • They’re too busy looking after their current clients to fill their calendar in two months.
  • They realise they need 20 – 30 new clients each month to secure their income.
  • They can’t go on holiday because they sell session hours.

I want you to break free of the mindset of selling individual coaching hours. It might look like the easier path, but it’s not.

Back to my Apple Tree. Picture an apple tree with bronze apples at the bottom, silver in the middle and a few gold ones on top. These represent three business models and three mindsets.

Bronze = Selling individual coaching sessions;

Silver = Selling three- to 12-month coaching programmes with dream destinations;

Gold = Selling everything-done-for-you premium dream destinations.

Bronze businesses – you’ll need:

  • Twenty to 30 new clients every month;
  • Big marketing to attract high volumes of clients;
  • Lots of administration, paperwork and complexity;
  • A big support back end to your business;
  • A database of at least 3 000 active people.

And your client only gets one hour with you, which is not always enough time to make a life-changing impact.

Silver businesses – you’ll need:

  • Three to five new clients every few months;
  • Less marketing to attract low volumes of clients;
  • Less administration, paperwork and complexity;
  • A small streamlined support back end to your business;
  • A small database of a few hundred active people.

And your client gets regular one-hour sessions to make a life-changing impact and help them reach their destination.

Gold business – you’ll need:

  • To work at a silver level for a while until you come up with the ideal gold business offer;
  • Every few months, one to two new gold clients are often enough to create an abundant, healthy business;
  • Minimal marketing (upgrading a few silver clients can work);
  • The backend of a gold business is super-streamlined;
  • To establish your credibility and position yourself extremely well to secure gold clients;
  • A small but quality database.

Your clients get regular hours with you and a complete done-for-you service to take them to their prized dream destination.

Don’t sell coaching

Notice that I focus on the words ‘Dream Destination’. Many coaches make the mistake of thinking they’re selling coaching.

Imagine you want to go on holiday to a tropical island; when you research this, you don’t want to see photos of the aeroplane; you want to see the island. Your clients want you to tell them where you can take them.

The emphasis must be on where you can take them, not how. Where does your silver coaching product take your clients? If you don’t know, you need to find out from your clients where they want to go and custom-build a coaching service to take them there.

“I hope this guide helps you earn the honour of changing lives and living your natural purpose as an abundant, free Master Coach” Colleen-Joy



MCC, a Master Coach Mentor and the driving force behind the InnerLifeSkills brand.

Colleen-Joy invites you to join her global community of leaders, coaches, seekers of wisdom and visionaries who make a living making a difference. Colleen has taught over 35 000 people in 60 countries, delivering over 4 000 classes and talks. Two documentary television features have been made about her life story and she’s been a regular expert television and podcast guest for over 20 years. Join her online internationally ICF-accredited Master Coach classes and enjoy her many free resources. 

Colleen-Joy’s site https://www.colleen-joy.com/

Colleen’s InnerLifeSkills site https://www.innerlifeskills.com/

Colleen’s Youtube https://www.youtube.com/colleenjoy


Colleen-Joy MCC, a Master Coach Mentor and the driving force behind the InnerLifeSkills brand, invites you to join her global community of leaders, coaches, seekers of wisdom and visionaries who make a living making a difference. Colleen has taught over 35 000 people in 60 countries, delivering over 4 000 classes and talks. Two documentary television features have been made about her life story and she’s been a regular expert television and podcast guest for over 20 years. Join her online internationally ICF-accredited Master Coach classes and enjoy her many free resources.
Colleen-Joy’s site https://www.colleen-joy.com/
Colleen’s InnerLifeSkills site https://www.innerlifeskills.com/
Colleen’s Youtube https://www.youtube.com/colleenjoy