Finding the right business coach for you
When it comes to the question of how to choose the best business coach, it can be tough to separate the goodies from the baddies if you don’t know what you’re looking for!
That’s why we’ve put together this fun, short blog to help you work out who deserves the tin star sheriff badge, and who needs to stay on your (not) ‘wanted’ list!
The Good Business Coach
Good business coaches work within a solid business growth and personal performance framework. They don’t limit themselves to specific parameters in the same way as a pure business trainer may. This allows a certain fluidity, whilst keeping a firm eye on the goals, and ensuring progress towards them.
The content of a session should be specific to your context, and involve a clear discussion around the salient numbers, factors, and perspectives. A coach will offer an opinion if asked, but will be clear that this is what they are offering. The decisions are owned by the business owner, and this is a clear distinction from a consultant, where generally speaking the advice is viewed as more ‘to follow’ than to consider.
Another facet of the good business coach is the power of their questions. They aren’t afraid to ask challenging, difficult, or alternate viewpoint questions. Their aim is to help you work through a situation and to ensure that your decision making is informed, sound and clear.
As part of this process, a good coach will explore the goal, the current realities of the situation now, the options open for progression, and the decision on what you will do about it.
This GROW model is a powerful approach to going from theory to actions, and is more effective than just having a nice chat. It encourages open discussion and exploration of options, but does tie it down to decided actions and next steps – very important for making real progress. While you are trying to choose the best business coach for you, ask questions about the coaches methods and techniques.
The Bad Business Coach
There are very few coaches that have malicious intent. In fact, as a vocation, I have found that every coach I have ever met had the best of intentions. However, some results were good, and some were not…so what can we do to help you weed out the bad coaching arrangements?
Firstly, know what type of coach you are speaking with… and understand that they themselves may be a little confused. I know that sounds totally crazy, but there is a real truth in this point. Many business coaches are not in fact business coaches. This is pretty important to figure out if you are trying to choose a business coach!
They have had nil or little training in either business, or coaching, or both. They aren’t being fraudulent as such, they simply are following one of the most frustrating aspects of the industry – using the buzzword of business coaching to attract a wider audience than is really right for them. They have their heart in the right place, but may be using the wrong tools for the wrong job.
What to look for when selecting a business coach
1. Relevant experience and qualification
For a larger company, a coach with an MBA or formal business studies qualification may well not just be relevant, but also a requirement. For SMEs it can be also, but is less relevant as most small business principles are substantially adapted from those in larger organisations. I have seen many ex-corporate coaches struggle to help business owners in the SME sector, because it simply is different, and they can be slow to accept that their personal adaption is also required.
As an example, I have been a coach for 13 years and have worked with more than 200 companies during that time. I have many testimonials from clients, and have won the award for best client results in the South East of England five times. I am a shareholding director in two other companies (Growth by Design and MJS Media), and am qualified in teaching and coaching for adults. I have also personally written three books on sales, marketing and business growth. I would hope that this ‘CV’ provides adequate evidence of experience and results for any prospective client.
2. Generalist or specialist - know the difference
Don’t hire a specialist consultant but expect generalist expertise. Many business owners will state that their accountant is their business advisor. That’s great for the accounting elements, but not so great for the marketing, sales, HR, systemisation and other aspects of the company.
Ask your advisors to clarify their true expertise areas, and ask them to stick to that remit.
As a business coach, I would class myself as an experienced generalist. Whilst I could also offer you tax advice it’s not my remit, and (importantly) I know and acknowledge it. Similarly I don’t offer legal, risk or HR advice.
Clarifying your advisors’ areas of true expertise is important, and honest advisors should shine a light on their weaknesses as much as on their strengths. If you feel they are hedging their bets a little it may be showing a lack of confidence in the relationship, and some reassurance on the security of their role as your go to expert on XYZ topic can get past that emotional barrier.
3. Not all coaches are the same - life versus business
With this in mind, don’t hire a life coach to do a business coach’s job (or vice versa).
Whilst it is certainly true that people-performance is connected to overall business performance, there is a huge gap between these two topics. I almost never offer my clients advice on how to manage their lives, as that isn’t my skillset. Similarly, a life coach should not really be offering advice on business functionality when their expertise doesn’t extend that way.
Look for solid recent client references, real world business running and owning experience, and some signature stories that prove they can actually deliver results. As an example, if you check out my Google My Business page, LinkedIn profile, FreeIndex listing or website, you can see many client stories and statements about the improved profit, cash flow, systems, or achieved business sales they have enjoyed.
The Ugly Business Coach
There are a few coaches that I would class as being ugly. Not visually of course, but more in their working practice. This is because, for the few that fall in this category they are pretty much ineffective…and no result is an ugly result!
The key point I’d like to make here is that most ineffectual coaches are simply conversationalists. The ones that book a general wise-owl discussion once a week or month and just have a chat. There are no goals, no real learning, and no accountable actions resulting.
In my experience, this type of coach is often well-meaning, and can be highly experienced with a wealth of knowledge to speak from. However, they are also often engaged on a low or no fee arrangement, and for them it is more of a hobby or an interes, and, fairly commonly, an avoidance of true retirement.
This may sound harsh, but coaching that does not have enough formality or accountability needs to be clearly defined as friendly advice and discussion. True coaching leads to change, and has an expectation of deliverables beyond generalised wisdom.
Another type of ugly business coach is the one that benchmarks against average rather than best. These coaches ask for action, but accept underperformance without any challenge.
A good coach will, at times, make you feel a bit uncomfortable. They will challenge your lack of focus or effort, and will (through that accountability discussion) cause greater behavioural change. Similarly, they will enthuse and heap praise when performance or effort is strong.
The ugly coach isn’t invested enough in the relationship to have the discussions that truly drive behavioural change, and can be too clinical or too passive.