I had been aspiring to become a life coach for a long time and therefore, on one fine Saturday morning in February 2019, during my final semester of college, I woke up at 6 am and travelled for two hours to go for a workshop meant for aspiring life coaches at the Radisson Blue in Aerocity. After years of writing about spirituality, I wanted to go on to the next level and get certified so that I could ethically coach people. I had heard about this workshop by Arfeen Khan on Facebook and signed up to confirm my participation. Upon reaching, I waited for over 40 minutes at the reception chatting with a woman working in Leadership & Development + HR at a corporate firm about her interest in coaching.
As I finally entered the conference room, I heard loud pop music playing, and two women who were meant to facilitate the session appeared, dancing and welcoming everyone. The first one, Lata (name changed) spoke intently about how she ended up being a life coach- amidst her mundane life, where she did everything perfectly, from getting the right degrees, jobs, to a husband but felt that something was missing. She dreamt of becoming a female version of Tony Robbins in India one day.
The second one, Janvi (name changed), who was dressed elegantly (and to my surprise was also just a year or two older to me) spoke about her journey- having been swayed by Arfeen’s vision right from college, working as a life coach and positivity influencer was her very first job.
What was great was that 99% of the people present there were either educators, HR managers, existing coaches or practitioners of some form of wellness tool like Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP). The AK Team had done their due diligence by targeting the right crowd through digital ads, something they proudly boasted about later on.
Some profound truths came up during this workshop, delivered by both Janvi and Lata. Having been in my spiritual writing closet for a long time, the following was some of the knowledge shared that really stood out-
- Probable impact: Empathetic people with a deep desire to help others often delay their path to becoming a coach because they still feel “imperfect” in their own lives- not having had breakthroughs in their own issues. To tackle this, the team shared that “It’s not just about you when you choose to procrastinate on the process of becoming a coach, but how many people could have benefitted from your speaking out or coaching, the impact you could have made in their lives”- This was a very convincing argument because it pushed me to look at the probable impact of me speaking out.
- Healing simultaneously: Personal growth and coaching happen simultaneously- “Don’t wait to fix your issues first, and then become a coach, but you yourself will heal and grow as you coach others. Don’t wait to be perfect to start practising.”
- Coaching as a tool for peace: Janvi narrated a story of her being selected as a Change.org influencer and how when they asked the participants what kind of changes or interventions they thought could lead to impact, Janvi emphasized that she would coach people for impact, rather than only write petitions. This was something that I felt too because change happens both on an individual, as well as societal/ structural level. Doing one without the other is incomplete.
Following this, they showed us a pre-recorded video of Arfeen narrating his life story, how he made it as a celebrity life coach (he’s Hrithik Roshan’s coach) in India when he had no academic success in the UK. He stated some logical facts such as how, as a coach you need a method and a system that works on your clients and is a cohesive philosophy. His key points were that:
- Results and Credibility: Information is not enough, clients need results. He offered how his brand could help one develop their system or how they as a coach could use his pre-made system/ coaching methodology. He emphasized on the importance of credibility, how people aren’t stupid and would prefer to go to someone who truly makes sense to them. Having social proof of your abilities as a coach is too important, maybe in the form of genuine client testimonials.
- Importance of Marketing: He then went on to the main selling point- how one can start off as a coach, be in a situation where they don’t have any clients- especially paying ones, then get depressed and need a coach themselves. He reiterated that we can save ourselves from that trouble of not getting any business if we get trained under his brand, for they will guarantee us business by helping in getting clients as soon as we finish our training, hence helping us get a return on the investment into coach training immediately. He swore by his digital marketing team and for the trainees to have the means to build their own private coaching business simultaneously as they work under his brand.
- Format of Work: He also mentioned that most successful coaches are those who work as coaches only part-time, which intrigued me quite a bit, since I too plan to only be a part-time coach.
They had found a gap in the market: coaches being unable to market themselves effectively. Helping coaches market themselves was the main USP of their product, which was pretty smart. Their head of Digital Marketing then spoke about how they used tools like Facebook analytics to target the right people to attend these workshops as proof of their team’s prowess.
Janvi made a lot of sense when she encouraged a young man and woman who had just left their corporate consulting jobs to work for the greater good, to join this coach training program. They were adamant on going to schools to do experiential workshops, which she was convinced would not be monetizable in a country like ours. She emphasized on how young people are especially those that are unable to pay, hence the ex-consultants would find it difficult to make this a viable career option.
Yes, after making quite a bit of sense, the team spilled water all over their efforts by almost entrapping the participants into paying upfront for the coach training at a “discounted rate” for a minimum time period.
Arfeen’s video ended with him saying that if we enroll for the coach training course at any normal time of the year, it would cost us around 2 lakhs or something, but if we signed up that very day, it would be discounted to half of it. I don’t remember the exact percentage, but it was a significant difference.
What was abysmal was that both Janvi and Lata were now persuading everyone to sign up on that very day. Since the structured part of the seminar was over, I wanted to use the opportunity to speak with Janvi about her experiences, since she was very close in age to me, but she shrugged me off when she saw my hesitance to pay upfront and join the training program. It seemed as if I wasn’t “cut out” or “good enough” for her to engage with if I wasn’t convinced by this whole seminar.
This was really superficial, because a true champion of personal growth would be beyond such cheap persuasion tactics and want to engage with people regardless of them buying into their schemes right on the spot. On seeing her lack of maturity, I was further put off.
Nobody likes aggressive salespersons. This is the 21st century. The best way to sell is to not sell, but to consult. Selling through entrapment is an old trick, and it can’t work for today’s generation, because it does not take informed consent into account, but uses cajoling tactics.
Finally, I went home, but with various insights. For starters, I felt more compelled to share my personal growth writing because of the impact argument made by their team. But, more importantly, this seminar raised many questions about life coach certification in India, and the market that exists for it. Arfeen Khan’s is one of the few players that exist, especially at this scale.
Most other courses are even more commercialised and approach specific. For example, there are specific trainings for those interested in NLP, probably one of the most popular tools, or Heartfulness, and Pranic healing. I say this because as an aspiring coach for many years, I have not found the “right” training for myself. This was in fact the first local (Indian) one that ever reached me!
Erickson Coaching and Coacharya are there too, but Erikson is again approach centric. Coacharya boasts of having International Coach Federation (ICF) accreditation, which interestingly Arfeen never mentions anywhere. His website “CoachtoFortune” says “Once you have successfully completed the 90-day training with us, we will certify you as an Arfeen Khan Certified Incredible Coach (AKCIC). This helps hugely because you won’t have to go through the headache of building your credibility, instead use Arfeen’s!”.
Coacharya specifically offers services in coach training, but as a brand, they are not represented by one face, like Arfeen’s CoachtoFortune is. This can be a good and a bad thing, but Arfeen’s personal brand comes with celebrity testimonials, which is a huge bonus.
Mental health is finally becoming a bigger topic of discussion in the country, arguably being talked about with reduced stigma each year. People are very slowly becoming more open to seeking help, but what’s a better euphemistic escape from the stigma of saying you are going to a psychologist than saying you’re going to a life coach!? This is one of the main reasons I see life coaching becoming very popular. I will be discussing regulation (or the lack thereof) in this field in another piece, but for now, we all can agree that this market is only getting bigger.
Hence, I see many new players entering the game soon. With the lack of alternatives, my bet is that Arfeen’s will be the one disrupting it and having a monopoly due to his accurate marketing gap analysis, celebrity credibility, and an early mover advantage.
I sure do hope that more mature and socially conscious programs are initiated in this space. Who knows, maybe I will start one of my own!?
If you know of any good coach training programs, then please comment below to let me know! I am eagerly seeking one.