Congratulations! You successfully passed your health coach certification exam and can proudly exclaim, “I’m certified!” Now what? What comes next? Where do you go from here?
While achieving certified status is cause for celebration, it is step one on your professional journey. From here, there isn’t a single direction newly certified professionals are required to take to carve a path toward success. While you might think: “Oh, no! But that’s what I need,” it is more important to thoughtfully contemplate what you want and how you envision yourself serving your clients.
As a newly certified health coach, you have countless options to explore. It’s all about finding what fits you best and where you see your skills growing the most effectively.
Career Path Options
Over the past decade, the field of health coaching has swiftly expanded and evolved to become not only a respected and effective professional practice but an integral piece of the allied healthcare continuum. Newly certified and existing health coaches are not restricted to working in a singular environment; rather, they are positioned to impact change in any environment by cultivating a wide variety of professional opportunities.
Importantly, these opportunities are no longer limited to face-to-face interactions with clients. Post-pandemic, we are witnessing a surge in virtual coaching, telehealth practices and hybrid coaching models. As a health coach, you are not restricted to a single geographic area and your impact can be shared across the globe.
Once certified, your first decision is whether you want to work privately (the entrepreneurial route) or for a public entity or established business as an employee. This decision will help you map out your next steps. Keep in mind that there’s no rule that says you can’t build your career in both directions. For example, you may find yourself interested in seeing how health coaching works in a hospital with clinical patients or in a nonprofit organization while also offering private coaching on the side. Here’s a quick comparison of the two.
In this scenario, you are self-employed. You establish an LLC, outline a business plan, develop a marketing plan/social media strategy and set a budget (among other to-dos). The benefits include having a flexible schedule, working from almost any location, and serving a wide variety of clients. On average, self-employed health coaches make $30 to $200 per hour (ACE, 2019). The downsides of this approach include higher insurance costs, a lack of health benefits, the full burden of tax responsibilities, and the need to manage your time effectively so that you work in the business (as the coach) and on the business (managing and running the business like an employer would).
In this scenario, you are considered an employee. You are supervised by a manager or director and are commonly locked into a specific employer-determined schedule. However, as an employee, you do not act as a business manager and do not assume the tax consequences (payroll, social security, Medicare, etc.). You also are generally provided a set of benefits (retirement options, dental, health, vision, disability, etc.). Some public entities that employ health coaches include:
- Clinics and hospitals
- Educational institutions (universities, public schools, private schools)
- Insurance companies
- Cooperative wellness businesses
- Studios and fitness centers
- Day spas
Wherever you imagine yourself working with and serving clients, here are six specific action steps you can take to establish a solid health-coaching foundation.
6 Next Steps
Research and join one or two other professional organization beyond your certifying agency. For example, Wellcoaches and the International Coaching Federation are excellent sources of knowledge, research and opportunities. By joining other organizations, you are intentionally exposing yourself to new perspectives and philosophies. Such exposure will help you grow both personally and professionally.
It’s never too early to start networking and making connections with other professionals in the field of health coaching and within other allied healthcare fields. Every successful health coach has a professional network they can both learn from and refer clients to as necessary.
Becoming certified is the first step but continuing to evolve in your understanding of the field and practice of health is a series of continual steps. After obtaining a certification, outline consistent continuing-education opportunities through your certifying agency and other entities that can help cultivate your knowledge and skills.
This step isn’t just about promoting yourself as a certified health coach, it’s about connecting with others and developing and sharing content relevant to your client demographic. Establish one or two social media networks that enable you to make unique connections and share content designed to engage consumers.
Learning to write well is always a worthy pursuit. Consider starting a blog or reaching out to a professional agency to inquire about article opportunities. Writing is a skill that is developed over time. Like any craft, it takes practice. Start now.
At the heart of all we do as exercise professionals and health coaches is educate. We are natural teachers and guides. Evaluate what you can do immediately to start teaching. Could it be via a webinar, a lunch-and-learn or a community event? What are you drawn to? Start small and build up.
Health coaching, in any environment, requires a structured approach and warm welcome to initiate rapport building (the foundation of the client-health coach relationship). I like to offer each client a “welcome packet” in both electronic and hard-copy formats. In this packet, I include items such as the following:
- Professional philosophy statement (this should reflect your values, beliefs and approach to health coaching)
- A client welcome letter
- Your contact information and methods of contacting you
- A description of what health coaching is and is not
- A menu of health-coaching services
- Policies and procedures (outline fees and payment preferences, the platform you use, such as virtual, face-to-face, telephonic, etc., scheduling, rescheduling and cancellation policies, communication expectations and response time, etc.)
- A list of what your clients can expect from you (e.g., confidentiality, openness, accountability, etc.).
- Coaching agreement
- SMART goal-setting worksheet
- An outline of a what a coaching session will look and feel like
- Client information/data form
Each health coach develops their own approach and structures a session unique to their style, philosophy and experience. There’s no “one way” that is preferred or scientifically “proven.” These steps are, much like the art and practice of health coaching itself, meant to guide you, encourage you and motivate you to move forward in your career.
By Dr Erin Nitschke