Productivity

4 things to know before choosing a business coach

Ask a business coach or consultant and they’ll tell you they have the secrets to your business success. Do they really? These four things will help you when choosing a business coach.

16 September 2015 by

Business coaches and consultants: they seem to be a dime-a-dozen don’t they? There are certainly a lot of professionals out there, with wildly varying skills and experience, all espousing to be experts.

And this is where it becomes tricky for business owners. Great advice gets great results but how do you go about choosing a business coach who will give you that great advice?

Here are four things it helps to know when choosing a business coach:

1. What’s in a name? Do I want a coach or a consultant?

With so many advisors, all with different methodologies, the label means much less than you might think. Some bigger companies and franchises have popularised the term ‘coach’ but I do find this tends to be a broad umbrella term that encompasses a whole range of processes including training and education. Consultant is similarly broad and could mean anything really! That’s why I personally prefer the term ‘advisor’ over both coach and consultant as it is more specific to the services you’re after. But ultimately, the individual approach of the person you choose matters much more than what they call themselves.

2. What will you get out of it?

The approach of every advisor differs unless you are working with a franchisee of bigger consultancy (their processes are standardised).

Some advisors have very strict, structured, timed programs that you need to follow in sequence, with particular sections focussing on specific business functions like marketing or financials. These programs are not tailored and you will be required to go through all sections.

"For business owners, finding the right advisor can be tough going, and it’s easy to pick an advisor that is not great and costs you a lot. "

Personal-style coaches will focus on you as a person more than your business.

In my own work I focus strongly on the business itself, looking at core business functions, how the business owner handles those functions and then work to develop problem areas in the business.

This is why it’s important to know exactly what you want from the relationship before you engage with a coach. Coaching type relationships do tend to evolve – but if the expectations between client and coach are not clear from the start, the relationship won’t get a chance to do so.

3. Is it a cost or investment?

Most business owners want to improve their financial position, and a good small business advisor will make you money. It doesn’t happen straight away however.

One common challenge I see with clients is they get professional advice when things are not going well (too late), they don’t really have a budget for the services … and they expect to make their investment back, plus more, in a short period of time.

It’s important to understand that regardless of how well-positioned a business is, it can take 6-12 months to see a return on the bottom line. Some clients of mine saw their biggest returns two years after starting with me.

And it’s important to note that there will likely be other costs that come along on top of the advisor’s fees, for example: a new website, marketing costs, new systems or software.

Ultimately, businesses that see the best results are the most proactive and work hard with their advisors to implement strategies into their businesses. Take a long-term view with consulting and see it as a transformation, to make you a better business owner and pay for the investment long term

4. Where do you start when choosing a business coach?

Finding a good advisor that fits your exact needs takes some time and effort, but it’s crucial to get the right person. I have picked up the pieces from bad consultants (and it’s not been pretty), so it’s worth taking the time to get someone good.

Before you start, know what type of help you want:

  • Are you lost with direction?
  • Are you struggling with a specific business function (like marketing)?
  • Do you need to improve your own skills or motivation?

It’s also good to have a budget in mind with some of the investment set aside so you aren’t scraping by to pay for their services.

Once you have your needs identified:

  1. Start asking your business colleagues or social networks who they recommend and create a shortlist.
  2. Decide if you want a tailored or fixed program. (I am not a fan of the fixed programs as I think every business is different and priorities change over time, so it needs to be flexible.)
  3. Interview at least three advisors and speak to some of their clients before you make the final decision.

Small business advisors must have real small business experience, meaning they have owned businesses, ideally more than one. Corporate experience is all well and good but scaling big business thinking to smalls doesn’t usually work.

Another quick tip: some companies ask for bigger upfront payments. You can negotiate smaller ongoing payments as those big payments are too punishing on cash flow and puts more pressure on the advisor to perform.

Building a great team around your business is one of the key skills of a successful business owner, and an advisor is a central member of that team. When it works, it can add significant wealth to you and your business and provides enormous relief. Treat the process like you are hiring an very important employee and you will enjoy the rewards of a great business relationship.

Do you have a business coach or advisor? How did you go about choosing a business coach?

Warren Harmer

is author of Business Planning for Small Business. As a business adviser and coach, Warren offers instructive ‘how to’ information to make business ownership easier, less stressful and more enjoyable.

Comments

  • I have business coach/advisor/mentor. He happens to be my accountant and he took on that role by accident really. By his own admission he thinks differently to most accountants and has recently started a new business that is more about coaching & advising than accounting. He has been in business himself for probably over 30 years (not that I’ve asked his age) but he never stops learning and developing his skills (well beyond accounting) to be able to assist clients. His advice has been fantastic and I really love his enthusiasm and energy – it rubs off on me. Recently I went to him full of problems, not knowing what to do next with my business. By the end of the hour, he had me focused and energised and with a list of things to do. I have learned a lot from him in the past 5 years and I know that he actually enjoys watching me learn and grow too. I’m lucky I just stumbled across the right person really because I had actively tried to find someone suitable before but we never seemed to ‘gel’.

  • Good stuff Warren. A good coach will also be reflective enough to know when they are out of their depth. Some stay catalytic and never advise but those who do (probably best called ‘advisors’ or ‘mentors’ rather than coaches) need to be careful not to assume things that work in one industry are transferable to another. I’ve seen a lot of bad advice coming from highly successful business owners but it just doesn’t work in the client’s industry. That’s what we set out to put right.

87,886 people use Flying Solo to help them create a business with life. Do you?

Connect with Flying Solo

Explore the benefits of membership