Entrepreneurs are accustomed to going their own way: They take a great idea and make a business of it. But being independent and self-sufficient doesn’t always work to your advantage over the long haul, particularly if you’re strong in some areas and weak in others.
The time may come when the advice and insights of an expert can make the difference between saving your company and watching it go under. In these situations, small-business owners often enlist the services of a business coach to help them turn things around.
A coach is different from a consultant. Generally speaking, consultants come in to identify problems and to provide specific solutions. Coaches work alongside business owners, asking tough questions to find clarity and focus and guiding them toward discovering solutions on their own.
Here are a few ways in which a business coach may prove most effective. A coach can:
- Offer a realistic assessment. Often the most valuable service a business coach can provide is an objective, third-party evaluation of your operation. It’s easy for small-business owners to be too close to a situation to fully understand the options and opportunities available to them. From time to time, we all need a reality check from someone who isn’t interested in “making us feel good” and who wants to share useful methods for fostering change. A knowledgeable coach can quickly identify where your strengths and weaknesses are in ways you most likely can’t do alone.
- Provide valuable feedback. Maybe you have some great ideas about how to improve your company. A trained business coach can be the ideal sounding board — and help you organize what seems like a perpetually chaotic existence.
- Instill accountability. As your own boss, who do you answer to if something goes wrong or just doesn’t get done? Business coaches establish a sense of accountability, much as a personal trainer pushes people to do more than they might on their own.
- Get you out of a rut. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, the business gets stuck. You know a significant change in attitude and/or process is required, but you just can’t decide where to start. A skilled coach can get you out of the doldrums.
Hiring a business coach doesn’t make sense for everyone. Help doesn’t come cheap, so if your budget is tight, you may want to consider less costly solutions, such as connecting with an expert in a local trade association or others in your professional network. If you’re fortunate enough to already have a trusted mentor or adviser, a coach’s services may be unnecessary.
If you decide to hire a coach, do so sensibly. Here are a few tips:
- Know what to expect. A business coach can’t change your operation with a snap of his or her fingers. Expect to work closely with your coach to make the adjustments that seem right for you and your business.
- Check their credentials. Business coaches should have some formal training and preferably belong to a coaching association or organization. Also, gauge how much experience they have in coaching entrepreneurs like you.
- Ask for references. Get at least three references — and contact them. Ask these previous clients whether the coach successfully helped them reach their objectives. Have they referred others to this coach? Would they hire him or her again? What did they like best about working with the coach, and where did he or she fall short?
- Take advantage of a free consultation. Many business coaches provide a free initial session. This is your chance to ask questions and get answers to your specific situation. This get-acquainted meeting can also help you identify your own preferences — whether you want step-by-step directions or more of a long-term approach. Get a sense of the person’s style. If it doesn’t feel like a comfortable fit, you may want to explore other options.