Leadership lessons: hiring a business coach - Brought to you by NatWest
Thursday, 07 March 2019
Business coaching is gaining traction as more UK SMEs see the benefit of having an objective outsider’s opinion on how they run their enterprises.
SME leaders are increasingly turning to coaching – but how do you find the right coach for your business?
When Christina Gough launched her network of B2B marketing professionals 18 months ago, she had no idea how demanding the business would become.
“When you start out, it’s easy to get so focused on servicing your clients that you lose track of why you started the business in the first place,” says Gough. “I needed to step back and look again at what I was trying to achieve.”
Gough considered hiring someone to service her existing clients while she worked on business development, but decided it was too soon to take on her first employee. Then she looked at hiring a consultant, but had concerns about losing control of the business.
After some extensive research, she turned to coaching. “I wanted someone to develop me and my business so I hired a coach – and it’s proved invaluable.”
Finding the right coach
Gough’s not alone. Once the preserve of corporate executives, the coaching sector has grown phenomenally in recent years supporting owners with businesses of all sizes.
The International Coach Federation (ICF) estimates there are around 18,800 coaches operating in Western Europe, although the lack of one centralised membership body makes exact numbers difficult to ascertain.
The sector remains largely unregulated, too, and a Google search will throw up several programmes offering short courses promising to teach the skills required to become a business or life coach.
As a result, Carl Reader, SME adviser and author of The Startup Coach, advises business leaders to check where a prospective coach has trained, the duration of the training and their background in business. But most importantly, they should seek out testimonials.
“Ask to speak to their clients,” says Reader. “Coaching is a substantial investment, and every coaching style differs. Talk to their customers to find out what kind of relationship they have with them.”
Reader places much importance on the relationship factor and ‘gut feeling’ because this is, in part, what separates business coaching from consulting or mentoring.
“Trust your instincts. The coach should be in a position of trust with you, and you’ll open up to them and speak about your private life as well as your business affairs, so you need a strong rapport. Listen to your gut.”
What to expect
No matter how good or experienced a coach is, the process will only work if you’re open to it. “You could have the world’s best coach, but if you’re not coachable, you won’t be coached,” says Reader.
Charlotte Trusler, who advises SMEs in the creative industries at Business West, agrees. “You want a business coach who helps you to help yourself,” she says. “The best business coaches will help you develop your objectives in line with your aspirations and values, and will help you remain on track to achieve these.”
“The coach should be in a position of trust with you, and you’ll open up to them and speak about your private life as well as your business affairs, so you need a strong rapport”
Carl Reader, author, The Startup Coach
While every coach has their own approach and process, most coaching relationships involve a weekly or monthly call (sometimes face to face), during which time the person being coached will discuss business objectives and any existing or new challenges.
“A good business coach will help you to navigate unexpected financial, logistical and environmental challenges and help you to revisit objectives in the face of external or internal change,” says Trusler.
“Keep to your agreed contact points with your coach and have a loose agenda in mind for each meeting. Look to the past, the present and the future: are your objectives still relevant? How do you intend to meet them? What have you learned?”
What not to expect
While there are several parallels between coaching, consultancy and mentoring, understanding what sets them apart is an important part of the research process. Matt Turner, who set up Clown Fish Events when he was 19, had several introductory sessions with coaches but decided that, ultimately, that strategy wasn’t right for him.
“I initially looked into hiring a business coach because I felt I’d plateaued as an entrepreneur,” says Turner. “But after considering all the options, I felt it would be more beneficial to establish a director level, non-executive board of experienced entrepreneurs to advise me instead. I believe their hands-on, practical advice will serve me much better.”
Gough, Trusler and Reader agree unanimously that the best coaches won’t provide you with any concrete answers. Reader even goes so far as to suggest avoiding any coach who promises to ‘fix’ your business.
“Some coaches try to impress you by showing how much they know and how much they can fix your business overnight. That’s not what it’s about. A good coach will enable you to find the answers yourself.”
Three questions to ask a prospective business coach
1. What outcome would you want to see as a result of us working together?
Kat Luckock coaches social entrepreneurs and ethical business owners through her practice Share Impact. She says that by asking this question you’re actually testing the coach to see if he or she can identify the skills relevant to your business, while also giving them the chance to tell you that it’s you, the entrepreneur, who needs to make it happen.
2. Who’s in you little black book?
Don’t overlook a coach’s network, says Christina Gough. “While their expertise is obviously important, in my case, I also looked at the network within which they reside and what type of doors they could open for me. I wanted to see if our industry backgrounds were complimentary and could therefore help my own network grow.”
3. What ROI can I expect from my coaching programme?
Too many coaches avoid this question, says business coach Dave Holland – but it’s a crucial point to establish from the outset. “It’s something I agree with all my clients before we start,” says Holland. “The return can be in a variety of currencies, too: money, time, confidence or knowledge. It’s critical that the return on investment is agreed first.”