How to spot a fake online coach: the sleazy side of my industry.


People often ask me why I added coaching to my suite of marketing consulting services and to be honest, I’m surprised I didn’t do it sooner. It’s always been a part of what I do – teaching and coaching my clients to reach their goal.

Late last year, I attended a colleague’s coaching clinic for moral support and was a little more than concerned about the information being tossed around. This caused me to really dive into the online coaching industry to find out what was really going on.

Coaches coaching coaches to get coaching clients.


That’s when it hit me. By happenstance, around the same time, I attended a local networking event where a business coach presented a brief mini-workshop to the group of female business owners in various industries from real estate, marketing, and manufacturing to clothing design, event planning, and candle making.

Seriously, I about fell out of my chair. The sheer volume of incorrect, misleading and overall potentially harmful information that was presented to these unsuspected new business owners was mind-boggling.

A consultant will advise you on what needs to be done to move your business forward. 

A coach will help you overcome obstacles to get you to your goal. 

This isn’t a “she said-she said” but I will say that the techniques and “best practices” thrown about were 7-10 years old in the online marketing space. Some were kinda, sort of, maybe half useful. Some catchphrases were straight up stolen from more influential entrepreneurs and touted as their own. Other tips were just wrong.

No, you cannot stuff your website meta tags with keywords to get higher ranking on Google.

No, you cannot add just anyone to your email list or buy names from a service. Users must opt-in first.

No, you shouldn’t use scare tactics in your Facebook ads; they won’t let you anyway.


Holy F*&#!!

With 17+ years in business at the time, nine of which was in SEO (search engine optimization), SEM (search engine marketing), SMM (social media marketing), teaching and small business development, I have worked in this space for years. I’ve read many books, attended conferences and follow top industry leaders on various platforms – Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, blogs, etc. It’s how we keep up with what’s new.

These instances I mentioned above weren’t just copying someone catchphrase. Oh nooo!  I had in my hands copies of signature platform materials that these people were selling as their own. They didn’t even bother to remove the branding in the footer! IKR.

None of their clients realized it! No one at these marketing events thought anything was wrong. No one said anything other than to gush at how amazing this person was for coming up with a program. (insert my horrified face)

At this local women’s networking event, the presenter had attended a 2.5-hour coaching class run by a coach certified by a well-respected national coach, yet she herself had never started a business of her own or coached anyone else. Here she was pitching everyone in the room for her very costly program as a certified coach. Am I the only one who sees an issue with this?


What’s really going on here?


I started doing some research looking at other online coaching and consultants who were shouting five and six-figure program launches. There are hundreds of them.

I hung out in forums, attended webinars, read blogs and even downloaded some of those free PDFs and most of which are still in my “free things to read” folder on my G-Suite drive.

It boiled down to coaches coaching coaches to help get coaching clients. The program price increased by every tier. It reminds me of an MLM platform.

There are some really great online coaches who have phenomenal businesses, both big and small that are entirely legit. The real deal. I’m going to show you how to spot the fake ones.


The Problem Funnel


The typical funnel (customer journey, sales funnel) popular in the last year or so (don’t copy this because it’s no longer a thing) was to offer a free download chock full of juicy tidbits. Once you provide your email address to get this free download, the next screen would give you another just-as-juicy offer for a quick & easy solution to your pain point. It was usually a low price like $7 or $47. Depending on whether or not you purchased, you would next proceed through the funnel to an upsell or down sell. Each piece would be a portion of an overall program. There is usually a free webinar involved also.

Sounds good, huh?

Well, in theory, it is for programs with value. I have a free download and free webinar also. That’s not inherently the issue.

Because people are snakes, some customers would buy these $7 or $47 pieces of info and either resell it or post it online for free. I know, crappy, but that’s not the focus of this blog post.

It did, however, give me additional info for my research.

Coach A who was successful and the brains behind the operation put together a fantastic internal system of how she serviced her clients in various industries. She would now teach other people to help them get more coaching clients so that they could work less and make more. Just like her!

Innocent enough. 

Coach A sells to newbie coach B who sells to C, D, E….you get the idea.

Somewhere along the line, someone stopped white-labeling it and simply copied and pasted the best parts of several programs then resold it as their own. Not affiliate marketing. Straight up stealing content.


Have you ever had someone steal your idea or your content? It sucks.


Fast forward several months or years and now we have hundreds, if not thousands of “coaches” teaching other wannabe coaches how to get new coaching clients.

Coaches coaching coaches to get coaching clients.

BIG PROBLEM: None of these people are actually servicing clients or building businesses. They are simply selling or reselling the same information to one another. Sometimes at a pretty high price.

I’m about to be sick.

No wonder buyers are no longer responding to these tactics and fearful to invest in these online programs. Even their social proof is a lie as friends posting fake endorsements and testimonials. Friends supporting each other’s programs to get more sales.




  1. Take a look at their free PDF or download. This might be your first introduction to their work so this is a good place to start. Does the information seem repurposed like something you have read before? Most reputable online marketers, consultants, brand strategist, will include right in the content that their signature program was from personal experience and perhaps include inspiration by Napoleon Hill, Tony Robbins, Seth Godin, Meg Whiteman, Time Ferris, Gary Vaynerchuck, or a long list of other entrepreneurs.
  2. Look at their experience. Even long-time business owners like myself (18+ years now) share the origin story wrapped in with trial, errors, wins, and losses. I just don’t buy that a person who has been in business for 3 months is suddenly a seasoned expert who can walk you through the good and bad swings in your business over time. It doesn’t matter how many 5-figure launches under her belt. Check them out on all social media channels.
  3. Do they have successful clients or testimonials? This one may be difficult. I’ve signed NDA (non-disclosure agreements) for some of my clients and consulted as a 3rd party for others. Their success or failure isn’t always a direct result of my program. Same goes for other coaches/consultants. Tread carefully.
  4. Take a meeting or coffee. This can be in person or on the phone for 30-60 minutes. I didn’t have my first on-camera online meeting until 2017 and given that we are all scattered across the globe, face-to-face isn’t always possible. However, you CAN assess someone’s aptitude by a conversation. Most coaches follow a sales script to keep the meeting focused and on time. Most coaches aren’t going to solve your problem or give away too much free info on this call (you haven’t hired them yet.) When it’s your time for Q&A, ask a few genuine questions to see if they are the right fit.
  5. Notice how they treat their clients. This might take some research on your part so if you’re getting ready to slap down $5,000-$15,000 for a program, you may want to take that extra step. Consultants or coaches will tell you if they cannot help you, they will kindly refer you to someone who can. I’ve done it. This industry is big enough for everyone.




  1. Trust your gut. Your instincts is what made you successful in the first place and to be in the position to hire a consultant to uplevel your business. Trust that gut feeling. If you think the person on the other line is full of crap, well, you might be right.
  2. Be honest. DO NOT take the call or meeting if you don’t have the money or have no intention of hiring this person or anyone else. You don’t want to waste your time and neither does that consultant or coach.
  3. Make a bold move. The time has come for you to invest in yourself and your business. If it’s not the right fit, say so. Don’t let fear be the reason why you don’t take the next step.


It’s true what they say – it takes money to make money. Investing in a consultant/coach will get you to your goal faster.

  • Avoid costly online software services you don’t need.
  • Tap into someone’s knowledge and years of experience to steer you in the right direction.
  • Step into a network of biz besties and learn more about yourself and your business than you ever thought possible in the beginning.


My signature ParentPreneur® program helps save time and avoid costly mistakes by using battle-tested strategies to build a business for the life you want. Together we create an online marketing strategy for your business paired with a supporting structure for your family life to achieve your goals with the balance and confidence you need to succeed.

If something here has resonated with you or you would like to learn more about working with me, reach out. Request an appointment using this secure online form – kellyo.com/calendar. Add your name, contact info and what kind of help you need. Keep in mind we don’t want to waste each other’s time so this information is important.



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Kelly O'Neill
Kelly O’Neill is a digital marketing and IT consultant with over 25 years of experience working on remote projects. She is well-grounded in SEO, media buying, project management, and network security. Kelly shares her knowledge through consulting and blogging.

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