A coach can bring a boom to business. That puts a premium on hiring the right person.
“If you want to be a better golfer, you’d consult a golf coach.” said financial advisor Winnie Sun. “If you want to be a better runner, you’d seek out a running coach. If you want to be better in your business, shouldn’t you have a business coach?”
This is an important question for Sun. A guest on media outlets such as CNBC and Forbes — along with her own podcasts — her audience relies on the “wealth whisperer” to deliver solid, reliable financial expertise. A good coach helps keep her on her money toes.
“The power of the right business coach could be huge for your business, but how will you know if you don’t explore?” said Kathleen Hessert, who learned to “coach” others — including C-level executives — through working side by side with renowned sports persons.
“The main difference between execs and sports personalities is the uniform — same insecurities,” Hessert said. “The coaching profession is refining itself every day. It has to because expectations are getting higher and higher.
“I’ve worked with the most remarkable Olympians, elite athletes and coaches over the years,” she said. “Interestingly, most C-level execs first ask me which coaches I’m currently working with. They gauge their success with my coaching, although it’s not always fair. I don’t even play tennis.”
Mellissah Smith has made her reputation as an entrepreneur, marketer, editor, speaker, robotics and software expert, and was named a Top 100 Influencer in Entrepreneurship. The “passionate marketer” runs a marketing technology company and a marketing consulting firm in Australia and the United States.
“Due to so many coaching organizations having successful formulas for coaching, entrepreneurs and individuals are reaping the benefits,” she said. “A structured approach and simply writing down goals creates success.”
Terms make a difference, such as the distinction between between a business coach, teacher and mentor.
“A business coach looks forward,” Kramer said. “A teacher gives you critical thinking. A mentor helps to reduce time in decision making.”
Hessert tapped into her experience with traditional coaches.
“Working with athletes and coaches for three decades has taught me that they’re great students, too,” she said. “Like anyone who searches and commits to being coached, they sincerely want to be the best and typically will do the work to accomplish that.
“A business coach asks more and deeper questions,” Hessert said. “Of necessity, they must be as nimble as Gumby and must read between the lines. Teachers often have set content agendas. Mentors are more sporadic with their time and are less content specific.”
In her view, whether a person is a coach, teacher or mentor depends on the expert’s accessibility, a company’s budget and commitment to a short- or long-term solution.
“Everyone can benefit from all three traits at certain times in our lives,” Hessert said.
Smith believes track records count.
“Coaches who have proven success stories, as well as a great framework that fits into your psychological profile, can be game changers,” she said. “For me, having a mentor was the difference between having a business that makes money when I sleep and me working for a lifestyle.
“They can give you the framework to reach for the stars and achieve all your goals,” Smith said. “Ultimately, you have to take their structured guidance and run with it.”
Business owners need to adopt a mindset of acceptance.
“Entrepreneurs are used to leading,” Sun said. “It is a mental exercise to commit to being advised by others and implementing the strategies they’ve learned.”
Finding the right business coach is an art plus gut reaction.
“There is no one way to get a coach, but nothing in any industry beats referrals,” Kramer said. “We trust people and our friends more than anything else.”
People versus apps
Smith is leery about impersonal searches.
“I steer away from the internet and apps,” she said. “Finding the right coach isn’t something you can do through Google algorithms. You need someone you look up to and will make you accountable for your goals. Coaches have to be more successful than me.”
Top coaches know how to hold clients’ feet to the fire.
“Accountability is everything,” Smith said. “Everyone of us can be too busy to do the hard work required to reach our goals. Having a coach keeps you focused on what is really important to you.
“I want to learn from the best,” she said. “Most business coaches today have great framework. They need that little extra to take people like me to the next level.”
Coaches will not succeed without willing partners.
“If you have taken the time and money to hire a coach, you need to listen and learn,” Smith said. “If you don’t respect them enough to take you on that journey or you think you know everything, you won’t grow. Nothing changes. Nothing changes.
“My mentor is the difference for me,” she said. “He is a person I have watched grow from having $100 million to $3 billion. He is also not afraid to tell me I am wrong or to suck it up. You don’t need to go to school to be a good coach, but you do need a framework and know what winning looks like.”
Hessert also seeks word-of-mouth recommendations to find the right business coach or client.
“Chemistry is critical,” she said. “The first step to determine that is asking for personal style best answered by someone you trust. That person can be an expert but not a match for you.”
Advice given and received has to be genuine for both parties.
“Many people surround themselves with ‘yes men’ who suck up,” Hessert said. “When people take on a coach but don’t like the candid advice they’re given, they’ll find all kinds of excuses.”
She does not subscribe to the notion that coaches must be supreme.
“My mother once told me: Don’t ever hire a financial expert who isn’t more successful than you are,” Hessert said. “But in terms of ‘Don’t teach me something you haven’t done yourself,’ I disagree. One of the most successful athletic coaches I know never even played the game.”
Asking the right questions helps get the right answers. These include questions to ask a potential business coach during the initial consultation.
“You’d want to learn potential coaches’ leadership and business philosophy,” Sun said. “You’d want to know what their process is. Have them mentally map it out for you and share with you things to keep in mind before engaging in their services.”
Hessert asks these questions:
How do you gauge success?
How do we collaborate?
Are you available only on set times and days?
Are meetings virtual, in person or mixed?
Will you talk with other key people on my behalf?
Will you give regular written reports?
“Defining success often means diverging from the standard indicators of success within the organization as well as success now, midterm and in the long run, which are very different,” Hassert said.
For Kramer, the most important question to ask your coach is, “How can you help me?” Smith eyes experience, which key her questions:
This is where I am, and this is where I want to go. Can you help me get there?
What philosophies do you follow?
What books do you like?
What podcasts do you listen to?
“Coaches learning as much as you is important,” Smith said.
Working with a business coach raises expectations. Entrepreneurs should have an idea about how their business would benefit from bringing a coach on board.
“Get to know the different styles of coaching,” Kramer said. “There is nonlinear intuitive coaching, and then there is niched process coaching. It depends on who you are and the outcome you desire for your personality fit.
“In my own coaching practice, I always like to say that if I’m not successful in helping people achieve their true level of joy, I’m not doing my job,” he said.
According to Hessert, return on investment from coaching hinges on key performance indicators for coach and client to ensure both agree up front. Smith concurred.
“A business coach can take you from where you are today, to where you want to be tomorrow,” Smith said. “You have to let me want to get there yourself. Every business benefits from coaching and development. Constant, relentless improvement is always necessary.
“ROI is garbage in, garbage out,” she said. “What you put in is what you will get out. KPIs should be around every area of coaching so you know what to strive for. Ultimately, you have to be prepared to commit to your coach’s philosophies.”
Timing can play a role when selecting a coach as long as it’s seen as an opportunity and not a reason to procrastinate.
“Every human at every stage of a business can use an observer — or coach,” Kramer said. “This person can help businesses with blind spots or be a witness to the milestones they create and complete toward the giant mountain-top goal they are trying to achieve.”
A coach brought on at the right time and cost can bring great returns.
“Timing is part of the parcel,” Smith said. “There are inexpensive ways to use self-discipline to provide a coaching platform through books or podcasts. But when you can afford it, hiring a coach is the best investment you can make in business and life.”
The type of person chosen will make the difference.
“There’s a quality coach for every stage of a business lifecycle,” Hessert said. “When and how much are you willing to invest in being coached? Will you listen and act? Often, the emotional and time investments are more make or break than the budget.”
Small businesses are generally a different beast than large-scale corporations. Company size might affect coach selection.
“It depends,” Sun said. “Many small businesses generate the productivity of a larger business. I’d be wary of working with a coach who hasn’t worked with a business more productive than ours.”
Experience stands out as the key indicator.
“When you are a small business, someone who has just learned the framework is often not enough,” Smith said. “You need someone who has been there and done that — someone who can help you navigate the challenges in front of you.
“Everyone is different, but I want someone who isn’t afraid to push me to reach my full potential, and who reminds me to never, ever give up,” she said.
The complete picture is what counts.
“There is no advantage in working with a business coach who specializes in a niche or category,” Kramer said. “You are coaching the whole person. Often times I think coaching is more reliant on it being a personality match.”
Hessert suggests parameters that define the lifetime of coaching.
“Definitely align with a coach who has experience not only with your size and similar business but also with what you’re aiming for,” she said. “If coaches don’t know big, they’re less likely to be able to guide you there. Determine upfront when you’ve outlived each other.
“In my experience, the best only want to be better and will accept that even one small thing can differentiate them from the competition,” Hassert said. “That takes being willing and able to being pushed.”
Although being familiar with an industry sounds good, it is not essential for a business coach.
“If you limit yourself to just looking for a coach in your industry, you might not be engaging the best possible coach for you,” Sun said.
“It really comes down to the person and if the coach’s experiences will translate well to you and your leadership style and needs — and if you click,” she said. “You could get a savvy coach in line with your industry pretty quick.”
“Coaches are there to ask the most powerful questions because each client is creative, resourceful and whole,” Kramer said. “There is no need to understand the business. The question is can they guide you to more clarity. Understanding an industry just becomes the cherry on top.”
Entrepreneurs retain the expertise in their specialty.
“Fresh perspectives are super valuable, but be prepared for coaches to have to ramp up their familiarity with your industry, which can cause frustration,” Hessert said. “Don’t be afraid to connect them with other internal experts for critical nuances.”
The key factor is a coach’s advice, not the delivery system.
“I am an entrepreneur in the tech and marketing industries,” Smith said. “Yet, my mentor doesn’t even have a computer on his desk. You have to work out what you want to get out of coaches or mentors and whether they have those capabilities.
“I want someone who knows businesses and can foresee the obstacles that will come in my way, sometimes before I can,” she said. “That can help me understand business on a level I’m not quite at. So for me, it’s just business.”
Money is always a consideration when hiring a business coach.
“What’s the price you will pay for not having a coach?” Kramer said. “How much will you spend a year from now and the price you will pay for not getting coaching? The answer becomes your coaching budget.”
That budget item will vary.
“Typically, paying $2,000 to $3,000 for a day a month is a good starting point,” Smith said. “You want the best. If you can do it more than one day per month, even better. This is an investment in you and your development. How much is that worth?”
There are options when resources are tight.
“If you don’t have the time or budget to hire a business coach now, look to the web or your community for nuggets of advice,” Sun said. “There’s a lot of great information out on the web these days, great online courses, too. It won’t be as personalized for you in the interim, but maybe that will serve you fine initially.”
Business owners who want help but can’t afford it should take the initiative.
“Read, read, read and listen to podcasts, and attend conferences and webinars,” Hessert said. “Research the best in breed, and test out the advice.”
Kramer said cash-strapped entrepreneurs should join a private mastermind of like-minded people where they can get coaching that impacts their business and life.
Coaches need not be local. Many consult remotely.
“I don’t think location matters one bit,” Sun said. “Some of my most trusted advisors are all over the world in different time zones.
“I used to prefer face-to-face meetings,” she said. “Now I feel like online can be just as impactful. It’s really practicing our communication for a different medium. I just need to over communicate and take the time to elaborate more over digital.”
Hessert uses what the medium gives her.
“Technology is your friend, especially with in-demand coaches,” she said. “It also helps the budget. I coached a top NASCAR driver who could put guidance into practice best when I texted him succinct pointers right before he raced. When he got out to his car, he was ready.
“I like face-to-face time with my clients as well as those coaching me,” Hassert said. “There’s nothing like being together to get more nuance. However, with Gen Z — the original digital natives — they can consume so much more through digital vehicles than we ever thought possible.”
Kramer might be the prime example of remote coaching.
“All of my coaching clients are all over the world,” he said. “I don’t believe location should matter. That said, group coaching can be more effective in person.”
Smith, on the other hand, prefers up close and personal.
“There is nothing like face to face,” she said. “I don’t see my mentor or coach every week, but I do make sure that once a month I do a face-to-face. You also need to be able to go to coaches when you need help most. If they are too far away, a Skype or phone call isn’t enough.
“One of my highly successful friends decided to be a coach for a year to learn from people she coached,” Smith said. “Genius move.”
Working with a coach takes preparation to clearly communicate goals and vision for the business.
“Agreements are critical to setting up any relationship, including coaching,” Kramer said. “In fact, if the whole world started by talking about agreements between two humans, we’d all have better relationships.”
From the start, plan on long-term associations.
“To get the most out of a coach, you need to take time not just for the coaching time periods, but for the work you need to do on a month-to-month basis,” Smith said. “A good coach will help you define goals and create a vision that works best for you and your future.
“Those same entrepreneurs are working ‘in’ the business and not ‘on’ the business,” she said. “To be truly successful, you have to be able to spend your time working ‘on’ the business. Any good business coach will teach you this. Make time because you are worth it.”
In a culture attuned to expect quick results, coaching works best without rushing.
“I’ve learned in business that many of the most important lessons are learned over time, sometimes by accident, mostly unplanned,” Sun said. “Good businesses can be built quickly. Great businesses need lots of thoughtful patience.”
This is where perspective pays off.
“I’ve found the higher up and greater the visibility the person being coached, it’s best to align with a concrete, upcoming need,” Hessert said. “Theory becomes muddy, but when they can put my advice into action right away, they’re more satisfied with the results — and can practice.
“Few great things happen overnight,” she said. “Coaching is a process of ebbs and flows and once in a while seemingly instantaneous breakthrough thunderbolts.”
With one “extremely successful” client for 23 straight years, Hessert revealed the secrets to her success:
No sucking up, being totally candid.
Bringing acute awareness of the marketplace.
Pushing new ideas and getting him out of his comfort range.
Me evolving content and techniques.
“You should see results from coaching after your first session,” Kramer said. “Whether it’s ongoing or as needed, there is always a result from every discussion.”
In Smith’s view, the fault for unsuccessful coaching lies not in the coach.
“Coaches need to be long term,” she said. “Hiring them and hoping that everything they teach you sticks, never works. You should see a difference the next day from engaging a coach. If you don’t, you need to look in the mirror.”