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What Can an Online Coach Legally Do?

As a former health coach, I understand how difficult it can be to navigate the legal aspects of having an online coaching business. Since the coaching profession is an unregulated field that doesn’t currently have licensing requirements, determining exactly what coaches can and can’t do in their business legally isn’t always black and white.

However, it’s critical for coaches to be legally protected and have a solid understanding about what their scope of practice is based on the legal requirements in their state. Below you’ll find the steps online coaches can take to ensure a strong legal foundation and decrease their chances of facing any legal issues over the course of their practice.

What do online coaches do?

There are various types of coaching practices, from health and wellness coaching to business and life coaching. No matter the specialty, online coaches seek to help their clients through a process of discovery by using active listening skills, asking powerful questions, expanding thought processes, identifying limited beliefs, designing action steps, and following up. There are also different levels of training available and the limits on what online coaches can do will depend on the level of training they’ve received.

Regardless of the coaching niche or the extent of training a coach has, it’s important for every coach to determine what their scope of practice is and structure their business around it. Let’s talk about how you can go about figuring out your scope of practice – and how to make sure you’re not doing things outside that scope.

How to determine what coaches can legally do (and not do)

You need to get familiar with three words: scope of practice. Your scope of practice will guide and communicate what you can and cannot legally do as a coach. Here’s a step-by-step guide for determining your scope of practice. 

Research Scope of Practice for Your State 

Scope of practice in the United States is state specific. Every state has its own set of laws and regulations related to the scope of practice for numerous professions, including doctors, accountants, and therapists.

Since every state is different, there isn’t one cookie-cutter answer for what the scope of practice is for an online coach. This means that, while one state may have restrictions about, say, a health coach talking about nutrition with their clients, another state may allow it to some degree.

What does this mean for you when it comes to scope of practice? First, you need to find out if your state actually has your industry defined. Most states don’t yet have definitions when it comes to online coaches but it’s a good idea to check to be sure.

Why does this matter? If you’re working virtually with people all over the country or world, you could be legally exposed to the laws in place where your clients live. For instance, if you live in Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania allows you to do X, Y, and Z, but you work virtually with a client in California, what happens if what you’re doing isn’t legal in California? While we haven’t seen this scenario play out yet, in this example, you could be accused of the unauthorized practice of medicine in California.

To avoid this situation, there are things you can build into your written agreements (and which my contract templates cover) that can protect you and establish the law where you are. With the right contract, the law where you live will apply regardless of where your client is located.

It’s best to be conservative and not take any chances, so I encourage you to get familiar with what the true role and definition is of a coach in your state, and then design your programs and services around that.

Research Scope of Practice for Umbrella Professions

Most coaching professions, if any, aren’t defined by any state in America at this time, the next step is to look at umbrella professions. For example, if you’re a health coach, look at what your state defines as a physician in the practice of medicine and a therapist in the practice of psychiatry.

After looking at those umbrella professions, you’ll want to make sure you’re not doing anything that falls under their scope because only those professionals are permitted to do so.

Design Your Coaching Services and Programs

Armed with the information you obtained on the scope of practice for your profession and/or umbrella professions in your state, you can then have confidence and peace of mind to create solid offers that are within your legal boundaries as a coach. You’ll be able to design coaching services and coaching programs that attract the people who actually need your help with the things that you’re legally allowed to do.

Talk with a Lawyer

Once you’ve done extensive research and drafted up your cIient contracts, I always recommend speaking with a local lawyer to see if what you’re doing is okay. They can review your actual contract to make sure the verbiage is good.

Additionally, you can explain what you do, the services you offer, and what’s included in your programs to determine if it’s all legally allowed. A local lawyer can evaluate the state law, compare it to what you’re doing, and provide the legal information and legal advice you need.

Only your own attorney can look at what you’re doing and tell you whether it’s legally permissible.

How to Work within the Confines of Your Scope

You don’t need an MBA or a legal degree to run a successful online coaching business and legally protect it, but you do need to dot your legal i’s and cross your legal t’s in a few key areas that can’t be skipped. The steps I’ve covered in this post are a great start that will get your business on a solid legal foundation.

For more invaluable tips for legally legitimizing your business, be sure to sign up for my free one-hour legal workshop called, “5 Steps to Legally Protect & Grow your Online Business”. When you visit the link, drop in your email address, pick the time that works best for you, and check your inbox for a link to watch the workshop.

And if you want a professional contract template that incorporates language to establish the law in your state, check out my individual legal templates or the Ultimate Bundle®.

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