As the teletherapy industry grows and digital continues to play a big role in our daily lives, coaching practices are also adapting to meet changing client needs. Most importantly, coaching clients are looking online for time-efficient processes that can deliver lasting results, while fitting flexibly into a busy schedule.
Enter online coaching, a rapidly-expanding field that allows coaches to overcome distance, travel, and cost constraints to help even more people. Read on to discover how online coaching is being used to develop and guide people in a range of sectors, from healthcare to education, business, and more.
What is Online Coaching?
Online coaching is also called virtual coaching, e-coaching, and distance coaching, among other things. Being a relatively new – albeit fast-growing – field of practice, the terms were originally used to describe:
A developmental partnership, in which all or most of the learning dialogue takes place using email, either as the sole medium or supplemented by other media.
Newer publications have expanded this definition as the practice has evolved, as online coaching now includes a range of digital media:
“Coaching mediated through modern media and argue that e-coaching is characterized by replacing face to face communication with modern media.”
Online vs. Offline Coaching
From these and other sources, online coaching involves a few key elements:
- Just like face-to-face coaching, online coaching is a non-hierarchical, developmental relationship between practitioner and client. As such, it’s concerned with individual growth and the provision of support to help clients achieve their goals. This means it’s distinct from teletherapy, telepsychiatry, and other mental health-related treatments.
- One-on-one interactions take place remotely, as opposed to in person. A diverse range of communication tools can be used, including videoconferencing, asynchronous emails, synchronous (instant/live) messaging, audio calls, and more.
- As the authors point out, it involves learning and reflection in two environments. A client can take what’s discussed or learned in online sessions, therefore, and apply or practice them in their real jobs or lives.
This makes virtual coaching a highly flexible tool that can be used to cover a vast array of different applications, from personal life coaching to executive development, sports, career, health, and performance development.
How Does Online Coaching Work?
- Text-based tools: Such as worksheets, readings, and blogs;
- Multimedia resources: Like audiobooks, lectures, webinars, and courses; and
- Virtual Reality (VR) platforms: Including avatar coaching, and programs conducted in virtual, immersive, interactive online environments.
Of course, online and face-to-face coaching can be combined – the former is just one way to enrich the process, given that it can be both time- and location-independent.
Benefits of Online Coaching
Some benefits of online coaching include:
- Flexibility – As remote and flexible working becomes more popular, there is a growing demand for coaching solutions that fit conveniently into hectic and often globally dispersed workdays. E-coaching allows practitioners to offer sessions and resources in a way that promotes continued progress, seamless connections, and evaluation without any of the need for in-person sessions.
- Business Growth – With fewer time and distance boundaries, online coaches have access to a much wider range of potential clientele. Virtual coaching also opens up passive revenue opportunities such as online courses, workshops, and webinars, while improving practitioner visibility through widely accessible portfolios, program offerings, and more.
- Reduced Costs – Opening and running dedicated practice involves significant overheads for a practitioner – often prohibitively expensive for new businesses, face-to-face visits also require significant travel and time investment for coachees. By taking at least part of a coaching program online, the process becomes much less expensive for both parties. This opens up more time for between-session work, such as reflection, practice, learning, and real-world application.
Virtual coaching is a highly flexible tool that can be used to cover a vast array of different applications.
To date, there is no international or national regulatory body for coaches or coaching credentials, and unlicensed or accredited practitioners remain a key industry risk for consumers seeking out quality services with an experienced expert.
However, there are industry gold standards for best-practice and credentialing, and the International Coaching Federation (ICF) is the best-known of these. The ICF offers different pathways that self-regulating practitioners can pursue to gain experience, credibility, and know-how. These are:
Associate Certified Coach (ACC) – An entry-level credential that requires 60+ hours of training in your area of expertise, plus 100+ hours of practical experience with at least 8 clients.
Professional Certified Coach (PCC) – Requiring 125+ training hours and 500+ coaching experience with 25+ clients.
Master Certified Coach (MCC) – For practitioners with 200+ hours of training and 2500+ hours of coaching experience. All programs require coaches to complete a Coach Knowledge Assessment (CKA), which assesses the practitioner’s understanding of critical coaching skills and knowledge (ICF, 2020a).
More often than not, online coaching hours can be easily logged and submitted as part of the accreditation process using a variety of virtual platforms – more on this shortly.
Coaching in Blended Care
While there is no ‘typical online coaching process’ that serves as a guideline for coaches, academic practitioner surveys summarize several important steps to designing an online coaching program. According to findings, they can be thought of as several key decisions.
1. Type of Coaching
Will online coaching be the sole focus of your practice, or will you deliver a hybrid service that integrates face-to-face (F2F) sessions? Are you keen to do group coaching, or is one-on-one what you do best? Will your specialty be business coaching, fitness, or mental health? Your preferred approach might depend on how widely dispersed your clients are, or on factors such as whether you’ve got online materials to supplement your virtual sessions.
Do you intend to use instant chat, videoconferencing, SMS, phone, or some combination of these media? Do you want to be able to talk in real-time, or is anonymity a priority for you? What channels can you use competently and efficiently?
3. Contact Frequency and Duration
Are you going to deliver your programs for several intensive weeks, or will you offer part-time/flexible coaching sequences? These decisions will hinge greatly on things like your specialization, difficulty of the coaching program you deliver, your client’s schedule, budget, and time required for a real impact.
4. Tools and Techniques
Would you like to integrate multiple elements into one coaching program? These might include courses, workshops, feedback questionnaires, assignments, tests, and exercises – all of which will need to be ‘digitizable’ if you plan to deliver online-only coaching solutions. Every practitioner will have their preferences for designing a program for clients, and you’ll also need to consider administrative factors like the rate you will charge, e-coaching agreements, and how you’ll evaluate progress.
With the right online coaching platform for your requirements, it’s often possible to consolidate all these processes into one virtual space.
Let’s consider some examples.
7 Online Coaching Platforms for Practitioners
Your priorities as a coach will determine what you’re looking for from an ideal platform. Whether you’re hoping to streamline your admin, find more clients, improve your interface, or better manage therapy notes, there’s an ever-growing host of platforms designed to help.
Ideally, a platform should be scalable and user-friendly (both for you and if necessary, for your clients), so keep an eye out for features such as:
- Content Delivery – e.g. file-sharing and learning management system (LMS) integrations.
- Interactivity – e.g. instant messaging, voice-over-internet (VOIP) systems, videoconferencing, and/or SMS functionality. Administrative Management – e.g. invoicing, timetabling, reminders, and notifications.
- Cost/Pricing – most platforms offer monthly payment plans, but some are more suited for new or small businesses than others.
- Data Collection and Management – some forms of coaching, such as mental health coaching, build on patient data by syncing with apps or trackers to evaluate progress.
|CoachAccountable makes it easy for online coaches to manage their administration and day-to-day, through services such as easy billing, calendar syncing, program development tools, file-sharing, and a mobile-compatible interface. Uploading multimedia is simple, and the platform supports group coaching, while clients can log onto their portal via your website rather than on CoachAccountable.com.|
|Price||Starts at $20 monthly|
|Good For||Office management, Evaluating progress, Marketing Coach|
|A useful tool for logging billable hours, CoachForce connects clients via a live stream so practitioners can market their solutions, content, and services. It lacks some of the brand-building capabilities of other platforms, but it is simple to use and allows you to work with an unlimited number of clients.|
When you sign up, you’ll create a resume or profile outlining your areas of interest and expertise. You then design solution plans to demonstrate how you intend to help clients, before waiting to be selected by a user. Finally, you receive payments via PayPal using a simple automated billing system.
|Price||Costs 5% of your coaching revenue if you bring in external clients, or 30% if you attract clients with the platform’s Solution Plans|
|Good For||Tracking time for credentials, Marketing, Private Practice Software|
|Satori is a comprehensive coaching solution that supports marketing, scheduling, billing, and customer care for new and established coaches. Practitioners can create and promote their services or programs, manage client leads and agreements, send questionnaires, and brand the entire experience to grow their practice. It’s a popular choice for coaches who want to market and grow their practice, as it allows practitioners to capture email opt-ins and view sales performance data.|
|Price||From $33 monthly|
|Good For||Customer Relationship Management, All-in-one business management, Marketing|
|Health coaches can interface privately and securely with clients using Nudgecoach, which is HIPAA-compliant and mobile-compatible. Clients can sync their fitness or health apps or devices with this platform, and coaches, in turn, can send messages between sessions to improve health engagement, accountability, and thus progress.|
While it doesn’t offer as many administrative capabilities as some of its competitors, NudgeCoach supports individual program design; these are easily customizable to meet different clients’ needs.
You can also read our full review of The Nudge App.
|Price||Starts at $25 monthly|
|Good For||Health coaching, Physical Therapy Software, Data collection, Business expansion, Fitness Software|
|Life Coach Office simplifies administration by providing operational tools such as invoicing capabilities, meetings, schedules, lessons, and a resource library for between-session work.|
Coaches can turn group coaching into virtual self-study programs to expand their passive income streams, and new practitioners can even get a discount plus an ICF Coaching Hours Report. It’s easy to customize under your own brand, and scalable – the enterprise package allows for up to 10 coaches and an unlimited number of coaching clients.
|Name||Life Coach Office|
|Price||Starts at $24 monthly Office|
|Good For||Management, Business expansion|
|HIPAA-compliant and easy to use, SimplePractice is another therapy app and health coaching platform that allows coaches to create and manage healthcare claims through the medical system.|
Clients can request coaching appointments, organize paper(less) documents, and make payments through one centralized portal, as well as send messages to manage sessions and reschedules. SimplePractice is essentially a telehealth platform but offers all the practice management functionality that can help a health coach grow and manage their business.
|Price||Starts at $39 monthly|
|Good For||Health coaching, Videoconferencing, Coaching Management|
|Designed to help online coaches manage their CRM, marketing, and invoicing, CoachesConsole is an all-inclusive coaching app with a client portal and plenty of functionality. Features include website templates, and customizable client documents, such as forms, resources, and agreements.|
When it comes to interactivity, CoachesConsole offers plenty of choices, including features such as autorespond messages, email, communications logs, notifications, and more, so that coaches can easily keep in touch with users, all the while keeping a log of hours for accreditation.
|Price||Starts at $147 monthly|
|Good For||Content Delivery, Tracking time for credentials, Marketing|
Is it for Me? Finding an Online Coach
So what about those of us potential coachees, who are looking for help with our development?
Whether it’s life, health, or fitness coaching that you’re interested in, one of the first questions you’ll likely be asked by any potential coach is why you want coaching, now.
- Taking action;
- Managing your progress; and
- Achieving results.
Remember, a coach is neither a teacher nor a therapist.
Beyond this, you’ll need to consider several other factors; the following questions may help you clarify what it is you’re looking for from online coaching and help you refine your search:
- What kind of coach am I looking for? Do I expect them to have business expertise? Am I after a practitioner with life coaching experience? Am I searching for a specialist in this field, or do I want a generalist who can help me develop more broadly? How much experience do I expect them to have? What credentials?
- Am I prepared to be challenged? A critical part of coaching processes – indeed, an intrinsic part of many coaching frameworks – is challenging perspectives that act as obstacles to development. Good coaches will help you confront these and tackle them in a supportive way, however, this can be tough for some individuals.
- How do I want to receive feedback? Many modern platforms support synchronous communications – live messaging and video are two examples of how you as a user can now receive instant feedback in real-time. But would you rather leave emails, get texts to your phone, or something else entirely? More broadly speaking, too, how would you like that feedback to look?
- Am I ready to commit to the work? Simply turning up to online sessions isn’t enough to get you results or help you achieve your goals. Your coach may assign you practical tasks to carry out, such as reading or exercises between meetings, which can involve time and effort.
- Can I afford coaching at this point? Unlike some other telehealth services, coaching is rarely covered by insurance. It’s more likely that your organization may be willing to invest in your coaching, but it’s best practice to go into the process fully prepared to pay all costs, should the need arise. Think about what you will comfortably invest, and you’ll be better able to focus on the work at hand.
Generally, it’s a good idea to consider these questions before searching for a platform or coach that will meet your requirements. While many online coaching providers and directories also allow coaches to display their portfolios and example programs, it’s also a good idea to note down any questions of your own.
Doing so will help you ensure a more productive, meaningful discussion when the time comes to chat with a prospective coach.
Online coaching can be a superb way for practitioners to boost their reach, growing their clientele and even generating passive income through online resources and courses. Because it’s time- and location-independent, it’s a highly flexible way to deliver value to global clients, and it can easily be a part of an existing blended care approach that combines virtual and face-to-face interactions.
With the average American spending over six hours daily online, e-coaching is fitting ever more conveniently into our modern lifestyles, and we can only expect to see this growth continue.
Can you tell us about your experiences with online coaching? Are you a practitioner with an e-coaching component to your blended care practice? What are your experiences? Share your comments and thoughts with us below!
- ^ Clutterbuck, D., & Hussain, Z. (Eds.). (2010). Virtual coach, Virtual Mentor. IAP Information Age Publishing.
- ^ Geissler, H., Hasenbein, M., Kanatouri, S., & Wegener, R. (2014). E-coaching: Conceptual and empirical findings of a virtual coaching programme. International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, 12(2), 165.
- ^ Ribbers, A., & Waringa, A. (2015). E-Coaching: Theory and Practice for a New Online Approach to Coaching. London: Routledge.
- ^ Bloom, G., Castagna, C., Moir, E., & Warren, B. (Eds.). (2005). Blended Coaching: Skills and strategies to support principal development. CA: Corwin Press.
- ^ Farley, O.R., Spencer, K., & Baudinet, L. (2019). Virtual reality in sports coaching, skill acquisition and application to surfing: A review. Journal of Human Sport and Exercise, in press. Doi: https://doi.org/10.14198/jhse.2020.153.06
- ^ ICF. (2020a). ACC Paths. Retrieved from https://coachfederation.org/icf-credential/acc-paths
- ^ Stober, D.R., & Grant, A.M. (2006). Toward a contextual approach to coaching models. In D.R. Stober & A.M. Grant (Eds.) Evidence based coaching handbook: Putting best practices to work for your clients (pp. 355-365). Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc
- ^ ICF. (2020b). Core Competencies. Retrieved from https://coachfederation.org/core-competencies
- ^ Liddy, C., Johnston, S., Irving, H., Nash, K., & Ward, N. (2015). Improving awareness, accountability, and access through health coaching: qualitative study of patients’ perspectives. Canadian Family Physician, 61(3), e158.
- ^ Brockbank, A., & McGill, I. (2012). Facilitating reflective learning: Coaching, mentoring and supervision. London: Kogan Page Publishers.