If you like helping people, why not train as a life coach? It's a growing industry, says Kate Hilpern

To help them, about 5,000 people are now practising in the UK, and many more are in training, drawn to a job where you can work flexibly and for yourself. With successful life coaches earning between £30,000 and £60,000 a year, the money's not bad, either.

Because life coaching is unregulated, you don't need any qualifications, but the general consensus is that the motivation needs to be altruistic. "You need to have an innate desire to help other people to help themselves," says Kris Robertson, client services manager at The Coaching Academy. "The rest can be learnt, with courses teaching participants how to be good listeners, how to ask the right questions and how to give feedback to people who are faced with a tricky situation," he says.

The biggest problem faced by any wannabe life coach is finding the best training provider. There are a lot of cowboys out there, admits Gladeana McMahon, vice-president of the Association for Coaching. "The key is to find a course with a university accreditation," she says. "It means the training has been rigorously assessed and has had to meet certain criteria, and it also gives you the opportunity to upgrade your training. If you start off with a diploma in coaching, you might want to upgrade it to an MA or a PhD later down the line."

The more hurdles the training provider expects its students to jump through, the better, she adds. "Get information on lots of courses, and choose one that is as comprehensive as possible."

Most training can be done part-time and many courses involve building up credits. Correspondence courses are attractive, although an element of classroom-based learning is essential.

While most life coaches are women, more and more men are entering the field, says McMahon, who adds that the age span of life coaches is also growing. "Technically, you can become a life coach at 18 years old, although most train anywhere between their mid-twenties to their sixties. For many, it's a second or third career."

Indeed, training providers report that some of their most successful students apply what they have learnt from previous or existing jobs. Life coach Duncan Gee says: "I used to be a police officer in Lancashire, where the chief constable had trained as an executive coach. She drilled a philosophy of coaching right through the organisation and as a detective inspector, I used the techniques in my department. It worked wonders. I had a 100 per cent attendance record. Eventually, I decided to train as a coach myself."

Gee now works with children in schools: "I always believed that if they could have access to coaching, it would make a difference, so I designed a programme for schools. It is helping them enormously, both behaviourally and in their self-esteem," he says. "As with adults, coaching is helping them work out where they are going."

Gee also coaches corporate clients. In fact, says Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at Lancaster University, "a lot of people are moving from life coaching into business coaching. Provided you have a background in business, there's no reason you shouldn't."

But you should expect the work with corporate and individual clients to be very different, cautions Jessica Jarvis, adviser in learning, training and development at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. "Business coaching is paid for by an employer of an individual. As such, the employer sets the agenda, which is usually around specific goals, such as performance or managing a big change in the organisation."

For people who fancy a more exotic working environment, there's always the option of combining life coaching with holidays, as Rosie Walford has done. Her week-long trips, which typically attract professionals aged 30 to 45, combine hill-walking in Spain with intense life coaching sessions.

Don't expect your business to build itself, warns Mags Rivett, marketing manager at the UK College of Life Coaching. "Developing any business from scratch takes time and there is still a lack of understanding about what life coaches do. You need to be able to network and market yourself once you're trained."