How much do life coaches earn?
Let’s talk real numbers
“Is it really possible to make a living as a life coach?”
If you’re asking yourself this right now, you’re in very good company. It’s the #1 question most aspiring life coaches have in common. In the hunt for hard facts about coaching salaries, we know that it can be tough to get a straight answer.
Ready to cut to the chase? In this article, we’ll walk you through evidence-based numbers, analysis, and insights into what it takes to command top dollar as a life coach in today's market.
We're about to answer all your coaching salary questions:
- Coach Salary Data - Understanding the Numbers
- What the Numbers Aren’t Telling You
- Coaching Pathways: How To Put Income Potential In Context
- How Most Coaches Really Earn A Living
- The Influence Coaching Specialties Have On Your Hourly Rate
- Why An Entrepreneurial Mindset Is Critical to Success
- Market Outlook for New Coaches
- Putting It All Together: Mapping YOUR Course
- Case Studies - Real Coaches, Real Careers
Coach Salary Data:
Understanding the Numbers
Always start with the facts. There are many sources online that talk about life coach salaries. From the Bureau of Labor to PayScale, you’re going to see a wide range of figures. It's not that average salary data is difficult to find - the challenge is in discerning which figures are most credible. Where did the data come from? How many coaches were surveyed? Does the sample group adequately represent the coaching industry as a whole?
It's enough to make your head swim. Step away from the Advil, friend - we've got you!
Team JRNI analyzed a broad range of reliable data sources, and we're here to take the guesswork out of income forecasting for you.
In our view, the International Coaching Federations’s ICF Global Coaching Study is THE go-to source for industry information and analysis. Conducted once every four years, this expansive research study analyzes responses from more than 22,000 coaches worldwide.
In this article we’re referencing the ICF’s most recent results, published in early 2020. We’re also drawing from a follow up study conducted in Spring 2020 that examined early impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the coaching industry.
For executive coaches, we also recommend checking out Sherpa Coaching’s Annual Coaching Survey. Later in this article, we’ll dive into detail about the core differences between life and business coach earning potential, and the reasons behind it. But first, the numbers.
Let's start with some key salary findings from the ICF Study:
According to the International Coaching Federation, the average annual salary for a coach practicing in North America is $62,500.
How does the average salary for coaches stack up against other professions? Pretty well, as it happens! Check out a few related points of comparison from the U.S. Bureau of Labor:
- Marriage and Family Therapist = $50,090
- Human Resource Specialist = $48,410
- Fitness Trainer = $57,370
- Real Estate Sales Agent = $56,290
In the United States, the average salary across all professions currently stands at $48,672. In comparison, it would appear that coaching offers a viable pathway to achieve a very comfortable living!
Annnd... this is where many articles covering the topic of life coach salaries end.
But stopping here could turn out to be a big mistake! What average salary figures cannot tell you is whether or not YOU are likely to earn this amount in your own life coaching business. If you're here to find an answer to that question, read on.
How do coaches decide what to charge?
So we know that the average rate for coaches worldwide is $244 per hour. Sounds great! Does that mean $244 is what you should be charging? Not necessarily.
Coaching rates are tied most directly to your specialty and years of experience. Personal reputation and market demand for what you're offering can also play a big role.
When we break down hourly rates from the ICF Study further, here’s what you’ll find:
- Experience pays: In North America, coaches with more than 10 years in practice are charging, on average, $300 an hour.
- Niche makes a difference: Business coaches who work primarily with executive clients command $330 per session. In contrast, life coaches serving individual clients are earning an average of $130 per hour.
So how about clients - how many clients do most life coaches have?
If you're a new coach with only 2 or 3 clients right now, don't despair! The number of active clients on your roster has a strong correlation with how long you’ve been working in the field. According to the ICF, active coach practitioners are serving 11.7 clients at a time. For life coaches with 10+ years of experience, the average number of active clients is 15. But for life coaches with less than a year in practice, their average is 6 clients.
How many hours do life coaches spend with one-on-one clients?
When the ICF says the average life coach works 12 hours per week, they're talking about session hours. But of course, there's always more to the story! Further on in this article, we'll break down how most coaches actually spend their time, both in and outside of client sessions.
Whew. That’s a lot of data! Time for the analysis - what does all this mean for you?
What the annual survey numbers aren’t telling you
Dig deeper into the ICF Coach Salary report and you’ll discover some interesting facts:
- $62,500 is not what the average coach actually makes per year. More than half of the coaches surveyed by the ICF are earning closer to $30,000. Why? It’s simple, really: many life coaches are not practicing in a full time capacity.
- Specialized markets drive demand, and account for the biggest differences in coaching income potential. In other words, the nature of your client base will heavily influence the rates you can charge.
- Most successful coaches diversify their revenue streams, expanding their services beyond 1:1 coaching. 67% of coaches with more than 10 years of experience offer three or more additional services. We're talking related activities such as group coaching programs and online courses. In contrast, only 34% of coaches with less than 1 year of experience are doing the same.
- Establishing a successful coaching business takes time. Bottom line? Like most professions, the longer you’ve been working as a coach, the more you’re likely to earn.
Putting income potential in context
If you’re considering becoming a life coach, this data may feel overwhelming at first. Rest assured that there’s a logical reason behind the salary spread within the coaching industry, and proven strategies to help you reach whatever income level you’re aiming for.
Here's the 4 things you need to know about coaching and income:
#1 - Not everyone who becomes a life coach intends to make it their full time job.
This reality has a huge influence on how many coaches actually break the $60,000 mark. The fact that it’s OK that they don’t is often overlooked. Earning $5k-$25k a year from a side-hustle or part time gig is exactly where many coaches want to be!
There’s also a large group of people who earn a life coach certification in order to apply those skills to another industry. In JRNI’s coach training program, we see business executives, nonprofit managers, therapists, personal trainers, yoga teachers, and other professionals layer coaching into their existing career path. There's more than one direction to take your coaching skill set!
SALARY TIP: When setting salary expectations, it’s important to be clear about what you want to do with your life coach training and certification.
If you’re considering entering the field of life coaching, here’s some additional resources to stimulate your thinking:
- 8 Important Questions to Ask Yourself Before Getting A Life Coaching Certification
- How to Identify the Best ICF Accredited Coaching Program for You
- How to Create Your Own Unique Path As A Life Coach
#2 - Life Coaches “practice” in ways that might surprise you.
Some people come to coaching with a vision of ditching their 9-5 job. Working for yourself, seeing clients on your own schedule, charging $150 per session... you know, "Living the Dream". This can happen - we’ve seen it firsthand with our own graduates! That said, this simple #coachlife picture is not an accurate representation of how most successful coaches actually “make it”.
Here’s the real deal: 94% of coaches surveyed by the ICF do something else in addition to coaching. Things like consulting, teaching, facilitating groups, hosting a podcast, or publishing. On average, multi-hyphenate coach practitioners allocate just 44% of their time to 1:1 client coaching work.
SALARY TIP: If you want to reach or exceed the average coaching salary, consider how you’ll serve clients in multiple ways.
Most coaches don't do everything we’ve listed below. Instead, they focus on doing just a few of those things exceptionally well. What combination of revenue generating activities might you build your own coaching business around?
#3 - The type of coaching you do has a BIG influence on your rates.
Business coaches command higher salaries - full stop.
Why? Because many of their clients are sponsored. What that means is that the client doesn’t pay for coaching out of their own pocket - their company foots the coaching bill. When employers support coaching as a professional development benefit, the rates that a coach is able to charge increases. Dramatically. What this also means is that the expected outcomes from the coaching engagement may be more rigorous as well.
Age and experience further shape your earning power.
Unsurprisingly, expertise and years in practice translate into higher rates. Many seasoned coaches also trend toward the business specialties. This helps to explain the greater earning averages amongst GenX and BabyBoomers surveyed in the ICF study.
How does this play out in terms of real numbers?
According to the ICF report, coaches across all specialties with 1-2 years experience are earning an average of $22,500 per year, while those with 10+ years under their belt weigh in at $76,300. In the United States, the average hourly fee for coaches with less than a year of experience is $130. The average for practitioners with more than 10 years in the field is $300.
Aspire higher? The sky's the limit for talented practitioners - there are many experienced coaches out there making well beyond six figures.
The ICF study confirms that coaching rates are also gender-biased. (Are we surprised?)
Women dominate the coaching field, with 70% of practitioners identifying as female. Nevertheless, male coaches typically make more money. The reason for this is very simple: men are more likely to choose a business specialty than their female counterparts.
(A note on identity: the survey conducted by the ICF reported that only 0.2% of respondents identified as gender neutral/fluid. As a result, the report is only able to speak conclusively about the male/female split.)
Catching a theme here? If you’re looking to make the Big Bucks, you may want to consider a business coaching specialty. But if executive coaching isn’t your jam, don’t sweat it. A good living can be made in just about any niche you can think of.
So, what does it take to succeed?
At the end of the day, it comes down to authenticity.
What makes you unique? What parts of your story shaped who you are today? In what areas do you have insight or expertise? What’s necessary is to pull from your authentic self as you hone in on a lucrative niche for your coaching practice. Clients are attracted to uniqueness, so think about what sets you apart from the crowd!
SALARY TIP: Set income goals that are aligned with your specialty, industry expertise, and where you’re at in your career right now.
When choosing a coaching specialty, consider your interests and expertise. How might you tap those qualities to serve your clients? Manage expectations within your chosen niche - if you’re a life coach just starting out, don’t look to executive coaching rates as your benchmark. And above all, when choosing a coaching specialty be sure to tap into what makes YOU unique.
Explore your calling to help others with these resources:
- Does Coaching Really Give You A More Flexible Lifestyle? Here's the Truth
- 20 Best Life Coaching Niches
- Align with Your Calling: How to Find Freedom As A Coach
#4 - Mindset influences outcomes.
Many people are inspired to become a life coach, but not all of them want to be entrepreneurs.
If you aspire to run a successful coaching business, it will take more than just great coaching skills to achieve your income goals. Launching a viable practice requires the same level of grit and determination as any startup.
You’ve got to invest considerable time and energy (and some money!) to create a sustainable coaching business.
The good news is that there's never been a better time to make the leap into self-employment. To launch a coaching business, the primary tools you’ll need are good training, a laptop, phone, and reliable internet connection. With these resources, you’ve got the fundamentals in place to set up shop!
Here’s the skinny: If your aim is to earn a sustainable living as a life coach, you can’t approach this like a hobby. You need a clear strategy. What does that look like? Realistic financial forecasting. Skills and tools to run a small business. Some marketing know-how to attract prospective clients. And finally: the confidence to close sales.
As a new life coach, the way your energy will most likely get divided may surprise you at first!
As you can see, most new life coaches spend 40% of their time doing marketing, 20% handling business and administrative tasks, 20% of their time doing client sessions and the rest of the time is devoted to other services they offer!
As your coaching practice and reputation grows, these ratios may shift into less marketing and more client hours. But you’ll always need to dedicate a certain amount of time toward getting the word out about your services to attract new clients(or hiring someone to handle this for you!)
SALARY TIP: Slow and steady wins the race. Vision, strategy, and perseverance are all essential components to getting your coaching practice off the ground and providing a sustainable income.
If you’re looking for more tools to achieve liftoff as a life coach, here’s a few resources that can help:
- Not yet certified? Learn why coach training is important: What’s The Difference Between Coach Certification, Accreditation, and Credentialing?
- Need more clients? Check out: How to Build Your Client Base As A Life Coach
- Hit a plateau? Explore: 9 Ways to Keep Growing As A Coach... Plus A Bonus!
Want structure, guidance, and accountability to launch your business or increase your revenue? HIRE A COACH! We’re not kidding with this one. Almost every coach we know who is really kicking ass works directly with a business coach or mentor to make it happen.
What is the market outlook for new coaches?
It’s one thing to assess the numbers and confirm that a comfortable living is possible for you as a coach. It’s another to decide whether now is the right time for you to jump in.
According to the ICF, there are currently more than 71,000 coach practitioners worldwide. In 2015, that number stood at 56,100. Say whaaat? That's a whopping 36% increase in coach practitioners over the past five years alone!
With this many new coaches entering the field at this time, you might be wondering: “Is there room for one more?”
Coaching is currently a $2.85 billion dollar industry, and consumer demand for services is on a decidedly upward trajectory.
Have the pandemic and economic recessions impacted the coaching industry?
Even in times of turmoil, coaching remains relevant. A recent survey by the ICF on the effect of COVID-19 on the coaching industry revealed a hopeful outlook:
- 24% of the 10,000 coaches surveyed have reported that they are experiencing a positive effect on their business as a result of the pandemic.
- While nearly half of coaches surveyed worldwide reported a drop in income related to the pandemic, 40% rated that impact as minimal.
As with most sectors, coach practitioners do have concerns about the effect that a global recession could have on the industry. Interestingly, their next highest concern was “untrained individuals who call themselves coaches.”
Training from a credible coaching program is beyond important. In today’s market, it’s essential.
Unlike many other professions, there currently is no universal standard that you must achieve in order to claim the title of "coach". Properly trained coaches help to legitimize the coaching profession, which is good for all of us.
Certification demonstrates to prospective clients that you’ve studied your craft through a reputable organization, and that you are working from an evidence-based body of knowledge. Want to learn more? Explore JRNI’s Coach Training Programs
BOTTOM LINE: Regardless of individual circumstances, survey respondents across the board expressed cautious optimism that coaching as a whole will emerge stronger from the pandemic. Coach practitioners across all coaching specialties agreed that life vision and enhancement coaching is going to become far more prevalent in the coming years.
Putting it all together:
Charting your course
If you’ve read this far, congratulations! You’ve done your homework and have the data, tools, and information to formulate a realistic plan. It’s time now to synthesize. How does all this apply to YOUR unique situation?
Is your dream of becoming a life coach viable?
Let’s find out! We’ll take a look at some scenarios and case studies to help bring everything into focus as you consider your next steps.
How much do you need to earn as a coach?
Let's start with some basic math. You may have experimented with some of these calculations already, but if not… now’s the time! Even if you've done it before, come along for the ride. We suspect you may learn a few new things by going through this process.
Let’s say you’re just starting out as a coach, charging $75 for a 60 minute session. If you anticipate working full time, 40 hours a week translates to 2080 hours a year.
$75/hr x 2088 = $156,000
Sounds like a pretty good salary, right?
Running this simple calculation alone is how people get the idea that coaching is a lucrative field. But don’t put your calculator away yet! Aspiring coaches who stop here can quickly get into trouble.
Here’s what you need to know: 40 client sessions a week isn’t the same as “40 working hours”. As you saw from the ICF data above, an experienced coach is conducting an average of 12 client sessions a week.
Why is that? A few reasons:
- For every hour of active coaching, you’ll need desk time to prepare for the session. Afterwards, you’ll want to compile your notes, next steps, and any follow up communications with the client.
- To attract clients, you’ll likely be spending some time each week on marketing and content creation.
- If you’re offering other related products (online courses, facilitating groups, hosting a podcast, etc) there’s time required to develop and manage those services.
- Now add in administrative time for refining your business strategy, bookkeeping, managing any technology, platforms, or tools you’re using for your business, and so forth.
Let’s try this again, using what we know about how a coach's week actually breaks down. In this calculation, assume that you'll work 3 hours on your business for every 1 hour you spend in session with a client.
If you’re aiming for 40 hours, and client sessions constitute 20% of your time, that’s 8 hours per week. Now we’re getting more in line with the industry averages you saw above! This translates into 416 billable coaching hours in a year.
$75 x 416 = $31,200
How about if you’re charging the average hourly rate for a life coach?
$130 x 416 = $54,080
For some, these figures might be the sweet spot necessary to achieve the level of financial stability and lifestyle freedom they’re looking for. For others, those amounts may not be enough.
GUT CHECK: As a life coach, how much do you need to earn to maintain a standard of living that’s right for you?
Remember, this is a simple calculation of net income only. It’s what you might earn before taxes and business expenses. That’s why it’s important to play with your numbers and project a variety of income scenarios carefully. $130 per session might sound great at first blush, but how many client hours will it take to earn the salary you need after expenses?
Ready for a little Extra Credit? Do realistic budget planning by playing with projections at various hourly rates and service types. JRNI alumni Meredith McCreight has published a great blog post on this topic, with a worksheet that helps you determine how to set your rate.
What happens when you diversify your coaching income?
The calculations above demonstrate why many coaches pursue more than one income stream. Combining 1:1 coaching with other offerings doesn’t just increase your annual revenue. Diversification is also a smart strategy for buffering against the natural ebbs and flows in your client roster. Sometimes you’ll be working with 10 people at once. Other times, you may have just 2 or 3 clients on the books.
Many of the other services that coaches provide act as a pipeline for attracting new 1:1 clients. Low “price of entry” offers can lead to higher-priced coaching package sales down the road. Points of entry include e-books, online workshops, and membership programs. Done well, these products can provide you with “evergreen” income while also building an audience for your other services.
So how does this play out in real life and real numbers?
Let's take a look at a theoretical example:
In this example, one pathway could be having eight clients a week at $130, plus a $45 online course that generates 10 sales a month and three retreats would generate $69,980 in annual income for this coach.
Ready to get REAL?
It's time to walk through a couple examples of how people like you are actually doing this! Here’s just a few examples of how graduates from JRNI’s Coach Training Program are making an impact while also making a living.
LIFE COACH CASE STUDIES
BRIANNA FIRESTONE: THE FINANCIAL WHIZ
Money & Life Coach
“If you have considered a coaching path, listen to that nudge! Not everyone has the nudge to go into this industry and odds are high there is a reason why it is speaking to you.” -Brianna
BEFORE: Publicity and marketing strategist. Built a solid career that was starting to feel “ho-hum”. Experienced a personal financial crisis that catalyzed a profound examination of her own relationship to money. Turned her money situation around, and got inspired to help other womxn navigate that same terrain. Pursued certification as a Life Coach and Financial Education Instructor to help move her vision forward.
NOW: Founder of The School of Betty, a platform that empowers womxn to create better relationships with their money, time, and energy so they can build financial freedom and lessen stress. Offers classes and group coaching on financial literacy. Contributing financial writer to major publications, including MindBodyGreen, Real Simple, The Financial Diet, Money.com, Reader’s Digest, Business Insider, Reign, and 5280.
KEVIN WHITEHEAD: THE MINDSET NURTURER
Personal Development & Mindset Coach
“My main risk was I did not have another job bringing in income. The more cautious and applauded approach is to not quit your job until you're making enough money elsewhere before the leap. Investing in myself meant tracking a new budget of money going out vs in. I made a deal to stay consistent and put my ALL into creating a profitable coaching practice.” -Kevin
BEFORE: Owned & operated a landscaping company. Operations supervisor. Storyteller. Songwriter in the music industry. Following a period of adversity, Kevin decided to quit his job, move, and start fresh. He intentionally chose the road less travelled, pursuing his “soul work” in coaching from the ground up.
NOW: Built an active coaching practice. Is now fully invested in living from his true purpose and growing his coaching business.
JAMIE REA: THE RELATIONSHIP GURU
Dating, Relationship and Life Coach; Screenwriter & Filmmaker; Comedy Writer
“JRNI was my life coaching SWAG SCHOOL. I was working as a coach before this, but JRNI is what gave me the confidence, courage and belief that I could actually do this for a living in a very expansive way.” - Jamie
BEFORE: Successful relationship writer. Nevertheless, living in a mold-infested apartment, hustling for every dollar. Actively working with just 1-2 coaching clients.
NOW: Writer, speaker, and full time coach. Booked solid, turning clients away. Launched a popular relationship podcast that reached 100,000 downloads within a year.
CAT H. BRADLEY: THE GUTCHECKER
Intuition & Integrative Coach
“It’s a really big deal when you follow your intuition, and then the Universe offers you confirmation of the rightness of that following. My dreams continue to expand because I have begun to know and own my own power.” - Cat
BEFORE: “Living the dream” in New York City, working in the Television and Film industry. Marathoner. Athlete. The ache of going in to work every day as an accountant eventually caught up with Cat. Despite the security, and the fact that she got to technically say she was living her dream--it just wasn’t true. Working 10-12 hour days in an office on numbers, and not words (she’s a writer!) was not something Cat could continue to settle for.
NOW: Yoga instructor, professional writer and life coach. Making a living in a way that just feels right.
How about you?
Armed with the right information, we’re confident that you can make your coaching vision come to life. Whether you’re looking to enhance your skills within your current profession, hoping to build a well paying side-hustle, or aspiring to go pro as a full time coach - we’ve got you covered!
Ready to make your dream a reality?
Grab your copy of our guide: 6 Steps To Start Coaching Today!
This free publication, written by JRNI Coaching co-founders, will give you the tools to discover your niche, find clients, and get started on your path to becoming a successful coach.
Plus, when you sign up -- we'll keep you up to date weekly with coaching techniques, and the occasional much-needed kick in the pants to keep you motivated on your coaching journey.
So, what're you waitin' for? Let's get started!