Avoiding calling yourself a coach? Read this.


It started a few years back, once the field of life coaching was generally looked upon as a ‘mainstream’ career path. Client after client would fill out their copy-writing intake questionnaire and inevitably, they’d say something like this:

“I’m a certified life/health/business coach, but I don’t want to be called a coach. Anything but that, please.”

And lest you think this problem is confined to my clientele only — oh, no. An ongoing discussion in a private copy-writing group I co-facilitate reveals that many (if not most) of our collective clients who are coaches prefer NOT to be called so.

At first, I could get down with my clients’ desire for creative titling. After all, calling oneself a Luscious Life Optimizer is a little more riveting than the more standard alternative. But when did the desire to differentiate jump the shark? When is jazzing up your job title taking it too far?

Answer: when your colorful language clutters comprehension.

Write for the lady on the bus.

In undergrad, I studied English with a focus in Creative Writing. I spent many hours circled around a heavy wooden workshop table with other aspiring fiction and memoir writers and poets. One of my earliest fiction writing profs gave us this piece of advice, which I’ve never forgotten: Whatever you write, write for the lady on the bus. She’s not stupid, she’s tired.

Your Right Person/ideal client/perfect site visitor is the lady on the bus. You can call her Marcia or Lily or Farrah or Jane, but she is the woman on the bus. Put her in yoga clothes, a thrift store track suit, or vintage DVF and she’s still the lady on the bus. She’s tech phobic, tech-tastic, or somewhere in between and yep . . . she’s the lady on the bus. When she arrives on your website today she’s feeling assertive/worried/horny/elated/resourceful/hopeful/bummed/incredulous/determined and, you guessed it. Lady. On. The Bus.

The lady on the bus — i.e. your intended client — needs to know whether you’re a coach or whether you’re not a coach. Because if she’s needing someone to help her get clear, feel more of how she wants to feel in her life, and dissolve blocks to what she really wants, then an honest, online life coach (especially one who reads and affiliates with this site) is someone she can trust.

Being clear isn’t for suckers.

Clearly stating what you do, who you do it for, and your relationship to your clients within your business is . . . well, everything.

Fail to establish clarity in the first few seconds on your site about what this website is and you’ve lost them. This is not a scare tactic. This is science. Sure, they might come back again. If you’ve got a great blog and social strategy, you’ll be beckoning them in on the regular.

But why not be clear the first time around and give them a better chance at hiring you?

Why, indeed? Why do so many coaches resist calling themselves a ‘coach’? And if you’re a coach and you’re NOT one who dislikes the title, I know you know others who do.

What’s up with the alternate lingo?

Looking at this situation empathically, I can see where the discomfort maybe comes from. As Creative Director of a boutique copy-writing agency (we write web copy, or words, for small business websites), I know for a fact that many copywriters dislike calling themselves so. ‘Copywriter’ can sound a bit downmarket, or too advertising-y (“Gross, you use words to sell?”), or like the antithesis of a ‘real,’ literary writer or an academician. So we’ve called ourselves ‘wordsmiths,’ ‘hired pens,’ and ‘scribes’ to get around it.

What gives with coaches? I’m gathering from conversations with my own clients that they’re trying to sidestep any ‘bad rap’ the coaching industry may have gotten somewhere along the way. But as I tell them, when you’re a high integrity practitioner and your entire brand conversation and suite of signals reflects that, they’ll get the right picture about you. Secondarily, they may feel that coaching is only ONE tool in the repertoire they use with clients, and I can certainly understand that. ‘Coach’ may not feel holistic or dynamic enough.

So what’s the solution? How do you title yourself or describe your work if you really don’t like the word ‘coach’ but you feel it represents the nature of your work?

Here are three ideas:

1) Infuse your tagline with the fun flair you were trying to capture in a creative title. Or personality-pack the short ‘hey, hello!’ copy that sits in the sidebar with your headshot. (If you’re working with a good copywriter, he or she could already be doing this for you.)

2) Consider alternatives to ‘coach’ that better embody the spirit of the work you do. Look for nouns that describe roles, such as ‘teacher,’ ‘advisor,’ ‘guide,’ ‘mentor,’ ‘advocate,’ ‘champion.’ Avoid making new words out of adjectives (i.e. awesomizer, lovely-fier, or anything-jazzler).

3) Redefine what a coach is on your About page or in your mini bio. For instance, “I’m a life coach who meditates with her clients.”

What do YOU think? In what cases should a coach consider an alternative title? Or have you recently started calling yourself a coach again after trying a more creative title? Share this post on social media and tell us about it.

Abby Kerr is Creative Director of The Voice Bureau, a boutique brand voice development and copywriting agency serving solo-owned and small businesses. She is creator of The Voice Values paradigm for branding. Subscribe to her e-letter, Insider Stuff, for your complimentary brand voice self-assessment. Then tweet her to share your Top 3 Voice Values.

Abby lives in the PNW and is a home cook, a dog mom, and a fiction writer.