Online Health Coaching — Is It Right For You?

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Coaching Health Online

Getting coached online for health? It’s good for your business!

  • As busy professionals we face continuous pressure to get more done in less time.
  • Technology that makes us more productive also increases our pace of business.
  • Could the next generation of virtual health coaches be right for you?

I Was A Coaching Addict

I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I learned the hard way that the old saying is true:

“Good judgment comes from experience,
 experience comes from bad judgement.”

I was frustrated by the costs of making mistakes. Especially by the amount of time my mistakes consumed.

There had to be a better way.

Eventually it dawned on me that I could leverage other people’s skills and expertise and save myself time and money.

I discovered the world of coaching.

Once I realized that coaches could help me achieve disproportionate gains, I became a bit of a coaching addict (or maybe a lot).

yeah, I overdid it again

yeah, I overdid it again

In the beginning, I started out modestly using coaches to help me improve my triathlon technique for the swim, bike, and run (thank you B.Gibbs, B.Chortek, T.Laughlin, Dr. Romanov, J.Friel, D.Scott). Later I branched out and used coaches in weightlifting, nutrition, and executive health (thanks Alan Aragon, Lyle MacDonald, D.McGuff, M.Sisson). Encouraged by my gains from athletic performance coaching, I experimented with a speaking coach and life coach (thanks Beth and Robyn). I have used dozens of business coaches (special thanks to Zig, Lucas, and Ramit) and even a coach for relocation (to the UK) and another for international business practices (China, India, Switzerland). I received coaching on raising venture capital, for hedge funding investing, and even how to do an IPO-roadshow (RKN.TO). I’ve used meditation coaching for stress (Adya) and completed a 12-step program to overcome my poor empathy skills (thank you Sean and CR). Today I coach a handful of startups[2], receive ongoing peer coaching from a Mastermind[3] group, and use a supervision coach for my own coaching practice.

So what’s the bottom line? In my personal development and performance, coaching has yielded a disproportionate return on investment (ROI). Other individuals report a median ROI of 3.44 times their coaching investment. At the corporate level, companies including IBM, Nike, Verizon and Coca-Cola Enterprises, report a median ROI of seven times their coaching investment.[4]

Virtual Coaching — What’s New?

Traditionally, individual coaching is done face-to-face and is usually confined to a fixed setting. Now that technologies like smartphones and wireless internet can replicate the functions of an in-person session, face-to-face coaching is evolving to virtual coaching.

Geographical locations and fixed schedules are no longer barriers because virtual coaching can be done via phone, video conference, email, SMS, iMessage, WhatsApp, FaceBook and a myriad of other apps.

text therapy

Current Market and Technology Trends

As a reformed angel investor[5] from Silicon Valley it is second nature for me to spot trends within trends. The mobile web trend was overtaken by smartphone apps, and now apps stand poised to be overtaken by on-demand virtual concierges that use any messaging channel.

Why load your device up with dozens of specific apps, when it’s easier to just message what you want?

New startups like Operator, Magic, Swell, Alfred, Zirtual, Kit and others are innovating the interface for next-gen on-demand services for both consumers and business users.

Behind the curtain there is a mix of humans and artificial intelligence (think Apple’s Siri) working on your request. Their goal provide you a concierge-like experience, like having your very own virtual assistant.

In addition to the above mentioned virtual assistants, the next generation of virtual coaches are emerging as well.

For instance, Talkspace — the all-you-can-text therapy startup — raised $9.5 million in financing.[6]. Lantern offers mental health on demand and recently secured $4.4 million in founding and claims to have 3000 users. Vida — who connects consumers with coaches and doctors — announced Series A funding of $5 million.[7] Health coaching startup Sessions was acquired by MyFitnessPal.[8] Cloud 9 offers technology for psychology, claiming to be like Uber for video therapy and Fitbit for your feelings. Mentegram offers patient engagement for mental and behavioral health by monitoring clients’ triggers. Mindbloom ‘crowdsources’ life coaching services from your group of friends. The list goes on.

Of course, this ‘virtual coach’ trend will have both winners and losers. For instance Google closed its Helpouts service in April 2015.[9]

a coach can help you aim higher

an online coach can help you aim bigger and higher

What an Online Coach Can And Can’t Do

Before diving deeper into online coaching, let’s taking a moment to recap how coaching fits into the broader scheme.[10]

  • Therapists (psychiatrists, psychologists or counselors) focus on healing dysfunction from the past.
  • Consultants assess organizations, provide information, and implement solutions in the present.
  • Mentors are experienced role-models and act as advisers to someone with less experience.
  • Coaches focus on future performance and use questions to improve self-awareness, behaviors, and skills.
Heath Coaching versus Consulting or Therapy

Many aspects of coaching will remain the same whether it is done in-person or virtually, such as:

  • Finding the right coach for your situation.
  • Setting your performance or development goals.
  • On-going dialogue and feedback.
  • Committing to work on your self-improvement.
  • Accepting that coaching may be uncomfortable.

Nevertheless, some factors become more important in online coaching versus in-person coaching. Non-verbal communication cues such as body language have to be read through tone of voice or choice of words. A virtual coach has to be able discern attitude through a video call, read between the lines in text message or email, and watch for subtle clues in FaceBook or WhatsApp response patterns.

Other differences to bear in mind are:

  • Building a trusted bond with a virtual coach may take a bit more concentration.
  • Online coaching is a two-way dialogue. It’s a process, not a one-way Tweet to ‘fix it’.
  • Multitasking during a virtual coaching session will reduce its benefits to you.[11]
  • Online communications usually occur in smaller bursts. Be careful not to lose the depth or context of the issue being discussed.
  • Online coaching sessions are more flexible than “office hours”, but a regular frequency is important to keep momentum (every 2 weeks on average is optimal).[12]

Is Online Coaching Right For You?

Which produces a better ROI, a virtual assistant or an online coach?

  • Virtual Assistants are a great way to outsource logistics and tactical items.
  • Online Coaches are an effective way to increase your performance using mindset and behaviors.
[Photo credit: Got Credit]

calculate your virtual return on investment

Which brings us back to the question of ROI.

  • In my experience, virtual assistants yield a linear ROI
  • X dollars buys back Y amount of my time.
  • On the other hand, I find that coaches (online or otherwise) give me a disproportionate ROI.
  • X dollars spent produces XY results.
  • The reason why is simple: performance gains made with a coach compound continuously over time.

Online Coaching Checklist

Admittedly, coaching is not for everyone and information technology is not a panacea. Before deciding if online coaching is right for you, first make sure you are onboard with these coaching fundamentals:

  1. What is your objective?
  • Are you improving your performance or your mindset? Do you want to overcome limiting behaviors or habits?
  1. Is your coach good match for you?
  • Do you trust them and their references? Can they also act as your mentor? (bring relevant expertise to the table).
  1. What is your commitment?
  • Are you prepared to put in the time, energy and work between coaching sessions to achieve new levels of success?
  1. Are you coachable?
  • Are you willing to do things differently and break away from your patterns that produce average results? Will you hold yourself accountable to your coach and your agreed actions?
coach stats

Online Coaching Checklist

  1. The number one factor to consider in virtual coaching is your level of technology savvy. Are you comfortable doing video conferencing or instant messaging by yourself or do you require IT support?[13]
  2. Does it fit your personality type? Studies show that introverts tend to perform well in electronic conversations, and even prefer a healthy distance over face-to-face conversations.[14] (Note: If your goal is to develop your interpersonal skills, this medium is not congruent with that goal).
  3. Can you build bonds and express yourself easily in writing? Aside from audio and video, much of your communication with your coach will be in asynchronous text.[15]
  4. Can your coach keep up with you? Can they follow your train of thought as you shift between phone, text, Skype, Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter DM, and a myriad of other apps? Response times and availability are key factors when coaching across multiple time zones and geographies. Is your coach available 7 days a week? Do they offer a guaranteed response time for communications between scheduled sessions?

As I confessed from the start, I am a believer in the benefits of coaching and its exciting to see technology extending these benefits to busy people on the go.

I hope you found this article useful, and would appreciate it if you commented below with your thoughts and suggestions.


  1. Do You Read Fast Enough To Be Successful?, Forbes
  2. SpartUp Accelerator
  3. 7 Reasons To Join A Mastermind Group, Forbes
  4. ICF Global Coaching Client Study
  5. Jeff’s profile on AngelList
  6. Text therapy startup raises $9.5 million, CNN Money
  7. Mobile health startup Vida, Silicon Valley Business Journal
  8. Digital Health Coaching Startup Acquired, Fast Company
  9. Google Helpouts is Shutting Down, Forbes
  10. Harvard Business Review Research Report
  11. The Myth of Multitasking, C.Rosen
  12. Coaching Frequency Study, Coaching Research Institute
  13. p.295 Advancing Executive Coaching, Gina Hernez-Broome, Lisa A. Boyce, 2010
  14. Hubschman 1996, Hamilton & Scandura 2003
  15. Giadagno & Caildini, 2002
  16. Jeff’s credentials on LinkedIn here and Facebook here.

photo credits: Defining targets differently via photopin (license), [ROI photo: Got Credit]

Originally published at The Healthy Executive.