Life coaching is a fast-growing business sector, being built up on the back of a perceived need for people who can guide and motivate others towards getting the best out of themselves.

Life coaching classes usually comprise small groups of people, who might come from many different walks of life, but the one thing they have in common is a wish to make themselves happier and more fulfilled by becoming better able to handle the major areas of their life – such as their career, family life, time management, and the stress brought about by difficulties in any of these.

A life coach can work either in face-to-face situations, or carry out consultations by telephone, but because there has to be a certain level of personal contact, it is not work suitable to be carried out online.

A major attraction of life coaching as a career is that no formal qualifications are required, and anyone can give themselves this particular job title. However, many successful practitioners have some background in management, and may have taken specialised training in a field such as neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) or sports psychology.

For a while, life coaching was looked upon with some suspicion by many, gaining an image as an airy-fairy discipline, practised by yummy mummies who had time on their hands and had read too many magazine problem pages.

But there is a great deal involved in being successful in this field, as studying for a life coaching diploma will prove. It's important first of all to be a good listener, have the ability to encourage and motivate people, take their problems seriously, and be able to pinpoint practical and workable solutions.

Most importantly, though, a life coach must be able to inspire people to want to achieve their goals, and be able to find what it is within them which had held them back from doing so up to now.

One advantage of life coaching being a relatively new area of study and work is that its rise has coincided with that of the internet, meaning that there are plenty of resources available online to help anyone decide whether the commitment needed to successfully study for a life coaching diploma is right for them.

In many cases, a successful life coach concentrates on one specific area or problem – career choices, money management, relationships or leadership skills for example - and so can better carve out their own niche in what is becoming an increasingly crowded field.

A good step is to attend a life coaching class yourself, as you will then see how the coach conducts the class and interacts with its members.

Courses leading to a life coaching diploma can be studied locally, or indeed at home. The location is not really important, but of course it must be somewhere where you can give the concentration necessary to pick up the knowledge you'll need.

Although there may seem to be advertisements from life coaches everywhere these days – particularly in glossy women's magazines – the most successful practitioners are undoubtedly those who have studied a recognised course, and have a good network of contacts in their local area who can recommend their services.