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Why the Coaching Industry Is Poised for Transformative Growth in the Gig Economy Era — and How to Navigate the Waves of Change

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The gig or freelance economy market stats indicate that by 2027, America will be a freelance-majority workforce country. This shift clearly indicates that Gen Z is embracing entrepreneurship, creating a new era of digitally native business dynamics.

As a surfer, I always compare surfing with entrepreneurship, where waves are windows, opportunities or trends, and the ocean is the market.

Here’s why: When surfing, you must be agile and self-sufficient, able to navigate, know and feel the ocean and its waves — and paddle 95% of the time just to wait and prepare for that exhilarating pull from the ocean. Then, once you have that perfect window of opportunity, you have to get up on it in the right way, at the right time, to ride it with all the thrill and excitement. There is a lot of variability.

The same applies to entrepreneurs. That’s what makes surfing and entrepreneurship an exciting but hard journey.

Surfing also made me think about the current trends in the subsector of the freelance economy I work with on a daily basis: coaching, consulting, therapy and training.

Related: 5 Business Lessons I Learned From Surfing

Trend 1: Productivity augmentation

In a race to stay ahead, coaches and coaching firms are turning to technology and AI to enhance their capabilities without replacing the human touch. The integration of AI is seen not as a threat but as an empowerment tool despite the lingering fears of obsolescence.

Coaches are anxiously adopting technology and AI, as are coaching firms’ main competitors — technology-first companies like BetterUp.

While there is much fear about AI replacing coaches, I believe there is a general consensus that at this cycle of adoption, we are all heading toward being AI-empowered rather than replaced.

As you can see in the recent AI vs human performance tests, AI is underperforming in some aspects related to EQ, but keep in mind that it is developing at an unprecedented speed. Hence, we might see a big shift in the near future.

“If air travel had improved at the same rate as LLMs, the average flight speed would have increased from 600mph in 2018 to 900,000mph in 2020—a 1,500x increase in two years (!). Instead of eight hours, traveling from London to New York would take just 19 seconds.” — Rex Woodbury.

Here’s one of the latest research papers on AI’s perceived abilities by humans. To sum up, AI made participants of this study feel heard; it passed for being human, but respondents didn’t like it. This sentiment will most likely shift with the greater adoption of AI.

I co-wrote this piece on the state of AI in the Coaching Market in 2024, in which we outline that your strategic platform partnership is even more important than before because your data will eventually train a model. So, it’s better to be in control and set up to benefit from it than to be a product. As a tech ethicist, Tristan Harris famously said, “If you are not paying for a product, you are the product.”

I believe we are at a point where coaching and other services firms have to partner with a purpose-built all-in-one platform vendor so that they can scale and take advantage of the generated data (forms submissions, notes, calls, messages, content, activity tracking, and so on) being in one place for optimal productivity today and setting us up for a successful AI co-pilot in the near future.

Generative AI is reshaping the future of many industries, if not all. It has reshaped content creation, distribution, monetization, and consumer habits and behaviors. We are all getting used to natural language interaction with interfaces, which I could read as expectations of coaching consumers to engage in async and natural language interaction with coaching content.

Trend 2: Market expansion

The shift towards freelancing and entrepreneurship, spurred by the desire for autonomy and meaningful work, has led to a surge in the coaching industry. This influx creates a more competitive landscape, challenging new and established coaches to differentiate themselves.

In 1804, John Baptiste-Say formulated the economic principle that “Supply generates its own demand.” I am confident that the expanding market supply of coaches, consultants, trainers and therapists will broaden access to these services, leading to a widespread increase in its demand.

Many people are rethinking how they work and want to be their own bosses. Plus, the tech job market is experiencing a pullback, with the exception of AI specialists. Over 400,000 people got laid off in the U.S. tech sector in the past two years due to the economic downturn and spending hangover post-ZIRP-era (zero-interest rate policy) with its cuts. The stress of these turbulent times has led many to seek more self-reliance and autonomy.

This trend includes a subtrend of millennials looking for impact, meaningful jobs, and less micromanagement and corporate hierarchies. A significant percentage of them are turning to the gig economy — coaching, training and consulting businesses, which means more competition in the space. It will probably take another couple of years for these new entrants to complete their training and certifications and get clients, but this is the trend we are seeing, and it is early in its cycle.

At the same time, we are still experiencing a downturn, which means corporate budgets for services are under tight CFO control. This tells us that the service has to be a must-have purchase with a strong ROI case attached, and the buying process will take much longer as all expenses are under rigid control.

These market trends normally drive margins down and raise the bar of expected service experience.

I would like to highlight here that winning the hearts of service buyers is harder without a professional, secure and frictionless service delivery experience.

This brings us to the next point — digitalization, professionalization or productization of services and consumer habits being formed.

Related: How the Rise of the Gig Economy Influences the Workforce

Trend 3: Productization of services

As the coaching, consulting and training market evolves, services need to be more digitally native, streamlined, secure and consolidated. This trend towards digitalization and productization emphasizes leveraging technology to enhance service delivery.

Historically, the coaching market has not been heavily digitized, but it has been a lagger in technology adoption. It is now forced to be a pair to its buyers’ digital experience expectations, providing a seamless client experience with a sleek, secure portal and everything for them in one place. Winning these sweet annual corporate deals is oftentimes impossible if your coaching enablement vendor or set of tools is not, let’s say, HIPAA or SOC2 compliant or is not on the path to it.

Users are demanding digitally native services, which means frictionless payment and checkout experience, intuitive workflows attached to it, easy access to historical data, etc. Productization of services means that your coaching platform is enabling you to, let’s say, package your services and add a seamless subscription option to it with automated renewals and so much more. Let your tech do the sales for you so you can focus on the craft vs renewals, upsells and resells.

Productization goes hand-in-hand with personalization.

Personalization is not a new trend in the coaching industry, but it has become much more enabled; hence, I call it hyper-personalization. Hyper-personalization can be done in several ways, such as creating personalized blended learning paths based on the initial intake form or changing the path of a cohort of clients based on their coaching style.

Coaches combine 1:1 sessions with group sessions, led by multiple hosts, with on-demand pre-recorded content as one step, automated forms, shared collaborative notes and check-ins in between. Blended learning, or coaching engagement onboarding, activation and completion rates are out of the roof and outperform 1:1 standalone sessions or pre-recorded content by 93%, based on Profi’s usage data analysis.

Which leads us to the next trend that’s picking up:

Trend 4: Integrative and integrated care

The rise of holistic and integrative approaches to health and wellness reflects a growing consumer demand for services encompassing all aspects of well-being supported by data and technology.

Millennials, but not limited to, are actively investing in self-tracking devices — Oura Ring, Whoop, Fitbit, Apple Watch, etc; influencers such as Andrew Huberman, Dave Asprey, Glucose Goddess and others are in the millions of followers. Gen Zs are much more open to integrative, alternative, holistic and wholistic ways of caring for their health. Native to real-time data-tracking and instant everything, consumers shape new demands for their practitioners to be data-informed and data-enabled. AI has made data collection and analysis much easier for the end consumer and professionals, so I expect this trend to evolve and turn into mainstream rapidly.

We see a strong cohort of health enthusiasts starting with self-tracking and pairing biometric data with an integrative health and wellness coach to understand and improve several data sources.

The global digital health market was valued at $330 billion in 2022 and is projected to reach $650 billion by 2025.

The adjacent pattern is integrated care, also known as interprofessional health care, emphasizing close collaboration and communication among health and wellness professionals.

Coaches are teaming up with adjacent modalities to drive more comprehensive and holistic value to their clients. For example, an integrative health and wellness coach might look at labs and biometric data and partner with a fitness trainer to fine-tune the hyper-personalized approach to designing the coaching engagement for their clients. Therapists are teaming up with coaches and meditation teachers to help clients fast-track their path to their goals.

These aspects help shape a profound impact, and the market demand is there.

Related: What Coaching Clients Need Most — and How to Meet Those Needs

Trend 5: Community-led business models

Building communities around coaching services is emerging as a powerful strategy for engagement and revenue growth. This model fosters a sense of belonging and support, which is crucial for sustainable business success. It helps coaches unlock recurring revenue streams, enhance habit-forming, keep customers engaged and make the sales of new products and services much more organic than email marketing.

Community fosters a sense of unity and belonging among people sharing the same interests, such as polishing public speaking, sales skills or contemplative practices. This trend is not just about business. It’s about creating a supportive and vibrant community within your engaged audience segment to:

  • increase their perceived value;

  • help them build on the momentum of the value they get from your coaching;

  • kick off the best type of customer acquisition — word-of-mouth;

  • and, again, make the sales for you.

Spinning up, maintaining and growing your community is challenging and expensive. We always advise our customers only to pursue community go-to-market motion if their team is equipped with dedicated talent whose sole responsibility is to drive value to the community and initiate, nurture and expand connections and values.

I love community as a service because the service industry traditionally has been lagging behind, say, SaaS (Software as a Service) in terms of recurring revenue and recurrent value delivery, even though it’s the most frictionless way to generate stable income. Substack helped creators with subscriptions to private content, and community is another way or even a step further toward building an engaging and unifying recurring revenue stream.

The services, especially the coaching, consulting, training and therapy markets, are poised for transformative growth as we stand on the brink of a freelance-majority workforce. The parallels between surfing and entrepreneurship have never been more relevant, requiring an innate understanding of market rhythms, when to act and how to ride the wave of opportunities. For service entrepreneurs, success lies in adapting, innovating and riding the waves of change with grit, confidence and strategic foresight.

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