The Comprehensive Guide to Acquiring a Business Coach Certification

business coaching certification
October 17, 2022
Table of Contents

As the business landscape changes and shifts continuously, more and more business owners are turning to professional business coaches to help them grow their business, navigate challenges, and formulate strategies to reach their stated goals.  

The demand for top-notch business coaches is quite high but the segment is unregulated and crowded. Against this backdrop, more and more companies want business coaches with credentials that lend legitimacy. In fact, the 2022 ICF Global Consumer Awareness Study found that 85% of coaching clients think it is very important for their coach to hold a certification or credential. 

The ICF (International Coaching Federation) is the most respected and well-known coaching program certifier and remains the gold standard for business coaching certification. In fact, the ICF Credential is the only globally recognized professional coaching certification. 

Read on to know how to acquire a business coach certification, what to expect from business coaching certification programs and how they can help build a successful business coaching practice.  

ICF Accredited Programs  

In order to earn an ICF-approved business coach certification, you have to go through a meticulous learning & practical process that provides legitimacy and credibility. ICF-certified business coaches gain immediate credibility and enhanced visibility and are considered elite coaches committed to pursuing excellence in the field of coaching. 

ICF offers three credentials that are compatible with the quantity of education and experience required to earn them.  

  • Associate Certified Coach (ACC) – certification requires 60+ hours of training and 100 hours of coaching experience 
  • Professional Certified Coach (PCC) – certification requires 125+ hours of training and 500 hours of coaching experience 
  • Master of Certified Coach (MCC) – certification requires 200+ hours of training plus 2,500 hours of coaching experience 

Necessary components to acquire an ICF business coaching certification 

As per ICF rules, there are 5 key components that a business coach must fulfil to gain a business coaching certification.  

a. Education 

ICF urges individuals to get coach-specific education that aligns with the ICF definition of coaching, core competencies and code of ethics. There are different time duration requirements (and their division) for the three certification programs (ACC, PCC, MCC) that concentrate on coach-specific education, student-faculty interactions in real time and training based on the ICF Core Competencies. Hours are also devoted to homework such as reading, writing, research, journaling etc., as well as independent study and resource development training that add to the individual’s professional development. 

b. Experience 

The ICF states that all coaching experience hours should begin only after the individual has started their coaching education. All three certifications (ACC, PCC, MCC) require individuals to document specific hours of coaching experience (including paid coaching experience) with a specific number of clients. 

All applicants are required to complete an attestation to verify their coaching experience as part of the application process in order to ensure compliance with global data security regulations and best practices for data protection. 

c. Mentor coaching  

ICF certification mentor coaching is a collaborative process of coaching and feedback that helps provide professional guidance to the coach trainee in acquiring coaching skills commensurate with their certification level (ACC, PCC or MCC).  Mentor coaching takes place over a prolonged period (at least 3 months) which lets the mentor coach listen and give feedback to the individual. It also lets the individual who is mentored reflect and improve their skills according to the received input. 

Individuals have to partner with a mentor coach who holds a valid ACC, PCC or MCC Credential and need to complete 10 hours of mentor coaching prior to submitting their application for certification.  

c. Performance evaluation  

In order to receive ICF certification, all individuals have to pass a performance evaluation. The coaching skills are assessed against minimum skill requirements (meeting ethical guidelines and professional standards, understanding and establishing the coaching agreement, nurturing trust with client, ability to be flexible during the coaching process, listening ability, asking pertinent questions, effective communication, helping client with strategies and action steps, planning and goal setting, assigning accountability) & the ICF core competencies. 

d. Examination  

The final component to receive an ICF certification is that the individual has to pass a written exam that assesses their knowledge, understanding and application of the ICF definition of coaching, ICF Core Competencies and ICF Code of Ethics. The individual needs to earn an acceptable performance rating and a transcript. The final documents are then submitted electronically to the ICF for certification approval. 

All individuals who submit their application for an ICF certification are bound by the ICF code of ethics and are required to present an accurate and honest documentation of their qualifications, expertise, experience, training, certifications and ICF Credentials. 

ICF-approved business coaching certification programs   

All business coach certification programs serve different business coaching needs and circumstances. It is important to choose the program that suits individual business coaching requirements. 

a. Accredited Coach Training Program (ACTP)  

ICF-ACTP approved training institutes can conduct coach training for all the three levels of ICF Credentials – ACC, PCC and MCC. 

One of the most comprehensive (and popular) coaching programs among business coaches who are just getting started, it involves 125 hours of business coach-specific training (curriculum includes strategic coaching, leadership coaching and business consultancy), mentor coaching, detailed covering of ICF Core Competencies and Code of Ethics, and an extensive final exam that evaluates the coach for competency and readiness for coaching in the actual business world. 

b. Approved Coach Specific Training Hours (ACSTH) 

A less comprehensive training program than ACTP, training institutes that are approved for ACSTH program can only conduct ACC level coach training. The program involves 30 hours of meticulous business coach-specific training such as observed coaching sessions and learning ICF Core Competencies.  

A more flexible business coaching certification program, ACSTH provides the individual an option to choose their coach mentor as well as customize their training program and hours to better suit their schedule and requirements.  

c. Continuing Coach Education (CCE) 

CCE training programs are mainly for experienced business coaches who have already completed their basic ICF training and are looking for advanced training to acquire new learning for professional development and who are interested in renewing their ICF Credential. 

This type of business coaching certification program is aimed at upgrading the coach’s existing knowledge to prepare them for the next phase of their coaching practice. It includes personal development, coaching assessments, effective use of coaching tools, business building, etc. 

Other recognized certifications 

The ICF coaching certification has worldwide acceptance but there are other organizations that offer comprehensive and similarly well recognized certification programs. Here is a list of some renowned organizations, apart from ICF, whose certification programs coaches can check out, compare and then make an informed decision while choosing a program that best suits their requirements.  

1. EMCC (European Mentoring and Coaching Council)  

The EMCC, made up of affiliated European nations, is one of the most renowned organizations that is active in 140 countries with over 40,000 graduates across various programs, globally. It is dedicated to developing, promoting & implementing best practices in mentoring, coaching and supervision to benefit societies worldwide.   

The EMCC Global Accreditation offers a range of certification programs, that guide coaches in maintaining highest professional standards and adhere strictly to shared Global Code of Ethics.  

EMCC Programs focus on 5 main standards for accreditation including insights & innovation, inspire accredited practice and learning transformation, regulation of practices, digital transformation, human development, learning & experience.  

EMCC Global Individual Accreditation (EIA)

A certification that is recognised as a quality mentor/coach accreditation adhering to the best standards of professionalism and ethics. It is relevant for any individual involved in mentoring or coaching. EIA has 4 levels of competencies 

  1. Foundation – for people who possess core coaching/mentoring skills, who are likely to work with others for improving their skills/performance 
  2. Practitioner – for people who work as internal mentors/coaches or are starting out as external mentor/coaches who will work with a small range of clients to improve their performance, build confidence, and develop skills  
  3. Senior Practitioner – for professional mentors/coaches who work on multiple models & frameworks while incorporating new ideas into their coaching approach. They work with a large range of clients and companies to provide guidance in complex issues, challenging relationships etc.  
  4. Master Practitioner – for professional, experienced and expert mentors/coaches who create their own innovative approach based on critical evaluation on a wide range of models and frameworks and who work to widen their client’s perspective beyond their current challenges to extend their learning and development  
EMCC Global Quality Award for Coach/Mentor Training (EQA)

A certification program valid for 5 years, it ensures that successful students offer mentoring/coaching services to their clients of high-quality standards. Similar to EIA, EQA also offers 4 levels of competencies including Foundation, Practitioner, Senior Practitioner and Master Practitioner.  

  1. EMCC Global Supervision Individual Accreditation (ESIA) – a certification program for supervisors, who play a vital role in promoting best practices in mentoring and coaching. The criteria for ESIA certification include completion of 120 hours of supervising others, own supervision in place, feedback from supervisor and completion of EIA at SP level.  
  2. EMCC Global Supervision Quality Award for Training Providers (ESQA) – certification that provides mentors/coaching supervisors with a recognised mark of quality for their programmes. Renewable every 5 years.  
  3. International Standards for Mentoring and Coaching Programmes (ISMCP) – certification that establishes professional credibility and ensures that programs are designed to align with participant and business objectives that adhere to EMCC Global standards and Global Code of Ethics. The ISMCP is awarded for 3 levels – gold, silver, bronze – as per percentage obtained.  
  4. EMCC Global Team Coaching Training Quality Award (TCQA) – certification for team coaching program that offers coaches training to reflect on individual as well as team challenges, behaviours and enable teams to find their own viable solutions. 

2. AC (Association for Coaching)  

The Association for Coaching is an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to promoting best practice and raising the awareness and standards of coaching, worldwide. Established in 2002, with 80 member countries, AC is dedicated to promoting coaching excellence.  

AC offers a range of certifications which are open to AC members including  

  • Coach Accreditation – program designed to teach coaches multiple tools & techniques that can deliver a positive impact to clients as well as enable coach development and growth under the guidance of a supervisor. An AC Coach accreditation means that the individual has committed to the necessary learning process that adheres to best practices in coaching.  
  • Coach Supervisor Accreditation – provides coach supervisors with a quality seal providing committed client care and professional development while adhering to Code of Ethics and Good Practice.  
  • Coach Training Accreditation – this certifies that the individual has the necessary level of knowledge, practical experience, grasp of coaching competencies as well as compliance to best practices that is required to develop effective coaches.  
  • Coach Supervision Training Accreditation – this accreditation provides an in-depth training involving theory, practical experience and supervision of supervision experience to satisfactorily train the coach supervisor to develop trainee coach supervisors.  

3. APECS (Association for Professional Executive Coaching and Supervision)  

The Association for Professional Executive Coaching and Supervision (APECS), founded in 2004, is a non-profit organization that is considered a top-level professional membership body for executive coaching, supervision, and advisory services to corporate organisations. APECS is dedicated to accrediting & certifying members through high standards of executive coaching & supervision while following ethical practices.  

APECS offers certification for Executive Coaches, Team Coaches and Supervisors at 3 levels  

  1. Accredited Master – certification for experienced, established practitioners who meet full APECS Professional Standards for Master Accreditation
  2. Certified Professional – this certification is for Executive Coaches, Team Coaches and Supervisors who have an established practice and for whom executive coaching is a significant part of their working practice and professional identity 
  3. Certified Associate – certification for both type of coaches – those who are establishing their coaching practice or those who already have established leadership, executive and/or professional roles but where executive coaching is a significant but not principal priority within their practice 

Main takeaways from business coaching certification programs 

Although training institutes might have their patented business coaching certification programs, the broad outlines for all certification courses will follow the guidelines outlined by the ICF. 

Here’s a general framework to explain what a business coach certification program will offer: 

a. Learning the business coaching approach  

A business coaching certification program will focus on honing a coaching methodology and boosting the individual’s confidence to deliver desired results to their client. It will include understanding the fundamentals of business coaching and their application, adherence to the coaching agreement, creating a trusting environment to put clients at ease, learning ways to establish a deep, long lasting connect with the client, how to use powerful business coaching tools & techniques to improve efficiency, and more. 

b. Principles of business coaching 

Next, the business coach certificate program will cover how to develop critical business coaching skills, structure effective coaching sessions to get desired results, asking the right questions, identifying complicated problems and generating innovative solutions, getting to the root cause of the challenge and facilitating real transformation, etc. 

c. Becoming proficient at core coaching abilities  

This includes gaining deeper insights into core coaching competencies, learning effective communication practices, how to go beyond basic exchange of information and read between the lines, guiding clients to make more informed and rational decisions to help them succeed, how to identify obstructive behavioural patterns and break them to effect change, understanding the client’s motivations and procrastinations and methods to overcome them, etc. 

d. Grasping fundamentals of business development  

Specialized business development and consulting knowledge is a big value addition to a business coach’s repertoire. The business coaching certification program will help the individual learn how to develop leadership skills, put together a high performing team and leverage their true potential to deliver transformative results, how to help businesses clarify their core mission, encourage a positive work culture and foster team spirit, develop strategic planning framework, create an effective marketing strategy to boost brand presence, and more. 

The benefits of a business coaching certification  

Earning a business coaching certification offers a number of benefits that can help a business coach. It helps: 

  • Build self-confidence to coach top business leaders  
  • Advance business coaching and entrepreneurial skills 
  • Increase understanding of business fundamentals  
  • Groom teams/groups to perform at their highest capacity  
  • Improve problem solving ability  
  • Enhance performance coaching capacities  
  • Deliver efficient, time bound, optimized outcomes  
  • Develop executive and leadership coaching capacities  
  • Coach clients to build and grow their business faster  
  • Learn to integrate multiple business coaching models 
  • Attract top level clients 
  • Earn CCE (Continuing Coach Education) credits from ICF  

A successful business coaching practice requires a combination of skills, credentials, certification, experience and business acumen. A business coach certification focuses on developing specific skill sets required for effective business coaching including organizational development, leadership and business management, individual and group coaching methods and best practices in coaching and ethics that adhere to the ICF core competencies.  

For a coach, having an ICF business coach certificate is a professional endorsement that they have met certain standards and requirements designed to develop and refine their coaching skills, are dedicated to upholding principles of ethical coaching behaviour and are committed to continued development of their skills as a business coach. 


1. Why is it necessary to have a business coaching certification?  

A business coaching certification, in addition to developing the necessary skills for effective business coaching, also gives the business coach legitimacy and standing in the industry. It shows that the individual has gone through a rigorous training process to develop the right skills & knowledge, is dedicated to pursuing ethical coaching practices and is committed to the coaching industry. It also boosts their credibility in the market and helps project them as a top business coach who can deliver transformative change to the client. 

2. How long does it take to acquire a business coach certification? 

The duration for acquiring a business coach certification depends on the level of certification that an individual is aiming for. For instance, with ICF, to become an ACC or an Associate Certified Coach an individual must complete 60+ hours of training and have 100 hours of coaching experience. A PCC or Professional Certified Coach credential demands that the individual must complete 125+ hours of training and have 500 hours of coaching experience. The MCC or Master of Certified coach level requires 200+ hours of training and for the individual to have gained 2,500 hours of coaching experience.  

Approximately it can take anywhere from 6 to 18 months for the base level certification (ACC) while the advanced levels (PCC & MCC) will gradually take longer. 

3. Is it possible to coach without a business coaching certification? 

Having a business coaching certification is not mandatory in order to practice as a business coach, but it certainly is desirable (it gives that much needed legitimacy in the eyes of potential clients). Many coaches have a successful business coaching practice without having recognized professional business coach certificate. But they make up for lack of certification by having outstanding skills, experience and delivering transformative results to their clients which ensures they have strong word of mouth referrals and standing in the industry as sought-after business coaches. 

About Simply.Coach

Simply.Coach is an enterprise-grade coaching software designed to be used by individual coaches and coaching businesses. Trusted by ICF-accredited and EMCC-credentialed coaches worldwide, Simply.Coach is on a mission to elevate the experience and process of coaching with technology-led tools and solutions.  

About the author

An avid reader with love for books on history, sci-fi and popular fiction, Pallavi is a gifted content writer. She is also a keen listener of Indian semi & classical music. Currently, she juggles her duties of being a full-time mom with part-time content writing.

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