7 Mistakes To Avoid When Choosing A Coach

Coaching breaks you out of the spell societal norms and expectations have put you under. Coaching allows you to systematically remove fears and other mental constraints so that you can utilize the full raw and awesome power of your brain.

I predict that in 50 years’ time it will be unusual for any ambitious person to not receive coaching. Like sport, coaching gives you the edge in arenas that previously relied on being self-supportive exclusively:

    • Career, work and entrepreneurship

    • Confidence and self-belief, overcoming fear

    • Health and fitness, wellness of mind (beyond mental illness treatment)


But coaching is a relatively new industry. Like the birth of any new service, we are in the stage where the rules have yet to be defined. It is this stage that is the highest risk for potential clients.

When choosing a coach, it is critical that you avoid the charlatans and soothsayers out there who are trying to steal your money. Because the Age of Coaching has just begun, the laws of ethical practice are not yet set in place, and basically anyone can call themselves a “coach”.

Aside from being a coach myself, I have also received coaching from many people using different methods. Through this I have been able to define the difference between effective coaching versus the bullshit some people are selling.

I basically wrote this list first and then decided what kind of coach I would become.

Before you invest money in coaching (good coaching does NOT come cheap), you want to ensure you can get a return on that value. Here are 7 mistakes to avoid…

1. Being overawed by qualifications

Understand one thing clearly: there is no such thing as a valid coaching qualification. OK yes, there are plenty of companies who train and “certify” coaches. But these “qualifications” are somewhat educationally lawless.

There is no internationally recognised governing body to decide what ethical considerations apply, like what applies to doctors or engineers, other than those who are self-appointed. A coaching “qualification” does not guarantee a certain level of quality.

Start looking at experience instead.

The person you are considering should be able to verify that they can coach people with great results. Referrals are better than testimonials, but no testimonials at all should really concern you.

The coach should also be able to tell you a story that relates their experience to your issue. For example, the reason I specialize in Career and Confidence Coaching is because I have used self-development to build my own confidence from nothing, and I’ve designed a career I love that suits my strengths. I do not however call myself a “business” or “executive” coach, because I do not have the business experience to justify it.

2. They view themselves as an “expert”

Now just because someone calls themselves an expert doesn’t mean you should avoid them. It just means you should be wary.

Anyone who considers themselves to be an expert has probably shut themselves off from further learning. There is always a better way to do things and more to learn.


Be especially wary of any coach who does not receive coaching themselves. This is a dead giveaway of a fraudster or a fake. You should always ask any potential coach who they get coached and mentored by, and then verify this.

3. Hesitant guarantees

You should immediately rule out any coach who does not offer full money-back guarantees. That’s why I chose to offer a 100% guarantee if they aren’t satisfied. I haven’t had to do it yet, but I’m prepared to.

Massive guarantees like this remove the risk to you, as well as showing you:

  • The coach probably understands business and marketing, which are great skills they can pass on to you;

  • The coach is confident in their service, they are so sure of their skills that they are willing to risk it all and put the power in your hands;

  • They are not just in it for the money (the worst motive to be coach, counselor or mentor of any kind).

You should be able to get back every single penny you’ve spent if you are not satisfied. This should be hassle-free and no questions asked.

That said, guaranteeing your money back should also come with a caveat, so be wary of…

4. Specific promises on measurable results

Any coach who promises you a specifically measurable result is probably full of crap. Coaching is not about giving you results; it is about giving you the tools and opportunities you need to get results for yourself. Promises of “a 5-figure income” or “a new girl in your bed every night” etc. are big red flags.

However, if they make such a promise and then say “or your money back”, that’s different. As before, it should be risk-free to sign on.

Look for coaches who promise on the efforts they will make, rather than the external rewards you’ll receive. Or look for coaches who give satisfaction-guarantees on the results they promise. These coaches will charge more than others, and will probably be worth the extra coin.

5. They do not offer free initial sessions

Again, this is a confidence factor: how much do they value and trust their own skills? Look closely at the process the coach uses to sign up new clients. Do they try to get you to pay before you’ve experienced the coaching? It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is a warning sign.

Be wary of “20 minute consultations” and similar from coaches who are not substantially proven yet. If a coach is majorly popular, validated, and can charge $10k per session, they are probably awesome and don’t need to spend time convincing people to sign up. Most coaches however should show you what they got and be confident enough in their skills to risk not closing a sale.

I offer a free full coaching session as a way of meeting new clients. This allows me to see how they respond to my coaching style, to ensure there’s a good fit between us. If not, they get a free coaching session and that’s it. No hard feelings from me; I got into this game to coach more than to make money anyway.

If you have to pay before you get to taste the goods, make sure you are able to verify their skills another way (e.g. referral from a trusted friend), or there is a full money-back guarantee.

6. Non-scientific approaches

The best coaches use scientifically-verified models of performance improvement. They use the latest in psychological research to improve their methods over time. There is a range of options within this, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. E.g. I use motivational interviewing, cognitive-behavioural theory-based practice, and mindfulness techniques.

Then there are the others. There are few coaching types out there I find highly suspect. Here are a few you should investigate deeper, or simply avoid:

“NLP practitioners”. Made popular by people like Tony Robbins, neuro-linguistic programming is actually a well validated and reliable field of psychology. Unfortunately NLP has been abused by pseudo-practitioners who use its popularity to gain credibility. Some people start calling themselves “coaches” after just a 3-day seminar in NLP. Anyone calling themselves an “NLP practitioner” may only have a thin-slice understanding of its principles. Sadly, NLP can be delivered in a way that makes you feel good temporarily without supporting long term improvements.

“Psychics”. Psychics are scam artists. They use a psychological tactic known as “cold reading” (click here for more on this). This involves giving you the impression they can read your mind. They manipulate your mind like a magician’s sleight-of-hand. Psychics prey on vulnerable people, often those with trauma and depression, and they tell you want you want to hear.

“Life coaches”. OK, before you other coaches throw bricks, let me say I have no doubt there are some highly effective life coaches out there. But for many reasons I think anyone who calls themselves a “life coach” should be carefully screened and tested. Firstly, what is “life coaching” really? How do you know they specialize in your most important area of focus? At the very least it’s a terrible marketing strategy for a coach to label themselves as a “life coach”. Secondly, most life coaches are “certified” through the unreliable system I spoke of earlier. Bear in mind, some will have just the life coach label because they didn’t know what else to call themselves. All I’m saying is test them through a free session before signing up.

7. Marketing hype

How did you discover the coach you are considering? Coaches can be good at marketing, so expect some of them to come to you. Just be wary of hyped-up marketing, like what I mentioned earlier about big promises which secretly hide risky investments. “Sign up now or we’ll come to your house and break your goddamn legs”, and similar pressure-sell phrases, should be treated with suspicion.

Let them find you by their marketing, but you still need to be critical. Marketing alone should not decide whether or not you want to work with them. Speak to them in-person and/or get a referral from a trusted source, before you hand over a single dollar.

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2 Responses

  1. Although I have an opinion on several points in this article, I’ll respond to the point re: guarantees.

    I wonder if it’s appropriate to offer a 100% or 110% guarantee in a partnership relationship. The coaching experience is an engagement between two intelligent people who believe in themselves & each other & want to expand their success together, however that success is defined between them. If a coach offers a guarantee it insinuates: (1) the coach is a someone who knows “more” & therefore, inherently an expert, & (2) the coach has to do the work & the client can enjoy the coach’s ability to motivate them out of their stagnation &/or move them in other ways toward their own goals. It seems to me that those disempower the client, going directly against the intent of coaching altogether. How might a client remain motivated to stick with the coaching when the going gets tough, when they have a free exit through a guarantee? The client has to have some skin in the game – their pain or desired goals/outcomes, the time/money they invest, as well as the knowing that quitting comes with costs – the financial investment being the least expensive lost opportunity.

    In my mind, the coaching is a co-creative environment. Each party comes together around agreed goals, estimated timing & outcomes at specific levels (mental, emotional, intuitive, somatic, skills, etc). The guarantee is in the investment in one’s own growth & development with the engagement of a masterful coach who knows how to unearth non-conscious rules that might no longer be helpful & challenge the client to design simple, empowering & inspiring rules that suit their developmental needs & wishes to grow toward their highest potential.

    Granted, rules regarding the quality of the coaching should exist, so that the client has power to continue with the engagement or not around agreed-upon stipulations. However, outside of legal, ethical & quality issues, sticking with the coaching through thick & thin is part of the growth game.

    1. Thanks Eleni, I appreciate your candor. It’s great to hear your perspective and insights, even when we feel differently about this.

      The reason I choose to offer the guarantee is for 2 reasons, neither of which are a claim to be an expert or an excuse for the client to not work hard:

      1. Most people want coaching, but talk themselves out of it because of their fears. This most often, in my experience, relates to money. People are terrified of being broke, yet continue to make terrible investments. So why do they stall at paying for coaching? Because it’s a long-term investment, without the immediate gratification of something like going out on the town or shopping for clothes, which they usually spend far more on. A guarantee allows them to override their fears of wrongful investment long enough to see the beauty of investing in themselves for long term gains rather than short term pleasures. Most of my clients forget about the guarantee within a few sessions as we overcome their fears and remove their unhealthy attachments to financial “security”.

      2. It challenges me to deliver top quality service without fail. Every one of my clients is essentially a financial liability due to my guarantee, so I can never get complacent or deliver less than awesome service. As I am a confidence coach, it would be incongruent of me to be fearful. Like a leader shouldn’t need a title to lead, I should not need the threat of money spent to support my clients to take action. I should not need my clients to have “skin in the game” to motivate them. I use motivational interviewing techniques and teach them confidence-building strategies so that their financial investment is not needed to encourage them. I like to think they will stay motivated and ambitious far beyond the day they choose to end their coaching relationship with me. One problem I have with some coaches is their desire to create dependence; creating a situation where their clients need their coach and can never quit. Nobody should ever NEED me, they work with me because they want long-term success and because I will teach them how to motivate themselves intrinsically.

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