Want to get your client relationships off on the right foot? It begins with a strong coaching contract!
Far more than a formality, a well written coaching agreement lays the foundation for an effective partnership. It clarifies the parameters of coaching, and assures that you and your coaching clients share a common understanding of the terms for your working relationship.
If you don’t have your coaching contract in place - or just want to fine tune the one you’ve already got - you’re in the right place!
In this resource guide, we’ll cover:
- Why you need a coaching contract
- The 5 things every life coaching agreement should include
- Boundaries in the coaching relationship
- Logistics, coaching fees, and payment structures
- Cancellation and refund policies
- Coaching contract sample language and templates
Creating the coaching agreement is “the ability to understand what is required in the specific coaching interaction and to come to agreement with the prospective and new client about the coaching process and relationship.” - ICF CODE OF ETHICS
Why You Need A Coaching Contract
How you begin a client relationship sets the tone for the coaching partnership. So rather than viewing a contract as a legal formality, consider it an opportunity to establish credibility and trust.
Odds are, you're reviewing the terms of coaching during your discovery phase with each prospective client. So if you've already gone over how coaching works verbally, why would you need a written contract on top of that?
A coaching contract helps to:
- Affirm the client’s goals for life coaching
- Establish boundaries in the coaching relationship
- Anticipate challenges before they arise
Let’s look at each of these in turn.
1. Affirm Client Goals
To ensure you and your client are on the same page from the outset, it’s useful to work with them to clarify and articulate their goals for coaching.
When you invite new clients to state 1-3 goals for the coaching engagement, it gives you both a starting point against which to measure growth and progress. It also helps you as a coach to track back to your client’s original goals over time.
This typically occurs during the initial consultation session, and can be captured in the coaching agreement itself.
Coaching goals might sound like:
- Evaluate my next steps professionally and secure a new position
- Cultivate a greater sense of self trust and confidence
- Complete a first draft of my novel
- Develop healthy habits to help reach my ideal weight
What if a client’s goals change after the work gets underway?
No problem! Coaching is a client-directed process, so you’re ultimately following their lead. As a life coach, it’s your job to simply check back in around their original goals, and affirm their intent to change course if that’s what is happening.
Types of Coaching Agreements
The ICF recommends two forms of client contracting, which helps address the natural evolution that occurs from one session to the next. Before getting into the specific clauses you'll need in your written coaching agreement, let's clarify the different ways you "contract" with your coaching clients throughout the process.
1) The Coaching Contract
This is the written agreement that both parties sign at the start of the coaching engagement. It includes everything we’re discussing in this article!
2) In-Session Coaching Agreement
A new agreement is essentially made at the start of every coaching session. It happens when you establish the focus of the session, and the outcomes your client hopes to achieve that day.
A simple way to contract at the start of a coaching call is by working through the following questions with your client:
- What do you want to achieve in this session?
- Why do you want to achieve this?
- What’s important about this topic for you today?
- How will we know if we have gotten to the root of your topic today?
- What specifically will you walk away with?
2. Establish Healthy Boundaries
It’s important to set professional boundaries to create trust and emotional safety for your clients. Boundaries also help ensure that neither party is misunderstanding the other, or exploiting the relationship.
Examples of boundaries in coaching:
- Clearly articulated policies
- Understanding the scope and limits of confidentiality
- Practices to maintain emotional safety, objectivity, and non-judgement for your client
- Sustainable business practices that honor your time and expertise
As wellness practitioners, boundaries in the coaching relationship aren't just for our clients. They play an important role for our mental and emotional health too!
Healthy boundaries are a crucial component of self-care. That’s because “in work or in our personal relationships, poor boundaries lead to resentment, anger, and burnout” (Nelson, 2016). - How to Set Healthy Boundaries, Psychology Today
As Brene Brown reminds us: "Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind."
Boundaries make things clear. This helps to preserve the relationship with your client, so whenever they have a life coaching session with you, you're always at your best, most present, most authentic self.
What do boundaries sound like in a coaching contract? They might include:
- Your preferred forms of communication (phone, email, text, etc.)
- Expected response time (example: “I make every effort to respond within 48 hours on Monday - Thursday.”)
- What’s included outside of their scheduled sessions (examples: “unlimited text and email support between coaching sessions” or “up to 3 back and forth emails between sessions”)
3. Anticipate Challenges
Ideally, the terms of your contract will never come under dispute. But let’s face facts: even the most experienced life coaches encounter difficult situations from time to time.
So what can that look like in real life? Consider these client scenarios and how you might handle them:
- A client repeatedly cancels 5 minutes before their scheduled sessions (or doesn’t show up at all!) You’ve held the spot for them on your calendar in good faith, but they don’t think they should have to pay for the time.
- A client disappears for 2 years, then reemerges. They now want to redeem the rest of their unused package sessions, but you are no longer offering the coaching service they originally purchased.
- A client goes through your entire coaching program, then tells you at the end that they are not satisfied and want a full refund.
- A client gets inspired by what they learn from you in your coaching program. So much so that they decide to go into the same line of business as you… using the materials and knowledge they received from YOU! Your former client is now building a business based on your intellectual property, and is operating in direct competition with you.
In order to avoid sticky situations like these, it's useful to lay out your ground rules with coaching clients up front. There's a reason that having coaching agreements in place is considered a best practice, and this is it!
What To Include In A Coaching Contract
At a minimum, a coaching contract should include the following information:
- Definition of Life Coaching
- Fees, Payment Expectations, Refund Policy
- Right to Terminate
SAMPLE COACHING CONTRACT CLAUSES
Definition of Coaching
In this section of the coaching contract, you’re confirming for the client what coaching is, and how it is distinct from other modalities.
The International Coach Federation defines coaching as follows:
Coaching is a partnership between the Coach and the Client in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires the client to maximize personal and professional potential. It is designed to facilitate the creation/development of personal, professional or business goals and to develop and carry out a strategy/plan for achieving those goals.
Whatever language you use, here are some key points you’ll want to hit on in this section of your coaching contract.
- A client-directed process
- A co-equal relationship between coach and client
- Designed to bring about personal goal accomplishment through specific and measurable action steps
COACHING IS NOT:
- Consulting, mentoring or teaching
- Medical treatment or replacement for any kind of medical treatment
The ICF suggests* language such as the following:
Client acknowledges that coaching does not involve the diagnosis or treatment of mental disorders as defined by the American Psychiatric Association and that coaching is not to be used as a substitute for counseling, psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, mental health care, substance abuse treatment, or other professional advice by legal, medical or other qualified professionals. It is the Client’s exclusive responsibility to seek such independent professional guidance as needed. If Client is currently under the care of a mental health professional, it is recommended that the Client promptly inform the mental health care provider of the nature and extent of the coaching relationship agreed upon by the Client and the Coach.
One of the hallmarks of good coaching is that the client is always in the driver’s seat. A professional coach holds that their clients are the experts and leaders in their own lives. Coaching itself is a structured process that helps individuals find their own answers and chart a path forward.
The coaching contract is an important place to reiterate that the client is responsible for the outcomes of their coaching!
Here’s an example from the ICF of how this could be articulated:
Client is solely responsible for creating and implementing his/her own physical, mental and emotional well-being, decisions, choices, actions and results arising out of or resulting from the coaching relationship and his/her coaching calls and interactions with the Coach. As such, the Client agrees that the Coach is not and will not be liable or responsible for any actions or inaction, or for any direct or indirect result of any services provided by the Coach.
This is the “housekeeping” aspect of your contract. It's where you lay out the specifics of how you work with your clients. Some items you might want to address include:
1) How you will meet for sessions
Will you see this client in person, by telephone, or via a teleconference service such as Zoom?
Sample coaching contract language from the ICF:
The time of the coaching meetings and/or location will be determined by Coach and Client based on a mutually agreed upon time. The Client will initiate all scheduled calls and will call the Coach at the following number for all scheduled meetings xxx-xxx-xxxx. If the Coach will be at any other number for a scheduled call, Client will be notified prior to the scheduled appointment time.
2) When you will meet for session
For packages and group programs, include whatever specifics the client needs to be aware of. This could include the dates and times of group calls, or the duration of the work the client is committing to.
For one-on-one clients who are purchasing a package of sessions, you might consider broad language such as “Coaching will take place beginning in August 2022 for a period of three months, which can be extended by agreement of both parties.”
The parties agree to engage in a ___ month Coaching Program through (describe method(s), e.g., in person, internet, telephone) meetings.
3) Terms and conditions around rescheduling or cancellation
Outline clearly for the client what happens when they have to reschedule or cancel.
Do they need to contact you directly? Is there a mechanism for rescheduling online? How much notice is required? Are there penalties for last minute cancellations and no-shows?
Sample coaching contract clause:
Client agrees that it is the Client's responsibility to notify the Coach ___ (number of) hours in advance of the scheduled calls/meetings. Coach reserves the right to bill Client for a missed meeting. Coach will attempt in good faith to reschedule the missed meeting.
4) Boundaries around communication
How should the client communicate with you? Include your preferred methods of communication, along with expected response time.
Coach will be available to Client by email and voicemail in between scheduled meetings as defined by the Coach (describe those terms here). Coach may also be available for additional time, per Client’s request on a prorated basis rate of ________ (for example, reviewing documents, reading or writing reports, engaging in other Client related services outside of coaching hours).
5) Feedback or Problems
Trust and safety form the foundation of every effective coaching relationship. To that end, it can be helpful to include a section that acknowledges the reality that miscommunications and missteps on the part of the coach may occur, and how to address them for relational repair.
The foundation of our coaching relationship is built upon safety and trust. If I should ever say or do anything that troubles you or doesn't feel right, I encourage you to raise your concerns at the time they arise, or during the check in at the end of our session. If it’s more comfortable, you are also welcome to email me afterward.
Fees, Payments and Refunds
If a dispute is going to arise, this is the place where it’s most likely to occur so take your time with this section! In it, you’ll want to include:
- Cost per coaching session/program/package
- Payment schedule, invoicing details
- Method of payment
- Refund policy
This coaching agreement is valid as of 00/00/0000. The fee is ______ (amount in advance if applicable) and/or __________ (amount) per month based on (frequency of meetings such as # of meetings per/ wk, month, etc.).
The calls/meetings shall be ____________ (length of call or meeting for example 30, 45, 60, 90, 120 minutes). If rates change before this agreement has been signed and dated, the prevailing rates will apply.
COMPENSATION The fee for the coaching services you have selected is $XXXX. This includes # (30- 60- 90-) minute coaching sessions over a period of XX months, as well as email consultations between appointments. Additional sessions may be scheduled on an as-needed basis at the rate of $XXX per session.
FORM OF PAYMENT Payment in full is due prior to your first coaching session, unless a monthly payment plan is requested.
Often, life coaches are not sufficiently clear about their stance on refunds. A well-intended, but ineffective refund policy sounds like: “I offer refunds in the case of emergencies.”
The problem with this approach is that if there is a dispute, your criteria for issuing a refund is subjective and unclear. What happens when you determine the client's reason for cancellation was not an "emergency," but the client sees it differently?
Let’s take a look at what’s likely to happen next.
Most fee disputes will be decided by your payment processor.
Your client may choose at any time to dispute the credit card transaction that paid for their coaching with you. If your policies are not clear, the client might offer proof to the bank that they "met" your refund criteria. It’s then up to you to prove that’s not the case.
Outlining your refund policy clearly in the contract helps you provide the necessary documentation to banks and other decision makers.
If your contract states “no refunds,” know that you still have the flexibility and discretion to offer a refund in cases where it feels appropriate to do so.
As a business owner, it’s also important to be aware that consumers typically have more legal protections than your business does. These rights are often specific to where the client lives. If you’re selling services online, it’s generally OK to have a “No Refunds” policy. However, be aware that in some states or regions, there is a specific period of time (such as 3, 5, or 7 days) in which a consumer can request and receive a full refund, “no questions asked.”
If you have a remote coaching practice with clients that span the globe, it’s not feasible to have a different contract for every location. You’ll just need to do a reasonable risk assessment, and be prepared to honor regional requirements should they arise.
Sample refund policy:
Coach does not offer refunds for services rendered, or make-up sessions for missed appointments with less than 24 hours notice. For prepaid coaching packages, a refund of any unused sessions may be requested within XX months of purchase. After that time, any unused sessions are considered forfeit and are non-refundable.
In a coaching relationship, confidentiality includes the protection of any information obtained around the coaching engagement unless consent to release is given by the client. In plain English, what this means is that you won't tell anyone else about what's discussed in client sessions... which includes disclosing WHO your clients are.
With that said, there are exceptions to the expectation of confidentiality that are worth mentioning in your coaching contract. Unlike a doctor or therapist, coaches do not have a legally privileged relationship with their clients.
According to ICF Code of Ethics, confidential information does not include information that:
- was in the Coach’s possession prior to its being furnished by the Client;
- is generally known to the public or in the Client’s industry;
- is obtained by the Coach from a third party, without breach of any obligation to the Client;
- is independently developed by the Coach without use of or reference to the Client’s confidential information;
- the Coach is required by statute, lawfully issued subpoena, or by court order to disclose;
- is disclosed to the Coach and as a result of such disclosure the Coach reasonably believes there to be an imminent or likely risk of danger or harm to the Client or others; or
- involves illegal activity.
Sample contract language:
This coaching relationship, as well as all information (documented or verbal) that the Client shares with the Coach as part of this relationship, is bound by the principles of confidentiality set forth in the ICF Code of Ethics. However, please be aware that the Coach-Client relationship is not considered a legally confidential relationship (like the medical and legal professions) and thus communications are not subject to the protection of any legally recognized privilege. The Coach agrees not to disclose any information pertaining to the Client without the Client’s written consent. The Coach will not disclose the Client’s name as a reference without the Client’s consent.
Right to Terminate
The ICF considers it a best practice to include a coaching termination clause that clarifies that either or both parties may cancel the agreement at any time for any reason. If you are running a coaching program that includes a no refund policy, consider how you might craft a termination clause that acknowledges those parameters.
Either the Client or the Coach may terminate this Agreement at any time with _#__weeks written notice. Client agrees to compensate the Coach for all coaching services rendered through and including the effective date of termination of the coaching relationship.
Should A Lawyer Review Your Coaching Contract?
This guide is intended for informational purposes, and does not constitute legal advice. For guidance regarding your particular circumstances, you may wish to consult a lawyer or professional advisor to review and finalize your business contracts and other legal documents.
* Notice and Disclaimer:
The above contract language has been made available by ICF only as a sample agreement for consideration in creating or developing a contract that represents your legal relationship with your client(s). It is intended to serve as a reference or guide only. You will find possible standard clauses covering a number of important areas of the relationship intended to protect you and your clients. Once you have drafted your version, it is recommended that you review the form with your legal counsel for additional input.
ICF and Lumia are making this sample coaching agreement language available “as is'' without any warranties or representations as to its suitability for any particular purpose. ICF and Lumia disclaim any and all liability or responsibility for any alleged losses, injuries or damages arising out of or resulting from a coach’s voluntary decision to make use of this sample document or any variation hereof.
Ready For Liftoff?
Coaching is a rapidly growing field that is continuously evolving. Even for seasoned coaches and managers, there’s always more to discover. If you’ve not already earned your ICF coaching certification, there’s no better time than now to get started! Come check out Lumia Life Coach Training - a program that's every bit as unique as you are. Grounded in science, our ICF accredited program features authentic instructors, a robust curriculum, business instruction to prepare you for liftoff as an entrepreneur, and fellow students dedicated to becoming a collective force for good.