One of my biggest regrets in business is not asking for help earlier on. When I first started my business nine years ago, I spent a lot of time Googling. I did reach out to a few people (one of whom was Glenn Murray, a legendary SEO copywriter, who was very generous with his time). But for the most part, it was me myself and I (and my clients).
I didn’t ask for help because I was fiercely independent and didn’t want to admit that I needed it. Besides, I didn’t know what I didn’t know, so I was blissfully unaware that a major short-cut was available in the form of business coaching, plus I didn’t know what to look for in a business coach.
If you’re considering engaging a business coach, what’s important to look for? What results should you expect? How do you know if business coaching is right for you? And how do you know if business coaching is working?
A business coach with real experience
The first thing to look for is a business coach with real life business experience, not someone who’s only ever trained or coached. In addition, you want someone who’s worked on and with other people’s businesses, not just their own, which means that they’re experience is far broader and they’re more likely to be effective teachers.
It’s really easy to do one thing successfully and then promise to teach others the same thing. It’s far more difficult and proficient to be able to apply this particular skill in multiple different situations, across different industries and with a broad range of different personalities.
You may want a business coach who understands your particular industry or sector. My background as a qualified, long-term yoga teacher who’s specialised in digital marketing for mainstream health and allied health sectors for the last nine years means I’m very familiar with this industry.
On the other hand, sometimes it can be hugely useful if your business coach has an outsider perspective that can give you fresh insights and ideas from other industries, so long as they’re quick to learn the necessary specifics of your industry.
The same goes with business coaches with small business or sole trader experiences versus business coaches with corporate backgrounds and MBAs. There are pros and cons to both and it’s important to understand how these might impact on the advice you’re receiving.
Empathy and interpersonal skills
Your business coach should never make you feel ashamed, intimidated or inadequate. Your business coach should not teach a system or blueprint that involves playing follow the leader towards popular entrepreneurial propaganda of a ‘6-figure business’ or ‘laptop lifestyle’.
This shouldn’t need to be stated but unfortunately I hear enough stories that it’s important to reiterate here.
Your goals are your own. They are likely to differ from your competitors – and that’s a good thing. Your business coach should help you articulate your goals, give you good ideas that relate to these, point out any potential problems or difficulties and give you a loving kick-up-the-arse if you’re sabotaging yourself or being less than honest about what you really want, and why.
Your business coach is not your cheerleader. That’s your job (and hopefully, a role also done by your family and friends). A business coach that only tells you how great you’re doing is a wonderful, expensive waste of time.
Your business coach should help you become your own cheerleader and instigate any difficult conversations with kindness, empathy and tact.
Your business coach should be well-connected
Your business coach should be well-connected with marketing and business development professionals (not agencies) who you could consider engaging for work. Lots of people waste time making connections with internet famous people and call it networking. This is mainly useful for bragging, boosting egos and attracting other, similar egos. It doesn’t necessarily translate to more clients and profits.
A mentor with a strong business network also has more ‘material’ to work with, more sharp minds to consult, and more up-to-date or relevant information to help them give you the best possible business advice. The people in your coach’s network can, in one way or another, be useful sources of key business and career insights and opportunities for you as well.
Intimacy with failure, as well as success
Be very wary of a business coach who says, “do as I say, not as I do”, who struggles to manage money or attract new clients. If someone has consistently worked towards a particular goal but not achieved it, that person isn’t the best source of business advice on that particular goal.
But a business coach who has only ever achieved their business goals isn’t likely to be empathetic towards others who haven’t, nor have the creativity necessary to come up with Plan B (or Plan C).
Ideally, your business coach should also have some experience at failing, meaning they’re better equipped to accurately warn you about potential pitfalls ahead and show you how to deal with risks and failures (which everyone in business will encounter at some time). Most importantly, they’ll be able to help you quickly get back onto your feet when the chips are down – this is essential in business.
How to know if business coaching is working
The most obvious metric that indicates whether or not your business coaching is working is your profit. Your business owner should help you earn more money.
Sometimes this takes longer than you think because there’s various things that need to be set up to make this happen. These include new branding (or a brand refresh), new website, nutting out your services or service packages, or industry research.
Sometimes, business coaching can translate to greater profits quickly – like introducing a price rise, a new premium-priced service offering, or tweaking your Facebook advertising or website optimisation.
The second metric is a little more obscure than money: it’s clarity, and the confidence that comes with this. Clarity about concisely answering that dreaded question, “so tell me, what do you do?” in a compelling way. Clarity around your business point of difference. Clarity in your simple, effective marketing routine. Clarity around your target market and how to better communicate with them and lead them towards buying.
Clarity around how your particular psychology works, what your strengths are, how you best work, how you typically sabotage your progress and how to work around this.
Confidence in decision making is essential to running a successful business. I don’t want to make my business coaching clients dependent on me for helping think through decisions. I want to empower them to make better decisions, which includes knowing what decisions should be made quickly and easily, and which decisions are better to tuck into your brain to marinate.