Avoiding Scams and Shady Deals Targeting Coaches
One day, out of the blue, you get an email from someone who identifies herself as a mother. Apparently, she has been looking to hire a coach, and, after much research, has chosen you from your website. She goes on to mention she is recently divorced from a successful businessman and wants you to coach her three young adult children to move forward after the breakup of the family. She asks you to forward an invoice for a full six months of coaching for all the children, and she will have the father send you a check. Does this sound interesting?
Well, as you might have guessed, it’s a scam. If you want to talk to her, she turns out to be deaf and unable to talk on the phone. If you want to talk to the children, they are traveling right now.
If you do send her the invoice, you will receive a check back for the full amount plus, say $4,000. When you ask her about the overpayment she explains she asked her husband for more money in case the coaching needed to go longer. However, she has just found out she has a medical emergency, or her alimony has been delayed, and would you please forward her back a check for the extra $4,000? And of course, if you do that you will be out the $4K because the first check will eventually bounce.
This is the latest scam that specifically targets coaches. Why are scammers picking on coaches? Coaching continues to grow quickly and is now over a billion dollar a year industry. Many coaches are in business for themselves for the first time and are not familiar with many traditional business practices. Many coaches are very interested in acquiring more clients. Many coaches have websites or social media profiles that make them easy to contact. Finally, and I acknowledge the possibility of bias, a high percentage of coaches tend to be kind and considerate human beings. These are more than enough reasons for coaches to be targets for scams.
However, beyond the outright frauds, there are also a number of shady or questionable business practices that regularly impact coaches. A partial list includes:
- You get a call from “Google” saying they noticed your website is not doing well, and for a small monthly fee, they will help you show up on the first page of search results for your main keywords. (Google does not do this. The caller is from an unrelated company that will take your $200 a month, put $50 into setting up a poor performing Google Adwords ad campaign for you, and pocket the rest. By the way, paid ads do not work well for most coaches.)
- You get an email from a publisher wanting you to contribute to a book that includes some celebrity authors. This book is going to be big, possibly the next “Chicken Soup for the Soul.” All you need to do is chip in a paltry $5,000, or commit to buy a significant quantity of books. (There is little to no marketing for the book, so you get little to no business from it and end up with a garage full of unsold books—and no, your friends and relatives do not want them for holiday presents.)
- You get an email or phone call saying you have been carefully selected to host your own radio show. You have never heard of the company or network, but it does feature a show by a prominent person you might recognize. All you need to do is cover the cost of producing the show, which turns out to be thousands of dollars. (You later learn it is an internet-based show that has no established audience and thus does not deliver the imagined business.)
- You get an email from a coach you might know, or you stumble onto a social media ad or website, describing an expensive program for coaches with a multitude of incredibly enthusiastic, compelling testimonials. (What is not disclosed is that should you join the program, as much as half the tuition cost goes back to the person making the enthusiastic testimonial. In fact, many of the past participants have made more money promoting the program than they ever did from applying the content they received in the training itself, and many feel no need to disclose the conflict of interest.)
- You find a coach, a coach training or a marketing program you are interested in. Unfortunately, because they are well-established, they are expensive and require you commit to six months and pay everything in advance. You get started, only to find the coach or program is simply not a good fit for you, but you have no recourse. (No coach, program or approach is going to be a fit for everyone. Look for opportunities where this is understood, and work with people who are sufficiently confident in their services that they offer a prorated refund policy or let you pay as you go.)
- You are researching coach training and find a number of very well promoted programs at half the price of many others. Some even offer you a coaching certification after three days of training. Being new to the industry, you do not notice that the program is not an ICF ACTP (Approved Coach Training Program) or is otherwise rigorously accredited. Nor do you notice that the staff have little to no coach training themselves. You pay your money and end up with an inferior set of skills or a certification no one values.
- You are new to coaching and find that there are some groups that heavily promote a turnkey coaching franchise for a mere $30,000–$50,000. You sign , only to find out you are overpaying for inferior training that is not accredited by the ICF and your “franchise” offers no actual territorial protection from other coaches.
- You are bombarded by trainings, offerings, assessments, certifications and programs that infer you are not sufficiently trained or otherwise equipped to succeed in coaching. So, you sit on the sidelines, spending all your money on a series of advanced trainings, and never fully commit to actually begin coaching clients. (I greatly encourage continuing education, and there are many wonderful programs and offerings out there that can enhance your ability to add value to clients and help you build more successful practices. Just know that the sooner you start coaching paying clients, the better. And as to advanced trainings, it is very wise to pace yourself and “grow” as you “go.”)
These are just a few of the many scenarios that coaches encounter every day. So how do you navigate through it all and protect yourself? Here are a few suggestions.
One of the benefits of the digital revolution is you can instantly access unprecedented amounts of information. If you are unsure of any offering, such as the “This is Google calling” scam, simply type into any search engine something like “phone calls from Google scam.” In other words, Google a description of the program or situation with the word “scam” added to your search phrase. This will give you quick access to any information that might exist on identified scams.
Secondly, there are many networks and forums where coaches congregate to ask questions and support each other. The LinkedIn “International Coach Federation” main group has over 86,000 members. Many ICF Chapters have LinkedIn or Facebook groups. The coactivenetwork.com has over 27,000 members and is a great place to get questions answered. Facebook has many other coaching group Pages where coaches connect. You really are not alone. Find a good coaching group, where you can enjoy the support of thousands of other coaches. And in a pinch, don’t be afraid to send a short email to an experienced coach you know. Most coaches are approachable and won’t begrudge a brief inquiry from a fellow coach.
Finally, even if you are new to coaching and new to being in business for yourself, never discount your own intuition and common sense. If something seems too good to be true, tries to make you feel inadequate, pressures you to “buy now” or simply doesn’t feel right, keep looking.
It is a challenge to start and run your own successful coaching business. Don’t let anyone make it harder. Do your homework on any major purchase, trust yourself, and ask for help when you need it.
Be wise and safe, people.