Heather Wylde

They Spent Their Life Savings on Life Coaching: The New York Times Exposes the Dark Side of the Coaching Industry

Have you seen the recent article in The New York Times called “They Spent Their Life Savings on Life Coaching”? It’s pretty scathing. They interviewed several people who had spent thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars on life coaching and trying to become coaches. All they have to show for it is massive debt and disillusionment. They’re in therapy because they’re depressed and so upset with themselves for spending all this money. The article really paints the industry as a scam, as a pyramid scheme. And the sad thing is, there’s a lot of truth to that.

There are many people in this industry who only care about making money. They don’t care about people getting results, and they sell to people even when they know they really don’t have the money. I’ve heard of coaches who encourage people to get second mortgages on their homes, with no guarantees of what they’re going to get with the coaching. This is a problem, and it’s been a problem for a really long time. I really, really hate that it’s out in the New York Times because it’s ugly.

The article also mentions the International Coaching Federation (ICF), which is the closest thing the coaching world has to a governing body. But for the most part, we’re very unregulated. The ICF talks a lot about ethics, competencies, and really wants everybody to be certified. The article does give credit to the fact that there are some healers and coaches out there who are actually doing the work and really helping people grow. I’ve worked with many of them and invested in all kinds of health coaching, relationship coaching, and all kinds of stuff. I genuinely say that therapy saved my life, but personal growth and coaching made it worth living.

The article acknowledges that there are ethical people out there who are really trying to help people, but the focus is more on the scammers who aren’t and the problems inherent in the coaching industry. I think what this means is that regulation is coming sooner rather than later. I’ve been seeing this writing on the wall for several years now.

If you are a coach and you want to stay in this industry, go get some training. Coaching is not what a lot of people think it is. It’s not consulting, it’s not giving advice. It’s asking good questions. There’s an art and a science to it. Getting trained is really to your benefit if you’re in this for the right reasons and you really do want to be of help. Go get some accredited training and go ahead and get that certification.

I think that once regulation happens, hopefully, those of us who have already gone through the credentialing process with a reputable body like the ICF will be grandfathered in. I think the industry will stay legal, but they’re going to regulate it heavily. For people new to the industry or those who haven’t bothered getting their credentials, they’ll probably have to go through a minimum two to four-year degree. I’m not basing that on anything but my gut instincts, but my gut instincts are usually pretty solid.

It’s also interesting timing because the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) has really ramped up investigations into misleading marketing and pushy sales tactics. They’re fining the crap out of a lot of big names, and they’re starting to go after smaller people, too. This isn’t to scare you; it’s just a call to action.

We need to get our shit together as an industry. It’s more important than ever to really look at our ethics, our marketing, our sales, and the way that we’re serving people. We need to focus on not just selling to everybody, but selling to the people who are qualified. Really understand what pre-qualifying someone means and how to tell if somebody is likely to get good results with you. If they don’t, then they’re just one more person who feels like they’ve been ripped off by this industry.

It’s really sad because I think the coaching world is so powerful. I think that coaching is such a powerful force in the world, and so many people need it. But we’re going to have to work twice as hard. We spent a long time preaching to the choir, with coaches coaching coaches. I call it the “circle jerk coaching.” But there are more people we could help. With this article coming out and everything with the FTC, people outside of the industry who maybe didn’t have a bad opinion of us before are now seeing us in a negative light. We really need to come together, look at the way we’re doing things, search our hearts, and also educate ourselves about compliance.

I’m going to do another post later about how compliance and ethics aren’t quite the same. There are a lot of things in the FTC regulations that, once people start really paying attention to them and realize that they can be fined, lose their business, or even be barred from an industry forever if the FTC decides they were that bad. It’s rare that they do that, but it can happen. When people start to pay attention, a lot of people have their heads in the sand about it. They think it’s not going to happen to them, or if it does, they’ve made so much money that they’ll just pay a fine. Believe me, I’ve been learning about the process. I just got certified in FTC compliance from a course taught by a lawyer who is a specialist in FTC law. You do not want to be investigated by them, even if you have all the money in the world. It is still hell on earth.

But there are still a lot of people rolling the dice. They don’t really think it’s that serious yet. So we’re still going to see some pretty sleazy stuff. FTC regulations are going to cut down on a lot of it, but it’s not going to eliminate all the sleazy stuff. It’s up to us as individuals to decide what feels ethical and what feels right. I go by how I want to be treated as a client.

I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences. I gotta tell you, though, most of the people I talk to—over 90% of the people I talk to online—have at least one horror story of paying somebody thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars and getting basically nothing. And being told, “Well, you just didn’t have a good mindset.” I won’t go off about all this, but I do have two books that I’ve published. One was “The Online Entrepreneur Survival Guide,” which was pretty ranty. I wrote it in 2021 when I was seeing all these sleazy practices and wanted to warn consumers to be aware of it so that they could avoid it. Then I rewrote it, condensed it, made it less preachy, and more like a practical guide. It’s called “What Every Entrepreneur Wishes They’d Known Before They Hired a Business Coach,” because everybody I’ve shared these seven steps or parts of them with have all said, “Oh my God, Heather, where were you? I wish I had known this stuff five years ago. It would have saved me so much money.”

Let me know what you want to know, and I’ll be making more content around this topic.

Heather Wylde out.

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