Become a Business Coach: Certifications, Qualifications, Courses

We continue to develop and learn throughout our adulthood. For business leaders, they often need the support of a coach who has the skills to develop a relationship with them that will cultivate their potential and train them to reach their objectives. Just as business leaders need to assess their personal and professional development to further their relationships and careers, those who choose to enter the coaching profession must find pathways to have the qualifications, credentials, and learning that will make them accountable and effective. The business coaching industry is largely unregulated. As such, pretty much anyone can call themselves a coach. While this is a hugely troublesome issue for those who have the legitimate skill sets to service others as business coaches, more and more companies are learning what credentials to look for before hiring a business coach. The person embarking on a career in business coaching will need to take the time and do the work to become a competent business coaching professional. This does not mean you have to be ready to retire to be effective. According to the New York Times, more and more young people are fast-tracking into business coaching due to their focus, talents, and skills in bringing out the potential of others.

How to Become a Business Coach

The International Coach Federation (ICF) defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”

At first glance, becoming a business coach seems to take just a few straightforward steps. As delineated by, there are four steps to becoming a business coach.

  1. Get a degree in an area of business.
  2. Work and become very good at what you do.
  3. Enroll in programs that offer business coaching certification to learn the necessary coaching skills.
  4. Network yourself, build a solid reputation and create a client base.

Sounds simple, right?

As you sort out your qualifications and motivations for becoming a business coach, remember that you will most likely be self-employed or working as an agent for a business consultation organization. There may be periods of time in which you will have many clients as well as intervals in which you are not actively contracted. You will be banking on your talents in marketing, communication, and coaching skills to build your reputation and produce the results that will propel your career forward.

How to become a business coach? Start by assessing your talents, get experience, obtain credentials, find coaching organizations and mentors, and develop the skills that will make you effective.

Business Coaching Qualifications

Business coaching is essentially about relationships. As such, it requires both personal attributes and formal learning to be effective. The Erickson Coaching Institute has identified the traits that make successful business coaches. These individuals are empathetic and enjoy helping others. They often have attributes of leadership, organizational, and communication skills. They are decisive and they are problem-solvers.

As you prepare to become a business coach, the International Coaching Federation has advised that you ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I passionate about helping clients pursue their own solutions?
    This is where those personal attributes come into play. In your work as a business coach, you will need to develop others. As defined by ICF, you will be:
    • Discovering, clarifying and aligning with what the client wants to achieve
    • Encouraging client self-discovery
    • Eliciting client-generated solutions and strategies
    • Holding the client responsible and accountable
  • Do I have the skills and knowledge to start a coaching business?
    You will be running a business. You may need to acquire training on how to develop your niche, market yourself, make contracts and run the business aspects of your career.
  • What else do I have to offer?
    Research by the ICF indicates that coaching is only one revenue stream, producing only about 13% of income. The other functions that you will need to cultivate may include “consulting, training, facilitation, mentoring, teaching, counseling, speaking engagements, workshops/webinars and publications”.

One consideration to add is that of having proficiency in social media and skills for working globally. Coaching is increasingly occurring via virtual communications, which comes with expectations for you to be up to date with technology and trends.

In a recent global study by the American Management Association, businesses were asked to identify the criteria they use when hiring a business coach and then correlated that strategy with outcomes. The study found these qualifications to be the most highly rated and effective, in order from most to least:

  • Business experience (68%)
  • Recommendations from a trusted source (59%)
  • Interview with a prospective coach (54%)
  • Consulting experience (52%)
  • Validated client results (48%)
  • Coaching credential (33%)
  • Accreditation (29%)
  • University degree in field (28%)
  • Counseling or therapy experience (24%)
  • PhD (10%)

There is no one standard for business coach qualifications. Wisdom from the field is telling us that you will need to establish yourself as credible through your works, experience and credentials.

Business Coach Certification

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) offers the gold standard for coaching credentials but they do not specifically provide the certification training. They do offer a listing of agencies that will provide the certification training to their high standards. Coach training that is accredited by ICF has gone through a rigorous review process and demonstrated that its curriculum aligns with the ICF definition of coaching, Core Competencies and Code of Ethics.

The ICF offers three types of program approval for certification:

  • Associate Certified Coach (ACC).
    This level of certification requires 60+ hours of training and 100 hours of coaching experience.
  • Professional Certified Coach (PCC).
    This level of certification requires 125+ hours of training and 500 hours of coaching experience.
  • Master of Certified Coach (MCC).
    This level of certification requires 200+ hours of training plus 2,500 hours of coaching experience.

Participants in these certification programs must complete and demonstrate the successful completion of the coursework along with coaching experience. Candidates for the certification must also successfully complete a coach knowledge assessment and have satisfactory performance ratings and a transcript. The documents are then submitted electronically to the ICF for certification approval.

The ICF offers a search service to locate the agency to provide the certification training. Candidates may choose from training delivery options that include virtual, in-person, or a combination of virtual and in-person training.

The World Coach Institute is also a credentialing agency for business coaches. The participant will earn a Business Coach Certificate (BCC). There are multiple pathways to business coach certification through this organization. You may choose to pursue the studies through self-study, teleclass (telephone contact), online study, and specialize with niche add-on training and coaching lessons. The credits earned will apply towards ICF certification in addition to the BCC.

Colleges are beginning to offer programs that will provide a degree and credential in coaching. For example, there is the Leadership, Organizational Development and Executive Coaching Program at The Naveen Jindal School of Management at the University of Texas at Dallas. The program offers a Master’s of Science with a concentration in Executive Coaching. In addition to the academic degree, the students are awarded a professional certificate. Graduates will also qualify to apply for ICF credentials.

Another example of how universities are providing extended training to professionals is found at Columbia University, which offers a coaching credential with a goal of forming a Coaching Center of Excellence. This unique ten-month to one year program will award the participant with a certificate that aligns to ICF standards.

Business Coaching Courses

Programs offering training that is accredited by the ICF must meet their standards in instructor competency, course offerings, and supervised coaching experience. The courses may vary in title but will provide these foundational lessons to business coach students in ethics and how to coach.

The following course content examples come from the certification that is offered through the World Coach Institute.

Coaching Foundations Course: This course typically includes such topics as Meeting Ethical Guidelines, Establishing the Coaching Agreement, Coaching Presence, Powerful Questioning, Active Listening, Empowering, Acknowledging, Direct Communication, Designing Actions, Planning and Goal-Setting, Managing Progress and Accountability, Advanced Coaching Skills, Coaching Models for Creating Awareness, Group Coaching, Transformational Coaching, Seminars, Workshops, Client Tests and Assessments.

Business Coaching: This course covers topics that address the business aspects of becoming a business coach.  For example, Personal Board of Directors, Budgeting, Business Plan, Selling, Coaching Teams, Client Types, What Coaching Solutions Offer, Employee Mentoring & Performance.

Personal Foundation:  These topics develop the skills of coaches to develop relationships. Personal Vision, Values Based Living, Goal Setting, Law of Attraction, Mindset for Success, Managing Emotions, Transformational Coaching, Creativity, Time Management, Intuition, Conflict, Boundaries, Success, Prosperity, and Abundance.

Other courses that may be offered will focus on how to set up a business and market your business coaching business.

The Erickson Institute arranges the courses in modules. In this structure, the student completes five modules. Within each module, there are courses that will take the student through the foundational skills for becoming a coach. Each of the modules has five learning objectives that covers such topics as how to build relationships, establish goals with clients, processes for working with clients, questioning, feedback, and accountability. The courses are very focused on specific skill sets for coaching.

In contrast, programs offered through a university, such as the aforementioned program at the University of Texas-Dallas, are providing courses on organizational development, leadership, and business management, in addition to the core of foundational and ethics courses that are required for ICF credentialing.

Other programs, such as the Columbia Coaching Certification, organizes course topics into a framework that is delivered in intensive training. The courses for coaching in external contexts cover such topics as:

  • Analysis of feedback to connect data to an action plan
  • Data collection and analysis techniques to guide coaching interventions
  • Organizational behavior concepts and coaching practices of individuals, groups and organizations
  • Strategic and focused conversational skills
  • Research and best practices in coaching

All programs must fulfill the requirements for the student to complete pre-determined hours of coaching experiences that are supervised. As previously described, the amount of time the student is acquiring coaching experience varies by the level of certification being sought. The programs must also provide the competencies assessment.

Concluding Thoughts

The pathway to becoming a business coach requires an intrinsic drive to lead and support others in combination with business knowledge and skillful application of coaching skills, strategies and frameworks for the client’s needs. Taking the time to train will give you the tools to navigate the many dynamics that you will be asked to address in your business coaching relationships. Plan to spend the time and money to become a competent and credentialed professional to practice in the field of business coaching.


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