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What Does a Health Coach Do and 5 Savvy Tips to Get You Started

by: Sarah Appleby
Published: September 20, 2022
Updated: September 13, 2023

As a practicing health coach, I’m often asked, “What does a health coach do?”

And until I started my own career as a health coach, this profession was new to me too. Fast forward 6 years, and I’m proud to say that I’m the founder and head coach of my own flourishing health and fitness business. So to answer this question of what a health coach does, I thought I would share with you the story of how I started my own health and fitness business.

But first, let me introduce myself. I’m Sarah, a specialist women’s health and fitness coach, and blog writer for PHCI. Like many health coaches, my coaching career started after a life-changing health journey of my own. This post won’t delve too deeply into my personal health journey. Instead, I’ll share with you:

  • Why I decided to become a health coach
  • How I transitioned from my old career as a scientist to a successful business owner
  • My top 5 tips to help you kick start your own thriving health coaching business
Sarah shares insight into what a day in the life of a health coach is really like.
Sarah shares how she transitioned into a career as a health and fitness coach.

What Is a Health Coach?

Before we dive straight into what’s like to be a health coach, let’s start by defining what exactly is a health coach. A health coach is a health and wellness advocate. They often take a holistic approach when working with clients towards sustainable lifestyle change. A health coach will assess a client’s overall health by investigating any imbalances in the following lifestyle factors:

  1. Nutrition
  2. Sleep
  3. Physical activity
  4. Stress
  5. Play

Usually if one (or more) of these lifestyle factors is out of balance for a sustained period of time, this can lead to health issues including chronic medical conditions. A health coach will help their clients identify if any of these lifestyle factors are skewed using a variety of strategies and techniques to lead their clients towards better health, including:

  1. Goal setting
  2. Healthy habit formation
  3. Implementing accountability strategies
  4. Health education
  5. Motivational strategies
  6. Positive psychology processes

Health coaches can either work independently or as part of an allied healthcare team which can include:

  • Physicians
  • Nurses
  • Registered Dietitians
  • Chiropractors
  • Personal Trainers

What Does a Health Coach Do?

A health coach is in the business of helping their clients live healthier lives. A successful health coach makes a living out of it.

Health coaches can find work in:

  • Private practice – that’s what I do and you’ll learn more about what this is like in this post
  • Fitness centers
  • Wellness centers
  • Insurance companies
  • Corporate wellness
  • Health clubs

Health coaches can work with clients 1:1 or in groups, face-to-face or remotely. Most health coaches offer programs that are at least 3 months in length. Over this time, coaches are able to build a unique rapport with their clients, which helps with the collaborative nature of the coach:client relationship.

The most successful health coaches niche down in a specialize area of health and wellness. Some common health coaching niche fields include:

  1. Stress management
  2. Weight loss
  3. Mental health
  4. Improving elite performance in athletes
  5. Seniors health

Health Coach Qualifications

Despite there being no requirement for a health coach to be certified, if you’re committed to pursuing a career as a health and wellness coach, then gaining a credential in the field is highly advantageous. The National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching (NBHWC) is an organization that is leading the way in the standardization of health coaching curricula in the United States and around the globe. Only graduates from NBHWC-approved health coaching programs are given the opportunity to sit the NBHWC- certification exam.

It’s important to do your research when it comes to selecting your health coach school, as not all programs are created equally. If you’re passionate about ancestral health, then you should consider enrolling into a PHCI program. PHCI offers an NBHWC-approved program through its Master Coach Certification.

Do Health Coaches Hold Other Credentials?

Most health coaching certification programs don’t require prerequisites to enroll. But it’s common for people interested in health coaching to already hold qualifications in a related field such as:

  • Nursing
  • Fitness
  • Counseling
  • Nutrition

Holding additional qualifications can be beneficial when it comes to applying for health coaching jobs and attracting clients.

Sarah’s Educational Background

Before I enrolled in the PHCI health coach certification program, I held a Bachelor’s Degree in Biotechnology (Hons) and a PhD in Cell Biology, and I worked for 11 years as a research scientist. I’m often asked whether I feel that I’m “wasting” my skills, education and knowledge from my former career as a scientist. My answer to this is a resounding no. I use my research skills on a daily basis as a coach and a business owner.

Ongoing education is a no-brainer for me and I’m constantly adding new credentials to my skillset. As well as being a PHCI-certified health coach, I am also a qualified personal trainer and a licensed weightlifting coach. I am currently studying to be a licensed Strength and Conditioning coach and I hold a CrossFit Level 1.

The Tipping Point: Why I Decided to Become a Health Coach

Having a dream is great. Turning your dream into reality is the tricky part and can become a roadblock for many people. As someone who has taken that leap of faith, I understand how scary (yet exhilarating) it can be to transition into a career as a health coach.

Up until 2015, I had invested my adult life towards my career as a research scientist. It wasn’t until after the birth of my daughter that I considered changing careers, as my research career was taking up more time, energy and focus than I wanted it too. I wanted more time to pursue the aspects of my life that brought me the most joy: my family and my fitness. The tipping point came when my health deteriorated in 2016 (I contracted mono and become very ill for over a year) and I realized that I wasn’t being the healthiest role model for my daughter. I was overworked and suffering from burnout. Something had to give.

Ultimately, my driving force to become a health coach was so I could take charge my life. I had no previous business experience. I had minimal coaching experience but was ready to invest my time and finances into building something I felt passionate about. 

I was ready to take a risk. Are you?

Kickstart Your Health Coaching Business With Sarah’s Top 5 Tips

I’m proud of how far my business Nourish & Lift has grown since its inception in 2016. Setting up my private practice wasn’t easy, but it has been hugely rewarding. When you sign your first client you will feel an absolute burst of joy. Truth be told, I still feel that buzz when I sign a new client, 6 years on! I mean, it’s pretty special when someone chooses you to help them towards a healthier, happier life.

Ready to feel that first client high? Here are my top 5 tips to help you kickstart your own thriving coaching business. 

1. Have a Plan

Changing careers takes patience and planning. My advice is to write your business plan earlier than you think you will need to. It did wonders for me, and even changed the trajectory of my health and fitness business. Think of your business plan as an ever-evolving document. As your business grows you can revisit your plan and adjust it accordingly.

2. Find a Mentor

The best business mentor is someone you feel comfortable sharing ideas with, and that has time to guide and support you. Your mentor doesn’t have to be the CEO of a multi-million dollar business, and they don’t necessarily need to be a coach. Rather, your mentor could be someone who shares a similar business philosophy to you, and they may only be a few steps ahead of you in terms of their own business. Your ideal mentor will be someone who can provide advice and direction when you come to a crossroad, as they are likely to have already faced a similar situation themselves.

I approached my business mentor when my health and fitness business was still a daydream. My mentor gave me the support and direction I needed to take my first steps towards creating my own business. Now, 7 years on, and my mentor has become a dear friend who inspires me as a person, a coach and a business owner.

3. Invest in Your Education

The world of health, nutrition, fitness and wellness is constantly evolving, and as a coach, it’s important to be aware of the latest research, passing health fads, and cutting-edge coaching strategies. Staying on the pulse with your education will help your development as a coach, and it will pay off financially as well. I’ve never regretted investing in my education.

Investing in your education is an essential part of running a successful business. Whether you’re looking to upskill your coaching, streamline your bookkeeping, or learn how to improve your marketing strategy, making your education a priority will pay off.

From my experience, studying has:

  • Opened new career opportunities
  • Broadened my networking circles
  • Helped define my coaching niche

4. Get Marketing

It’s never too early to start your business marketing. What do I mean by marketing? It’s any process that involves attracting potential clients or customers to your products or services.  Here are 9 key marketing tips that I found useful when I started my business:

  1. Write your personal health story
  2. Identify your pain points
  3. Develop your client avatar (be specific)
  4. Build your business brand
  5. Create business social media accounts on platforms your clients frequent (Instagram, Tiktok, Meta, LinkedIn, Twitter)
  6. Create marketing content (take photos, record videos, write blog articles)
  7. Manage your business social media accounts using tools such as Hootsuite, MeetEdgar or Loomly
  8. Build a website
  9. Consider outsourcing content creation, social media management and website design to a freelancer

5. Start Coaching

There’s no need to wait until you’ve graduated to start coaching. You can start by coaching family, friends or fellow students. After obtaining my CrossFit Level 1, I shadowed the coaches at my local CrossFit box for 6 months to gain experience coaching group fitness classes. And my very first health coaching client was a friend that I went to high school with. In these early days, I learnt how to best prepare and structure a session, and I soon gained more confidence as I gained more coaching hours under my belt.

Final Thoughts

In this post, we have established that a health coach inspires, educates and guides their clients towards healthier, happier lives. Health coaches can work in a variety of settings, depending on your preferences. Taking the leap from your current 9-5 to pursue a career as a health coach can be a little scary, but it’s exciting and rewarding. I’m grateful that I took a risk and trusted my instincts, as I now earn a living pursing a career that I love. Most importantly, I have found a work:life balance that supports what’s most precious to me; my family and my health and fitness.

If you’re ready to take charge of your life and your career, enroll to become a Primal Health Coach today.

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