What is Business Coaching?

What is Business Coaching?

I have received a number of requests about the definition of business coaching and whether it’s the same as a life coach? In this article I would like to answer this as well as looking at one of the biggest challenges we face in the coaching profession – the fact that it is not regulated, and how that can be addressed.
It is best to start with the definition of coaching. My initial source for this definition is the International Coach Federation. ICF was founded in 1995 and is the largest (almost 50,000 members in over 140 countries in January 2023) and most credible International self-regulated membership body for professional coaches.

ICF defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”
Definition of business in Wikipedia is the activity of making one’s living or making money by producing or buying and selling products (such as goods and services). Simply put, it is “any activity or enterprise entered into for profit.
In simple terms, business coaching is coaching in service of businesses.

Coaching specializations

Like any other profession, as the coaching profession has grown over the past 25 years, the clients who need coaching services have grown too. As coaches build their business, they have created new market segments to specialize and attract the specific targeted marketed towards their services. For example, in the early days coaching was all life coaching whereas now the market seeks a specialist coach and so coaching specializations are increasing every year. Life coaching is when a coach provides their services to a client wanting to change something that is important in their lives, and that could be at work, personal relationships or any other area of their life. Some popular coaching specialisations or niches are business coaching, career coaching and health coaching.

ICF in a study carried out by Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) in 2015 outlined that coaches around the globe use the term business coaching to inform the market, that they are targeting the business community as their core market. Interestingly 62% of the coach practitioners who participated in this study have a coaching business with a niche under the umbrella name of business coaching. Under this umbrella name of business coaching there are coaches who refer to themselves as leadership coach (25%) or executive coach (18%) or organisational/business coach (16%) or small business coach (3%).

You can inform the market that you have a coaching business meaning that you run a business providing coaching services such as one-on-one or group coaching or coach training and mentoring for managers etc. As a coach you can market to the desired client by selecting to use “business coach” – in essence you are saying that you are targeting businesses. That still leaves a very broad definition and in today’s market, coaches are using market segmentation to specialise even more and may market themselves as a coach for small businesses or coach for SME’s or organisational coach. You may decide to target the people within the business such as executives or leaders and market yourself as an executive coach for example.

It could be that the outcome is what you wish to market. Such as assisting them to create transformation or go through transitions and market yourself as a transitional or transformation coach. It could also be a generic subject such as performance that could be marketed for an individual or a team and you may market yourself as a performance coach for team leaders. Some go further and narrow the segment even more by identifying the type of businesses and say something like “I am a performance coach for team leaders in large international organisations”.
When the business is paying for the coaching services, the coach is to work with the individual or teams within that business. The business sponsors the service for the benefit of the business and the individual,/teams within it. The personal and professional potential of the individual or team are the focus of the coaching program, while being in alignment with the business objectives.

Is there another definition of business coaching?

Worldwide association of Business Coaches, WABC, was formed in 1997 and in my view outlines a similar explanation as shared below:
Business coaching is the process of engaging in regular, structured conversation with a “client”: An individual or team who is within a business, profit or non-profit organization, institution or government and who is the recipient of business coaching. The goal is to enhance the client’s awareness and behaviour so as to achieve business objectives for both the client and their organization.
They go further to say that business coaching enables the client to understand their role in achieving business success and to enhance that role in ways that are measurable and sustainable. The coaching process may take different forms (e.g., individual or team coaching) and involve different goals (e.g., problem solving, career and succession planning, leadership/executive development, creation of high-performing teams). However, in all cases there is a clear focus on the business objectives of both the client and the organization.

WABC sees this dual focus as the factor that distinguishes business coaching from other types of coaching. The business coach helps the client discover how changing or accommodating personal characteristics and perspectives can affect both personal and business processes. Successful coaching helps the client achieve agreed-upon business outcomes as an individual or team within the context of an organization.
They Note: “business coaching” is an inclusive term that refers to all types of business and organizational coaching. It is practiced by internal and external coaches who may identify as corporate coaches, executive coaches, leadership coaches, organizational development coaches or other types of business coaches. Regardless of the practitioner’s title, business coaching is defined by its dual focus on the client and the client’s organization.

How come there are other varying definitions of business coaching?

It is true that there are other definitions that seem to extend beyond the above definitions. In my view this is mostly the case when the pure definition of coaching gets mixed with consulting and mentoring. This goes back to the fact that coaching is not a regulated profession and even the definition of coaching is not consistent in the market place. In a recent study done by PWC, there was a growing population that were saying they had heard of coaching however when asked to define it, there was still a large variation and a number of people confused coaching with other professions such as mentoring.
It is true that the client inherently wants a coach who comes from the same or similar background as themselves. In fact that is one of the main reasons coaching specialisation occurs. For example, a sales manager may want to work with an executive coach who has history of successful sales management or directly searches for a sales coach.
Also, the client may actually need coaching and reaches out to a mentor instead. They may even hire a coach and ask them to provide their experiences and suggestions to resolve the challenge they face – in essence they may ask for consultation or mentoring. This is natural because the client may know little about coaching and is focused on the personal needs and outcome, thinking that consultation would get them to the end result.

It is our role as a professional coach to educate the client about the services they are receiving and clarify (within the marketing material and initial contracting phase) the differences between coaching, consultation and other services. Coaches can outline to the client, what pure coaching can create or resolve for them. Even better would be to coach the client so that they will experience the difference and recognize the value that coaching brings. If the coach is also providing consulting services as part of their business model, it is important to distinguish clearly when the client is receiving coaching versus consultation.
In order to address this challenge for coaches and the clients who want to be “coached” there are several self-regulated coaching associations registered as not-for-profit who are creating the needed standards for the profession. In the example above, if the coach was credentialed and a member of ICF, they would set and agree expectations throughout their business operation by following the ICF coaching competencies and code of ethics.
ICF has created eight coaching competencies and have an accreditation process for organisations who want to educate others to become a coach or learn coaching skills as a work or life skill. Also, they have created the coaching code of ethics and by being an ICF member all coaches commit to follow those ICF “gold” standards and thereby provide some security for clients of coaching services.

ICF have also created a standard for coaches to become credentialed by training and gaining experience as a professional coach through three levels of certification called Associate (ACC), Professional (PCC) and Master (MCC) certified coach. Lastly, they have recently created an accreditation and credentialing standard for a growing niche market of business coaches who want to work with teams called Advanced Certification for Team Coaches, ACTC.
As more clients experience coaching by coaches who are following high standards, they will want to work more with those recognised coaches and as demand for coaching increases there will be more and more need for credentialed professional coaches operating in various niches or market segments. In time, the definition of coaching and what they do, will also align in different market segments.

How can I become a successful business coach?

My recommendation is to spend some time outlining what type of coaching business practice you really want to create and what’s really important to you by working through identifying and capitalising on your strengths. Start by registering in an ICF accredited coach training program. A list of providers can be found on the ICF website, www.coachingfederation.org. Select a program provider that best fits your personal needs and one that has proven track record and a trainer who has hands on experience in setting up a successful business.
At International Coaching Education, ICE we believe that each coach trains to do what they are hired to do – that is, they deliver the coaching process playing to their individual and unique strength.
You can access our experienced program consultants who are themselves trained coaches to answer the various questions you may have about different options available in the market to ensure you make the best decision for your unique journey. The contact details can be found at www.icoachingeducation.com.
To be a successful business coach requires application of three important pillars:
1. Continuous learning – start by getting a credible coaching education qualification
2. Start your coaching practice – begin coaching and identify your ideal clients that match your relevant experience
3. Focus on applying your strengths – identify your strength-based coaching model and stay in your strength zone.

What is the ICF initial level of coaching education?

The first level of accredited coaching education by ICF requires a minimum of 60 hours education which requires 48 hours of that to be focussed on coaching competencies and the rest can be resource development such as business development. This coaching skill certification is a pre-requisite together with 100 hours of coaching with clients to apply to become an ICF credentialed Associate Certified Coach, ACC.
At ICE, we provide an accredited ICF program called “Associate Coach Training” that delivers 85 hours of education which goes beyond the minimum ICF requirements. Why? Because we want coaches to accelerate and feel strong during this journey. We believe alongside learning coaching skills, leveraging your unique strengths will give you the edge and this can be done by starting to build a coaching practice from the start. You can also join the ICE “club” which gives you free access to continue practicing and building your coaching hours at your own pace and learn and collaborate with like-minded individuals for life.


In a nutshell, coaches that choose a business coaching niche and market themselves as business coaches, are targeting and providing coaching to businesses and business owners. Business coaching therefore is a specialized segment of coaching selected by the coach who focuses on a specific market such as a business, the goals of the business and the people within it.

Coaches invest in becoming qualified (or credentialed) with a recognised and self-regulated coaching association to differentiate themselves in the market as having the education and experience that is endorsed by a recognised third party.

International Coaching Federation, ICF is the biggest and most recognised self-regulated coaching association and all qualified ICF coaches focus on learning and applying the same eight coaching competencies no matter what niche market they wish to work in. To become a certified coach at ICF you must successfully complete an accredited program and build experience as a coach, ideally in the niche market of your choice. The level 1 certification requires at least 60 hours of coach specific training and 100 hours of coaching practice.

Taymour Miri

Taymour is the co-founder and MD for MTMI Limited since spring 2015 developing senior executives to enhance leadership strengths and increase effectiveness and to develop strong teams. He is an ICF Master Certified Coach (MCC), an Advanced Certified Team Coach (ACTC) and a Gallup certified strengths coach with experience of working with over 6000 hours with managers and senior leaders in organizations in Europe, USA and Middle East to enhance their performance at work. Since 2013, he has established an ICF accredited coaching education platform and currently provides the highest ICF level of coaching education to support individuals reach MCC in two languages. Taymour is a member of ICF.