Global Study: Coaching Profession Strong, with Bright Future

By Theresa Minton-Eversole Mar 6, 2012
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Average annual revenues, client loads and fees reported in a 2012 global study by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) indicate that the coaching profession can be added to the list of industries that have weathered or are recovering from the worldwide economic recession. And an upbeat tone to the ICF report about current opportunities reveals that the positive trend is expected to continue at least through 2012.

Approximately 12,000 coaches representing 117 countries throughout Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America and South America participated in the study, which was commissioned by ICF and conducted through an online survey by a unit of PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2011. A follow-up to the ICF’s 2007 industry report, the research had as a primary goal to engage with as many coaches worldwide as possible to provide a timely picture of the state of the industry and its challenges.

"Having a clear picture of who is coaching, how much they are coaching and what revenue they are generating creates more confidence in and inspiration from the evolution of coaching," said ICF Global President Janet M. Harvey in a statement about the study results.

Among the key findings of the study:

  • The profession appears to be growing, with an estimated 41,300 active coaching professionals generating close to $2 billion in revenue annually.
  • The profession remains concentrated in the high-income regions of North America, Western Europe and Oceania, with these regions accounting for three of every four coaches—well exceeding the 11 percent share of global population living in these regions.
  • The fastest industry growth is taking place in Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • Respondents expect increased demand in 2012, leading to growth in annual revenue and income from coaching.

"We can all benefit from this data, coaches and consumers alike,” said Harvey. “Knowing what the field looks like helps to strengthen coach confidence and improve public awareness. We are seeing a new level of understanding about the value of the profession and how it stimulates continued positive impact for clients."

Estimated Revenues, Fees

Overall, respondents were more likely to report an increase than a decrease in clients, fees, hours billed and revenues during 2011. The global average annual revenue that is generated by professionals providing coaching services is approximately $47,900, according to the report. This figure represents income generated solely from coaching and coaching services.

The results showed that almost all coaches offer services in addition to coaching. The most common services respondents reported offering besides coaching are consulting (62 percent) and training (60 percent).

When calculated in U.S. dollars, average revenues are the highest in North America, Western Europe and Oceania.

"As more people experience the power and benefits of coaching, business professionals—especially consultants and trainers—are becoming professional coaches in addition to the work done in their respective fields," explained Harvey, who is a master certified coach. "Coaching is an extremely powerful tool that many of today's leaders and entrepreneurs are adding to their professional services."

Industry Opportunities, Challenges

Approximately one-third of coaches (36 percent) said that increasing awareness of the benefits of coaching for individuals and corporations provides the profession with an opportunity for continued growth.

"There is demand to move toward greater clarity for why coaching is effective as well as more specific understanding for how coaching generates beneficial results," said Harvey. "Research on efficacy of coaching clarifies the distinctions between coaching and other human potential and development methods, and purchasers of professional coaching are now seeking to know this information."

Results showed that 28 percent of coaches identified amassing credible data for documenting return on expectation (ROE) and return on investment (ROI) from a professional coaching relationship as another opportunity for the profession. Purchasers and professional coaches alike still perceive ambiguity regarding the ROE/ROI calculation for professional coaching, which has led to misconceptions regarding the effectiveness of professional coaching and its positive impact on productivity, leadership development and organizational effectiveness.

"Growth potential for the coaching profession is directly linked to our ability to provide clear, easy-to-understand evidence of positive return on expectation and investment," said Harvey. "Organizations are noticing the importance of engaging trained and certified coaches in order to achieve meaningful positive impact. Encouraging this trend will be supported by consistent use of ROE/ROI analysis and reporting in each coaching engagement."

Untrained Individuals Pose Obstacle

But respondents from around the world said that untrained individuals working as coaches is a major challenge facing the industry. Forty-three percent said they view untrained individuals who call themselves coaches as the biggest obstacle facing the coaching industry. The continued use of the terms "coach" and "coaching" by untrained professionals is seen as a significant threat to the credibility of the profession.

"Having untrained individuals promoting their services as professional coaching really misleads the public as to what coaching is and what results and benefits professional coaching can provide," said Harvey. "By calling themselves coaches while not having the proper knowledge, skills, development and client experience of a professional coach, they could potentially provide a negative impact on the image of the profession."

Additional challenges for the profession identified by coaches include market saturation, underpricing of coaching services and overregulation of the industry.

"Clearly articulating the differences and benefits between coaching and other services is a significant opportunity all professional coaches face," explained Harvey. "Creating understanding for the benefits of coaching, educating the public about the positive impact and cost-effectiveness of professional coaching, and sharing the proven results clients report are essential steps to address the proliferation of untrained individuals and provide businesses and individuals peace of mind as they select professional coaches."

Theresa Minton-Eversole is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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