The Coaching Ponzi Scheme

I have to write this just to get it off my chest.

As a coach, I have participated in many training programs and hired a number of different coaches for myself over the years.

While I don’t regret most of these purchases, there are a few that left me feeling, well… off.

Most of my early coaches had “other” clients, meaning they had coaching clients who weren’t themselves coaches, or people trying to become coaches. Like myself, a majority of their clientele worked in different professions and were getting coaching for everyday people issues like confidence building, entrepreneurship (but not coaching), social skills, and career development.

However, occasionally I’ve ended up working with someone – usually in a group-type program – who exclusively works with coaches or wannabe coaches. Sometimes it would even seem that they’d only ever worked with coaches, and never had “normal” clients.

To make matters more suspicious, a vast majority of the other participants on these programs were also coaches who wanted to exclusively coach other coaches. And the coach leading the program would simply teach them how he managed to recruit them onto his program, so that they could duplicate his or her exact method to do the same to other wannabe coaches.

This is a pyramid scheme at the least, and a Ponzi scheme at the worst:

Coaches paying coaches to get coached on how to coach other coaches into paying to learn how to coach coaches.


I would always be so frustrated with these programs. 

The first major frustration is seeing someone who had never figured out how to build a real coaching business was leaping straight into coaching other coaches on how to build theirs.

The second frustration was the constant emphasis on money. It’s like these people gave lip-service to the idea of helping others, but their true focus was greed for wealth. Which, if nothing else, is just stupid. If you want to get rich quick, become a banker. Coaching rarely ends in riches. Don’t believe the hype.

And the third major frustration is the growing realisation that the world is becoming flooded with inexperienced, untrained, and simply unwise people calling themselves “coaches” when all they really know how to do is market a coach-training program that someone else designed to other desperate wannabes.

They’re giving people like me a bad name.

I have a degree in psychology. I spent 7 years rehabilitating criminal offenders (i.e. coaching the most uncoachable people on Planet Earth), managing a high performing team, and being an expert practice consultant to thousands of Probation Officers. I’ve received god only knows how many hours of formal training at the feet of forensic psychologists, psychiatrists, neuroscientists, executive leaders and expert specialists.

And I’ve done the work on myself. I’ve faced hundreds of fears. I’ve completely rewritten my belief system. I’ve done social things that most people consider impossibly humiliating. I’ve transformed from a completely fake and manipulative Nice Guy who couldn’t get a girlfriend let alone achieve a real connection with others into a man of integrity who’s married his dream partner and fathered a child.

I’ve coached hundreds of “normal” clients and helped them achieve measurably astonishing improvements in their self-confidence, integrity, and relationships.

I’ve earned the title “coach”. As have a number of other coaches out there.

But there are now hundreds of thousands of “coaches”, and I suspect a great majority of them are basically crap. They did a 12 week course, got a bullshit invalid qualification, and learned how to use pain/pressure marketing to coerce other wannabe coaches into joining a program that they basically cut and pasted from their own coach.

If you want to become a coach, great. Do me a favour: before you sign up to any form of coach-training, verify that the trainer has coached many hundreds of “normal” clients before deciding to mentor other coaches. Make sure their business is based on being a great coach rather than just a clever marketer.

Even better, don’t do “coach” training. Do valid training and courses led by recognized experts in topics like motivational interviewing techniques; Socratic Inquiry; critical thinking skills; Acceptance and Commitment Therapy; CBT; Stoicism, and so on.

And become a specialist. Don’t just be a “life coach” – what the hell does that even mean? Look at your life experience and talents and knowledge, and choose your specialty. I chose Nice Guy Syndrome. Maybe yours is executive leadership; or dating skills; or mindfulness; or physical toughness.

Please, let’s end the madness.

One Response

  1. I loved this post. I have been through 10+ coaches in my life and can I’d say that 50% were absolutely subpar/mediocre and, as you say, doing it for the money first. I had a couple of terrible experiences with a couple of them ‘questioning’ me and using ‘mind tricks’ to make me feel guilty when I told them that I didn’t have more money to continue to pay for their coaching.

    A few years ago, at a UPW event, Tony Robbins said something along the lines ‘nowadays everybody calls themselves a coach after going through a program/seminar where somebody teaches them 2-3 skills’… and that the industry didn’t have any kind of regulation or standards in place.

    I encourage you to share this post on the Brojo Worldwide group if you haven’t done so already.


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