This article was first published in SA Coaching News.

The results of the 2017 Sherpa Executive Coaching Survey showed an increasing trend for people to use “trade association” (or professional bodies) and “web search” to find an executive coach, with slightly less reliance on personal reference (word-of-mouth-referrals). We don’t have the 2018 figures, but let’s assume that the trends continue as we can see in the table below. While personal reference still remains in the lead by a long shot, it seems to be on a slight downward trend every year, and I can guarantee that if I was looking for a coach and received a referral from a someone I trusted, I would still want to do my own research and check up on them by searching for them on the internet.

Question 2017 2016 2015
How do you find an executive coach?
Personal preference 73% 76% 80%
Trade association 7% 4% 6%
Web search 12% 7% 7%
LinkedIn 4% 4% 3%
Service broker 3% 7% 4%


I would want to know if they belong to a credible professional body to ensure that I am protected by a code of ethics and a complaints procedure in case I happened to have a bad experience (I know, it’s disaster-thinking at its best or risk aversion, depending on how you look at it). I’d also be interested to see what they say about themselves on industry-related directories, where their profiles could easily be scrutinised by their peers.

Next, I would definitely check out their LinkedIn profile to get a quick snapshot about them and their experience. Finally, I would probably check to see if they had a website because it will give me a more detailed sense of the person behind the name, the calibre of their thinking and what kind of work they do. In other words, before I even meet the person, I want to be able to develop some kind of chemistry…or not.

I’m a HUGE fan of using online directories as part of your online Search Engine Optimisation strategy for your website, and actively encourage my clients to look for appropriate online directories to list in.  There are a number of great reasons for this:

  • You can include all of your contact details, including your blog or website address, and Google will pick this up as a website LINKING BACK to your site.  Always remember – when listing your blog or website details online – to include the full URL, for example: This great tip was given to me years ago by a good friend, and the reason for this (including the http:// bit) is that it makes it so much easier for Google to find and index your website.
  • Listing on a variety of online directories across the web means that you put signposts out directing potential clients or customers to your business from many different directions.  If you don’t give people great directions on how to find you, they’ll never get to your front door!
  • One of the very first directories that you need to list on is the directory belonging to your professional body or the association for your type of business. While this may seem like a given, the professional body or association should be doing a good job of marketing the credibility of your body or association – credibility that you would hopefully want to be associated with! They should also continually be working on their search engine optimisation to ensure that they come up tops in the list of search results on keywords that apply to you.

By the way, if you do take my advice and list on your professional body’s online directory, you will also find yourself in the minority as I can name two professional bodies off hand where only 20% – 50% of their members have actually bothered to create online profiles. What an absolute opportunity for those members who have taken the time and trouble to get their profiles published.

  • You will be able to find as many directories as you are prepared to search for.  Ensure that your message and content remain consistent no matter where you are listed, but also ensure that you tailor your basic profile to fit the target market of the online directory.

Some of the online directories that I use or recommend are:

  • Directories belonging to the professional associations that I am a member of. In the case of the coaching profession, if you are a member of the ICF, COMENSA, ABCCP, WABC, EMCC, IMCSA and so on, you absolutely MUST list in their online member directories as this is one of the main places that people – who are looking for coaches – will be directed to when they use search engines;
  • Directories that are profession-related, for example Remember that the owners of these websites and directories depend on your subscription fees for their income so they are going to make 100% sure that their directories remain at the top of the list of search results when anyone searches for a coach.
  • LinkedIn is, strictly-speaking, a social media platform for professional networking, but we know from the research results that it is becoming one of the places that potential clients visit when they are looking for a coach. LinkedIn also gives us a great idea of just how many other people are in the same pool as us as you can easily search on a term and get detailed results.

Now, here are some frightening stats. We all know that coaching is one of the fastest growing industries but check out the change in the numbers from when I searched on LinkedIn on a few keywords in just 12 months:

Keyword January 2019 January 2018
Coach 5,427,647 1,603,532
Coach South Africa 88,353 27,226
Executive coach 1,057,036 109,051
Business coach 2,614,111 137,029
Life coach 1,123,773 81,579

I realise that I’m just giving you the bald statistics without analysing them in any detail but they do seem to confirm that the field of coaching, and the number of people calling themselves coaches, is growing at a rate of knots. Watch out for follow-on articles in the next two issues of SA Coaching News in which I deal with:

  • How to make your profile stand out from the rest (March 2019);
  • What you need to do to differentiate yourself from everyone else (April 2019).



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