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  • Toby Sinclair

Artificial Intelligence Coaching - How To Grow Your Coaching Business

In this guide, I will share exactly how you can leverage Artificial Intelligence Coaching in your business. You will gain new clients, provide an enhanced experience to your clients, and grow your revenue by offering a stand-out solution.


I speak from experience. I have built a successful coaching business that incorporates AI Coaching. I built TobyAI, an AI clone of my coaching style.



This AI future is not embraced by all professional coaches. Results from a 2023 survey completed by the International Coaching Federation found only 29% of coaches see AI as an asset to their business. You can stand out from the crowd and become an innovator.


In this guide, I’ll debunk the facts and myths, provide answers to the most common questions, and equip you with practical steps to get started with AI Coaching today!


This ultimate guide is broken into three sections. Feel free to jump straight to what you need:


(Perfect for anyone new to the topic)


(Aimed at anyone who wants practical ways to get started)


(For those curious about what comes next)


Let's begin!


Disclaimer: ChatGPT was used to brainstorm ideas for this article, review early drafts, and help proofread the final copy. You can find the prompts used in the appendix.


Artificial Intelligence Coaching:  Myth or Miracle?


AI and Coaching might be two of the most overloaded terms on the planet. Combined, they can be a recipe for confusion and misunderstanding. Therefore, defining terms is an important place to start.


AI, broadly defined, leverages computer systems to simulate human intelligence processes, including learning, reasoning, and self-correction. In 2023 AI hit the headlines due to the advancements in AI-powered Chat Bots. Predominantly the advancements made by OpenAI, creators of ChatGPT. These use a type of AI called generative AI.


Coaching might be even trickier to define than AI. Let's take a very formal definition from the International Coaching Federation:


Partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential, which is particularly important in today’s uncertain and complex environment. Coaches honour the client as the expert in his or her life and work and believe every client is creative, resourceful and whole.

However, this formal definition is not how the general public would describe it. When a friend said they worked as a coach, the person responded “Which sport?”. Coaching is associated with experts advising to help people solve problems. In the workplace, it is typically associated with fixing underperformance: “I need a coach to fix my team”. 


You didn’t come here for coaching definitions, but this contrasting definition is important. When you find an AI coach, the style of coaching will vary. Without training and guidance, tools will very much follow the dictionary definition of coaching.


I asked ChatGPT to define coaching in a one-sentence summary: 


“Coaching is a collaborative process in which a trained professional (coach) helps individuals or groups achieve their goals, maximize their potential, and develop personally or professionally through guidance, support, and accountability.”

- ChatGPT 3.5


Nothing groundbreaking, but one word does stand out; guidance. This typically means giving advice and direction. So out-of-the-box AI coaches will often take a directive approach. Professional coaches should not be surprised to find most AI coaches are not coaching as per the ICF competencies. 


Even if the coaching style of the AI does align there are also technical constraints that limit AI coaching effectiveness. Jazz Rasool has an excellent article that defines coaching on a spectrum from Transactional to Transformational.


Transactional coaching focuses on specific tasks or objectives, offering immediate solutions and feedback. Transformational coaching dives deeper, aiming for profound changes in beliefs, values, and systems of thought over time. Today's AI coaching platforms and tools predominantly deliver transactional conversations. Helping clients work through problems in a very logical and rational approach. Typically they implement a simple coaching model such as GROW. They step through a series of steps/questions to help the client think through their challenge.


Based on this, some professional coaches may quickly discount AI coaching tools. Claiming that they cannot possibly help create the transformational outcomes that coaching conversations enable. Whilst I do agree with this reservation, it is missing other opportunities. Transactional coaching, although simpler, can still deliver good outcomes for clients. A simple question or just spending a short amount of time with a thinking partner, albeit a machine, can lead to good outcomes. Later on in this guide, I share how Transformational coaching might very well be possible in the future.


Despite the limited capabilities of AI today, several professional coaches are embracing this future. Their mission is to build AI coaches that coach in line with professional competencies. Some even hope, including myself, that we can build an AI coach in the future that can provide transformational coaching conversations.


Still not convinced? Here are some real-life examples of how AI coaching is being used today.


AI Coaching - Myth or Fact?


Case Studies of Using Artificial Intelligence for Coaching


AI coaching can help solve a variety of challenges across personal development, professional growth, and organizational change. Here are three areas clients are turning to AI coaching for help today.


Skill Development and Reskilling: In a rapidly changing job market, staying current with the necessary skills is a significant challenge for many professionals. AI coaching platforms can tailor learning programs to an individual's needs, helping them acquire new skills or update existing ones efficiently. 


Examples: bunch.ai, kona.ai


Behavioral Change and Habit Formation: AI coaching can assist in behavioral change by providing consistent, personalized support and feedback. Whether it's adopting healthier lifestyle habits, improving productivity, or developing new professional behaviors, AI can track progress, suggest adjustments, and encourage users through their journey, making the goal of lasting change more attainable.



Stress Management and Mental Well-being: With the increasing awareness of mental health's importance, AI coaching can offer tools and techniques for stress management and emotional well-being. Through mood tracking, personalized exercises, and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques, AI can help individuals manage stress, anxiety, and other mental health challenges, providing support whenever it's needed.


Examples: pi.ai, wysa.com


Below are three specific case studies that exemplify how AI is being utilized to enhance the coaching experience across different spectrums.


Case Study 1: Toby AI - An AI coach


I built Toby AI as an experiment into how easily I could create a clone of my coaching approach. The results have gone beyond my expectations. Since its launch, TobyAI has had 200+ coaching sessions across a variety of conversations. Here is an example conversation shared with consent (more on this later):


Hi - I'm TobyAI, a Professional Coach. I help you explore your challenges. I do this by asking questions that help you find clarity and inspire action.


Lately I’ve been finding it hard to socialise in large groups. I don’t know why.


I can understand that finding it difficult to socialize in large groups can be quite challenging. It's natural to feel this way at times. Let's explore this together. What is your goal when it comes to socializing in large groups? What would you like to achieve?


I want to make friends and great good first impressions


It's great that you have a clear goal in mind regarding making friends and creating positive first impressions. What does making friends and creating a good first impression look like to you in the context of a large group setting?


It means feeling part of the group. Not being on the sidelines.


Thank you for sharing that perspective. It sounds like being engaged and connected with the group is important to you. Can you tell me more about what is currently happening when you are in large group settings?


I feel disengaged. I want to be alone. But at the same time I don’t want to be alone.


It sounds like you're experiencing a mix of feelings that pull you in different directions, which can be quite a complex situation. How important is it for you to overcome this feeling of disengagement and find a balance between being alone and being a part of the group?


It’s important as I have an event coming up soon that I’m hosting. This skill is important in developing my business and getting new clients.


Understood, the upcoming event and its impact on your business and client relationships certainly adds significance to this. On a scale of 1–10, with 10 being fully engaged and integrated in the group, where would you say you are currently?


4


Thank you for sharing that with me. It sounds like you're partway there, with some room to grow in feeling engaged. What do you feel is contributing to your sense of disengagement in these settings?


As skilled coaches will notice TobyAI is based upon the GROW model. Although a foundational model, it’s surprising the value of a simple structured conversation with an AI coach can be.



Case Study 2: AI for Stressed-Out Managers


A feature published by the Harvard Business Review outlines how AI can serve as a valuable tool for managers overwhelmed by their coaching responsibilities. The article discusses an AI platform that assists managers in identifying and addressing the specific needs of their team members more efficiently. Through AI's data-driven insights, managers can provide targeted support and feedback, thereby fostering a more supportive and productive work environment. This approach not only alleviates the stress on managers but also enhances the overall coaching quality provided to employees.


Read the full details of this case study on HBR's website.


Case Study 3: AI Team Coaching


Oxford Leadership presents a comprehensive study on utilizing artificial intelligence to augment the coaching process. The study reveals how AI can be employed to analyze vast amounts of data, offering insights that human coaches might overlook. For instance, AI tools were used to assess communication patterns within a team, identifying underlying issues that were hindering performance. Based on these insights, coaches were able to develop targeted interventions, leading to improved team dynamics and productivity. This case study demonstrates the potential of AI to complement traditional coaching methods, providing a richer, data-informed approach to personal and professional development.

Discover more about this innovative approach to coaching at Oxford Leadership's website.


The Advantages of AI Coaching for Clients


The advantages of AI coaching are many, appealing to clients seeking efficient, personalized, and scalable solutions for personal and professional development. Below, are a few reasons why AI coaching is becoming increasingly attractive to clients.


Reduced Costs


Traditional one-on-one coaching can be expensive, limiting access to those who can afford it. In organizations, L&D coaching budgets tend to be reserved for executives. For a self-pay option, clients find it difficult to justify the investment in their personal development. As a result, coaching tends to have less uptake. AI coaches might be a solution to bring effective coaching to the masses.


Personalization


AI coaching stands out for its ability to tailor coaching programs to the individual needs of each client. By leveraging data analytics and machine learning, AI systems can understand a client's preferences, learning styles, and progress, adjusting the coaching content in real-time to better suit their requirements. This level of personalization ensures that clients receive the most relevant and impactful coaching experience possible. 


Safe and Risk-Free Learning


AI chatbots provide dynamic role-play that allows clients to practice new skills in a risk-free environment. These simulations can mimic real-life challenges and decision-making situations, enabling clients to experiment with different strategies and learn from their outcomes without any real-world consequences. Particularly useful for practicing the conversations leaders fear the most.


The AI Advantages for a Coaching Business


Implementing AI coaching into your business, demonstrated by tools like TobyAI, offers a strategic advantage in today’s competitive landscape. This technology not only enhances the quality and reach of your coaching services but also opens up new avenues for growth and innovation. Here’s how AI coaching can significantly expand your coaching business:


24/7, Global Market


One of the most compelling benefits of integrating AI coaching into your business is the promise of round-the-clock availability. Traditional coaching models are constrained by time zones, working hours, and personal schedules, limiting the number of clients you can engage. AI coaching breaks these barriers, offering clients access to coaching services whenever they need them, regardless of geographical limitations. This continuous availability can significantly boost client satisfaction and retention, making your services more attractive to a global audience. Additionally, AI coaches can speak in multiple languages, enabling clients to get access to coaching in their preferred language.


Generate Leads


The novelty and efficiency of AI coaching are powerful lead magnets for potential clients. Leveraging AI technology can position your business at the forefront of innovation, attracting individuals and organizations looking for cutting-edge solutions to their development needs. By marketing your AI coaching services effectively, you can capitalize on the growing interest in AI and tech-driven solutions, increasing your visibility and attracting a broader client base. Riding the wave of AI’s popularity can help you stand out in a crowded market, drawing in leads who are eager to experience the benefits of AI-enhanced coaching. At the end of AI coaching sessions, you can upsell premium services, such as specialized AI coaches or in-person sessions.


New Monetization Opportunities


AI coaching opens up new monetization channels for your business. Beyond traditional one-on-one or group coaching sessions, you can offer subscription-based AI coaching services, premium AI coaching sessions, or personalized development plans powered by AI analytics. These services can cater to a diverse range of client needs and budgets, providing flexible options that enhance your business model. Furthermore, the scalability of AI allows you to serve more clients without a proportional increase in costs, enhancing your revenue potential. AI tools can also be integrated with payment platforms like Stripe. TobyAI integrates with Buymeacoffee.com. At the end of the session, clients are asked to give a digital tip. 


Reduce Burden on Chemistry Sessions


Chemistry sessions, while crucial for establishing client-coach compatibility, can be time-consuming and not always result in a coaching engagement. AI coaching can streamline this process by handling preliminary assessments, gauging client needs, and matching them with the most suitable coaching approach or program. This initial filtering process can save valuable time and resources, allowing human coaches to focus on clients with the highest potential for a productive coaching relationship.


Improving Your Business Operations


Beyond direct coaching, AI can significantly enhance various aspects of a coaching business in innovative and efficient ways. Here are a few other applications of AI within a coaching business:


Content Creation


Every professional coach I know struggles with creating content consistently. It’s time-consuming to write an article or LinkedIn post that only gathers a few likes. And importantly no clients. However, the coaches who do this well can generate high-quality leads and demonstrate their knowledge. AI helps support the creative process, helping you to scaffold articles and social media posts. My experience is that you still need to refine the writing. But it can give you a little nudge in the right direction.


Operational Efficiency and Automation


AI can optimize various operational aspects of a coaching business, from scheduling and billing to client progress tracking. Automation of these tasks reduces administrative workload, allowing coaches to focus more on coaching and less on back-end operations. Efficiency in these areas can lead to cost savings and improved service delivery.


Feedback Analysis and Quality Improvement.


AI tools can analyze feedback from clients to identify patterns, preferences, and areas for improvement. This can help coaches refine their methods, develop new coaching programs, and improve client satisfaction. AI-driven analysis of feedback provides actionable insights that can enhance the quality and effectiveness of coaching services.


Challenges with AI Coaching for Clients and Business Owners


While AI coaching presents numerous opportunities for growth and impact in the coaching industry, it also faces significant challenges and limitations, particularly in the realms of emotional connection and privacy.


Loss of Human Touch and Emotional Connection


The essence of coaching lies in the unique, empathetic relationship built between coach and client, a connection grounded in mutual understanding and trust. Coaches not only offer skilled listening but also emotional support, which is paramount during times of personal or professional turmoil. AI, despite its advancements, cannot fully comprehend and replicate human emotions. It may provide insights based on data but cannot replace the nuanced understanding a human coach brings to a session. This limitation raises concerns about AI's effectiveness in scenarios that require deep emotional intelligence and empathy. The absence of genuine human interaction could leave clients feeling underserved, particularly those navigating complex emotional challenges. Despite this challenge, I’m reminded that not every coaching conversation needs to be a transformative conversation that leads to a life-changing result. Additionally, most AI coaching tools are text-based, which could limit the depth of conversation. While some platforms are exploring voice capabilities to enrich interactions, the challenge of ensuring these conversations remain private and secure persists.


Privacy, Security, and Ethical Considerations


As with any technology that handles personal data, AI coaching introduces privacy and security concerns. Clients entrust coaches with sensitive information, expecting confidentiality. AI systems, especially those relying on cloud storage and processing, are vulnerable to data breaches, potentially compromising client privacy. Moreover, the ethical use of AI in coaching demands rigorous standards to ensure that algorithms are free from biases and that decisions made by AI are transparent and explainable. Safeguarding against these risks is paramount to maintaining client trust.

 

Safety and Well-being

 

Sometimes coaching clients may share distressing or traumatic experiences. The ability of AI to recognize these situations and appropriately signpost resources or escalate to human intervention is crucial. The current capabilities of AI may not always accurately identify or respond to such scenarios, highlighting the need for safeguards and human oversight in AI coaching solutions.


Addressing these challenges is crucial for the sustainable integration of AI into coaching practices. As technology evolves, finding solutions that preserve the core values of coaching while leveraging AI's strengths will be key to enhancing the coaching industry.


How To Get Started with an AI Coach in Your Business


The benefits of AI coaching for your clients and your business operations are compelling. However, with all the technical jargon, and competing platforms it can be hard to know where to start. I’ll share with you specific steps, to get started with AI coaching today:


The Do-It-Yourself Approach


A big reason why AI has hit the headlines is the democratization of AI platforms and models. No longer do you need a big budget to access powerful AI tools. ChatGPT has a free tier available to everyone. Hundreds of free training courses can get you from foundational knowledge to expert. The DIY approach will take a high amount of time and energy, but this is valuable knowledge for the future.


Three fundamental steps of this approach:

  1. Research and test out the AI tools available across the market. ChatGPT, Gemini, and Claude are three good tools to start with. You can find hundreds of free guides on how to get started with these.

  2. Design and develop prompts for your AI coach. In simple terms, a prompt is the instructions given to the AI model. Prompt engineering is quickly becoming a profession in itself. I’ve spent days, learning how to write the most effective prompts.

  3. Make your AI coach accessible to clients. OpenAI recently launched a GPT store, where you can very easily deploy your AI coach. Whilst highly accessible, the disadvantage is a lack of insight into the coaching provided. You get to know that sessions are completed, but not the content. Whilst for some this might be ok. Any coaches working in a hybrid model will likely want the transcript from AI coaching sessions. Platforms like Pickaxe enable you to develop an AI coach, deploy it on your website, and view the transcripts.

Time to market: 20-40hrs (for a high-quality product)


Done-For-You


Many platforms and services are launching to help coaches on their AI journey. Many have a subscription model that gives you access to coach your clients using the platform. Coachvox is a platform that enables you to create a coaching clone in minutes. The downside to these hosted solutions is price. At $99 a month, few coaches are likely to make this investment for their business.


Another approach is to use an AI Coach Builder service. Think of this like a website designer. Instead of creating a website, the designer will build your AI tool. This is something I offer to coaches, to develop a clone of their coaching approach. Similar to TobyAI. I train the AI coach based on your guidelines, test the model, and then deploy this so it’s accessible to your clients from your website. This is all done at a fraction of the cost of a hosted solution.


Three fundamental steps of this approach:

  1. Choose a platform or designer. This is an important step to ensure you choose the partner that’s right for your business. If you are certain AI is right for your business, investing in a premium service could be worthwhile

  2. Customize the AI coach on personal coaching approach and style. This is an important step to ensure your coach is differentiated from others and truly provides your personal touch to coaching. You can ensure it uses a coaching framework you prefer or ask your favorite questions.

  3. Make the AI coach accessible to your clients. Ensure that any provider enables clients to access the AI coach on multiple devices. The ability to chat with an AI coach on the go via Mobile devices is something clients are particularly interested in. Once you’ve deployed the AI coach, monitor and review the chat data to identify ways to optimize the coaching conversations.


Time to market: Less than 30 minutes


A Cautionary Note on Free AI Tools


To get started there are hundreds of free AI platforms and tools. A cautionary tale is that these free tiers will likely not deliver optimal coaching conversations. For example, OpenAI has multiple versions of ChatGPT. The 3.5 model is free to all but from my experience, delivers a very poor client experience within a coaching conversation. In contrast, ChatGPT Plus operates on 4.0. The coaching conversations with this model are much more human-like. Perfect for coaching conversations. TobyAI is built upon ChatGPT 4.0 and all the coaches I develop are too.


What Makes a “Good” AI Coach?


Creating a "Good" AI coach involves a blend of advanced technology, psychological insight, and user-friendly design. Here are five considerations when developing an AI Coach:


  1. Personalization Capabilities: A good AI coach should offer a high level of personalization, adapting its coaching style and content based on individual user needs and goals. A reminder, ICF defines coaching as a “thought-provoking and creative process” so a conversation with an AI coach should feel this way too.

  2. Evidence-based Techniques: For professional coaches, it's crucial that the AI coach coaches. You should review the AI coach against the ICF coaching competencies. For example, does the AI coach stay in a coaching stance, or move to giving advice and solving the problem for the client? As we explore at the start of this guide, without training, most AI coaches will follow the dictionary definition of coaching and give lots of advice.

  3. User Privacy and Data Security: Given the personal nature of coaching, the AI platform must have robust privacy policies and data protection measures in place. These should be transparent to the client and easy to understand. Over time, this will no doubt become an important factor in clients choosing AI coaches they can trust.

  4. User Interface and Experience: The platform should be intuitive and user-friendly, making it easy for users of all tech-savviness levels to benefit from the coaching provided. ChatGPT provides both text and voice interaction. In the future, no doubt there will be further integration with Virtual Reality platforms.

  5. Integration with Other Tools: The ability to integrate with other productivity tools and platforms can enhance the coaching experience, allowing for a more holistic development approach. A simple example is integration with calendar tools for scheduling and reminders.


Red Flags to Watch Out For


I’ve referenced several times the wide variation in AI coaches. When working with an AI coach or service provider, there are a few red flags to watch for:


  1. Overreliance on Generic Responses: If an AI coach often provides generic, one-size-fits-all advice, it may not be sophisticated enough to truly personalize the coaching experience. In this case, likely, the prompt used for the coaching is poorly developed, and/or they are using a lower-power AI model, such as GPT3.5 vs GPT4.

  2. Lack of Transparency About Data Use: Providers that are not clear about how they use and protect user data could pose a privacy risk.

  3. Lack of Coaching Session History: AI coaches should ideally learn and evolve based on user interactions. A lack of this feature could mean the coaching will not improve or adapt over time. It will create a disjointed experience for the client.

Developing an AI coach for your business requires careful consideration of these factors to ensure that it will genuinely benefit the client, providing meaningful, personalized conversation while maintaining privacy and security.


AI Coaching in Organisations


How do you scale coaching? This has been a challenge HR and People Leaders have been facing for years. They know the power of coaching with a select number of employees, typically executives, but struggle to justify the cost for everyone across the organization.

Companies like Better Up have started to solve this problem. AI takes it to the next level. In the future, AI will be embedded into all parts of an organization. Co-pilot today is already creating documents, drafting emails, and making productivity recommendations.

Here's how AI coaching applies in organizations:


Personalized Development at Scale


Organizations can use AI coaching to deliver personalized learning and development programs to employees at scale. Unlike traditional coaching, which might be limited by resources and time, AI can provide individualized guidance to a large number of employees simultaneously, catering to their specific needs, career goals, and learning preferences.


Enhanced Leadership and Management Skills


AI coaching platforms can offer specialized programs aimed at improving leadership and management skills. Through scenario-based learning and decision-making simulations, leaders can enhance their ability to inspire, motivate, and manage teams effectively. AI can also provide managers with insights into their leadership style, helping them to become more effective leaders.


Efficient Performance Management


Organizations can integrate AI coaching into their performance management systems to offer continuous, on-demand feedback to employees. This approach not only helps in identifying and addressing performance gaps in real time but also supports the professional growth of employees by providing them with actionable insights and learning resources.


Support for Mental Well-being and Stress Management


AI coaching can extend support for mental well-being by offering programs and exercises designed to reduce stress, improve resilience, and promote mental health. In an organizational context, this can lead to improved employee satisfaction, reduced absenteeism, and a more positive workplace culture.


Data-driven Insights for HR Strategies


AI coaching platforms can provide organizations with valuable data and insights into employee engagement, skill development, and coaching effectiveness. HR departments can use this data to inform strategic decisions, optimize talent management processes, and measure the ROI of coaching initiatives.


What does the Future Hold?


The surge in coaching's popularity can be attributed to an increasing recognition of its value in fostering growth, development, and adaptability in rapidly changing environments. This rise coincides with significant technological advancements, marking a shift from basic software tools to the integration of advanced AI applications within coaching platforms.

Historically, the coaching industry has relied on direct human interaction, guided by intuition, experience, and personal connection. The introduction of AI, particularly in the form of chatbots, has transformed this landscape. While most AI coaching tools remain text-based, innovations such as ChatGPT are exploring auditory dimensions to make interactions more natural and engaging. Moreover, the potential merger of AI with virtual reality (VR) opens up new frontiers, hinting at a future where metaverse coaching becomes a reality. This blend of AI and VR promises an immersive coaching experience, leveraging the best of both worlds to create a space where personal growth and development can thrive in an entirely virtual environment.


As AI continues to evolve, its application in coaching expands, promising unprecedented access to personalized coaching at scale. The journey from rudimentary software to AI-driven platforms reflects a broader trend toward leveraging technology to enhance human capabilities, making coaching more effective, accessible, and tailored to individual needs.


Appendix


This GPT was used to assist with the initial ideas for the article:


Whilst the GPT gave some good suggestions for topics, the writing was robotic. So the majority of written text is mine.

1 Comment


Antonio Ricca
Antonio Ricca
Mar 25

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