I was asked an unexpected question in a coaching discovery session a few days ago. “How do you choose the right business coach?”. How indeed!
With the coaching industry growing all of the time and pumping out coaches of all types, and this being a genuine question, I’m afraid I didn’t have a good answer at the time. So, I decided to mull for a while and write down my thoughts so I have something more useful next time I’m asked.
Let’s define business coaching first
It’s important to understand a little of what a business coach will help you with before we can understand who might help you individually. My preferred definition is:
Business coaching is series of steps designed to assist a business owner, employee, or executive in overcoming obstacles that are causing the business or individual to achieve less success than desired.
So, there should be at least an initial goal, or some kind of objective. This can be within the business, or related to the interaction between the company and the life of the coachee.
Why do you care?
Let’s start here – why does it matter?
Well, the wrong business coach will:
- Cost you direct money
- Cost you in lost revenue
- Cause you increased levels of stress
- Not solve your problem
- Cause you new problems
So, I totally get why you should care about hiring the right coach for you.
Finding business coaches
Typically, people will find a business coach in one of these places:
- Google search
- YouTube/ TikTok
- Facebook or Instagram
There’s no right or wrong in where you might discover business coaches. However, once you’ve found a few, you must choose between them, and that’s a much more important and complicated process.
A very quick answer
As a professional point, no coach should take on business they don’t think they are effective for, since that’s not effective for the client, and coaching should always be for their benefit.
If you want to get a really simple answer, it should be “the coach who you feel or believe is most likely to be able to help you achieve your goal”. The best business coach is the one that’s right for you.
But within that is a huge amount of nuance and detail. So, let’s examine it in more detail.
Are the qualified?
First off, you should only choose a coach who is qualified / certified by a course that’s certified by one of the top associations. In the UK this might be the association for coaching. In the US this might the ICF.
I wouldn’t suggest a coach who has done a course which isn’t accredited. There are many of trainers out there who teach someone how to be a business mentor, not a coach.
This should be a non-negotiable for anyone considering business coaching and would like the right fit for them.
Speak to several coaches
Of the most effective strategies for choosing the right coach is actually speaking to them. This will allow you to lay down your challenge and see whether the coach has a strategy which makes sense to you.
- Really understand your issue, after some questioning
- Seem genuinely curious about your situation
- React in a non-judgmental manner
- Have a plan or strategy
If they just reach for the latest fad or book, or suggest that you should follow the working methods of Richard Branson or Elon Musk, they might not be very experienced.
Who are you?
I know quite instinctively within less than 5 minutes if I’m likely to be able to help the person with their challenges. How do I know this? Well, it’s down to their personality.
My ideal client has a particular type of personality; specifically those who are more likely to experience stress, unhappiness and overwhelm caused by situations like people pleasing, perfectionism, a lack of confidence and imposter syndrome.
They will benefit from my approach more than the coaching approach from other coaches.
Without going too much into the “therapy side”, there are four core types of personality, and there are two of those who are most likely to lack confidence. This is common in business owners, particularly b-corps, although many people have the view of all owners as hard-nosed and all about the money.
The other half of the “personality pie” will be better served by different coaches who can understand their mindset better.
So, the first part of finding the right coach is that they share your mindset, because they can understand you better. Can you benefit from a coach that doesn’t share this? Yes, absolutely, but it won’t be as effective.
What are you trying to achieve?
A second key element to consider is what goal you’re looking to achieve, or what challenge you’re looking to solve.
While coaching is performance based in essence, and it should not be significantly about mentoring, a coach who has experienced what you’re experiencing is more likely to be able to help you with plans and questions than someone who has never been there.
What type of business are you?
Typically, most coaches work either with small businesses and medium sized businesses (an SME) or large businesses. Most small business coaches will help entrepreneurs and startups too. Coaches who focus on larger businesses may be more focused on leadership and executive coaching.
If you’re looking to start or grow an online business, you might choose someone with experience in online marketing or e-commerce platforms. If you’re looking to start a bricks and mortar business, you may select someone who has been in this area.
If you’re looking to improve your work/life balance, it would be of benefit to choose someone who is a life coach too.
Limit to coaches with direct experience?
Does that mean you should look for someone who has exact and direct experience that mirrors your own?
Well, yes and no. The reason I say this is that the real challenge you’re facing may not be what you think it is. You may believe you lack skills and knowledge, when in fact you’re struggling with people pleasing and a lack of confidence. A great coach should spot this.
With regards to the direct experience of the coach then, I’d say to book some discovery sessions and see how they would approach tackling your unique challenge.
Structured or free-form?
Some business coaches will run a very structured and tight ship, whereas others will have a more free-form approach to coaching.
The more structured coaches may want to develop a very specific business strategy and business goal with you, whereas the more performance oriented coaches may wish to work with you on how you can grow into someone who can feel confident enough to build your own strategies and goals.
Neither approach is right or wrong, but you should be clear about which you’d prefer.
Can they provide you with valuable insights?
In any taster or discovery session that you go into with the coach, the coach should provide you with at least some useful insights into your situation. If you leave the session not having learned anything new about yourself, it may be that the coach is inexperienced or not the right fit for you.
These insights might be:
- Why you are experiencing these challenges
- What element of your personality is involved
- How you can move forward with confidence
Have they run their own success business? Do they have significant experience?
For coaching of business owners, I would suggest it’s significantly beneficial if the business coach has grown their own business, or at the least a significant number of years of coaching experience, working with different companies.
A coach can’t really understand your situation if they don’t have the necessary experience, and that will make their questioning less effective. They simply won’t know how to achieve what you’re aiming for.
In person or virtual
Some people prefer to be in person with a coach, whereas others would prefer to be in an online meet. Business coaches come in both flavours, to suit you.
I work strictly in online meetings these days, since that allows the clients who I can help the most to find me, no matter where they are. I can be every bit as effective as working in person, including allowing me to evaluate your bodily reactions to questions.
Group coaching or retreats
A modern approach to the market is group coaching, which can be particularly relevant for a combination of mentoring and business coaching. You would not have direct one-to-one access to the coach, but instead you’d work within a programme that the coach had developed.
This can be significantly less costly and more goal driven, but at the expense of privacy and individuality.
Do you like and trust them?
Possibly one of the most important elements of the equation is just how you feel with that person. It’s key for an effective coaching relationship.
Do you enjoy their company enough to sit in coaching sessions, or do they set your teeth on edge? Do you trust them with personal and professional information?
Spend a little time thinking about your gut response to the person you’re sat with. Don’t just use the thinking side of your brain; use your emotional side too.
And don’t ever allow yourself to be persuaded or manipulated into making a decision that might not suit you, or in a time frame that doesn’t suit you. While the coach might want to follow up with you after the session to make sure you’ve not forgotten, if they start to offer deals which are “time limited”, I would question who that is benefiting most.
Casual or business-like?
In terms of who you like to work with, you may prefer to work with someone who is very business-like – with a suit and tie – or someone who has a more relaxed approach.
These personal likes and dislikes can be very important in helping you feel relaxed and like you’re in the right place. Never discount your own desires.