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Is Business Coaching Right For You?

Business Coaching can work very well for many business owners but the big question is…

Will business coaching work for you?

The honest answer is that it depends on:

  • You,
  • Your situation,
  • The business coach and how he or she fits in both with you and your situation.

This is why two aspects of what a coach offers are particularly important at the beginning:

  • Try before you commit sessions – personalities can clash and you may find that a particular coach is a poor fit for your personality or issues. This is why I offer a Business Second Opinion Session to talk about any issue holding back British based business owners.
  • Some kind of guarantee – this shares the burden of finding the right fit between you and your coach. The coach shouldn’t see his or her task as “selling coaching hours for a profit” but as “helping business owners to succeed.”

What Is Business Coaching?

My simple definition of business coaching is that it’s helping you to get from where you are to where you want to be.

Coaches argue about the extent to which coaching involves:

  • Teaching you new skills – some say that’s training.
  • Telling you what are the best things to do – some say that’s business advice.
  • Doing it for you – some say that’s consultancy or subcontract work.
  • Helping you to find the answers deep within yourself – some say that’s life coaching.

My view is that the coach’s task is to help provide you with what you need to move forward and that can involve each of those aspects. It will also involve helping you to find ways to adapt business ideas to your own particular business and market.

If you want to move forward quickly, you want your coach to help you rather than standing in your way, slowing you down.

Are You Open To Coaching?

You need to be working with your coach and not against him or her. You’re tackling the issues, problems and opportunities in your business together.

Are you open to new ideas?

Some people want confirmation that their ideas are likely to work and perhaps implementing them but don’t want to hear contradictory thoughts, even if the coach is trying to play “devil’s advocate” or helping you to protect against the risks.

Others want new ideas and innovative thinking. They recognise the value of challenging their existing beliefs and being asked “stupid questions” that probe the logic of assumptions that underpin your business and that of your competitors.

My own view is that you must choose the goal, where you want to take your business, but you need to be flexible on how you get there. I remember a saying that goes something like…

If you and I always agree, one of us is redundant.

I go along with that. One of the important roles of a coach is to be prepared to tell you things that no one else would… in effect to be your business best friend. The market won’t be kind to you and concerned with protecting your feelings so getting issues surfaced before you waste too much time and money is an important aspect of working with a coach.

Are you open to criticism?

It’s often claimed that it was Henry Ford who said…

If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”

If you want to change the results of your business, you need to change what happens within it and that means being open to criticism about past ideas, decisions and working practices.


Because if what you did before was still completely correct, you wouldn’t want to do better now?

Any criticism should be constructive and aimed at helping you to achieve your overall objectives but, if you get defensive and stick to the status quo, coaching isn’t going to work for you. Most of the time, the coach should be tactful and kind in highlighting areas that need to be corrected but sometimes, he or she may need to be blunt.

Are you in control of your own time?

Your coach should be able to help you manage your time by giving you tips and techniques that work for many others but some people struggle either because of their working situation or their own personalities.

Some business owners I’ve worked with are in what I’d call “reactive services”. The client has a problem and it needs to be fixed NOW. An obvious example is an emergency plumber who can’t say to a householder with water gushing through the ceiling “Can you wait two hours?”

This matters for two reasons:

  1. Your coach will normally want to work with you regularly on a set time on a particular day. Some flexibility is normally available but it’s easier for both of you if you have a regular time.
  2. You’ll also be expected to put ideas covered in the sessions into practice between times. Too often, these actions can be delayed until a few days before the next call and, in reactive businesses, the time may disappear and the opportunity to make progress and learn from the experience is lost.

Regularly missing scheduled coaching calls and not doing the “homework” are both indicators that the coaching assignment probably won’t be effective. It’s important that momentum builds up to help the improvement project become self-sustaining.

It was Michael Gerber, the author of “The E-Myth Revisited“, who made the distinction of working in your business and working on your business.

Your time with your coach and the tasks that are discussed will, in the main, be working ON your business and it’s important they don’t get pushed to one side by the day to day demands on you.

Are you open to being held accountable?

One of the big perks about “being your own boss” is that no one is telling you what you have to do but this can create problems for people who aren’t good at controlling their time to meet their priorities.

For some, being held accountable by a coach is an important benefit that moves the business along. It helps them to motivate themselves because they don’t want to tell their coach they haven’t done something agreed previously. The coaching session provides a target date for important things that they might otherwise think need to be done sometime.

Others resent the use of their time being challenged by the coach. Again it’s this sensitivity to implied criticism that is a problem

There are valid excuses for not doing the tasks covered in the homework but they shouldn’t occur frequently, and if they are likely to, then the assignment should probably be suspended.

Remember the coach is helping you to get from where you are to where you want to be. If you’re aiming for the wrong target, something that isn’t really important, you need to change it.

Are you likely to be a good or bad coaching client?

Based on the above, are you likely to be a good or bad coaching client?

Some people are impossible to coach, others are impossible with a particular coach because the personal chemistry is wrong. It’s nobody’s fault so you’re better to recognise the problem and find another coach quickly.

If you think you’re likely to be a bad coaching client, you may be better looking for help from business training programmes. Alternatively you may prefer to dip into a few of the many thousands of business books you’ll find at Amazon.

To help, I’ve put a list together of a library of 12 essential books for business owners.

Alternatively look for consultants and subcontractors who will do difficult activities for you. Just be aware that you’re likely to get what you pay for. Consultants are expensive but normally highly competent. Subcontractors may need significant management from you unless you look at the top-end of the scale.

Please note, whether you’re coach-able doesn’t depend on the level of your business knowledge and experience. It can alter the conversations but people often need help transferring from being employed to starting their own businesses. Business owners with 30 years experience can also gain from a new perspective.

Is Your Situation Right For Business Coaching?

Coaching works best when you recognise that you need some help and fresh ideas but this can be:

  • When your business is growing quickly but you’re experiencing growing pains.
  • When growth has stalled for some reason and you feel stuck.
  • When profit has dipped or you feel your business isn’t doing as well as you think you should be.
  • When the business is making relatively small losses and you have time to turn it around.
  • When you face a new challenge or a big opportunity that is pushing you beyond your comfort zone.

Coaching doesn’t work if you’re fairly happy with how the business is performing and you don’t want to change anything. This may sound obvious but coaching can be an interesting experience in its own right because you have someone who will listen to your business ideas or moans and groans.

Standard business coaching isn’t a suitable option if your business is within weeks of failure. Coaching works through the business owner and is normally based around one coaching session per week. If you’re business is in serious trouble, you need more urgent action than this and potentially you need specialist insolvency advice to make sure that you haven’t gone past the point where failure is inevitable.

Have You Found The Right Coach?

What you’re looking for are three main qualities:

  • The right fit for the business.
  • The right fit for you.
  • The right attitude that puts the emphasis on your success.

Does The Coach Fit Your Business?

There are three main issues to consider here:

  1. Is the coach a specialist in the problem you want to fix?
    If you believe you mainly have a marketing problem, you need someone who is good at marketing. If you have people problems, you may need someone with a HR background. Can you see evidence that the person has the right qualifications and experience?
    On the other hand, you may not be sure why your business isn’t performing as you want, so just like with your health, it’s a good idea to start with a general practitioner rather than a specialist.
  2. Is the coach a specialist in your type of business?
    There are advantages and disadvantages in finding a coach who specialises in your profession, trade or industry.
    The advantages are that the coach doesn’t have to spend time learning about your market, just the little quirks about your business, the coach should have trade contacts that you could find useful, and he or she will know what works and what doesn’t work for your type of business.
    The disadvantages are that the coach may be too tied into standard recipes of success that many of your competitors are already using and you may have problems finding the right personality match because of the smaller pool to select from. You may also struggle with the attitude of the coach who thinks that he or she knows how to run your business better than you do.
    A coach who doesn’t specialise in the type of business needs to spend time to learn about the trade but that can help you to challenge industry dogma that is hiding opportunities. He or she may find you and your business more interesting than someone who has heard it all many times before.
  3. Does the coach have a standard process that clients follow or it it adapted to your unique situation?
    Some coaches have a set procedure that they want clients to follow. It takes a lot of work and time to define a business system which has all the main elements businesses will need to succeed. Coaches are proud of what they’ve created and will want you to follow the procedures in a logical order.
    Other coaches don’t have a system or approach but put together their sessions on an as needed basis. This can work well if the coach has the time to properly prepare for your sessions but you don’t really want someone “winging it” each week.
    I’ve done both.
    I offered a six week Guerilla Marketing course where we had a defined agenda each week, although I sometimes had to add an extra free week if people struggled on putting their plan together. I also developed an overall business system that I called the Eight Pillars Of Business Prosperity. I had a preferred order but, I also recognised that, if there was a particular constraint in the client’s business, we should tackle that quickly.
    These days, I tend to prefer a more customised approach but, since I’m semi-retired and only want to work with one client a day, I have the time to think through and prepare.
  4. Is the coach a business owner or a franchisee?
    Perhaps it’s me but I find it ironic when someone who has worked for a large company and then buys a coaching franchise wants to coach and advise entrepreneurs and business owners.
    Owning a business is normally a creative process with so many different decisions across so many diverse activities. I think it’s important that your coach has thought through issues like how to differentiate themselves, branding, targeting clients, systems and processes, performance measurement etc.
    One advantage of a franchise however is that there is an established body of knowledge so the coach doesn’t have to piece everything together themselves and there are normally people who they can get help and support from. The downside is that the coach may not recognise the value of competing business approaches.

Each of these choices comes with advantages and disadvantages. When business owners approach me, some times, I believe I can help them but other times, I’ll recommend that they look for more specialist advice.

For example, when the owner of a restaurant in trouble contacted me, I recommended that they took advice from a restaurant turnaround consultant. I didn’t feel I could help them fast enough. Another time, I referred a video company who wanted to sell to blue chip companies to a specialist creative arts marketing consultant/coach. It was the blue chip aspect that put me off because of the problems of defining what the decision makers want.

Is The Coach The Right Fit For You?

I sometimes say that a business coach is like a business best friend and not everyone can qualify to be your closest friend.

First, you need to trust your coach enough to open up and be honest about what’s really going on. This applies both to the symptoms of the original problem, what you want to achieve and throughout the coaching process. You want your coach to actively listen to you and be interested in what you say.

Second, you need to have enough confidence in the coach to listen to what he or she says. You will have different opinions but, once consensus is reached, you need to press ahead with the agreed actions. If you still feel hesitant, you need to discuss it with the coach to see if there are any limiting beliefs at work.

Third, you need to like your coach. It’s hard to define but you feel it one way or the other.

Fourth, I believe you need to have fun. Improving your business is a serious issue but you should be able to have a few laughs along the way.

Five, you need to let your coach lead. He or she is focused on helping you to achieve your main goals and will want to control the sessions. If you try to take over, or just talk and drift off the point, there will be problems.

Does The Coach Have The Right Attitude And Put Your Success First

The best situation is a win-win arrangement. You do well and the coach does well from you working together.

However there is also a potential conflict because the coach’s income is your cost. You may have seen this problem with your accountants or solicitors where they profit at your expense, when tasks turn out to be bigger than expected.

The aim of coaching should be to create independence and not dependence. You should gain business knowledge and skills and the confidence to use them. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t have some ongoing relationship with your coach but it should tailor off over time, perhaps to periodic review sessions or when particular troubling issues arise.

When you contact a coach, does he or she sound hungry for your work and ready to promise anything you want or do they concentrate on trying to qualify you? What I mean is, are they trying to make sure that the fit is right between you, your situation and themselves?

Is the coach focused on the hours that they can sell to you or the value that they can help deliver to you? There’s a big difference.

From the coach’s perspective a good deal has the following attributes:

  • A long term time commitment – for example 12 months.
  • A high price.
  • A large deposit paid upfront.
  • Cancellation fees if you decide to stop coaching or decide that it’s not working for you.
  • No performance guarantee.
  • Ongoing payment by the hour / per session. If you need more sessions, you pay more.

These should make sure the coach always comes out ahead but, unfortunately mean that you can lose from the experience.

In contrast, a good deal from the perspective of a business owner is:

  • A short term time commitment, that is extended only if things are going well.
  • Little or even no deposit paid upfront. These days, I charge a small deposit upfront because I was working with a few people who either cancelled at the last minute or wouldn’t do the agreed work, making the next session pointless.
  • Value for money. It’s a mistake to chose the cheapest business coach but you must believe you’re going to get value for money.
  • A guarantee or even the situation where the coach is only paid a good proportion of the fee when the business improves.
  • Extra time and support is given for free if you’re struggling with a particular issue.

This is risky for the coach. The coach will only get paid well if things go well for you.

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