Get Started - How to find, select and work with a Business Coach

Who am I? I'm a business owner who has hired a number of business coaches over the last decade-plus. Those business coaches have varied in their effectiveness, and their impact on my businesses but they have always added value.

Declaration: I am a fan of business coaching which is why I created this website. I believe that making the right decision to hire a coach can transform your outcome. I also know that choosing the right mentor or coaching services is fraught with difficulties. The right business coach will help you define and solidify your business goals, but before you go down this road with any single coach you must have an idea about your objectives. Bear this in mind as you read on.

Section: What Business Coaches Do

What can a business coach do for me?

The right business coach will help *you* transform your business into an amazingly enjoyable and profitable endeavour. The empowerment and the enjoyment you can feel from knowing you're on the right path is exhilarating. This is true whether things are actually going well or you're just headed in the right direction.

Could you find this path on your own? Sure, of course you can... but can you find this path and take a short cut to success with a business coach? Yes, 100%. This is at the core of what I look for in a business coach. Someone who has more experience with the problems I'm facing, so I can use their experience to get ahead faster. If the business is dealt with correctly then money shouldn't be much of an issue, and we'll deal with the cost of business coaching below, time is more important - building strong patterns for success.


Is a business coach worth it?

Definitely.

February 2011 I hired my first business coach for the web design and web marketing business I'd started 10 years earlier. I chose a coach who displayed some great sales skills, something I knew I needed to acquire. I'd seen this guy speak about 5 times at networking events, I'd heard good things about him from mutual contacts and at our initial coffee meeting, I could tell he was asking the right questions to make me feel uneasy about where my business was at... and what I could do about it.

This meeting was a mixture of pain and excitement.

I knew these were the skills I'd read about so I was very open to working out how I could afford the $2.5k initial investment and $2k per month for weekly sessions.

NB. These are 2011 prices in Brisbane Australia - See costings below.

The big test of whether this was a good investment is the question prefixed with the ever-powerful hindsight: Knowing what I now know. i.e. Knowing what I now know would I make the same decision? Yes.

My business spent $40k+ over the next 18+ months on this coach. Every hour added value. Every hour I spent preparing for a coaching session added value. I learned invaluable lessons, but more to the point that effort yielded more revenue and more profit, so after the $40k had been paid I had significantly more money in the business and in my pocket.

Section: Expectations

What should I expect from a business coach?

Clarity & Accountability.

Like most small business owners (in 2011) I was flat out dealing with the day-to-day issues. I soon learned to ring-fence time away from operations, and into management. You can't suddenly just spend all your time "working on the business" but with a coach helping you transition and improve what you spend your time on you learn to see it from a new perspective.

This *outside* perspective brings the "clarity" particularly because when you meet again the following week it is clearly expected that action must have been taken. This coach acting as an accountability partner is a forcing mechanism to build good habits.

What makes a great business coach?

I've worked with four business coaches over the years.

Each of them is as different as four people you could pick from the street except that they all aligned on my business goals.

They all threw their experience and all of their business coaching services headlong into the challenges we faced. I always felt that that person on the other side of my desk or at the board table looking at charts or discussing a particular HR issue always swung their bat for me and my business' goals.

That allied effort is very reassuring. There are many examples of this, here are just a couple...

  1. When you need to make a tough decision alone, or with my senior managers, talking it over with a coach who has seen similar problems many times before is invaluable.
  2. As an entrepreneur, you can often see the vision of a destination clearly in your minds eye, for me this as clear as someone who might dream of a beautiful resort destination on the Great Barrier Reef. Executive coaching can bring a reality check, how can I lead the team there. What is the first step? Then what?
  3. When is a conflict healthy and adding value, and when is it not?

What do you expect from a business coach?

Working out what you want from a business coach is essential. Be open and honest about what you expect.

I recommended the amazing coach I had into a number of clients and some family members with their own trade business. He worked with a couple of them and was overjoyed to work with the tradies, because that was actually his passion, but a few didn't attain the same results my team and I did.

Two of these business owners said later that they'd parted ways... and made it very clear they expected a business coach to do things that would be laughable if you expected it of a sports coach.

The analogy of sports coaching is sound.

  1. A great sports coach will find out where you're weak and resolve issues, this could be physical or behavioural... just as business issues can be skills or people based
  2. Good coaching will give you guidance, and mentor you to find answers that move you to greater confidence and success.

Expecting a business coach to write you a report or guide change directive is not consistent with my experience of coaches. Experts that offer consultancy exist and have the potential to add value but for me, they're just not the small business coaches or executive coaches that lead to taking owner/managers and creating business leaders.

Section: Great Business Coaches

What it takes to be a great coach?

The same things that stand any business owner in good stead are essential for any good business coach.

  • Persuasion - Whether this is sales or management, these are essential skills.
  • Strategic - Think through what you're up to, consider the whys and wherefores.
  • Persistence - Know what you're aiming at.
  • Problem Solver - Being excited about fixing flaws makes everything better, and quickly.

Naturally not every business owner can be a great coach because specifically, a coach needs to have patience and communicate with consensus because you, the business owner, have to invest the time into doing the work required or changing the behaviours to change the outcomes.

What is the best coaching style?

Selling isn't telling.

Have you heard that before?

Getting good at anything isn't about being told the right way to do it 100 times. Go back to the sports coaching above.

If you're told the best way to take a soccer free-kick there are so many permutations. Even being told how to take the perfect by the man himself David Beckham isn't enough. The practice, the effort going out and kicking the ball 1000 and discussion at the right junctures is the best way to do, reflect, improve, do, reflect and improve.

Business coaching is, and in my opinion should, as much as possible, be this way.

A coach that asks the best questions will always result in clients who end up thinking for themselves and essentially graduate from their services.

What is the best coaching model?

I don't think there is one.

So long as the approach starts with goals and some sort of destination and brings that back to actions plans for you to implement incrementally I don't think a set model is necessary.

If I were presented with a model I'd just want to be sure it was flexible enough to help solve problems. I particularly love the framework in the book Traction, it covers IDS to Identify, Discuss and Solve a problem with your management team.

Section: Find & Select A Business Coach

How do I find a business coach?

Now that we've discussed a little about what I've achieved when working with coaches and why I think they're tremendously valuable let discuss some steps to finding a business coach.

Some questions worth considering in the context of the above

  • Does the coach have specific industry experience of your field? Is that necessary? None of my coaches, even the most transformative ones knew anything about web marketing. They brought me ideas and concepts that worked for tradies and service businesses.... and those things worked for me too.
  • Does the coach have experience with an owner/manager like you? Do you have a particular aversion to any aspect of your business, e.g. sales, can they help you overcome that? It could be that a conversation with a really ethical business coach reveals that you should not hire a coach you should either carry on as you are, go and get a job, or join forces with someone who has the facets you lack (and don't want to develop).
  • Does the coach understand your business and personal goals? A simple conversation should flush this out.

Knowing what I know now these are the steps I'd take.

  1. Research what I need and want from a coach, prioritise what I think maybe the problem.
  2. Can I solve the most immediate issues with training and consulting? That might be a quicker solution and getting a coach to take me through solving those issues slowly might not be right, e.g. I had a sales stall in 2018. I hired a sales trainer and engaged him for some short term coaching. It worked like a charm within 3 months, the injection of cashflow meant that we could then hire a coach to help with systems and people.
  3. Find potential coaches in and outside your network. Remember, your social network, even on LinkedIn or Facebook can be a filter bubble that can just limit your options. Do some more serious research and find someone who says the things that challenge you.
  4. Stalk them for a while, read their stuff, challenge them.
  5. Use what you learn from the coaches or authors you're following to think about your objectives for you and your business. This could be business coaches here in Brisbane, or people create awesome business content in books or podcasts.
  6. Make contact and ask them about the way they talk to new prospects, like you. Talk to them about how their engagements look and give them enough information so they can understand who you are and what you think you need. Be clear about what you're looking for, e.g. business growth, and be honest about what your issues, e.g. leadership skills.
  7. Ask them if they have people that were in the same position, and what they did to help. Listen, carefully.
  8. I'd be looking to shortlist based on this alone, and then meet with the one, two or three that I feel can really help me.
  9. Just as you should when hiring any business professionals, make sure you get a referee. When you speak to a referee the closer their starting point aligns with your current situation and where you want to go aligns with their current situation, or their destination the better.
  10. Ideally, you should meet with that referee, go to their business, be brief but get to the point, a 10-20 minute meeting is more than enough. You're looking for a recommendation between two entrepreneurs at different stages on their journey. I'd ask two questions "Knowing what you now know, and what I've told you about my business would you hire coach X if you were me?" and if the answer is Yes, "What (if any) mistakes did you make when you started with coach X, and what should I do to avoid them?"

The goal here is to check the alignment and hit the ground running. These last two questions are the two that will give you the ability to get serious returns and value from a coach because like I said above, they're a coach, just like in sports you're the one doing all the running about. The coach is the one steering you in the right direction and getting you to think.

How do I find a business coach or mentor?

See above. This question is specifically added for Google's benefit about how to find a coach and how to find the best mentor 🙂

Section: Business Coach Costs

How much should a business coach cost?

Turning your business into the best business it can be is not going to be cheap. Hiring a business coach is as significant cost-wise as hiring a new junior to a mid-level member of staff. $40-60k per year especially if you consider the cost of your own time away from operational work as a cost - as you should. The out-of-pocket costs are likely to be from $2.5-5k per month with one or more initial sessions, these are usually quite long, focused on getting your goals and existing thoughts from the business owners into the coaches mind.

In my experience, this sort of strategic work is tremendously valuable and I've done this alone as a business owner, I've included my management team, and I've even included my entire business in parts.

The cost of these has never been significant enough to say no. The question is always around how will this pay for itself.

In my experience, in my first time hiring a coach I was making a few mistakes that were costing us $3-4k per month regularly. Fixing those meant hiring a coach was a simple and obvious choice.

Not everyone is in that position and subsequently, I've had to work hard to justify the cost to advisors like accountants and financial controllers, especially when those people arrived in the business after the impact of the previous business coach.

Lower cost options? I've heard of coaches working at a slower pace, e.g. fortnightly or monthly for less money. Don't do it. I've tried it, it didn't work. The cadence is important no matter what your business model or client base. Weekly coaching means it stays *front-of-mind* for both you and for the coach.

Section: Definitions

What is a (small) business coach?

An experienced business professional who can help many business owners and entrepreneurs achieve their goals by working closely with on their thinking and align their week by week tasks with their action plans.

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