One trend I'm seeing on social media is the rise of personal coaches. It feels like every third or fourth post on my Instagram feed is a quote from some "guru" or a perfectly manicured story of a coach in Tulum, Mexico selling the dream lifestyle. Low barriers to entry are allowing more people to anoint themselves as coaches - and that presents some issues.

Just to confirm: I am a huge fan of coaching. I've had numerous coaches (business, life and otherwise) in the eight years I've been an entrepreneur and they've had a positive and significant impact on my life. Some of the most successful people in sports, business and in life all have coaches. A legitimate coach can take your life or career to a whole new level and the surging energy around wellness is great to see.

Yet most of these new coaches are not legitimate. Reading The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, watching a Dr. Brene Brown TED talk and learning about chakras doesn't give you expertise or the talent to shepherd others through the major healings, breakthroughs or life changes they need to make - personally or professionally.

There are dangers present with this new dynamic. If you fake-it-till-you-make-it as a coach, you're not just being an imposter, you are misleading people at best, and potentially harming their lives at worst.

So what should you do if you want to get a coach? Here are seven questions to determine if the coach you seek is legitimate or not.

1. Do they have the experience in the area you seek help?

This is a nice way of asking if the coach has actually done the things they promise to help you navigate - because many have not. 

If you seek personal help, ask if this coach been through and overcome the things you're experiencing? This could include depression, anxiety, self-limiting beliefs, traumas, self-sabotage, trust issues, etc. 

On a professional level, ask if this coach has started a business, created wealth or been at the levels that you want to reach? Ask them about their career and what they've actually done. 

Be specific, and listen for candid responses from the coach. If their answers seem too surface level, it might be best to move on.

2. What's on their social media?

Another red flag is to look at their social media posts. If all you see on their Instagram are quotes on pastel colored backgrounds (and many of the quotes are their own!) with their freshly created logo, then it might be a good idea to move on.

You can also see how far back their social media accounts go or look for other evidence of their work online. Then you can determine if they are brand new, or have been doing this work for some time.

3. What are they saying?

Legitimate coaches will have more substance than just quotes and memes. They might be writing articles for publications, discussing new learnings on video, hosting seminars and workshops, sharing candidly on their own experiences or finding other ways to provide value. Professional coaches might mention their corporate clients or the work they're doing for others.

Also, pay attention to the language they are using. If they constantly say that you can feel a certain way, or live a certain way, or that they have some special secret, then it's good to exercise some discretion.

Another red flag is how often they talk about association. Do they name drop or talk about celebrity or billionaire clients all the time? Look no further than the failed Fyre Festival as an example of association gone awry.

4. How image-conscious is the coach?

While most of us are guilty of thinking about how something is going to look on Instagram, an imposter coach or "guru" will go above and beyond to bring you a lifestyle that looks incredible.

Why? They're selling an image. They're selling a dream. The dream is the idea that you can look and feel like they do, or live like they do. While it's true that you can live that way too, paying this person $500 a month for their secrets isn't likely going to get you there. 

If the picture they paint for their own lives is too good to be true, it likely is.

5. Do they have certifications?

Many of the top coaching or healing certifications cost several thousands of dollars and help provide tools and frameworks for coaches and healers. While certifications aren't everything, it's certainly important to consider as a method for measuring substance and commitment.

6. How long have they been doing this?

When researching a coach, you should inquire as to their experience level in terms of clients and years of practicing. If they've just started, then it's reasonable to assume that they don't have the expertise, or they may not even be as committed to the work. If you see some history, that's a great sign that they are committed, experienced and have value to bring.

Everyone deserves the opportunity to start from somewhere, yet an inexperienced coach can simply charge as much as an experrienced coach. So it's important to understand the value proposition. 

7. Do they have references?

One quick way to validate a coach is to ask for references. If they are experienced, and effective, then they will definitely have great references. Personally, I provide glowing reviews for many of my coaches.

If the coach is too new to have references, that's ok. Yet, they should be upfront about it. Then you can make a judgement call based on how you feel about them and their pricing.

Final Word

While there are exceptions to every rule, these questions are effective in sniffing out any red flags. You want to feel comfortable on both pragmatic and intuitive levels. At the end of the day, you want to look for honesty, authenticity and expertise.

Use your mind to evaluate their legitimacy and use your intuition to feel out what is best for you. Then dive into the work. Good luck.

Published on: Mar 26, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.