Online Business Coaching Programs: What to Know Before You Buy

Updated on March 30, 2020
heidithorne profile image

Heidi Thorne is a business author with 25 years experience in marketing and sales including a decade in the hotel and trade show industries.


Business Coaching Catnip

I have a good friend who might describe herself as a webinar and training junkie. I can relate. Every one of those new online business coaching programs is like catnip. Irresistible, promising a type or level of success yet to be achieved. Maybe this one is THE one that makes the magic happen.

Usually these programs showcase the success the company or presenter has attained. However, these claims always cause me to ask, "Why hasn't that happened for me?" But just as I expect, these programs and strategies have some serious flaws, primary of which is the "If it worked for me, it'll work for you" fallacy. While learning from people who have "been there, done that" is valuable, watch for these errors in logic before investing in these programs and people.

"I just started and got my first $10K client this month."

This claim can either be made by the program presenter or be a testimonial from a happy program participant. While these claims may be genuine, they might not be the whole story. As well, these may be short term immediate gains.

Also, I learned that some of these advertised successes are due to carry overs from previous businesses or employment. These people may have been able to leverage their existing connections to either get introductions or commitments for their new adventures.

The Catch: Is this result duplicatable? It might be easy to get one big fish. But can another big fish be obtained in the second month? Every month? I want continuing results, not a one-hit sales wonder. Also, if the success depends on having specific networking connections, or if the strategies only work in specific situations, these results are not duplicatable across industries.

"In 1999, I started my dream business and have been successful ever since."

Look at the year. That was a long time ago. That was before the 9/11 attacks, the recession of 2008, and the Internet totally turning the business world upside down.

Also, these successes may have been realized by early adopters in their respective fields. In addition to the impact of right timing, those who have been selling in a market longest often make more money that later entrants.

Similarly, successes that are due to technology may be short lived. Honestly, I can boast that I made tens of thousands of dollars over the years through connections I made on Twitter. But is my success duplicatable? No! Twitter, my business focus, and my audience has changed dramatically since I got on board in late 2008. It no longer works the same way for me. I would have an integrity crisis if I tried to tell people that what I did would work for them now, if at all.

The Catch: What worked "back in the day," may not work now.

"How I used guest blogging (or social media) to get 10K new email subscribers."

Guest blogging is a good thing. Social media is a good thing. Sometimes, though, coaching programs boast that they are surefire good things.

The Catch: Results from guest blogging or social media efforts may have been achieved many years ago, prior to the blog explosion and extreme information overload that is only getting worse. It is very difficult to get people to opt in to email these days, even with excellent incentives. There's just too much good stuff out there. Also, it's been my experience that these results are fleeting. Today's hot post will be lost in what's trending tomorrow.


"I moved to [insert favorite destination here] and my business is booming." OR "I make money while I'm relaxing on the beach."

This is a little more rare. But I have encountered coaching program pitches that highlight the success the presenter has achieved after moving away from a metropolitan, go-go-go lifestyle to a bucolic existence where he enjoys nature, family and all things blissful... all while making crazy good money doing what he loves.

This "beach" scenario also taps into the "winning the lottery" dreams of receiving easy, continuing income without having to be actively involved in a business. What's usually not noted is that these results are often achieved after many years of effort and/or lucky breaks.

The Catch: Every situation is unique and the presenter's scenario may be a unique combination of location and luck. In one such example, I guessed that the presenter was succeeding in the idyllic location because she may have less competition than she would have in her old locale. Nothing wrong with that. It's always good to seek underserved markets and become the go-to provider. But to suggest that this success was solely due to the presenter's program is folly.

True, passive income streams that allow you to take it easy are always the goal! But they may not last without constant monitoring and adjustment. Business is not a set it and forget it endeavor.

"I'm making money selling my coaching program for coaches."

This is akin to a "Send me $100 and I'll tell you how I made $100" scam.

Coaches can often be lured into investing in these programs. When they see that a fellow coach has had stellar success selling the advertised coaching program, they want to know what the secret is. Sadly, though, selling to fellow coaches is usually not the same as selling to clients. Different mindsets and needs.

The Catch: If someone is telling you how they're making mad money selling to you, ask how it works in other industries and situations.

"You may need to invest in additional products and services."

My favorite was the webinar where a participant asked what other investments would be required to achieve success with the promoted program. Then the laundry list of Facebook ads, email automation, and other purchases came out... which, of course, added hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on top of the coaching program cost.

The Catch: True, business coaching or other educational content merely points the way. Investments in products, services, and time will almost always be required. But be careful if those aspects of the program or strategy are glossed over or completely missing.

Get all the facts before investing.

Questions to Ask BEFORE You Buy Online Business Coaching Programs

Although I approach all of these online courses and programs with a healthy dose of skepticism, I will admit that I have gotten some excellent ideas that were buried beneath the bull. So when I consider investing in any of them, here are questions I ask myself before handing over my bucks:

  1. What unique circumstances could have contributed to the advertised success?
  2. When were the advertised results achieved?
  3. Can these results be duplicated across industries and circumstances? If not, where and when are these results most likely to be achieved?
  4. What else would I need to be, do, have, or spend to achieve these results?
  5. What qualifies this company or presenter to discuss this subject?

What About Money Back Guarantees?

Many of these programs offer money back guarantees, offering return of investment, usually within 30 or 60 days, if a participant is unhappy with the program. Does that mean the program is any more reliable or proven? Not always.

First, these program providers know people are busy and overwhelmed, making the investment in this program just one of the thousands of things participants will do in the next month or two. So the chances of participants remembering they can get a refund if unhappy is lower.

As well, program providers know that there will probably be a certain number of refunds they'll have to make. If they've been doing this a while, their track record should give them a good idea of what percentage will be refunded. In the old days, when these programs were physical packages containing books and recordings (cassettes, CDs, and VHS tapes!), this guarantee was a stronger commitment on the part of the provider. But today, most program assets are digital, making any money back assurance an easy offer.

But here's the biggest takeaway: A money back guarantee is not a guarantee of success!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2017 Heidi Thorne


Submit a Comment
  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    3 years ago from Chicago Area

    Flourish, isn't is sad that we can both claim that we've heard all of these fantastic fantasy results before? Ugh! And though I'm waiting for my "beach" scenario to materialize one day, I'll just have to keep plodding along on the hard work path. :) Thanks for adding your thoughts to the conversation! Have a wonderful day!

  • FlourishAnyway profile image


    3 years ago from USA

    These are some great tips for helping people to stop and think more critically about dazzling claims of success. I think I've seen or heard nearly all of these! I wish there were a way to sit back and have a truly passive income stream, but success takes good old fashioned hard work!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    3 years ago from Chicago Area

    Blond, almost everyone is getting in on the coaching game! Back in the 80s and 90s, it was called "consulting." And then there were all the "gurus." My head is getting tired of all the coaching nonsense, too. I'm thinking it's a fad that will eventually fizzle or be called something else down the line. We'll see.

    Genuine coaching is truly a good thing. I've benefited immensely from the few coaches that I've hired over the years. But I selected those people with a great level of care and in the hope of achieving a specific outcome (which I did in all cases). I could continue on my soapbox for another several hundred words or more. But I'll stop here.

    I love the examples you provided! Thanks so much for adding those to the conversation. Appreciate you stopping by. Have a wonderful day!

  • Blond Logic profile image

    Mary Wickison 

    3 years ago from Brazil

    I have listened to so many audio books of people who do coaching, my head is spinning. From Tony Robbins to Grant Cardone to Jen Sincero.

    Just this past week I saw coaching from....wait for it.....Steve Martin. Yes, the 'happy feet' man himself. If I was in the business of writing comedy, then maybe I would have taken a look.

    I have recently found out my ex-brother in law is also running business coaching classes.

    I do think people can benefit from coaching but as you say, questions need to be asked first to see if the information is still valid and useful to your personal situation and industry.

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    3 years ago from Chicago Area

    Thanks, billybuc, for providing a real-life example! Caveat emptor is always the best policy, even with the biggest names. Have a delightful evening!

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 

    3 years ago from Olympia, WA

    If it costs money then I ain't buying. :) Still, all of your points are valid and well-worth paying attention to. I'm thinking right now of online courses offered by James Patterson. Now I have nothing against Patterson, but his best days are behind him; as a matter of fact, he no longer writes the books with his name on them. He does the outline and then coaches another writer to do the actual writing. I just don't see my hard-earned dollars going to Patterson anytime soon. :)


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