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How to choose the right business coach to work with

What a business coach is really for…

There are a fair few factors that go into a decision as important as choosing the right business coach. 

If you are looking at hiring a business coach (rather than a life coach), you’ll most likely be in one of two camps:

  1. Your business is doing well, and you are keen to push on to the next level, and realise that almost none of the business success stories started with ‘knowing everything at the start’
  1. Your business is static and you want to break out of that rut. If this is the case, you’ve probably identified that either some external advice, or perhaps some external accountability is needed to create that breakthrough.

This list of two, rather than perhaps an expected three might come as a surprise.

It’s a common misconception that business coaches are also for ‘bad business owners’ or ‘fix broken businesses’. In reality, nothing is farther from the truth.

Business coaches are really experts at helping business owners develop their knowledge, confidence, capability and systems to enable greater outcomes from the business operations, whilst reducing stress, and creating more freedom in terms of money and time.

This means they have a wide skillset across the main business disciplines, as well as strategy, training, consultancy, and coaching itself.

Great business coaches are not just fountains of knowledge; they have the capability to inspire, motivate, challenge, simplify, clarify, and expedite… through you!

It’s also important to realise that a coach is different from a ‘regular consultant’ in that they should challenge your thinking, behaviour, attitude and self-discipline. Coaches are all about change – both of the person they are coachhing, and by reflection, of the business that is connected.

Hire a coach if you are ready to have a good hard look in the mirror and challenge yourself to be the best version you can be. Business coaching is about more than just knowledge, and infinitely more valuable and effective than reading a book or attending a seminar!

What makes the coach right for you?

One very obvious factor is that a coach is more than a CV; however, many prospective clients will spend a lot of time shortlisting based on the direct industry experience of a coach, or on their academic qualifications.

This is a mistake. 

Whilst there is certainly a value to academic capability, many of the best coaches have varied backgrounds, and can bring skill-sets from outside your industry.

In fact, I’d argue that if you hire an ‘industry expert’ you will be limiting the value possibilities substantially, as you will likely only gain insights from within your own industry sector (which lets face it, most of you are already experts in!). 

All too often, I have seen clients who have chosen a coach purely based on a CV. In many cases that results in the choice of a 20 to 30 year corporate world veteran who on paper has managed big teams, big businesses, and achieved multi-million pound change in large organisations. It’s an impressive CV after all!

Impressive, and valid, if you are recruiting a coach for a similar scake organisation, but much less helpful when you are looking for advice on your SME business. This point is about relevant experience and relatable experience.

There is a much bigger gap in attitude, skills, and strategy than most realise between the corporate world and the SME world. That misunderstanding has led to many poor ‘matches’ taking place, and results being different to expectation in almost all of those circumstances.

The real value a coach can offer is in drawing the value from ‘parrallel universes’. 

What I mean here is to look for a coach who has worked with a wide variety of industries, and types of businesses that have broadly similar parameters, but not identical, to your own (e.g. scale / locations / operating model etc)…you’ll gain the cross-pollination of industry to industry knowledge and success transfer.

An example

As an example, in my own experience, a lot of the value clients have taken from my work has been from my time served with the Police Force. It is during that career that I learned the most about people management, influence, self-discipline and systems.

They also benefit from the variety offered by the 200+ businesses I have worked with over time as a business coach directly. What is learned from the florist industry is surprisingly transferrable to the restaurant industry for example.

Finally, they benefit from my experience in owning and running two marketing agencies (where the insights on maximising lead generation and client lifetime value are not limited to one industry either). 

As you can see, this is perhaps much more important than the degree in Geology that I gained when I was 21. After all, I’m 42 years old now and have another lifetime of valuable experiences to share since I went to University!.

Similarly, for other coaches, they will bring a raft of expertise from their own backgrounds that should not be simply CV qualifications sifted out. A lot will depend upon what outcomes you are seeking as a person, and as a business, but don’t rule out the value of life experience.

The best test for the coach’s real world capability, however, is in the breadth and depth of evidence they can present on happy clients. 

Is there sufficient personal referencing for the coaching they have delivered in the real world?

Here is a link to a client video that will give you a flavour of how the relationship and results should come across when things are going well.

Undertaking the selection of your coach

I am a firm believer that any really good coach, will be working to a coaching framework. This might be one that they have ‘bought access to’ such as the franchise arrangements of ActionCOACH or Business Doctors. It may also be that they have gained the experience to design their own (such as I have done at UK Growth Coach).

The key point to recognise is that businesses are the same, whilst every business owner, and every team is different.

The founding principles of successful businesses are pretty standard. The ability to execute on those principles is where the skill of a master coach start to shine through.

When you are approaching selection of your coach, I would recommend the following steps:

Research them thoroughly in advance. 

  1. Website
  2. LinkedIn
  3. Contacts who have used them
  4. Presentations where you get a chance to see them speak
  5. Any books or articles they may have written
  6. Awards they may have gained (not just for themselves but also for their clients)
  7. CV review (just as a sense check of history)
  8. Watch any videos they have available – e.g. explanation videos, client testimonials and so forth.

Hold an initial broad context discussion. 

This might be via phone or in person, but it should not be via email, as it doesn’t give a sufficient sense of personality.

It’s likely this call / meeting will only be relatively short (say 15 – 30 minutes). It should allow you to share your frustrations, or ambitions openly without yet getting too detailed on the potential solutions. 

It should also give you a chance to ‘phone interview’ your potential new coach. This allows you to get a sense of who they are in terms of character and personality. It’s really important that you feel a resonance with your coach, and feel that you could work together positively.

Provide your coach with sufficient background information. 

This is for them to hold a more informed discussion upon. Good coaches will ask you to complete a questionnaire (either via phone or on paper). They will then take a break before jumping into coaching mode.

This gap is important as it allows them to consider your business in context before suggesting the best support you.

Hold a coaching exploration meeting to discover how they would work with you. 

This session will last between 1 and 2 hours (sometimes longer) and is not aimed at providing direct strategy (yet). It is a detailed discussion about the starting situation, key aims of the working relationship. This covers the coaching framework on offer and defines the expectations on a coaching relationship from both sides. This is also the stage where the potential investment levels is often discussed.

The reason this session should not be too directly focused on the direct business strategy yet is simple. The coach’s role in due time will be to help you create your business plan, milestones, goals and committed actions. That really should be part of the paid coaching service, not part of a ‘sales meeting’ environment.

The parts are better separated, although it’s important to have a steer of how that plan will come together.

Set the intention clearly. 

When you start working together, the first step should be a session to ‘align’ the goals with the coaching.

This covers context and strategic discussion, as well as development of personal and business objectives. It should involve prioritisation, and clarification of what is needed from the business owner and the coach to deliver.

At UK Growth Coach we call this meeting the ‘North Star Session’ as it sets a clear path to follow. Only once we have a clear steer do we then move on to individual elements of strategy or process.

Run regular sessions to stay on track

After your plan is set and rules of the game have been established, regular sessions should take place.

This is where they help you refine plans, and generate commitment to future tasks.

The sessions can range in length a little but they will generally last about an hour. It makes little difference if they are run online or in person. In fact, clients often time benefit from using modern technology such as Zoom conferencing.

Periodic reviews

As you work through your coaching programme, there should be some shorter range priority plans developed (quarterly is normal). This is to ensure that the broader priorities are reviewed periodically. It’s a good idea to reset at a deeper level annually just to sense check progress.

Other criteria to look for

Here are a few that are useful to look for:

  • Any form of formal training / teaching background. This means that the coach is likely to frame information from the simple to the complex in that order. It also means they are likely to understand how clients actually learn and absorb information.
  • Ask if they have a library! Good coaches are always learning. Digital or real world books is fine.
  • A set of coaching tools / documents / templates / resources / presentations. Coaches that don’t have this are always having to create from scratch. It indicates a lack of system behind the words and takes time!
  • Good coaches can access many assets for their trade at the touch of a button.
  • Check that they are in fact, a business coach, and not a life coach, counsellor or other form of guide. Those roles are valuable, but it’s important to be clear on what you are buying!
  • Does the coach / has the coach ever actually run a business (beyond the coaching business)? This is NOT essential, but is important for sufficient understanding of the pressures and environment of SME business ownership. Many have only worked in large businesses with a team to provide constant support. This can create a lack of true empathy for the challenges running your own business can bring. 

Personally I own and run two marketing agencies (www.growth-by-design.co.uk and www.mjsmedia.co.uk)  as well as the coaching practice. I can tell you I am a better coach for that experience, and know my clients benefit from that.

Whilst not essential aspect to have that business ownership history, it would certainly be a preference for me when hiring a coach.

Summary & how to get more information

If you are seeking the right coach for your business, the guide-points above should help a fair bit. 

To access more advice, or chat through your needs with our team at UK Growth Coach, please do get in touch. We are always pleased to help.

You can reach me personally at tim@growthcoach.co.uk or via our contact page here www.growthcoach.co.uk/contact 

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