Is Your Coaching Program a Scam?

If you have a Netflix subscription then you’ve probably seen the limited psychological series, “Explained.” 

The latest Explained deep dives into money and the first episode is a bombshell expose of the history of scams. Everything from Charles Ponzi, the man behind the infamous ponzi scheme to more modern con artists like Bernie Madoff. In this thorough explanation of the history of scams, the show goes on to classify scams into different categories one of them being, coaching. 

I’m going to Teach You How to Get Rich Quick Online

Although it’s lame ass marketing, this phrase and program promise is still used by many internet gurus today. Not naming names but with the recent call outs of plagiarism, abuse, and blatant misinformation in the online coaching industry; it isn’t surprising that the media and the government is turning its eyes towards our little corner of the world wide web. 

Online service providers be sure to read on if you want to make sure that your programs don’t fall under the umbrella of “online coaching scams.” 

Not all Coaches are Created Equal 

Before we cover what kind of coach is a scam artist, let’s cover what coaching is and who is doing it legitimately. 

According to the International Coach Federation, coaching is,

“the process of partnering with clients to discover, encourage, and elicit client-centered solutions to life’s problems.” 

The International Coach Federation is the only organizing body that distributes globally recognized certifications in coaching. Many coaches and practitioners are advised to only participate in ICF accredited programs for their foundational education because of its gold standard rating. The instant credibility promised to members who become certified in through their accredited programs; is an allure to many new business owners who wish to become a coach. ICF has become the ethical organizing body of coaching by simply gaining a long reach in the industry while it was still young. 

ICF offers accreditation services to schools who wish to offer ICF certifications to hopeful coaches. They also offer individual coaching accreditations for coaches who have completed a rigorous amount of in-field training of no less than 250 hours. Many coaches who are serious about improving their skills as a coach, choose to go forward with this process to charge higher prices, work with more elite clientele, and establish their dedication to the profession. 

But not all coaches are created equal.

Because coaching is still a relatively new profession, many are still coaching without a formal certification and using their expertise as a qualifier for coaching titles. 

Which leaves room for the more well known, “internet personalities” that we see up and down our timelines today. 

They have mysterious corporate backgrounds that they choose to leave behind for the freedom of designing their own lives and others. 

They dance up and down your timeline promising that “business isn’t that hard,” in 15 seconds or less. 

They are usually selling themselves as a brand and want to teach you how to live exactly how they do.

And according to Explained, many of them are con artists too. 

Big Yikes.

But what exactly separates them from the certified professionals? The answer is more complicated and less classist than just a lack of certification. 

Here’s What Makes a Coaching Program a Scam 

So this is where you might want to get out your pen and paper because it can get complicated. If your program meets one of these requirements it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a sham but meeting all the requirements does. 

Your Program Promises How to Make Money: Okay this doesn’t seem that bad on the surface. If business coaches in particular can’t teach you how to make money then what’s even the point? But it gets sticky in the way you deliver on that promise and the conditions you impose on your clients. If your program promises a certain amount of money in a specified time frame to a general client base; you might be in trouble. 

Your Program is a Micro-Offer Driven: This is the most heinous offense in coaching scams. Micro-Offers have been promised as a way to make coaches money while only investing a short amount of time, once. For those that are unfamiliar with what a micro-offer is, it is a small aspect of a larger program that is marketed to give the same results as the larger program. 

This may be better explained as an example. 

For example, Sally has a one to one coaching program for teachers who want to become course creators that costs $1,000 a month. Sally’s one to one coaching program promises to help teachers make 6-figures and quit their jobs in 90 days or less. Sally wants to get more people enrolled in her one to one program so she creates an e-book based on the guidance she gives the clients in her $1,000 program. Sally charges $17 for the e-book, and promises that anyone who buys it will receive the same results as her private clients. When buyers purchase Sally’s e-book they discover that in order to get the promised result they have to buy Sally’s more expensive course for $500. Buyers who do go on to purchase the course then discover that they have to purchase Sally’s $1,000 monthly private coaching program to receive the results that Sally originally promised. 

In short, Sally has created a paid funnel for all of her coaching programs which is fraudulent. 

Your Program Includes Paid Testimonials: What’s the harm in paid reviews? All of the big box stores do it for commercials but it can become shady when used to market coaching programs quickly. Here’s why it’s inherently misleading and potentially fraudulent. When you pay for testimonials, even if the profile of the review fits your ideal client profile. Essentially when you pay for reviews you’re providing a pair of rose colored glasses to whoever you’re paying. Word of mouth marketing is still deemed the best kind of marketing because it’s organic. When we pay for people to try our products to entice other buyers, we’re just supporting affiliate marketing efforts, not creating a database of loyal customers. 

If your program has ascended all of these hurdles then you’re in the clear. If not, maybe take a look at your marketing and operations. 

As always we’ll keep our ears to the internet streets. 

Want even more expert advice on how to grow your online business? Become a member of The Bold Digital and get access to private video education training, over 50 digital business tools, private facebook group, and the chance to win up to $500 for your startup. 


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  • Ro

    Thank you for writing this. I recently looked into ICF and it is a whole process.

  • Tricia

    Great article! And I agree that there is a lot of scamming that goes on with these online coaches. People think they can just pop up a few motivational posts and boom they are a coach. It is soooo much more than that. I do disagree with this statement however, “They have mysterious corporate backgrounds that they choose to leave behind for the freedom of designing their own lives and others” (although my HR background is hardly a mystery and it is very foundational to the type of coaching I do at but yes I did quit my job to serve full time and yes there is incredible freedom from it but supporting someone in designing or changing something specific is in fact a part of coaching. That’s why someone seeks out a coach and someone who truly has the passion, background, and experience TO coach will likely have some sort of transition story that has led them to coaching so this isn’t really a red flag. In the context that you’ve shared with the shady business absolutely. In general amongst coaches that are coaching for the right reasons. Nope. I’m going to check out “Explained” sounds interesting!

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