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Find the Ideal Coach for Any Purpose through a Coach Referral Service: The Truth About Coach Referral Services

Quick Summary: Coach Referral Services (CRS) are the latest trend in the coaching profession to help coaches and clients find each other. This article describes the value of coach referral systems, details the advantages and challenges faced by such systems, identifies and analyzes the most important elements of coach referral, and concludes with a comparison of existing systems on ten key factors. (Skip directly to comparisons.)

First Edition: 2000
Second Edition: 2007
Third Edition: 2010
Fourth Edition: 2012
Fifth Edition: 2014
Sixth Edition 2015


The Rapid Growth of Coaching
The coaching profession has grown dramatically around the world in the last few years, and various sources estimate the number of coaches in North America alone to be approaching 12,000. The interest in coaching has increased primarily because the general public and business executives and managers have greatly expanded their search for ways to achieve a variety of personal, professional, spiritual and business goals. The high demand for coaches has been accompanied by a parallel growth in coach training organizations. In 1999, for example, there were less than a dozen established schools; in 2007 there were approximately 250; and in 2015 there are more than 650.

The Rise of Coach Referral Services
While this growth is helping to increase the supply of coaches, it has also led to a wide variety of coach qualifications, standards, training requirements, experience, certification and degrees. In addition there is no consensus as to industry standards nor is there any coach licensing, certification, or registration requirement of a legal nature in any jurisdiction in North America.

While such rapid growth can be heralded as contributing to better choices and options, it has also become more difficult for members of the general public, business managers and executives, and even coaches themselves to sort out the criteria to use to select the right coach. For example, a recent Internet search yielded, thousands of individual coach websites offering an extensive array of services, descriptions, and qualifications. However, just as the number of coaches and coach training organizations has grown, so also has a parallel industry: coach referral services.

Several factors have led to the development of the coach referral systems. First, because the coaching industry is entirely self-regulated a number of individuals have established coach referral services as a way to educate the public, pinpoint appropriate coach qualifications, and assist potential clients to find the best coach.

Second, since many coaches and clients connect via telephone or email only and never engage in face-to-face sessions, coaches anywhere have the potential for working with clients anyplace. Neither the coach nor the client is limited to a specific geographic location, thus widely increasing the pool of coaches from which to choose.

Third, since many coaches and clients connect via telephone or email only and never engage in face-to-face sessions, coaches anywhere have the potential for working with clients anyplace. Neither the coach nor the client is limited to a specific geographic location, thus widely increasing the pool of coaches from which to choose.

A more controversial reason for the increase in the number of coach referral systems is that many coaches believe they can coach anyone about anything. It is not unusual for a wide range of specialties to appear in a coach resume. While there may be some truth to this viewpoint, it may reduce the likelihood that an individual searching for a coach will learn that a different type of practitioner (such as a consultant, psychologist or counsellor) might be a more appropriate choice.

(Editor's Note: This article on coach referral services was originally written in 2000. As of 2015, several of the coach referral services have gone out of business, have their domain names up for sale, or even worse, have allowed their domain names to be used to forward visitors to inappropriate websites. In essence, the marketplace is helping to shake out those services that had inadequate business plans, provided too little to both coaches and clients, or never quite understood what coaching was about. On a positive note, those still in business seem to strive to improve their offerings based on their actual experience with and feedback from coaches and clients.)

How Coach Referral Services Work
The philosophy behind coach referral is simple: the better the match between the client and the coach, the more likely the coaching will be successful. Coach referral systems typically match client preferences and goals with coach qualifications and experience. But how this matching is accomplished and how the pool of potential coaches to be matched is determined varies widely.

Coach referral systems vary in the amount of client data they require before yielding the list of potential coaches. For example, some coach referral services require potential clients to enter a combination of personal data and coach requirements into an online form. Then with the click of a button a list of coach referrals is generated with descriptions of their qualifications and other details. In some cases users can speed up the process by selecting from a pre-determined set of coach characteristics, qualifications and specialties.

Other coach referral services only ask that the user enter keywords or phrases and like a search engine, a list of coaches is generated. Typically no information is provided as to why certain coaches were matched with the client data requests. A few coach referral systems merely provide a static list of coaches and their qualifications and encourage users to scroll through the list and note down appropriate potential matches.

This computerized method of matching is quick and easy, and a potential client can browse coach lists indefinitely at no cost and in many cases anonymously. However, it can also yield too many options and is subject to coaches padding their system information with many more "keywords" in order to appear in a greater number of client searches. Computerized matching also requires the potential client, who more than likely has little experience with coaching, to know and understand not only what he or she wants in a coach, but also which factors are most important in selecting a coach. Some sites assist with this dilemma by providing educational information about coach selection and readiness for coaching. However, in most cases this information is only about coaching and does not educate the potential client as to other options besides coaching.

An alternative to the computerized system exists that involves the potential client in a live, toll-free, no-cost, no-obligation telephone conversation with a coach referral consultant. The consultant engages in a personalized conversation with the client about possible goals, preferences, and other qualities. If, as a result of this discussion, the consultant and client conclude that coaching is appropriate, the service provides the client with a list and details of specific coaches who meet the client's preferences. The idea underlying this type of service is that a good match requires more than can be achieved through simple computer data connected to a warehouse of coaches.

Coach referral services vary in the extent of coach qualifications necessary to list each coach and the screening of the coaches in their database. Some sites have specific requirements and these requirements are clearly identified on the service website. A few sites mention that listed coaches must adhere to a code of ethics or professional conduct, but typically do not provide or describe any mechanism to monitor or enforce such a requirement.

Other sites have minimal requirements and provide no screening. In some cases membership in a particular organization or current or graduate status from a particular coaching school is required. However, these two "requirements" can be somewhat misleading because screening for admission to the school or minimum standards for membership are neither described nor practiced. Only one coach referral service details the facts about the number of coaches who apply to list their service and the number the referral service actually accepts. (For a discussion regarding the increasingly contentious issue of certification, see the comments associated with our poll on certification.)

Virtually all the coach referral systems do not charge clients for their matching service, and most do charge coaches a fee for being listed. Some services request that clients pay a fee to them for the coaching and they, in turn, will provide the fee to the coach. Others do not enter into any fee arrangement and merely act as a go-between to connect the client and coach and no fees are involved for client-coach matching or coach listings. At least one service provides a money back guarantee.

While not directly part of the coach selection process, sites vary as to the degree of additional services they provide. From money back guarantees and follow-up monitoring to a variety of articles about selecting a coach to newsletters or other support documents, to simply a list-only format, the coach referral services provide a wide range of value added services. In addition, the services vary as to how much information they provide about who owns, runs or maintains the service.

Accountability Issues and Unverified Claims
Contact information for an accountable service should go beyond an email address and include the mailing address, telephone number and business name of the service ownership. In this way, potential clients and coaches have a better opportunity to determine the legitimacy and accountability of the service as well as have more transparency in resolving possible conflicts or dissatisfactions.

As coaches become more Internet search engine literate, some referral services have responded by making claims about their rankings in search engines and their ability to manage search engine optimization (SEO). In this way they hope to attract potential coaches and distinguish themselves from the competition. However, in most cases their claims about their SEO status are vague and "buzzword" oriented.

Here is a sample of a typical vague and undocumented statement issued by these services sent out as a marketing promotion:

Our directory service is growing like crazy. We have close to 250 coaches now - 200 new coaches in just over two months. This is giving us much better search engine results and the SEO snowball is starting to pick up speed. Every week our search traffic is growing and more and more coaches are getting clients. Establish yourself early in our directory and we'll be one more easy-to-set-up, low-maintenance, client-attracting feathers in your cap. Get more exposure and be placed closer to the top of the directory with one of our affordable monthly plans, starting at ($xx.00) a month. Or give it a try for free. Sign up in less than a minute. Learn more here at (xxx.com).
Accurate Information is Rare
In our review only one service, The Coach Connection, consistently placed at or near the top in search engine rankings. For convenience our comparison table includes the Internet rankings based on the system used by Alexa, the most popular Internet ranking system. (Note: the Alexa ranking numbers in the comparison table reflect that sites ranking among all websites on the Internet not just those involved with coaching.)

In addition, the services vary as to how much information they provide about who owns, runs or maintains the service. Contact information for an accountable service should go beyond an email address and include the mailing address, telephone number and business name of the service ownership. In this way, potential clients and coaches have a better opportunity to determine the legitimacy and accountability of the service as well as have more transparency in resolving possible conflicts or dissatisfactions.

Other Coach Client Matching Options
Although they do not fit the commercialized coach referral business model, a number of new referral groups focus on "pro-bono" or no-fee coaching. While the primary purpose of these sites is to provide coaching to those who may not be able to afford it, the sites are also eager to help the public learn about the value of coaching. Typically these sites request information from visitors and then manually match the visitor with a potential coach or coaches. We have not included the pro-bono sites in this list, but a good place to access several of these free coaching services is Coach Initiative.

Several coach training organizations have their own coach referral service. These are typically directories of their own graduates. For example, Coaching and Leadership International has a list of all the graduates of its Power Coach graduates. However, in the chart below we have not included any of the many schools that provide this service. We have included The International Coach Directory, which is primarily for graduates of Coach U and Corporate Coach U because of its higher rankings on the Internet. (To learn more about the various coach training options and whether they provide a coach referral service visit our listings of all coach training organizations at http://www.peer.ca/coachingschools.html)

Many people have commented that the coaching world is strongly influenced or dominated by coaches offering services to other coaches. While this criticism may be valid, another type of coach referral business is the coach-to-coach site, where coaches list their services and primarily hope to attract other coaches to purchasing a product or service they have to offer. These sites are mostly run by entrepreneurs with marketing experience and typically connect coaches with one another for education, development, and revenue generation. We have not listed any of these services in our current review, but an example of this type of coach referral (to other coaches) is the Coach Exchange. (Conducting a review of these coach-to-coach referral sites will be the subject of a future project by Peer Resources.)

Does Size Matter?
With the growth of coaching there has been until now a fairly cooperative and friendly relationship between various coaching associations and organizations. Cracks in this veneer are beginning to show as Coach Referral Services (and they are not the only ones) begin to crow about the number of coaches included in their warehouse. A larger pool of coaches in a service can mean a higher likelihood of finding someone with the specific experience and qualifications sought by a potential client. But as Grey Owl has wryly pointed out, "No matter how much mayonnaise you put in chicken litter, it will not turn into chicken salad." Services that provide a large number of coach referral names often place the potential client in the position of the person who as the subject of a well-known story concluded: "there must be a pony in here somewhere."

In 2007 in order to examine whether the number of coaches listed could improve the chances of gaining clients, we conducted a study of the value of the coach referral system (CRS) created by the International Coach Federation (ICF). The ICF, which claims the largest number of member coaches (17,000 as of 2012), also describes their CRS as a "benefit" of membership. With this perspective in mind we wanted to determine what actual benefit was gained by members who had their services listed and the degree to which the ICF service did yield clients for listed members.

The results of our study of 100 randomly selected coaches whose services were listed in the ICF CRS showed that the ICF system had little value for members and only a few people (less than 5 percent) actually gained clients using that system. This is not a criticism of the ICF. Other coaching organizations (including the referral system we use in Peer Resources' Coach Directory) have similar "warehouses" of their members. They all use the same basic computerized search model with pretty much the same minimal results.

Since that 2007 study several additional services have entered the field. Part of their business plan is to attract coaches to list their services on their blog or website. For the most part these newer services allow coaches to do more than just list their services. They can opt to provide articles, blog posts, or other details to accompany their listings. Generally, these services have at least two levels of engagement: the free level with certain features; and the paid level with more advanced features.

Preliminary examination of these services based on anecdotal assessments by participating coaches reveals that these services have limited value and for the most part promise more than they actually deliver. Critics believe that these services, mostly developed by marketing specialists, have contributed to growing public cynicism, since they typically have virtually no requirements for listing and do not conduct verification assessments for claims about experience, training or credentials, etc.

But keep in mind, the ICF referral service, which does require ICF membership and certification, has also not been productive, for the most part, for member coaches. Therefore, whether there is verification of qualifications or even standards for listing does not seem to impact the likelihood of referrals.

There is a "Best" Coach/Client Matching Service
There is one exception to this lack of referral system effectiveness for coaches, and this particular model has shown consistent effectiveness for more than 14 years and that service is The Coach Connection. This service was the highest rated in our research and its ranking was considerably above the next best in line. Their model is quite different than all of the more recent services created and uses a high engagement, goal development, and personalized matching model. But before you rush off to apply to list your coaching services, you should know that to become a coach in their group requires an extensive interview and review of your experience, qualifications, and vision.

Conclusion
We introduced this topic by generically naming the organizations listed in the table below, "Coach Referral Services." The popular understanding of this term would lead one to believe that they are services that match clients with coaches. However, from a thorough examination of the data, the term "coach referral service" does not accurately represent the nature of what these services provide. Only one service is truly a "coach/client matching service," while others are more accurately described as "coach listing services" or "coach referral services."

Over time clients and coaches will be able to provide feedback as to which services work best to meet their needs. Our goal in developing the table below and its continuous updates is to help coaches exercise caution about which services to use to help them find their ideal clients. We also want to assist clients to determine which services will actually provide them with their ideal coach.

Most coaches probably perceive listing their services on one of these numerous coach referral sites as a "no-brainer." Partly because they are typically free and provide another place to have your "brand" established. This can be considered the "chicken-soup" approach, and seems like a safe bet. The key is to adjust your expectations as to what you think will happen as a result of your listing. It's great if it does yield clients, but think of it more as a way to sharpen and refine your mission. Also think of it as a way to network with others and learn what they are doing.

The new Federal Trade Commission regulations in the U.S.A. may have an influence on these coach referral sites because they focus on requiring these sites to be explicit about claims and be able to produce data about effectiveness (if claimed). So, if you're considering a listing on these warehouse referral systems be sure to contact the site owner and find out what data is available regarding the success of their referral system.

Over time clients and coaches will be able to provide feedback as to which services work best to meet their needs. Our goal in developing the table below and its continuous updates is to help coaches exercise caution about which services to use to help them find their ideal clients. We also want to assist clients to determine which services will actually provide them with their ideal coach.

The Source and Accuracy of this Information
For the most part the data in this table was obtained from each service website, and in some cases, directly from the service providers. Should your experience in accessing any of the coach referral services listed here differ from the information provided in this table, please inform us as quickly as possible so that we can ensure that the data contained here is accurate and informative. Send an email message to Rey Carr at rcarr@islandnet.com. All messages will be treated as confidential and please include your contact information.

Comparing Coach Referral Services
The following table, which was last updated on December 09, 2016, lists the most reputable coach referral sources available on the Internet. For an explanation of the various categories or criteria, refer to the narrative above.

Editor's Note
Before this article was scheduled for publication, we asked each of the services listed to comment on, insure the accuracy of, or add any key details they thought relevant. Our thanks to Renée Hasseldine of the CoachNetwork, Bill Dueease of The Coach Connection, Stephan Wiedner of Noomii, Brian Underhill of Coach-Source, and Ann Jarvis from the International Coach Federation for their assistance in insuring the up-to-date and accurate nature of the accompanying table.

Coach Referral Service and Type
Coach Qualities Required?
Coach Screening Required?
Client Interaction Process
Fee to Use?
What Each Service Provides and Size of Database Initial Coaching Offer Estimated Fee Paid by Client
Other Features on Site?
Contact Information
For Coach
For Client
The Coach Connection

www.findyourcoach.com

(Personalized Matching)

Yes, list of personal and professional qualities detailed on site
Yes, coaches personally interviewed and not all accepted
Free phone consultation with personal advocate
Yes
No
Personal guide recommends 3 coaches from 120; pay service for coaching; guide follows progress $300 for 3 interview coaching sessions and 3 coaching sessions with selected coach; money back guarantee $US250 and up per month
Yes
1.239.415.1777
1.800.887.7214
1.239.415.1782 (Fax)
coaches@findyourcoach.com

17597 Rockefeller Circle
Suite 2
Fort Myers, FL 33912

CoachLink
>www.coachlink.net

(Manual Matching)

(No longer in business as of 2012)
Yes, nine specific professional requirements detailed on site Yes, background and credential checks, interviews of client references and peer references, interview with coach Complete online form with eight questions and provide personal data; clients sometimes contacted to clarify priorities Yes No Computer generates 3 coaches from unknown number; pay coach for coaching; follow-up via telephone and email Negotiated with each referral coach $US350 and up per month for 3-4 hours of coaching Yes 1.800.717.5721
1.949.891.0344 (Fax)
info@coachlink.net

1048 Irvine Avenue
Suite 385
Newport Beach, CA 92660

Coach Central
www.coachcentral.info

(Computer Referral and Listing)

(No longer in business as of 2012)
Yes, five specific, minimum professional requirements detailed on site Yes, by invitation only Complete online form with four questions and provide personal data Yes No Computer generates 1 to 3 coaches from 14; pay coach for coaching; no follow-up Free 30-minute coaching session with referred coach $US250 and up per month Yes 1.877.212.XXXX
info@coachcentral.info

161C Street
Blaine, WA 98230

131 B Street
Surrey, BC V4A 9J5

The Coach Directory

www.peer.ca/coaching.html

(Keyword Search or Manually Scan List)

Yes, specific conditions, including ability to respond within 1 business day to client enquiries and membership in an association with a Code of Ethics required Yes Online keyword search No No Computer generates up to 190 coaches from 450; pay coach for coaching; no follow-up Negotiated with each referral coach $US150-650 per month Yes 1.800.567.3700
1.250.595.3503
1.250.595.3504 (Fax)
coach@peer.ca

Peer Resources
1052 Davie Street
Victoria, BC V8S 4E3

noomi: the professional coach directory

www.noomii.com

(Personalized Matching)

No Yes, coaches personally interviewed and not all accepted Complete online form to describe goals, receive a list of up to three compatible coaches; consult with coach for 20 minutes at no cost, and hire suitable coach Yes No Personal guide recommends up to 3 coaches from list of 350; pay service for coaching; consult for free with each possibility; pay coach for coaching/font> Negotiated with each referral coach US$150 and up per month Yes 1.800.278.1057
email form on site
No address provided
Coach Referral Service of the International Coach Federation (ICF)

www.coachfederation.org

(Computer Referral)

No, but membership in and certification by the ICF is required No Complete online form with nine questions and provide personal data; can also send RFP to generated list of coaches; telephone help available No, included with membership No Computer generates up to 100 coaches from 2000 worldwide; pay coach for coaching; no follow-up Negotiated with each referral coach $US150 and up per month Yes 1.202.712.9039
1.888.236.9262 (CRS help) 1.888.423.3131
1.888.329.2423 (Fax)
icfoffice@coachfederation.org
1444 I Street NW, Suite 700
Washington, DC 20005-6542
CoachSource Coach Finder

www.coachsource.com

(Personalized Matching)

Extensive experience Specialist in leadership effectiveness coaching; experience coaching senior leaders; experience holding senior leadership position; client list of Fortune 500; advanced degree; independent practice or with firm for at least two years; references from senior leader coaching clients Interview of client by coordinator to determine needs No No Coordinator recommends leadership coaches from 973 (as of July 2014) in 45 countries; client interviews coach and pays coach for coaching; follow-up by client satisfaction survey Negotiated with each referral coach $US350.00 and up per sessopm Yes 3801 Charter Park Court, Suite A
San Jose, California
95136
1.408.490-0490
info@coach-source.com
Coachville

www.coachville.com

(Keyword Search Engine)

Yes, membership in Coachville required No Online keyword search Yes No Computer generates up to 1,100 coaches from unkown number; pay coach for coaching; no follow-up Negotiated with each referral coach Unknown Yes 1.866.548.6516
support@coachville.com

PO Box 904
Hopatcong, New Jersey
07843

Lawyer Coaches Directory
(No longer in operation)

www.lawyercoaches.com (No longer in operation)

(Manually Scan List)

Yes, must have practiced law or worked extensively with lawyers and must attest to accuracy and validity of information provided No Scan list Yes No Select from group of 11 coaches; pay coach for coaching; no follow-up Negotiated with each referral coach Unknown No 1.604.521.XXXX
info@lawyercoaches.com

Advance Corporate Training and Development, Ltd.
239 6th Street
New Westminster, BC V3L 3A5

The International Coach Directory

www.findacoach.com/

(Computer Referral)

Yes, must be a Coach U or Corporate Coach U student or graduate No Complete online form with two questions or use keyword search Yes No Computer generates number of coaches from unknown number; pay coach for coaching; no follow-up Negotiated with each referral coach Unknown No 1.866.802.2045
info@findacoach.com

No mailing address

Teen Coach Directory
(No longer in operation)

www.teencoach.com

(Computer Referral)

Yes, must be a graduate of Coach U or Corporate Coach U and participate in a telecourse Yes, random background checks Complete online form of up to eight questions Yes No Computer generates number of coaches from unknown number; pay coach for coaching; no follow-up Negotiated with each referral coach Unknown Yes No telephone number
help@teencoach.com

No mailing address

Institute for Life Coach Training

www.lifecoachtraining.com

(Computer Referral)

Yes, must be a graduate or student of the Institute No Online keyword search No No Computer generates number of coaches from unknown number; pay coach for coaching; no follow-up Negotiated with each referral coach Unknown Yes 1.888.267.1206
1.800.499.5718 (Fax)
info@lifecoachtraining.com

Institute for Life Coach Training
2411 Byron Center Avenue, SW
Byron Center, Michigan
49315

24/7Coaching.com
(No longer in operation)

www.247coaching.com

(Computer Referral)

No No Online keyword search Yes No Computer generates number of coaches from unspecified number; pay coach for coaching; no follow-up Negotiated with each referral coach $250/month Yes 1.646.688.5263
team@247coaching.com

247coaching.com
415 Madison Avenue
New York, New York
10017
Office in the UK also

Coaches Portal
(No longer in operation)

www.coachesportal.com

(Computer Referral)

Yes, must be a practicing coach No Online keyword search No No Computer generates number of coaches from 68; pay coach for coaching; no follow-up Negotiated with each referral coach Unknown Yes 1.415.893.XXXX
coachsteve@coachesportal.com

No street address
San Rafael, California

Career Coach Database

www.thecareercoaches.com

(Computer Referral and Keyword Search)

Yes, must be certified career coach Membership required Online keyword search No Yes Computer generates number of coaches from about 24-30; pay coach for coaching; no follow-up Negotiated with each referral coach Unknown Yes No phone number
mhebda@certifiedcareercoaches.com

No street address

ICN Coach Finder

www.coach-finder.com

(Computer Referral, Search Function)

No No Search by name, coaching type, country Yes (one-month free option) No Computer generates number of coaches from 1500+; pay coach for coaching; no follow-up Negotiated with each referral coach Unknown No No Phone Number
Email contact form on website

No street address


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