Does Your Small Business Need a Coach?
by Susan Caminiti.
Marsha Egan is no stranger to business coaches. She used one back in 2005 as she was planning to leave her job as a senior vice president with a Fortune 500 insurance company to strike out on her own. Now that she’s running her own business, Egan is once again using the services of a coach, but this time it’s to help take her company—InBoxDetox.com, a workplace productivity firm—to the next level of growth.
“My business is going okay, but it’s not where I want it to be given the time and effort I’m putting in,” says Egan, whose Nantucket, Massachusetts-based company works with leaders of small- to medium-sized firms. “A coach helps me understand what I can do differently to get better results. Basically, she’s helping me see what I’m not seeing.”
Providing that kind of guidance—or handholding, depending on the client—has become a big business. According to the 2012 Global Coaching study done by the International Coach Federation (ICF), the industry’s leading network and certification organization, and PriceWaterhouseCoopers, nearly 48,000 coaches worldwide are generating a staggering $2 billion a year in revenue.
Before trying to figure out whether a business coach can sharpen your leadership skills or help goose productivity, it helps to understand what coaching is and—perhaps more importantly—what it’s not. Coaching is not therapy. True, you will need to be extremely candid and honest with a coach about your management weaknesses and trouble spots (and yes, some of the very traits you’re trying to change may have roots in childhood). But unlike in therapy, there is no expert/subordinate dynamic that exists in business coaching, says Janet Harvey, president of the ICF and a coach herself. “The coach/client relationship is peer to peer,” she says.
Nor is coaching the same as consulting. For example, if you want someone to come in to implement a performance management system, call a human resources consultant. However, if you want to become more effective at motivating your employees, that’s where a coach can help, explains Harvey. “Coaching is all about working with the client to help them recognize their blind spots and then figure out ways to do what they’re doing better and more effectively,” she says.
PQ_BusinessCoach.jpgWhat to Look For
Choosing the right coach to work with is similar to establishing other business relationships: you want solid credentials, good references, and the feeling that the two of you fit well. Karyn Greenstreet, founder of Passion for Business, a small business coaching and consulting firm based in Reading, Pennsylvania, advises entrepreneurs to do their homework when selecting a coach. Among her tips for finding the right one:
Check that the coach is a member of the International Coach Federation
Select someone who has experience in coaching a business of your size. If you’re a one-person shop you don’t necessarily want someone who’s used to dealing with owners of companies with 100 or more employees.
The initial consultation is free. A good coach will make that offer so that the two of you can get to know each other and determine what you’re hoping to accomplish.
There’s a comfort level. Do you feel positive after speaking with this person, or dragged down? If you’re energetic and the coach is more low-key (or vice versa), are you okay with that? As Greenstreet points out, you will be spending a lot of time together.
Discuss the fees upfront. The cost of coaching varies widely and is determined by the experience of the coach and the length of the contract. Don’t be shy about asking the coach to break out his or her prices and be clear about what you’ll be getting for your money.
Finding the Right Arrangement
The methods and styles used in business coaching are rarely the same from client to client, says the ICF’s Harvey. Some entrepreneurs can handle a one-hour session every other week, and then want to be left alone to mull over the ideas, she says. Others prefer a more intensive two- to three-hour session once a month. The point is to figure out what you’re most comfortable with, and that the coach is flexible enough to change it at your request.
Working in person or over the phone is another area to clarify at the beginning. Julie Cohen, a coach specializing in work/life balance issues, has herself used a coach to help redefine her business as her own life changed. “What I’ve recognized from being a coach is that we typically can’t see our own blind spots in business,” she says.
Cohen, who started her company in 2000, says she operated with the belief that as a successful coach, she should cater to both individual and corporate clients. The work involved in servicing both areas was becoming overwhelming, she recalls. “I wasn’t sure what my business was and it was killing me,” she says. “Here it is that I’m talking to clients about work/life balance and I had none.”
After working with her business coach for a few weeks last year—all by phone—Cohen was able to finally admit that she really didn’t like working with individual clients and derived more satisfaction from her corporate clients. “Having a coach help me get to that realization was just so freeing for me,” she adds. Cohen promptly redesigned her website to emphasize her offerings to corporate clients and was able to dedicate more time to them.
One of the often-heard criticisms of coaching is that it’s difficult to measure its value. Not so, says Marsha Egan. She advises being very clear from the beginning about why you’re hiring a coach (improve your company’s visibility, increase morale, be a better boss, for instance) and then look at the results at the end of the contract.
“I knew when I hired my coach that at the end of our time together I want a new tagline for my business, a new blog, and a redefinition of what I’m doing,” she says. After each one-hour phone session with her coach, Egan does a sort of homework assignment where she implements the new strategies she’s learned and then she and her coach discuss the results. “There’s no guess work here,” says Egan. “If I was happy with the way things were going with my business, I wouldn’t be using a coach. To me, this is an effective way to bring about changes that are going to make me a more productive and happier business owner.”